Posted by Steve Pendleton on 11-28-2006 03:22 AM:

REPAIR: how to wash a rug

The purpose of this thread is to collect rug-washing expertise. Surely this subject is a Turkotek perennial with general interest and broad utility. This topic is suds central.

I'll contribute by posting a step-wise procedure as a way of giving structure and (maybe) organizing consensus. It might be a week before I get to it, though.

May I get the ball rolling by singing the praises of the wet-dry shop vac? A good shop vac can suck a rug half dry in no time flat! For example, I used one last weekend on a Shiraz and, despite constant rain, cut the winter dry time to one day. And although I don't know first hand, I strongly suspect that a shop vac would prove extremely helpful when you learn about loose dyes the hard way. That's a situation where quickly dewatering the rug could truly save the piece (or at least mininize harm) by removing the already-dissolved dye and by curtailing futher extraction. Finially, I wouldn't hesitate to go after a liquid spill with a shop vac, since the suction draws the spill straight off the surface of the rug, minimizing penetration.

Shop vac anecdotes, anyone? Horror stories? Or do ruggies abhor a vacuum?

--Steve Pendleton

Posted by R. John Howe on 11-28-2006 07:30 AM:

Steve -

Awhile back I bought a humble Caucasian rug and washed it. I documented my method in the followiing description:
Dear folks -

I am washing this rug today and perhaps should document my experience for you.

Here's what I'm doing.

First, I thoroughly vacuumed the piece back first then front, making sure to vacuum the surface I was laying the rug on after each vacuuming.

Next, I prepared a salad bowl size portion of the detergent I planned to use, and collected some absorbent cloths. I then put a little of the mixture in the suspected areas and watched for any sign of running with my sponging cloths at alert. (To tell the truth I couldn't tell conclusively since the material darkens appreciably, especially on the back, when one moistens them. But I didn't see anything too alarming.) I have heard that professionals often work with eye droppers and strong vacuum that will take up liquid rapidly in such situations, but I have not been that cautious and have been more optimistic.

Next I put the piece in the bath tub and ran a full tub of coldish (actually closer to lukewarm) water. At first I did think I saw some signs of green coloration in the water (notice no soap yet in the tub washing) but the water was more a dirty brown when the tub filled.

Now I took a vegtable brush and worked the entire surface of the rug front and back. (This piece is just about the widest width that one could conveniently wash in a typical tub. It is about four widths of the tub long and so I have to turn in in folds about four times as I wash it.)

Once I had done this first washing, I drained out the tub sometimes holding up the rug to the shower to get things on its surface to run off more completely.

Now I piled the rug in a relatively small pile and turned on a luke-warm shower and let it rinse under the shower for over two hours, turning it occasionally to expose new surfaces. The water ran clean eventually.

Now I filled the tub again and put in enough of the detergent (I use Orvis) to get some suds in the water. Then I again worked the front and the back of the rug with the vegetable brush. The water was colored again but now more darkish gray suggesting dirt. I drained off this second tub of suds and again held the piece up to the shower to get as much of the soap off the pile as I could readily.

Then I piled the rug a second time and it is has been rinsing under the shower for perhaps 30 minutes as I write. In about an hour and a half, I will make another tub of Orvis suds and repeat the suds wash.

Then I will do an extended rinse. I have sometimes rinsed a rug up to eight hours (Orvis is reputed to stick and to act like a clear dye much like some hair conditioners. The Smithsonian folks have indicated that even if some is retained after washing that it is so PH neutral that it does not affect the wool adversely. Nevertheless I try seriously to rinse thoroughly.) Now I realize that not everyone could rinse in this way (Filiberto would likely be arrested there in Jordan.) Nor to I indulge when there are local water shortages. But I don't have a lawn to water. :-)

It may be too soon to celebrate, but I see no signs of further color runs in this rug and think that the color transfer that is there is likely the result of something having been spilled on it.

What my washing did uncover were several areas of white that I could not see previously. As if paint had be dripped in a minor way. Very minor, only two or three knots in about three different areas and I think I can get them off even if I have to clip the pile a little in these areas.


Now you can see that I didn't use a shop vac on this piece, but in the next post in this thread I described the experience one rather advanced collector here said that he has when he uses a shop vac. Here that is:


As a kind of footnote to my description of how I wash and rinse a rug myself, it might be useful to some to describe roughly the specifics and results of an alternative method, namely vacuum extraction washing, that is being used in some instances nowadays.

