7 Things That Ruin Rugs and Carpet

  • 01 of 08

    How to Protect Your Rugs from Their 7 Worst Enemies

    You've planned and you've measured. You've pored over collections and checked authenticity. And now, finally, you have the rug that you've always wanted. It's the perfect combination of color, pattern, and craftsmanship and you're already looking forward to passing it on to the next few generations of your family. But ensuring that your newest treasure will last for decades to come will take work. For all their durability and strength, oriental rugs are vulnerable to a number of common household issues that can shorten the lifespan of their color, their fibers or both. The good news is we're not talking about round-the-clock vigilance. Prevention is better than cure, so just keeping an eye out for the things that might cause problems can put you way ahead of the game. To give you a good idea of the dangers lurking out there and a better idea of what to do about them, here's an expert's guide to protecting your rugs from 7 of their worst enemies.

    Continue to 2 of 8 below.
  • 02 of 08

    Moisture And Water

    One of the most damaging elements for oriental rugs is prolonged exposure to water or persistent moisture.  Although water is used to clean woolen rugs, in addition to inviting insects, extensive exposure to water can actually rot the underlying fibers of the rug whether they are wool, cotton, silk or goat hair.  To avoid mold or mildew a rug needs to be completely and thoroughly drip and air dried after it's washed so that no moisture remains. Other ways that moisture can seriously damage your rug are from the bases of flower pots placed directly onto a rug, placing a rug too closely to a washing machine or sink area, or even placing it too ​close to an open window during a rainstorm. A rug that sits on a damp floor, perhaps in a basement, will tend to absorb moisture over time. This will also degrade the fibers with mildew. A rug in this condition becomes very stiff and is no longer flexible. This is called 'dry rot'. The rug can't be folded or rolled without cracking the foundation, which you can sometimes see or hear. Unless addressed immediately, rugs in this condition can rarely be saved.

    Continue to 3 of 8 below.
  • 03 of 08


    One of the most common and most damaging things for oriental rugs is the presence of insects like moths and carpet beetles. If you see moths flying around your room, they may have come in from the outdoors or from an infestation somewhere in the home, in which case check your drawers and closets. Carpet beetles are small, dark, reddish-brown or blackish insects that also develop from fiber and wool-eating larvae.

    Seeing these insects is kind of like seeing smoke. The moths and beetles don't do the actual damage – their larvae do. They lay their eggs on all kinds of natural fibers, such as wool, silk, feathers, fur and even leather.  The hungry larvae that hatch from the eggs can do considerable damage, particularly if there's something that previously spilled onto the rug --such as a sweet drink or milk product -- that was not adequately cleaned up. Other places that are vulnerable to insects are areas under furniture, where it's dark and undisturbed, not walked-on and rarely vacuumed.  The damage occurs silently in these unseen areas but can move quickly. This damage is often repairable, but if it is extensive, repairs may be cost prohibitive compared to the value of the rug. Here are some key things to look for:

    • Active insects - usually these are common clothes moths, which tend to be small, beige in color and flutter around rather quickly.

    • Missing pile - if you notice small, somewhat regular patches of the missing pile that go all the way down to the (white) foundation, this is a sign of mothing. The larvae will stop at the cotton fibers, which they cannot eat.

    • Webbing - if there's a fine, white veil of webbing clustered in a section of a pile, it may be a sign of larvae.

    • Live larvae – if you see small whitish larvae crawling on the surface of a rug. these are a sign that the rug is infested and needs immediate treatment, first with insecticide and then by a thorough washing.

    • Dry, sandy residue -  if you see brownish grey clusters of such particles, you have another sign that the larvae have been noshing on your rug, as these are the droppings of the larvae before they cocoon. 

    Continue to 4 of 8 below.
  • 04 of 08

    The Best Ways to Prevent Insect Damage

    Area rug in a living room
    @djmon1que / Twenty20

    To prevent insects from taking up residence and potentially damaging your rugs, vacuum - without too much suction - at least once a week.  Then, every couple of months, flip the rug and vacuum the backside as well.  While doing this, be sure to sweep or mop the floor under the rug so that it is completely clean. Do not put the rug back into place until the floor is completely dry.  The backsides of large rugs are best cleaned by folding in from the sides and vacuuming and mopping in sections.

    Remember - using mothballs and similar products, such as crystals, flakes, or cedar chips will not really eliminate or even truly deter moths, as they don't kill the eggs or larvae. The safest insecticides for home use are those where the major component is pyrethrin, a product derived from chrysanthemums. These are usually safe for your wool rugs but toxic to most insects and dissipate rather quickly after application. However, always use caution and read labels before using any product, to be sure they are safe for you and your pets. Speaking of which...​

    Continue to 5 of 8 below.
  • 05 of 08


    Americans love their pets!  However, in their early months, puppies, just like human babies, tend to teeth by chewing on whatever is most handy. Sometimes, it might be your rug. This is a case where moth flakes can be quite useful, as puppies tend to hate their aroma. If your puppy is too focused on your rug, a light sprinkling of moth flakes under the rug can help to stop this activity.

