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:
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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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.
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.