You’ve finally purchased that Oriental or Persian rug you’ve always wanted – but for all their
durability and strength, these treasures are also vulnerable to several common household issues
that can shorten the life expectancy of their color, fibers, or both. Even less expensive rugs are at
risk of a shortened lifetime when exposed to these issues. While you don’t need to monitor your
rugs 24/7, here are a few of the common dangers that rugs face and what you can do to prevent
Moisture & Water
Probably the most important danger to be aware of is water damage. Although water is used to
clean wool rugs, extensive exposure to water can rot the underlying fibers of the rug no matter
the fabric, but particularly wool, cotton, silk, or goat hair. Other ways water can get onto your
rug can include potted plants that are placed directly onto a rug, or placing a rug too closely to a
washing machine or sink area, or even placing it too close to an open window or door when it’s
raining or the sprinklers are on. Basement rugs may develop moisture over time simply due to
their location. This exposure will lead to mildew in the fibers, leading to a rug that’s stiff; this is
called “dry rot.” The rug can’t be folded or rolled without cracking the foundation, which you can
sometimes see or hear. Unless addressed immediately, rugs in this condition can rarely be saved.
Believe it or not, moths and carpet beetles are among one of the biggest culprits of damaged
oriental rugs. Keep in mind that the moths and beetles don’t do the actual damage – their larvae
do. They lay their eggs on all kinds of natural fibers, such as wool, silk, feathers, fur, and even
leather. When the larvae hatch, they’re hungry and can do a lot of damage. This damage is often
repairable, but if it is extensive, repairs may be cost prohibitive compared to the value of the rug.
Here are some key things to look for:
- Active insects – usually these are common clothes moths, which tend to be small, beige in color
and flutter around rather quickly, while carpet beetles are small and reddish-brown or blackish in
- Missing pile – if you notice small, somewhat regular patches of the missing pile (pile being the
density of the rug’s fibers, whether short or long) that go all the way down to the (usually white)
foundation, this is a sign of moths as their larvae can’t eat the cotton fibers, so they stop.
- Webbing – if you notice a fine white veil of webbing clustered in a section of a pile, it may be a
sign of larvae.
- Live larvae – if you see small whitish larvae crawling on the surface of a rug then your rug is
infested and needs immediate treatment, first with insecticide and then by a thorough washing.
- Dry, sandy residue – if you see brownish-grey clumps of sand-like particles, then it’s another
sign of larvae: those clumps are the droppings larvae leave before cocooning.
To prevent insects from taking up residence and potentially damaging your rugs, vacuum –
without too much suction – at least once a week. Then, every couple of months, flip the rug and
vacuum the backside as well. While doing this, be sure to sweep or mop the floor under the rug
so that it is completely clean. Do not put the rug back into place until the floor is completely dry.
The backsides of large rugs are best cleaned by folding in from the sides and vacuuming and
mopping in sections.
Puppies are great, but puppies can also chew up your rug. Sprinkle some moth flakes on your rug
if your pup seems a bit too interested in; they hate the smell and will leave your rug alone.
Cats can also do major damage to rugs, mostly from sharp and heavy scratching. It might be
worth consulting with your vet if such matters seem to be hard to control.
Pet urine and feces are also highly damaging to rugs, especially to the colors, causing an
irreversible bleaching. If pet has an accident on the rug, lightly sprinkle the area with a mixture
of club soda and white vinegar, blot until dry. Repeat until no odor or residue is detected. If
possible, elevate the rug to allow air to circulate.
Just as it’s wise to protect our skin from the sun, the same goes for our rugs. Antique rugs made
with quality, all natural dyes will most often soften over time in strong light, but will not fade
dramatically or change. However, rugs made with cheap, synthetic dyes can sometimes do both.
In fact, synthetic dyes can even change over time, for example: a deep purple can slowly become
light tan! You can apply a UV reduction film on your windows or even replace the glass with
UV protective panels. Another option is to use sheer curtains or drapery liners to cut the
damaging impact of direct sunlight.
If you spill something onto your rug, it’s important to act quickly! Don’t wait, as even water can
be absorbed into the fibers. Blot the spill with a dry, clean cloth or paper towel until it is lifted or
completely gone and allow to dry. If you spill something like juice, wine, or coffee, you can
sprinkle with room temperature club soda and then blot with paper towels or a clean, white
cotton cloth. Do not rub the stain; it may push the stain more deeply into the fibers. To dry, lift
the rug for air circulation or use a fan or hairdryer.
If a spill contains olive or another kind of oil, one way to quickly address the problem is to
sprinkle the oil stain with flour and press a piece of plain, brown paper bag against it for at least
15 – 20 minutes, or until the paper absorbs the oil. Then, sweep or vacuum the flour and blot
again with a clean, dry paper towel or cloth. Repeat until it seems the oil is gone. At that point,
warm water with a small amount of detergent and a dash of white vinegar can be used to further
clean the spot. However, if at any point it seems that color from the rug is coming off onto your
cleaning towel or paper, stop and call your local rug professional or carpet cleaners.
Paint Spills and Chemical Treatments
Spilled paint is one of the worst things that can happen to your rug, and it can happen easily if
the rug hasn’t been removed or properly covered prior to a paint job. This almost always will
require a professional cleaning, but you can use a piece of plastic to try to scrape up as much as
possible. Then with a paper towel or clean, white cloth, soak up what you can without rubbing. If
it’s a water-soluble paint, apply a small amount of club soda and blot. Repeat to lift out as much
paint as possible. Don’t use soap, bleach, or any other cleaning liquids. Again, if the stain is
persistent, you’ll need to contact a professional.