One reason to describe this alternative method is to indicate how feeble our more usual efforts to wash antique pieces likely are.

One experienced collector here in DC recently told me that if one takes a piece that has been hand washed in more conventional terms (approximately what I have described here, although some continue to do detergent iterations of washing until the water after one seems rather clear) and subjects it to this vacuum extraction method, the results are dramatic.

Here, roughly is how the vacuum extraction proceeds as I understand it. One washes a rug in the usual way, but after the last conventional rinse in which the water appears to run clean, one places a fine mesh over the piece and then applies to it a vacuum that can take up water and that has a variable control for regulating strength of suction. The vacuum is then applied to the screen and additional moisture is extracted from the piece.

My experienced collector friend says that even on a just washed rug that seems quite clean, the moisture removed by this vacuum process will be jet black, signaling how feeble our usual washing methods are with regard to getting out the dirt that is there.


My sense is that two things are critical when using a shop vac. First, the ability to vary the suction. A shop vac is likely not something to use on a delicate rug or textile. Second, the use of a screen seems also nearly required. Again, the thought seems to be to minimize damage to the piece as suction is applied.


R. John Howe

Posted by Richard Larkin on 11-28-2006 08:34 PM:

calling all rug washers


A few random comments, in no special order, from a onetime rug washer.

-A very effective preliminary procedure is to lay the rug down, pile to the ground, and walk/jump/hop/dance over the back of it to drive out as much sand and dust as possible. Those who have not tried this will be astonished at how much will come out of some rugs. Since a big challenge in amateur rug washing is getting all that dirt out, it makes a lot of sense to get as much out dry as possible. CAUTION: If you do this indoors, be sure to place something between the rug and the floor, such as a painter's plastic or heavy cotton drop cloth. The fine dust and grit that comes out of the rug can leave a permanent "shadow" on a hardwood or other indoor floor. Children can be induced to do the dancing and hopping for a short time, typically about 5 minutes. After that, the novelty wears off, and they perceive that they're performing work!

-Following is an effective tool to squeegee out the detergent water as one washes the rug. Get hold of a short (about a foot or 30 cm) length of interior floorboard. Hard maple is ideal because it essentially does not splinter. With some fairly fine sandpaper, slightly round off one of the sharp edges on the finished side of the board. Use this edge at about a 45 degree angle to squeegee or plane out the wash water in the rug. Start at one end and, of course, plane in the direction of the pile. It works very well and is not hard on the rug. The dirty wash water bubbles up ahead of your plane like miniature waves at the seashore and gives wonderful satisfaction. A rubber type squeegee is not good, as it is apt to hang onto the pile and pull the knots out.

-I have washed many rugs, and usually did this on a flat asphalt driveway. If it has a slight pitch, all the better as one can take advantage of gravity in the hosing/rinsing process. Position the rug so the planing out of detergent solution propels it downgrade. My method was to hose, plane, hose, plane, on into the night if necessary. I would use a natural bristle scrub brush, not too stiff. When I thought I was done, I would rinse the brush thoroughly, then gently brush the pile in the direction I wanted it to set. For drying, the best method was to lay the rug, pile side up, over some stout shrubbery, such as a boxwood hedge, and let it dry. Feel free to turn it a few times. Up until the last minute, it will be as stiff as the birch bark the indians used to make their canoes, and you'll wonder what hath you wrought. Suddenly (if it's a Baluch), it will turn soft as silk.

-I tried the washing machine method once or twice experimentally on the odd threadbare bagface. I found that the highest risk was to end and selvage finishes, and the edges of unrepaired holes. Essentially, they would want to unravel.

-I have never had a problem with serious color running or bleeding while washing. Most of the time, colors that will run look like they will. The bad ones will transfer to a damp cloth very readily, and one knows not to try. A bit of judicious testing beforehand should be sufficient.

-One last comment. If the rug was heavy when you started, it will be something else once it's wet. Be sure to account for this problem, and be sure that hedge is really stout.

Rich Larkin

Posted by Kenneth Thompson on 12-04-2006 08:40 PM:

I didn't get infected by rug collecting until 1974 in Istanbul. But I did get initiated into rug washing earlier.

My first rug-washing experience was in Ankara in 1973, when I heard sloshing in the bathroom one morning. Our very hardy Anatolian housekeeper, Emine, didn't like the dirty rug (a long shaggy rug acquired in Malta) and was stomping on it in the bathtub. She used Castile soap and changed the water several times. Then hung it over the balcony to dry. After a few hours, the usual warp rigor mortis set in, but in two days it was clean, supple and much better for the experience.

