How to Protect Your Rugs From Their 7 Worst Enemies

Colorful Crochet Rug Free Pattern

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For all their durability and strength, area rugs are vulnerable to several common household issues that can shorten the lifespan of their colors, 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 an action plan for what to do about them), here's an expert's guide to protecting your rugs from seven of their worst enemies.

  • 01 of 08

    Moisture and Water

    Large oriental rug in a living room

    One of the most damaging elements for 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 growth, a rug needs to be thoroughly air-dried after it's washed so that no moisture remains.

    Resting flower pots directly onto a rug can trap moisture causing damage, as can placing a rug too close to appliances and fixtures that could potentially leak such as a washing machine, dishwasher, or sink. If you like to have your windows open, make sure to place your rug far enough away so that it does not accidentally get wet during a rainstorm.

    A rug that sits on a damp floor, perhaps in a basement, will tend to absorb moisture over time and degrade the fibers with mildew. The rug will become very stiff and is no longer flexible—a condition 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.

  • 02 of 08


    Bedroom with an ornate rug

    One of the most common and damaging things for 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 an infestation somewhere in the home, in which case you should check your drawers and closets. Carpet beetles are small, dark, reddish-brown, or blackish insects that also develop from fiber and wool-eating larvae.

    The moths and beetles don't do the actual damage—their larvae do. They lay their eggs on all sorts 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. Other places that are vulnerable to insects include areas under furniture, where it's dark and undisturbed, not walked-on, and rarely vacuumed. The destruction occurs silently in these dark 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, this is a sign that the carpet is infested and needs immediate treatment, first with insecticide and then by thorough washing.
    • Dry, sandy residue: If you see brownish-grey clusters of such particles, you have another sign that the larvae have been eating your rug, as these are the droppings of the larvae before they cocoon.
  • 03 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 at least once a week. Then, every couple of months, flip the carpet and vacuum the backside as well. While doing this, be sure to sweep or mop the floor under the rug so that it's completely clean. Do not put the rug back into place until the floor is dry. The backsides of large rugs are best cleaned by folding in from the sides and vacuuming and mopping in sections.

    Using mothballs and similar products, such as crystals, flakes, or cedar chips, will not really eliminate or even 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 harmless 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. 

  • 04 of 08

    How to Protect Your Rug From Pets

    Family room with portraits and a rug

    Puppies, just like human babies, tend to teeth by chewing on whatever is most handy. Sometimes, it might be your rug. Keeping a close watch and redirecting your dog to chew toys can help reduce the damage to your carpet. Another reason a dog may gnaw on a rug is from lack of exercise—try adding some extra walks and see if that makes a difference in your pup's behavior. 

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

    Pet urine, excrement, and vomit can be highly damaging to rugs, particularly rug dyes, which can become bleached as a result, and cannot be corrected. The aromas 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 5 of 8 below.
  • 05 of 08

    Ultraviolet Light

    Living room with oriental rug
    Be Climate Smart

    Antique rugs made with good, all-natural dyes will most often soften over time if exposed to intense 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 significantly, and some of them will change (like from a deep purple to light tan).

    If you get hard, prolonged sunshine through certain windows, it's possible to reduce the strength of the ultraviolet (UV) rays that cause 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 detrimental impact of direct sunlight.  

  • 06 of 08

    Common Spills

    Dining room table on an oriental rug
    Claremont Rug Company

    If you spill something on 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 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. 

    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) 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, one way to treat it is to sprinkle the stain with flour and then press a piece of plain, brown paper bag against it, for at least 15 to 20 minutes, or until the paper absorbs the oil. Then, sweep or vacuum the flour and 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 emulsifies, 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 it looks like the color from the rug is coming off onto your cleaning towel or paper, stop and call your local carpet cleaning professional.

    If you have a glob of chewing gum, wax, or lipstick on the rug, applying an ice cube and then scrape with a spoon to lift the largest particles off the surface. Sometimes acetone (nail polish remover) can be used, but be sure to test first on a small area of the carpet. 

  • 07 of 08

    Paint Spills

    Living room

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

  • 08 of 08

    Chemical Treatments

    You may not realize it, but your rug has another enemy that's difficult to address. Many new carpets have 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 is no cure for this unfortunate treatment which often happens well before the rug reaches a retail showroom.