Here’s a secret: Rug cleaning in the past was, in some ways, less problematic than today. Today, designers and manufacturers are pushing the envelope of common sense by using fibers and rug construction that really shouldn’t experience foot traffic — let alone cleaning. Let’s look at some of the problem rugs you may encounter in your rug washing business.
The current darling of the design trade is viscose rayon rugs. This fiber has multiple names: Art silk, Tencel®, viscose, or rayon. It is made from reformed or regenerated cellulose (wood pulp and cotton linters) treated with various chemicals, which results in a shiny, silk-looking fiber. Despite that it is a somewhat low-cost fiber as compared to real silk, the customer often pays a premium for rayon rugs due to the popularity of the “look.”
Viscose rayon loses 50 percent of its strength when wet, so texture distortion and shading are major concerns (Image 1). If you are unsure if a rug is viscose rayon, perform a simple burn test. The fiber has a burning-paper odor, unlike silk which smells like burning hair.
Also, dye bleed from cleaning, pets, and stains from beverages are common issues (Image 2). Often when we are called, the rug is beyond help. Before you begin the job, carefully prequalify it with the customer. Pet, wine, and food stains can be a challenge to remove.
Some rayon rugs being made in India are hand-loomed, i.e., not hand-knotted. Because the face yarns are only looped around a foundation yarn, sprout problems are exacerbated. One can remove the face yarns one by one with a mere pull. Sprouts can appear with vacuuming, foot traffic, handling, and cleaning.
Surprises can happen — and not always the ones you are prepared for.
Chinese viscose rayon rugs can bleed (Image 3). Occasionally stencil bleeding (in this case blue) come from the warp and or weft yarns wicking to the front or back. It seems the stencil marks are applied to the warp and/or weft to guide the weaver. It is impossible to pre-inspect for this problem and the marks are difficult to remove. Some advanced rug-cleaning courses have procedures to remove these.
Pile distortion and shading are also a big problem with Chinese viscose rayon rugs (Image 4). Immediately after cleaning, groom the pile down (towards the bottom of the rug) to help correct shading; however, it does not always fully correct the issue.
Border rugs constructed with hot-melt tape are a concern (Image 5). Time, heat, foot traffic, and pet waste can cause these seams to peak, loosen, or come off during cleaning or fail while on a dry pole. Do not hang rugs with this construction — only dry flat.
Watch out for rug manufacturers’ logos that can shrink (or bleed) during cleaning. The cotton canvas binding sewn on the ends of certain rugs may need to be removed and resewn if it does shrink (Image 6).
Unfortunately, many modern Persian rugs (made after 1980) are not colorfast (Image 7). Learning basic rug identification will allow you to recognize modern production. Low-moisture cleaning methods can avoid bleeding issues. However, if immersion methods are needed, it is important to be skilled in the art of dye stripping and color restoration to correct dye bleed. This skill is taught in certain advanced rug-restoration courses. Dye bleed on modern rugs from Tabriz, Iran, might be impossible to correct (Image 8). Get to know this rug — they are expensive.
An old trick of the trade with some unscrupulous rug retailers is to paint the foundation of old worn rugs (Image 9). Over time, wool will wear away from foot traffic and expose the cotton foundation. A pigment or ink is applied to the foundation to hide wear. Because the “liquid restoration” is not a colorfast dye, it will bleed when the rug is washed. Always check old worn rugs with a white, Turkish towel and water.
Hand-loomed Indian production is a somewhat new arrival in retail stores such as Pottery Barn and others (Image 10). Due to their construction, hand-loomed rugs are susceptible to distention or tearing between the pile rows (Image 11). Repair is difficult and time consuming, and the rug’s value does not justify the expense. Exercise caution when moving these rugs while wet as damage can occur. It’s best to roll on a pole or tube for transport.
Another trendy rug from India that the design trade likes are cut-pile jute (Image 12). You might see alternating rows of other material like cotton or wool and/or loop pile. Certain high-end design houses are retailing rugs like this for around $200 per square foot.
Do not spot clean jute rugs because it may leave a water mark or bleached areas. Overall cleaning of the rug is preferred. Spills and consumer use of supermarket spotters may cause color loss or gain which can be still visible after cleaning. This issue is difficult to correct.
Another rug from India is made from leather strips that look a bit like a pile of leaves (Image 13). Occasionally you might see strips of leather held in place by warps made of Kraft paper. One must wonder what they are thinking. Cleaning a leather/ paper rug might be limited to dusting with compressed air. Otherwise, leather rugs can be wet washed, but spotting a dry rug can leave watermarks.
Contemporary, light-color, polyester shag rugs have been on the scene for a while (Image 14). Often the home owner will put a coffee table in the center of the rug and create a stubborn traffic lane. Throw in oily food spills, and it is a challenge to get them looking good. Using a specialized enzyme prespray for rugs will make them look much better. Give adequate dwell time, and thoroughly rinse the rug.
Taking care of problem rugs
The best way to prevent problems is to “triage” the rugs — that is, separate problem rugs from the regular wash. Develop a system of tagging rugs marked with cleaning instructions. After pre-inspection, place the problem rugs in a separate pile from the regular wash (Image 15). Only your most experienced personnel should clean or supervise the cleaning of these problem rugs.
The fun part about rug cleaning is new products are constantly coming to market. This keeps us on our toes and creates the opportunity to discuss these new challenges with the customer — before starting the cleaning process. When we can do this intelligently, it builds customer confidence in us as the experts. This leads to increased sales and customer satisfaction.
Aaron Groseclose is the former president of MasterBlend, a manufacturer of rug and carpet cleaning chemicals and equipment. He instructs carpet, upholstery, and oriental rug cleaning seminars. He is the co-developer of the Master Rug Cleaner Program and co-author of A Comprehensive Guide to Oriental and Specialty Rug Cleaning.