A couple of years later in Istanbul, I ended up doing the same thing to a long kilim I found in the Bit Pazari, but had been advised by a professional rug cleaner to add vinegar to the water before putting in the piece to prevent dye-run absorption. I used pure Castile soap. Lots of red dye and dirt hemorrhaged out, but after several vinegar and water rinsings, it ran clear. Another balcony drying--in the distance from the Bosphorus it looked like a banner--and a pressing with a steam iron over a towel, and, voila, a great looking Konya region kilim.

Since then, I have successfully washed dozens of kilims, torbas, a 9 x 12 ersari (on a driveway), a large tekke on a porch, saddle bags in the bathtub, etc. I now use a large plastic tub designed for cement mixing to soak the rug, first adding calgonite to soften the water and vinegar to control any dye absorption. I then soak it for at least an hour to allow the fibers to swell and push out the dirt. You can even leave it overnight.

For soap, I still use pure Castile soap and vinegar, though in a pinch I sometimes use baby shampoo, on the theory that if it is safe enough for newborns and for use as a lubricant for contact lenses, an old rug will not suffer unduly. I scrub it gently with a very soft, natural bristle brush.

I do not use Orvus, since I understand that sodium lauryl sulfate (the main component) is a harsh skin irritant and that SLS can strip out oil from the wool. I have also read that adding vinegar to SLS can force the pH down to a point where the SLS bonds with the wool surface and is hard to remove. We don't even use it on our horse, its original purpose.

After rinsing the rug till all signs of soap and dye are gone, I use a variable suction wet-dry vac to suck out the water and any residual soap. If the rug is solid enough to walk on, the vac will not loosen the knots. It will actually tighten them. The thing NEVER to do is put the rug in a washing machine. The beating action is almost certain to loosen knots. For a loose-weave Caucasian rug, you may end up with a knotless mop of clammy warp and weft.

I know that there is a now a mystique akin to wine connoisseurship attached to rug-washing, with purists (probably correctly) insisting that without anionic paste or deionized water and special treatments, my beloved turkmen and persian pieces are doomed. But I only need them to last through what is left of my lifetime and that of my children and grandchildren. I am pretty sure they will. And I get the pleasure of having clean rugs with a reasonable investment of time.

Best regards,

Ken Thompson

Posted by Richard Larkin on 12-05-2006 09:51 AM:

Hi Ken,

Very interesting. It is possible to find "debates" on the web of soap vs. synthetic detergent (e. g., SLS) for cleaning delicate fibers. No doubt, either is acceptable if used properly.

Check out that baby shampoo to see what the principal ingredient(s) are. (Sodium laureth sulfate is a variant product that is said to be less harsh on the skin.)

Rich Larkin

Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 12-05-2006 11:09 AM:

I remember when studying Art Restoration and Conservation they took my class to visit Florence’s Laboratory of Restoration of Tapestries, situated at the time at the last floor of the Uffizi building (where the Uffizi Museum is).
The curator explained us that for washing the centuries- old tapestries they used de-ionized water and Saponaria.
From Wikipedia: “The crushed leaves or roots of Saponaria officinalis have been used as a soap since the Renaissance. Museum conservators still use the soap made from its leaves and roots for cleaning delicate fabrics not able to withstand modern soaps, and it also makes a fine shampoo.”
Also Stefano Ionescu mentioned it as used for washing the Transylvanian rugs.

Personally, I have washed only small pieces, mainly dirty, smelly and well-used flat-weave bags or kilims, using - ahem - the normal soap employed by my wife for washing wool.
The logic was – heck, this piece has been abused so much that it will not complain if I use a little of Woolite or Perwool.



Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 12-05-2006 11:20 AM:

Concerns about castile soap

Wikipedia again:

Castile soap has a very high alkalinity level, measured at about 9. pH of skin and hair has a slightly acidic pH level known to be about 5 to 6. Due to the high pH level, liquid castile soap is usually not recommended for washing hair by soapmakers who market it, because it is not pH-balanced and it may cause hair to become dry.


Posted by James Blanchard on 12-05-2006 12:04 PM:

Hi all,

I've heard about the use of vinegar to "set" dyes when washing, but I can't recall any specifics about how much vinegar to use. I have also read that if you already have some dye transfer, washing with vinegar will ensure that you can never get the reds out. Any thoughts?


