The most important thing to remember when washing a fine Persian, Turkish or Oriental rug is that it isn’t the same as a carpet. You don’t generally think of your carpet as a member of the family and it definitely isn’t some kind of family heirloom, but finely crafted rugs are a member of the family and can be passed down to the next generation and therefore should be treated as such.

Keep it Mild

Leave the heavy-duty carpet cleaners on the shelf and reach for the mild stuff. Rather than using any harsh carpet cleaners, you should opt for a mild soap or dish detergent, particularly one that leaves your hands feeling soft.

The reason for this is wool fibers are filled with lanolin, an oil that acts as a built-in repellant to dirt and debris. When you use a strong cleaner, it strips the natural lanolin out of the fibers. Using the strong cleaner may give the impression of having cleaned your rug well right after you’re done, because it will look clean, but the rug will actually get dirtier much faster afterward because of the lanolin being stripped out of it.

Spot Cleaning

For spot cleaning, carefully wipe up what you can of whatever substance is spilled and then use tap water to dilute the remains of the substance and blot it up with paper towel. For stubborn substances that look like they’re going to leave a lasting stain, add a few drops of the aforementioned gentle detergent or soap to a cup of plain water, wipe the stain with this solution and then blot it up with clean, white towels.

General Cleaning

To clean the whole rug, you’ll need a pile of white towels; a bucket full of plain, cold water; and a bucket half-full of warm water with some mild liquid soap added to it. Going with the nap of the rug (the direction in which the rug feels smooth when you run your hand over it), divide the rug into two-foot by two-foot blocks. For each of these blocks, dampen the rug lightly with the plain water, then lightly use the soapy water on it and dampen it again lightly with the plain water. Then, let it dry outside in the sun. The exposure to sunshine helps rejuvenate the oils in the fibers.

Go Pro

Even if you regularly clean your rugs, about once every five years or so you’ll still need to take them to a professional for cleaning. A reputable rug cleaner will basically use the same technique described above, but the difference is that they have special shampoos that are tailored to the various types of wool fibers from the different breeds of sheep that the rugs are made from. These shampoos help remove abrasive, microscopic particles that get embedded into the rugs that can cause them to dry out and get damaged easier.


Pet stains are their own special breed of stain, which are best handled by the professionals. The cleaners they use have enzymes that neutralize the bacteria in urine and other deposits that Rover or Fluffy may leave on your rug.


Moths are also a concern to rug owners. Obviously, maintaining a clean household goes a long way toward keeping moths away from your rugs. Specifically, if you have large pieces of furniture sitting on your rugs, moving them and cleaning their undersides is a good thing to do, as these are the types of places where moths would be interested in nesting and laying their eggs.

Cheap Vacuums

While that $900 vacuum cleaner (you know the one) may be great on your carpets, keep it away from your rugs. And any vacuum with a beater bar should not be allowed anywhere near them. A cheapy, low-power vacuum is much safer to use and works well, especially when used together with sweeping. Take a plain, straw broom and start at one end of the rug and sweep in the direction of the nap. It’s best to walk backward as you sweep so you don’t walk over the area you’ve just swept. You may need to place some kind of heavy object on the end of the rug you’re walking away from to make it easier to sweep. Once you’re done sweeping, lightly vacuum the rug.

After the main area of your rug is cleaned, smooth the fringes at the ends for the final touch.

As previously mentioned, if you look after your rug carefully, you will likely only need to get it professionally cleaned every four to five years. In the meantime, clean once or twice per year to help maintain its beauty and remember that it’s not a carpet and needs to be treated differently than a carpet.

This guest post comes courtesy of Alma Berg, Manager of ZeroRez Carpet Cleaning in San Diego.

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