How to clean a rug

Melanie Whitehouse / 18 April 2016

Find out how to keep rugs in top condition and the best ways for cleaning them, including antique and sheepskin rugs.



Many homeowners clean their rugs in the same way as their carpets - but they shouldn’t. 

Many rugs – particularly those that are worn, old or antique – are delicate, particularly around the fringing, and vacuuming or cleaning with chemicals can cause damage. 

Unlike carpets, they often don’t cope well with lots of muddy feet because they aren’t usually designed to handle high volumes of foot traffic. But they still need to be cleaned.

Related: how to clean a mattress

Get cleaning

Rugs should be vacuumed weekly, especially if you have pets or children around the house. If anything gets spilt, wipe up immediately – stains are always easier to tackle if they’re fresh. You don’t really need a dedicated rug cleaner unless you’re removing specific stains or dirt.

  • Turn the rug upside down and vacuum the back of the rug. The purpose is to loosen any ground-in dirt.
  • Then turn it the right way up and give it a gentle vacuum. Do avoid the tassels, as they may break if they get caught up.
  • Next, use your hand to loosen and fluff out the tassels. If they look dirty, wipe over with a damp cloth.
  • If you have cats and dogs, you may find vacuuming doesn’t get all their hair up. If you own a sticky brush, pat it over the rug’s surface; if not, try winding sticky tape round your hand, sticky side up, and do the same.
  • If your rug smells (from your cat or dog, or from tobacco or curry, say) sprinkle it with bicarbonate of soda or baby powder. Leave overnight to absorb the odours, and gently vacuum off in the morning.

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Washing rugs

Some rugs, such as crewelwork, braided or woven, can be washed in the washing machine. Always check the label first, though, as some rugs are too delicate and others will shrink or the colour will run. Provide extra protection by putting your rug in a pillowcase or a washable cotton bag.

Cleaning Oriental and antique rugs

These need special cleaning if you’re not to damage them. If in any doubt, consult an expert before you start.

  • When you vacuum, place a light cotton pillowcase or a piece of nylon on top of the rug to filter the dirt and fluff up the fibres without them being damaged.
  • Use a gentle cleaner containing natural ingredients to tackle dirty marks and stains. A mixture of warm water with a dash of white vinegar and a drop of laundry liquid is ideal. Dab on and blot off but don’t saturate the rug or wet the backing.

Cleaning sheepskin rugs

It’s best to dry clean large sheepskin rugs because they weigh a ton once wet. You can wash single sheepskins but only if they’re a natural colour – anything dyed must be dry cleaned professionally.

  • Machine wash on the wool cycle, using a mild, wool detergent (never a biological one).
  • Spin to remove excess water.
  • Pull back into shape while damp.
  • Dry the sheepskin on a washing line outside, or lie it flat on a towel and shake it regularly to fluff up.
  • Never tumble dry or put on a radiator, and keep it out of direct sunlight.
  • To maintain its fluffiness (washing can sometimes flatten the deep pile) brush gently with a medium wire pet brush while damp and repeat when it’s completely dry.

Related: how to make your home more allergy-friendly

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.