    Cats, meanwhile, cute and lovable as they are, can also do major damage to rugs in a number of ways, mostly from heavy scratching with sharp claws. Scratching habits are hard to break, but it is important to curb this activity if you really want to save your rugs. It might be worth consulting with your vet if such matters seem to be hard to control.

    The other issue pets pose comes from a lack of house training. Pet urine (along with other "leavings") is highly damaging to rugs, particularly rug dyes, which can become bleached as a result, and cannot be corrected. Left untreated, the aromas from pet urine can linger on a rug for a very long time, as it is absorbed into the fibers and is very difficult to remove completely. If you notice that your pet has had an accident on the rug, lightly sprinkle with a club soda and white vinegar solution, blot until dry, then repeat until no odor or residue is detected. If possible, elevate the rug to allow air to circulate. Unless cleaned thoroughly, pets will return to the same spot over and again, which needless to say, is bad for your rug.

    Continue to 6 of 8 below.
  • 06 of 08

    Ultraviolet Light

    Who doesn't love the sun? But, just as we need to use caution with our skin, our rugs need the same. Antique rugs made with good, all natural dyes will most often soften over time in strong light, but will not fade dramatically or change. However, rugs made with cheap, synthetic dyes can sometimes do both. Older synthetic colors will often fade dramatically, and some of them will actually change (like from a deep purple to light tan). If you get hard, prolonged sunshine through certain windows, it is possible to reduce the strength of the ultraviolet (UV) rays that do the damage, by either applying a UV reduction film or replacing the glass with UV protective panels. Another option is to use sheer curtains or drapery liners to cut the damaging impact of direct sunlight.  

    Continue to 7 of 8 below.
  • 07 of 08

    Common Spills

    If you spill something onto your rug, it's important to act quickly!  Do not wait, because whatever it is (even plain water), can be absorbed into the fibers, and may not be so easy to remove after it has dried.  The best approach is to blot the spill with a dry, clean cloth or paper towel until it is lifted or completely gone. Allow to dry.

    For something a bit more damaging, such as juice, wine or coffee, you can sprinkle with room temperature club soda, and then blot with paper towels or a clean, white cotton cloth. Alternatively, warm water with a capful of white vinegar can also be used (sparingly) and blot in a similar way.  Do not rub the stain, as this may push the stain more deeply into the rug and the fibers.  When it's clean and time to dry, lift the rug for air circulation. You can also use a fan or pass over the spot with a hairdryer.  ​

    If a spill contains oil (such as olive), one way to address it is to sprinkle the oil stain with flour and then press a piece of plain, brown paper bag against it, for at least 15 - 20 minutes, or until the paper absorbs the oil. Then, sweep or vacuum the flour and then blot again with a clean, dry paper towel or cloth. Alternatively, without water, rub a small amount of Ivory liquid dish detergent onto the spill, until it seems to have emulsified, then wipe clean. Repeat until it seems the oil is gone. At that point, warm water with a small amount of detergent and a dash of white vinegar can be used to further clean the spot. However, if at any point it seems that color from the rug is coming off onto your cleaning towel or paper, stop and call your local rug professional.

    Now, if you have a glob of chewing gum, wax or lipstick on the rug, applying an ice cube and then scraping with a spoon can probably lift the largest particles off the surface, then treat as above.  Sometimes acetone (nail polish remover) can be used, but be sure to test first on a small area. If any color appears to be coming off, stop and take the rug to a professional rug expert.

    Continue to 8 of 8 below.
  • 08 of 08

    Paint Spills and Chemical Treatments

    Spilled paint is definitely one of the worst situations your rug can face. It can happen very easily, but it can be very difficult to resolve without professional help. Using a piece of plastic, try to scrape up as much as possible, and then with a paper towel or clean, white cloth, soak up as much as possible without rubbing. Then, if it is a water-soluble paint, apply a small amount of club soda and blot. Repeat this process to lift out as much paint as possible. Do not use soap, bleach or other cleaning liquids.  If the stain is persistent, you may need to consult a professional.

    Finally, you may not realize it, but your rug has one enemy that it is difficult to do anything about. Many new rugs arrive here having been pre-treated with a chemical solution to soften the colors or sometimes change them altogether. Such treatments, while not visible to the naked eye, weaken the wool pile fibers causing them to wear poorly or unevenly. The chemical damage to the fibers also causes the pile to wear down much faster than normal. Unfortunately, there really is no cure for this unfortunate treatment which often happens well before the rug reaches a retail showroom. Your best approach is to find a knowledgeable collector who may know more about the history of the rugs before they reached his/her showroom.