Posted by Kenneth Thompson on 12-05-2006 07:42 PM:

Dear Richard, Filiberto, and James

I have never checked out the contents of Johnson's original baby shampoo, since I couldn't read the list of of ingredients through liquid. The manufacturers obviously have nothing to conceal, since they print it in small type on the back of the label to be read through a barely transparent liquid. And when the bottle is empty, I forget to look or else the label is too beaten up. But I will check out the laureth vs the lauryl.

I have toyed with the idea of using saponaria, since soapwort grows all over Vermont, but I haven't had the time or spark to try to make it into a useable soap mixture. But it will be fun to try one day.

Castile soap does have a high pH, as do most non-detergent soaps. But women traditionally have rinsed their hair in a vinegar mixture to remove soap scum and restore lustre to their hair. That may be what the vinegar does to rug wool. It will certainly lower the pH of the water and counter some of the alkalinity of the soap. So far, the pile on the rugs I have washed has done very well.

I buy gallons of store-brand white apple vinegar from the supermarket. I never measure exactly what I pour in, but it is roughly about a quart to a normal size bathtubful, whatever normal size is. I just googled "washing carpets with vinegar" and found 301,000 entries. One useful url was,
which indicates one cup of vinegar to five litres of water. (The Textile Conservativor's Manual-_Sheila Landi, ex V & A_says that a weak dilution of acetic acid is useful as a final rinse for fixing dyes on silk and wool dyed with acid dyes.)

In any case, the objective is to increase the acidity of the water to a reasonable amount to keep acid dyes from being reabsorbed by the wool.

I may be wrong, but I think if you have softened water, a non-detergent soap, some vinegar, lots of rinsings and a good means of water extraction and drying, you should be able to wash most woolen rugs with reasonable certainty that you are not doing irreversible damage. Given the damage done by dirt, airborne chemicals, and normal use, I am willing to take the chance.

Best regards


Posted by Norma J. Westwood on 12-10-2006 07:05 PM:

Cleaning/washing rugs

Hello To All,

I just registered here, but I am going to jump right in. I consider myself 'the queen of clean' and I want to share a real lifesaver with you. I have used a Bissell carpet cleaner for a number of years; they are perfect for almost every thing: car interiors, sofas/chairs, and RUGS. The Bissell works almost like a shop vac except you add your steam cleaner soap to the machine, spray and remove the soap, dirt and liquid all at once. They cost about $150. but are well worth it.

I just used my Bissell today to clean a small handmade rug that I purchased from a little old man; it came out beautifully. (it needs a couple little repairs) I think it is one of those rugs under so much question regarding age: small, maybe 3'x2' with bold, deep red background, a fair amount of black and a small amount of soft blue; a little green, gray and peach, unevenly patterned, center diamond/vase and heavier than usual. Exciting isn't it?!!! I doesn't appear to have been walked on very much, if at all, but I could be mistaken... I am fairly new at this rug stuff.

Any advise is welcome; be kind, I am.

NJ Westwood


Posted by Richard Larkin on 12-11-2006 08:43 AM:

Hi Norma,

You've gone and done it. Now, we have to have a picture of the rug. Can you post it?

I've used the Bissell (though not on an oriental rug). I agree it works very well.

Rich Larkin

Posted by Norma J. Westwood on 12-11-2006 09:41 AM:

Photo of Rug

Hello Rich,

Thank you for your approval on the Bissel and your response.

I would post a photo but this site does not allow (me)attachments. I can send it directly to you, but I will have to do that later tonight or tomorrow(busy day). I would like to have some opinions on this little rug. So maybe you can post a photo for me? I was mistaken on the size it is about 1.5' x 2'. I forgot to mention that it has odd hair-like material weaved into it.

I have another one that is approximately 2'x3' that is also red, kinda streak-ie from the old dyes and much thinner and softer than the smaller rug.

I have enjoyed this site and will probably need to subscribe to the appraisal/info/question service. ADVICE on same? Be kind, I am,



Posted by Steve Price on 12-11-2006 09:46 AM:

Hi Norma

We have disabled file attachments on this site - too much potential for mischief. If you have images to post, just send them to me or to Filiberto as e-mail attachments. We'll put them into the server, then send you instructions on how to make them appear in a message.

