Here's How to Care for a Wool Rug So it Lasts & Lasts

Tips from a vintage rug purveyor.

March  8, 2017
Photo by Julia Gartland

If you have rugs in your house, there's a good chance one of them is wool. Maybe you bought it for being soft and cushy, which would be understandable. But wool rugs are also incredibly practical: The fibers are natural, from a renewable and environmentally-friendly source, and also non-allergenic, naturally deterring bacteria and dust mites. They aren't slippery, which helps prevent accidents in the home, and are naturally flame-resistant. Wool is also strong—consider how wool protects sheep from all kinds of elements, all year long.

Wool is patient, wool is kind. Wool does not envy, it does not boast. You... get the picture.

The one thing wool isn't: terribly easy to clean.

You know this, of course, from trying to clean a wool sweater. So I spoke with Ryan Tansey, the co-owner of popular vintage rug (and furniture) purveyor Homestead Seattle, about how to best care for—and clean—a wool rug. Here are his tips:

How to Clean a Wool Rug

1. Cushion it with a rug pad

Besides making rugs extra squishy (and preventing them from slipping about), a rug pad acts as a buffer between the rug and the floor that will keep it from wearing through as quickly. Choose a thin foam one for rugs with a longer pile, or a super cushy felt one for thin rugs.

2. Rotate it often

If your rug is in a high-traffic location, such as between two sofas or right where you hop out of bed, Brian recommends rotating it periodically so that the wear pattern distributes. And if you have enough rugs, move them around the house occasionally.

3. Vacuum it regularly

Frequent, low-impact vacuuming—as opposed to high-power vacuuming, which you should never inflict on rug you love—is the best way to keep your wool rugs clean. Make sure to turn your machine to a setting that doesn't involve a spinning brush, so it's gentle enough.

Whack the dust out of a dirty rug (preferably outside). Photo by Julia Gartland

4. Use a rug beater

Once a year, hang your rug up and beat the dust out of it ("if you can manage it," Brian says). If you gently vacuum the rug often, you can delay this. But when you finally get to that point, it would be wise to do it outside. Use a rug beater, designed just for this task, or the clean end of a broom.

5. Spot-clean it

Many vintage rugs are vegetable-dyed, meaning their colors might bleed with the use of soap, so test a tiny section (preferably on the underside) with your selected solution before having at it. Brian discourages use of any harsh chemicals on a wool rug, saying that a little bit of Castille soap, highly diluted, should be adequate. And if the test spot bleeds, stick to water.

This applies to potential stains, too: Just dip a rag in the solution, and use it to clear the spot until it goes away or lessens.

For a full cleaning, seek a professional

Dire situations only. As Brian explains it, a professional cleaner will actually take your wool rug and soak it in a bath of cold water along with some very gentle cleaning solutions. And while he wouldn't "officially" recommend re-creating that environment at home, he's done it himself. After he tracked mud across a beloved rug and panicked, he hung it up outside, hosed it down with cold water, and let it dry in a warm, shady location, before bringing it back in the house. It was a success for him, but repeat at your own risk.

How do you keep your rugs clean? Tell us in the comments!
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  • Asad Zaman
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Written by: Amanda Sims

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Asad Z. December 15, 2017
I read the article it was very nice. You mentioned alot of thigs to make you sure we mange to keep our wool rug clean. Recently I used rug cleaning services from NYC. It was a great service i have ever used.
Decs March 28, 2017
I wash all my rugs in the driveway with a hose and cold water. Very infrequently, if a stain needs it I will use a little soap and then be sure to rinse it all out. I dry it in the shade on the lawn. This works for me up to about a 5'x7' rug. The bigger ones can't be moved when they are full of water, they are too heavy. Those I dry on the driveway with the pile side down. Of course you must clean the concrete before you wash your rug on it.

A friend owns an antique rug store. He had concrete shallow pools built - with a drain. They put your rug in it and then walk on it in waders. It is rinsed thoroughly and then flown (like a stage set) to dry. These days they also use a hose with light pressure to final rinse the rug after it is flown and squeegee the water out of it before lifting it all the way up to dry.
Corduval March 8, 2017
I originally had my rug cleaned by the Mongolian trader that I bought it from. He used horse shampoo and soft brushes and it always came out beautifully. A couple of years later I needed to get the rug cleaned and he was no longer in town. There was a retailer who had a rug showroom and he assured me that my rug would be washed by hand and that they knew what they were doing. I was shocked when I picked it up. It was limp. Apparently they knew the instructions to the rug beater-washer machine that they hand-fed it into. It literally beat the body right out of it and made the natural dyes run. I'm still pissed off at them. My tale is cautionary very careful of who you take your rug to and how they are actually going to clean it. Next time I need to get it cleaned, even though it's 9.5 ft by 11.5 ft and very heavy, I might just spread out tarps and do it myself!
AntoniaJames March 8, 2017
Another tip is to rotate regularly even where traffic patterns don't dictate, to prevent lightening / bleaching from the sun that comes through windows and French doors. I lost track of that during the decade+ when I was handling jury trials that required traveling / working all the time. My antique Persian rugs are still gorgeous, but definitely lighter in the affected places. ;o)
mary March 8, 2017
I have actually washed all my large oriental rugs with cold water directly on my lawn. I only do this during the summer when there is extremely dry air in place. I dry them on our driveway upside down to prevent fading. Works beautifully.