How to Wash Throw Rugs for Best Results

A Simple, Safe Way to Clean Throw Rugs

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Small area rugs or throw rugs add color and style to our homes while providing comfort underfoot. Many of these rugs are placed in high traffic areas near entry doors and subjected to lots of soil. Unless the rug has a tag clearly stating that it is dry clean only, most throw rugs can be washed, even those with a rubber backing. Follow these simple steps for the best results.

How to Safely Wash Your Rug

Many rug labels don't include specific fabric content information. If you're not sure your rug is really colorfast or washer safe, it is important to wash it separately from other laundry the first time you clean it. Of course, if you have two or three rugs that are exactly the same, they can be washed together.

Step One: Test for Colorfastness. You can test for color-fastness 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 color transfers to the rag or swab, there will be dye bleeding. 

Step Two: Treat Any Stains. 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, use a stain remover like Zout or Shout or a bit of heavy-duty liquid detergent (Tide or Persil) to the stain and work it in by gently rubbing 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.

Step Three: Wash the Rug. With any type of washable rug, use cold water and a liquid detergent. Never use chlorine bleach to whiten or disinfect if the rug has a rubber backing. The bleach will cause the rubber to flake off.

If you need to whiten or brighten a rubber-backed rug, use an oxygen-based bleach. Follow the package directions as to how much product to use per gallon of water. Give the oxygen bleach 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 a rubber backing, use a pine oil or phenolic disinfectant like Lysol.

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 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.

If you have a number of similar rugs to wash, you may want to head to the local laundromat and use one of their larger commercial washers. You'll save time and water by washing all the rugs at once.

Step Four: Dry The Rug. After removing the wet rugs from the washer, always air dry. High heat can shrink the rug or cause the rubber backing to deteriorate. Dry on a clothesline or dryer rack away from direct sunlight or excessive heat. Direct sunlight 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 but that should be avoided on rubber-backed rugs.

What About Dry Clean Only Area Rugs

If the label states "dry clean only", call a professional. 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 following the tips for removing specific stains from carpet.