How to Wash Throw Rugs for Best Results

A Simple, Safe Way to Clean Throw Rugs

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Small area rugs and throw rugs add color and style to a home while providing comfort underfoot. Since many rugs are placed in high traffic areas and near entry doors, they're subject to lots of soil and can quickly get dirty.

Unless your rug has a tag that clearly states it is dry clean or spot clean only, most throw rugs can be washed, even those with a rubber backing. For the best results, you'll want to follow a few simple steps when it's time to clean your rugs.

How to Safely Wash Your Rug

Many rug labels don't include specific fabric content information, which can make knowing how to wash rugs a challenge. The first time you clean a rug, wash it separately from any other laundry in case it isn't colorfast or washer safe.

If you have two or three rugs that are exactly the same, they can be washed together. For a large number of rugs, you may want to head to the local laundromat and use a larger commercial washer. You'll save time and water by washing all the rugs at once.

  1. Test for colorfastness. You can test for colorfastness by rubbing the rug with a clean, damp, white rag or by wetting a cotton swab and rubbing it onto the fibers of the rug. If any color transfers to the rag or swab, the dyes will bleed in the washer. 
  2. Treat any stains. Be sure to inspect the rug for stains. You'll have better results if you pre-treat stains, especially food and greasy spots, before washing. If you know what caused the stain, follow the correct stain removal technique for the culprit. If you're not sure, apply a stain remover like Zout or Shout or a small amount of heavy-duty liquid detergent (e.g., Tide or Persil) to the stain and work it in by gently rubbing it with a soft bristle brush (an old toothbrush works well). Allow the stain remover to work on the stain for at least fifteen minutes before washing.
  3. Wash the rug. With any type of washable rug, use cold water and a liquid detergent. If you have a front-load or top-load high-efficiency washer, loading the rugs into the washer is simple: add your detergent and toss in the rugs. Try to wash two rugs together or add some towels for the best results during the high spin cycle. For standard top load washers, the load should be balanced around the center agitator. An unbalanced load can cause wild gyrations and even harm your machine. If you don't have enough rugs, wash tennis shoes, towels or rags to balance the load.
  4. Dry the rug. Wet rugs should always be air dried because high heat can cause shrinkage. Dry your rugs on a clothesline or dryer rack away from direct sunlight, which can fade some colors. If the rug is terribly wrinkled, it can be tumbled in a clothes dryer using the air-only cycle with no heat. You can use an iron to smooth the rug as well.

Rubber-Backed Rugs

Rugs that have a rubber backing can still be washed, but they require a few precautions to protect the rubber.

  • Never use chlorine bleach to whiten or disinfect the rug; it will cause the rubber to flake off. Use an oxygen-based bleach instead. Follow the package directions regarding how much to use per gallon of water and give it sufficient time to work. For maximum performance, allow the rug to soak in the oxygen-bleach solution for several hours or overnight.
  • To disinfect washable rugs with rubber backing, use pine oil or a phenolic disinfectant like Lysol.
  • Never dry a rubber-backed rug in the dryer or use an iron on it as the heat can deteriorate the backing. Air-drying is the safest method, though you can give it a quick tumble in the dryer without heat if needed.

Spot Clean Only Rugs

Many area rugs, including braided, handmade, and natural fiber rugs, are labeled "spot clean only." These can easily be damaged in a regular washer, so they must be cleaned by hand.

For general cleaning, vacuum the rug regularly. Then, all you should have to do is spot clean any spills, just as you would carpet. If you have a rug that is very soiled, leave the job to a professional rug cleaner.

Dry Clean Only Rugs

Call a professional if your rug's label states "dry clean only." Most of these rugs have backings that will fall apart if exposed to too much moisture. You can, however, spot clean stains using a carpet stain remover or follow the tips for removing specific stains from carpet.