Oriental Rug Cleaning Tips and Precautions

Clients often ask us, "Can I clean my own Oriental or Persian carpet at home?"  And the answer we always give is, "Absolutely, but be careful."  The truth is that in most households in the Middle East and in other carpet weaving regions, few people use professional oriental rug cleaning services.  In many of the households in my native country of Turkey, carpet and kilim cleaning is an annual or biannual chore akin to the American "spring cleaning" tradition.  The reason I generally do not recommend clients to clean their own Oriental carpets at home is because if clients do not have experience and knowledge in how to care for the natural fibers of their rugs, or knowledge of how to control possible dye-run (and ability to recognize fugitive dyes that will "bleed" into other colors), or knowledge about how to properly dry rugs or kilims, it can be a very risky and ultimately costly endeavor.  The truth is this kind of knowledge is most easily acquired through trial and error, which means that the first few times one tries to thoroughly clean a certain kind of piece, one may make a mistake that may permanently damage the Oriental rug, kilim, dhurrie, or soumak.

If a reader is willing to take the risk, however, there are steps that may be taken to minimize the chance of damaging the piece (and again, I am not recommending that readers clean their own rugs if they do not have experience and knowledge in the necessary cleaning process):

  • First make sure the rug has been thoroughly vacuumed both on the front side and the reverse.  If possible, shaking a rug is an even better way to dislodge dust (depending on how large or heavy your rug is, you will need the help of an additional person or persons for this step).
  • Next get ready for cleaning the rug - ideally you will work in a space large enough to fit your rug and allow you to brush off water - an outside (clean) patio is ideal.  
  • In a large bucket, mix cold water, soap, and a drop of vinegar.  The vinegar minimizes the risk of color run (again, this is not a guarantee - there is no guarantee against color run!!).  However, it is a traditional technique (a secret, if you will) that aids to minimize (NOT eliminate!) the chance of colors bleeding.  Take special care when cleaning Oriental rugs or kilims with red or black dyes that have a higher tendency to run or "bleed" into adjacent colors.
  • Only use cold water (never subject a wool rug to hot water!). 
  • With this mixture, take a brush made of natural fibers to start cleaning the rug.  When cleaning the pile of the rug, take care to gently brush against the pile (that is, in the opposite direction in which the carpet was originally knotted) so as to dislodge any embedded dust particles.
  • The last brushing should be in the direction of the pile. 
  • Rinse with water to remove all traces of the soap used (if any soap is left over, it will leave a discolored or splotchy look in the rug).  Again, be careful about how you rinse the rug - if you leave water sitting on the rug for even a few extra minutes, you may cause color run damage that will be very difficult, if not impossible, to repair.
  • Make sure that any excess water is removed from the rug as soon as possible:  one can do this by brushing away the water quickly and thoroughly.  
The drying process is just as critical as the cleaning process:
  • When the cleaning process is completed, it is imperative that the rug be moved to a dry and clean space to dry.  Depending on how large or heavy the rug is, this is usually at least a two person job.
  • The rug - which should have very little water - should be placed flat.  Never, ever hang a rug to dry.  A mistake at this stage in the process may cause the rug's shape to be compromised.
  • The best way to dry a rug is by leaving it in the sunlight for a few consecutive days; summer time is an ideal time for this.
  • People should take care to dry the rug completely before bringing it indoors; if a rug is left slightly wet, it is at a higher risk for its fibers to rot.  
While I recommend readers inexperienced in the cleaning process to clean their own rugs at home because of the inherent risks involved, cleaning Oriental rugs (and drying them!) at home is certainly possible with the proper precautions (including those set out above), experience, knowledge, time, and space.  --www.traditionalrugrepair.com