How to Clean an Area Rug to Make It Look Like New Again

How to Clean an Area Rug to Make It Look Like New Again

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5. Rinse the rug, and blot

Rug shampoo, just like hair shampoo, needs rinsing out of the fibers if the rug is to be truly clean. Fail to rinse the soap out thoroughly and the rug can become sticky, attracting more dirt in the long run. 

Our tried and tested approach is to first blot as much of the shampoo out of the rug as possible with kitchen towels – press down firmly with the heels of your hands or lay them out and walk over them with clean shoes or bare feet.

That done, you can use clean, warm water, applied with a clean, soap-free sponge. You will need to change the water regularly to ensure it lifts the shampoo and dirt properly, and if the rug starts to become too wet, blot it between rinses. 


How can I tell if my area rug needs to be cleaned?

You may not be able to determine if a rug is dirty just by casually glancing at it. What usually happens is as a rug begins collecting dirt, it will gradually start looking duller. That’s not something most people will be tuned into. To judge how dirty a rug is, pick up a corner of the rug and whack it with your hand. If a cloud of dust flies out of the pile, the rug needs to be cleaned. You can also take a look at the warp and weft (the base of the pile at the foundation of the rug). If you see dirt deep inside the pile, the rug needs to be cleaned, as a vacuum cleaner can’t reach that deep.

I’ve heard that after a new rug has been washed, it gets dirty more quickly. Is this true?

This really depends on what cleaning product you use and how well you rinse after you are done cleaning. Some lower quality carpet shampoos can leave a sticky chemical residue inside the carpet fibers, which is not easily rinsed out and can actually attract dirt and grime. As a result, within a very short amount of time, the rug can become soiled again. The way to prevent this problem is to use a mild liquid detergent (rather than a carpet shampoo from the grocery store), which will easily rinse out and not leave a chemical residue.

Enlisting the services of a professional rug cleaner can also solve the problem. Here at S&S Rug Cleaners, we have the tools and the very best carpet cleaning solutions available, to ensure the job is done right—with no chemical residues left behind in the rug fibers.

6. Rinse the Rug

Rinse the soap out of the rug using a garden hose or buckets of clean water. Make sure all the cleaning solution is completely removed from the area rug and the runoff water is crystal clear.

3. Use a powdered anti-bacterial rug freshener

If, after vacuuming, a rug doesn’t smell clean, that may be because it is infested with bacteria. Short of cleaning it, you can freshen it – and neutralize the smell – with a rug powder.

‘There are anti-bacterial powders that can be sprinkled onto rugs to rid them of germs but always test on a small section first,’ says Daniel Prendergast. 

How to deep clean a rug

For set-in stains, the best thing to do is give the whole rug a thorough deep cleaning. Keep reading before you run out to rent a machine or call an expensive professional service, though. While these options certainly can make things easier or more convenient, it’s surprisingly easy to deep clean a rug yourself with household cleaners.

Check the label

If your rug has a care label, consult it before attempting any deep cleaning and follow any instructions it offers. This label will let you know if there are any special considerations you should take or even if you should avoid cleaning entirely. If your rug has a jute backing, for example, you should not attempt this kind of deep cleaning, as it will be very hard to dry the rug. It may end up developing foul-smelling mold or mildew.

Prepare your workstation and tools

Before you start, set up a space to work outside. Ideally, this will be somewhere sunny where you can let the rug dry for a while when you’re done. This also means the best time to do a deep cleaning is in the spring or summer when you can take advantage of the sunlight. Good candidates are a sloped driveway or a deck with a railing you can drape the rug over. Avoid setting up on your lawn, as you don’t want cleaners soaking into the grass. You’ll also need the following materials:

  • Rug shampoo or mild dish detergent
  • Bucket
  • Soft-bristle brush or sponge
  • Water

Vacuum the rug

Your first step should be to give the rug a thorough vacuuming on both sides of the rug to loosen debris. If it still appears to be dusty, don’t be afraid to whack it with a broom a few times to knock out any additional trapped debris.

Clean with rug shampoo or mild detergent

When using a rug shampoo, follow the mixing instructions provided. If you use dish detergent instead, a few capfuls in a bucket of warm water should be enough. Test on a small, inconspicuous area first to check for colorfastness. If all goes well, rinse the whole rug with a garden hose, then gently start working your cleaning solution into the rug with the soft brush. You shouldn’t need to work too hard, just let the cleaner do its work. Let the rug sit for a few minutes or as directed by your shampoo, then rinse it again with the hose.

Dry fully

This might be the most important step: make sure your rug is completely dry before you bring it inside. Depending on the material and construction of your rug, this can take time—don’t rush it! Failure to completely dry your rug before bringing it inside can lead to mold, mildew, bacteria, bad smells, and permanent damage to the rug or floor it ends up covering. You can help this process along by having the rug laid out on a sloped driveway or draped over a deck railing or clothesline. If you have access to one, you might consider setting up a box fan to speed things up. Flip the rug periodically to help it dry evenly on both sides.