We don't discuss market values at all, so appraisal-type information will have to come from someplace else. Other than that, we welcome all sorts of questions.


Steve Price

Posted by Norma J. Westwood on 12-11-2006 09:31 PM:

No Appraisals

Hello Steve,

Thank you for your reply.

How is it possible to not discuss values? I gather from visiting here that you, and others, are bursting with knowledge. Usually, a discussion of a thing must have SOME value, in some way. How is it possible to dance all around value when it is of such importance?

Be kind, I am,

NJ Westwood


Posted by Steve Price on 12-11-2006 09:59 PM:

Hi Norma

We've been not discussing values for more than 8 years now, so I know for sure that it's possible.

We don't dance around it, we just don't pay attention to it. I've never been in a museum that thought the experience of viewing and developing an understanding of the art they display warranted putting monetary values on the labels. I think they've got it right.


Steve Price

Posted by Norma J. Westwood on 12-12-2006 11:33 PM:

Better Objectives

Hi Steve,

Well said. Far more noble to study, learn and understand rather than thinking of the bottom line.
I have been put into (my) place.

Now that we have established that it's not the money, how do YOU determine how much to pay when making a purchase of a fine old antique Persian rug? What are SOME of the variables you look for? Anything, articles and/or websites, you have time to share is appreciated.


Posted by Steve Price on 12-13-2006 05:50 AM:

Hi Norma

Since the topic of this thread is pretty specific (REPAIR: how to wash a rug), let's not hijack it something unrelated. The matter of how someone decides whether to buy or pass is involved and personal, although we do have an archived Salon entitled something like, "Why do collectors collect what they collect?", which covers some aspects of the decision.

If you'd like to pursue it further, please open a new thread for it. As a point in passing, nobody suggested that cost is irrelevant (or less noble), only that we don't discuss market values here. Seller reputations are relevant, too, and we don't discuss that either.


Steve Price

Posted by Kirsten Karrock on 01-16-2007 12:31 PM:

Rotten rug!


And what to do if a old rug is rotten, very hard? Is it possible to wash this spot and make it soft?


Posted by Steve Price on 01-16-2007 12:35 PM:

Hi Kirsten

If it's gotten stiff because of dirt, washing will probably help. If it's stiff because of embedded glue or some other material, washing might soften it, might not. If it's actually rotting, I don't think anything you do will make it as nice as it once was.


Steve Price

Posted by steve pendleton on 01-16-2007 01:14 PM:

>And what to do if a old rug is rotten,

What do you mean by "rotten"? The word in this context ususally refers to a cotton foundation that has dry rot. That is, the cellulose fibers are infected with a fungus that digests them, exactly like the same fungus digests wood. In rugs, the usual cause is an indoor plant, which creates an ongoing damp spot on the rug ("dry" rot does require moisture). A traditional test is to flex the rug slightly. A crackling sound (which is the fibers breaking, so this is a destructive test!) confirms rot. The rug might make an attractive wall hanging but probably won't hold up on the floor.

If your rug is truly rotten, then a wet wash might easily cause the whole rotten area to fall apart. If you plan to reweave anyway, that's a quick way to assess the scope of the damage (!). Otherwise, don't wash it. As a rule of thumb, rugs that have significant mechanical problems are best sent to professional cleaners and might be uncleanable. Anyway, if you doubt the basic stablity of the rug, then it isn't an amature job, unless you're prepared to lose the rug.

Again, can you detail what you mean by "rotten."

--Steve Pendleton, who still plans to write a good rug washing procedure and post it here, but who was too busy over the holidays.

Posted by Kirsten Karrock on 01-16-2007 01:33 PM:

Thank both for your help, Steves.

Yes, thats the point!

I mean the same dry rot as you discribed.

Its a cotton foundation, very low pile, there is no waste i can see, but the foundation can break! There is a spot I HAVE to sew, but the cotten-warp is to hard to come through.

Posted by Steve Pendleton on 01-16-2007 03:18 PM:

>I mean the same dry rot as you discribed

Your situation is outside my direct experience, but I'd be unwilling to wet-wash a dry-rot rug using the "Orvus, bathtub, and hose" approach. You might easily end up with holes and tears. Whether it is cleanable at all depends on the extent of the rot, the value of the piece, how dirty it is, your aversion to risk, and your willingness to re$tore. Maybe someone can suggest a work-around. Maybe someone has dramatic anecdotes. You are probably outside the "do it yourself" envelope.

--Steve Pendleton