Area rugs add a decorator touch to a room, help define spaces, and add warmth underfoot. Whether they are made from wool, natural grasses, or synthetic fibers, eventually they will need to be cleaned. Cleaning an area rug on any type of floor—including hardwood floor, wall-to-wall carpeting, and tile—is a bit more complex than just cleaning the rug where it sits. Protecting the floor underneath, particularly for hardwood floors (which are easily damaged) and carpet (which can absorb water or cleaning agents and not dry properly), is just as important as cleaning the rug properly.
How Often to Clean an Area Rug
An area rug should be vacuumed at least weekly, ideally, several times weekly to keep dust and dirt from penetrating deeper into the fibers and to lift matted fibers. If grit and dirt are allowed to dig down into the fibers, the backing can become damaged and, if you have them, even hardwoods beneath can end up with scratches.
Liquid spills and pet accidents must be cleaned up immediately. The moisture can seep through the rug and the protective pad underneath to the floor. The moisture will be trapped and, depending on the flooring underneath, leave watermarks on the wood that can be very difficult to remove or stain the wall-to-wall carpeting below the area rug.
Every area rug should be thoroughly cleaned at least twice per year and more often if foot traffic is heavy.
Equipment / Tools
- Soft-bristled brush
- Small bowl
- Microfiber cloths
- Plastic tarp or sheeting
- Sponge mop
- Old bath towels
- Steam cleaner
- Baking soda
- Dishwashing liquid
- Oxygen-based bleach
- Carpet stain remover
- Carpet shampoo
How to Clean an Area Rug
Vacuum Away Dirt
Whether preparing to do a thorough cleaning or just routine care, vacuum the rug with a vacuum that features a carpet beater bar to loosen and suck away dirt. If the rug is small enough, vacuum the top and then turn the rug over to vacuum the underside.
If possible, take the pad outside and give it a good shake and vacuum or dust mop the floor under the area rug.
When you do a thorough cleaning of an area rug, remember to remove the protective pad underneath the rug and clean it as well.
Spot Clean Stains
For small stains, place a plastic tablecloth or placemat under the affected area on top of the carpet pad. This will protect the floor underneath from moisture.
Many types of stains, especially dirt and food stains, can be removed by spot cleaning with a solution of one teaspoon of dishwashing liquid mixed with two cups of warm water. Apply the solution to the stained area with a soft-bristled brush. Allow it to work for about 10 minutes and then blot away the dirty water and stain with a clean cloth.
Dip a clean cloth in fresh water and blot the area to rinse away any excess soapy solution.
If the stain is still visible, mix a solution of warm water and oxygen-based bleach following the product label directions. Apply directly to the stained area and leave it for one to two hours to gently lighten the stain.
To speed drying after spot cleaning, elevate the cleaned carpet area with books or plastic bowls to increase air circulation.
Remove Odors on Area Rugs
To both brighten and remove odors from an area rug, sprinkle the entire surface liberally with baking soda. If the pile is long or plush, use a sponge mop to gently work the baking soda down into the fibers to the backing.
Let the baking soda remain on the carpet for several hours—overnight is best—and then vacuum it away. The baking soda will absorb odors and the gently abrasive nature can loosen any soil to be vacuumed away.
Prepare the Space for a Thorough Area Rug Cleaning
If the rug needs a thorough cleaning and cannot be moved to an area with a vinyl, ceramic tile, or stone floor, the hardwood or carpet must be protected.
- Vacuum the area rug.
- Roll up the area rug and move it to one side.
- Roll up the rug pad and move to one side.
- Vacuum or dry mop the floor to remove any dirt, dust, and grit.
- Put down a plastic tarp or plastic sheeting that is larger than the area rug onto the floor. Secure the plastic with masking tape.
- Unroll the area rug on the plastic sheeting.
Clean With a Carpet Shampoo and Mop
Read the label on the carpet shampoo to determine if it must be diluted or can be used directly from the bottle.
Apply the shampoo with a sponge mop or soft-bristled brush. Use enough to completely wet the carpet but not so much liquid that the carpet is overly-saturated.
Use the brush in heavily stained areas to loosen any soil.
Finish by dipping the mop in fresh water and rinsing the fibers to remove soapy residue. Change the rinse water frequently until no more dirt or suds appear.
Clean With a Carpet Steamer
After preparing the room, an area rug can be cleaned with a home or rented carpet steamer. Follow the directions and use an approved cleaning solution recommended by the steamer's manufacturer.
If the rug has fringe, it should be cleaned by hand with a solution of dishwashing detergent and warm water using a sponge or microfiber cloth. Work in a small section at a time and once that area is cleaned, rinse with fresh water and blot dry between two clean towels. When finished, allow the fringe to air dry and then use a wide-tooth comb or your fingers to straighten the fibers.
Dry the Cleaned Carpet
Open windows, turn on ceiling fans, or add a circulating fan to the area to increase airflow and speed drying. When the surface feels dry, turn the rug over and allow the backing to dry.
Depending on the size of the area rug, drying time can be up to 48 hours. You must be patient and be certain that the rug is completely dry before placing it back on the floor.
Return the Rug to Its Usual Spot
Once the rug is completely dry, it is time to reverse the steps.
- Roll up the cleaned rug and move to one side.
- Remove the plastic sheeting from the floor.
- If possible, take the carpet pad outside and give it a good shake.
- Replace the carpet pad.
- Replace the area rug on the pad.
Lift the Carpet Pile
With the area rug back in place, vacuum it thoroughly to lift and smooth the pile.
How to Clean an Area Rug on a Hardwood Floor
Take Extra Care
Hardwood floors are especially susceptible to scratches and stains from cleaning liquid. To avoid damaging the floors, be extra cautious when cleaning your area rug.
Vacuum and Shake
Vacuum the surface of the rug to remove dust, hair, and other grit. If the rug is small enough to be moved, flip it over and vacuum the underside, too. Also vacuum the rug pad and hardwood floor beneath.
When you move an area rug to clean it, give the hardwood floors underneath an inspection and cleaning, too.
Spot Clean With Extra Protection
When it comes time to spot clean your area rug, ensure the barrier between the rug and the hardwood floors is thick enough to prevent any moisture seeping through.
Prepare the Space for a Thorough Cleaning
If your area rug needs a thorough cleaning and can't be moved to an area with more durable flooring, vacuum and then roll it and then the rug pad up carefully. Vacuum or dry mop the hardwood floor to remove any dirt and grit that could cause scratches.
Lay down and secure thick plastic sheeting to protect the hardwood floors while the rug is wet. Clean the rug using carpet shampoo or a carpet steamer, and do not replace the rug until it is thoroughly dry.