Vacuum again

Finally, give the rug one more vacuum to remove any dirt loosened up by the deep cleaning that was not already rinsed away. You rug should be looking good as new!

3. Charcoal For Odor Absorption

If vacuuming and sun exposure fails to completely remove odors from an area rug, it’s time to move on to more drastic measures. Charcoal has long been known for its ability to absorb a wide swath of odorous organic compounds, including those that may be leaving your area rug with its unique stench. Find an old pair of nylon pantyhose (or a comparably breathable material) and fill them up with additive-free charcoal briquettes. Feel free to use whatever leftover charcoal you may have lying around from last weekend’s grill session. Lay the charcoal-filled pantyhose across the top of the rug and roll it up, laying down additional rows of charcoal-hose as you roll if the area rug is particularly large. Once fully rolled, see if you can fit the area rug in a plastic garbage bag; if not, wrap it in painter’s plastic or Saran wrap.


Seal it as tightly as possible from the outside environment to ensure that the charcoal absorbs carpet odors, not whatever smells may be floating around the room. After a few days, unwrap the rug and let it air out overnight. The procedure may be repeated if any strange scents linger.

Cleaning different kinds of rug stains

For most small spills, you can save a lot of money by acting quickly and having the right tools on hand. Your first step should be to consult the care label on your rug, but if it isn’t detailed enough, these tips can help.

How to clean basic rug stains

With most basic stains, the key is to act quickly. The first step is to remove any physical debris from the area. Avoid using a paper towel or a rag at this point so you don’t push the debris further into the pile. It’s best to use a tool like a fork or a spoon to gently lift the dirt up and away. Next, dab the area gently with a damp paper towel and treat with a stain-removal solution. Finally, rinse the area with cool water and dab dry. Never use warm water. Repeat this process as necessary for stubborn spills.

How to clean pet stains

Pet stains are among the most common and most dreaded stains people will have to deal with. Left untreated, urine stains will start to smell. That means these stains not only look bad but can pose potential health risks too. The most important thing to know with pet stains is to never use a steam cleaner. The high heat involved will only amplify the smell and help set the stain. Instead, treat them like any other stain, but use a cleaner designed to deal with pet stains. These are specially formulated to counteract the foul-smelling and potentially dangerous chemicals found in urine. Act quickly, avoid heat, and remember to lightly dab rather than scrub, and pet stains will be no problem.

Help the Rug Dry

  • Try to wring the rug as much as possible to get rid of all the excess water.
    • Pro tip: A squeegee can help with this step.
  • After that, your rug will still be very wet and you’ll need to wait for it to dry completely before moving it back inside your house.
    • Note: Drying may take longer than a day—or even the weekend.
  • For more protected drying, consider moving the rug to the laundry room or garage.
  • When the rug is fully dry, you won’t be able to feel any water even when you squeeze hard, and it will probably be a bit stiff.

Basic Area Rug Care

Size, construction, and material determine the best way to clean an area rug. Care for large area rugs as you would wall-to-wall carpet. That means most rugs will benefit from the following care routine:

  • Vacuum large area rugs to remove dirt: As with carpet, regular vacuuming is the most important area rug cleaning step you can take. If a rug is reversible, vacuum both sides. This removes grit and grime that can wear out your rug prematurely. Take care to not vacuum any fringe. (Turn off the beater bar when vacuuming a shag rug to prevent tangling the long fibers.)
  • Brush out pet hair: A vacuum will sometimes leave pet hair behind. Use a stiff brush to remove the hair, brushing in the direction of the nap of the rug.
  • Turn rugs every year: Foot traffic and sun can put extra stress on area rugs. Turn them once or twice a year to even out the wear.
  • Shake small area rugs: If the rug is small enough, you can take it outside and shake it or beat it vigorously to remove dirt and grit. Some areas have ordinances about shaking rugs outdoors, so check your local codes first.

Related: The 10 Best Vacuums to Easily Remove Pet Hair from Floors and Furniture

3. Mix Your Cleaner

When it comes to the actual cleaning solution, you can use a rug shampoo like this one from Bissell. Whatever shampoo you choose, follow its specific directions (found on the bottle) for mixing.

Alternatively, you can also use mild dish detergent mixed in a bucket with warm water. Do not use hot water as it can shrink the rug or cause fading.

Test Out Carpet Shampoos

  • Always test out the carpet shampoo before you apply it to the whole rug.
  • Apply a little to a small corner or patch, mix in some water, and let it settle for a few hours.
  • Go back and rinse that spot off.
  • Check carefully to see if there is any color damage or fiber damage.

Maintaining an Area Rug

Maintaining an Area Rug

Keeping your area rug clean is essential to avoid issues such as allergies caused by dust and dust mites. You can easily prevent these by vacuuming at least once a week on both sides of the rug.

Avoid damaging your rug and only deep clean it when necessary. Always choose a shampoo that’s safe for the material. Dry the carpet thoroughly by utilizing fans, or take it outside and let the sun work its magic.


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