A wall-to-wall carpet can be easy to clean and maintain if you have the right vacuum. Area rugs are a different story. Some are antiques and no match for the rough brushes of modern vacuums. Other types of area rugs may not need vacuuming at all if they’re small enough to take outside and shake.

“Customers should always follow the cleaning instructions provided by the manufacturers of the rug or carpet,” says Blair Holly, Kenmore's product manager of floor care.

Here are some tips from CR's cleaning experts on how to maintain your antique and area rugs.

Flat-Woven Rugs (Dhurrie, Kilim, Navajo)

Vacuum these reversible, tightly woven, long-wearing rugs as regularly as you would carpets. If the rug is small enough, take it outside and shake it, or hang it over a clothesline and brush it with a soft brush. Check the label for care instructions before washing, shampooing, or dry cleaning. (Navajo rugs may have dyes that are not fast, and wet-cleaning can damage them. It's best to have them cleaned by a dry method, or dry-cleaned.)

Some rugs can be washed by hand or machine. Test a small rag rug for colorfastness; if it is, put it in a pillowcase and machine-wash it. Or hand-wash it in warm water with soap powder. After washing, gently pull the rug back into shape, and air-dry it flat.

Oriental Rugs

Because these area rugs are generally handmade, may be old, and may not be colorfast, they need special care. The rotating brush of a newer upright vacuum cleaner is too harsh, so use a canister cleaner or an upright vacuum with a beater bar (not found on newer models). To prevent the fringe along the edges from being sucked up, use the attachment nozzle covered with an old nylon stocking or a vacuum setting that turns off the rotary brush and provides suction only. Always vacuum in the direction that the pile is supposed to lie.

If the rug is small enough, take it outside, hang it on a clothesline, and dust it with a soft brush. Because gritty dirt abrades a rug’s backing, vacuum the back of the rug occasionally. Remove grease stains with a dry spot cleaner, testing first in an inconspicuous place—perhaps the edge or back.

Every one to three years, depending on your household traffic, have the rug cleaned by a professional. Labels on Oriental rugs don't always give information about the backing fiber. Consumer Reports' tests have found that a handmade rug labeled “100 percent wool” may have a fringe or foundation made of cotton, and machine-made rugs may have a fringe made of synthetic fiber or wool. The presence of other fibers—which you may need a professional to identify—can become significant during cleaning.

Pile Rugs

Wool pile rugs should generally be wet-cleaned; silk-pile rugs generally should be dry-cleaned; and rugs with rayon pile must be dry-cleaned exclusively. Rub a damp white cloth over dark portions to check colorfastness. If color comes off on the cloth, the rug will bleed during cleaning.


For shag or other high-pile carpets, use a canister vacuum. An upright cleaner with a rotating brush can damage shag or become entangled in loop or pile carpeting. Use it with suction only; most upright vacuums have a setting that turns off the rotating brush. A carpet rake (purchased from a rug retailer) can be used on shag rugs to loosen tangles. To have all the pile lie in the same direction, rake the carpet after vacuuming.


Vacuum periodically. Blot liquid spills immediately with a clean white cloth, working from the edges of the spill in toward the center. To remove stains, saturate the area with a mild detergent solution or white vinegar, and then blot up immediately with a clean white cloth. Do not rub, which will damage the fibers. Test on an inconspicuous area first.

Sisal, Coir, Rush, and Split-Cane Rugs

All of these area rugs are made from plant fibers. Most are sold with a rubber backing. Vacuum regularly to remove dirt and debris caught between the fiber and the backing. For spills, first blot, then apply an absorbent dry powder. Check with the manufacturer for the best way to shampoo or dry-clean.

Deep-clean or shampoo about once a year. For sisal or coconut mats, shake to remove dirt and dust, vacuum both sides, and occasionally take them outside and sponge them with warm, soapy water. Rinse and air-dry thoroughly. Note that water may darken the color.

Adapted from "How to Clean Practically Anything."