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about rugs
By Lisa Wagner, CRS

Don’t get caught holding — and owning —

a rug you didn’t want. Protect yourself
with proper cleaning.

32 CM/Cleanfax® APRIL 2011 CLEANFAX.COM


COVER STORY For more information on

this topic, visit
Lisa Wagner is a second-generation rug care expert, NIRC Certified Rug Specialist and an owner of K. Blatchford's
San Diego Rug Cleaning Company. She was recognized as the 2006 Cleanfax magazine Person of the Year for her
industry contributions. For a copy of her latest free report "Rug Disasters — and How To Avoid Them" visit her rug
education website at

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visit, select Supplier
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R ugs should be regularly cleaned.

But not cleaned in the home.
Why not? There are two main reasons.
No dusting
When a cleaner does not pre-vacuum
behind throughout the foundation of
the rug.
If they choose to use encapsulation prod-
before cleaning a room of carpet with
The first is that you are not getting the hot water extraction, many insist the ucts to try to remove the “grey look” that
rug thoroughly cleaned, and the second power of their equipment makes that their cleaning created — due to remaining
is that — in most cases — you are caus- step not really necessary. embedded soil at the base of the wool fibers
ing long-term damage to those woven When a cleaner does not dust a rug — they end up leaving even more residue
textiles. before cleaning it in the home, they are now at the top of those fibers as well.
I receive, on a weekly basis, technical not really cleaning it because most of the Resoiling is now almost guaranteed.
help requests from cleaners or insurance embedded soil is not being removed In more serious cases, because the
case help requests from adjusters with their process. embedded soil can have a drying effect
regarding damaged rugs. A wool woven rug can hold pounds of to the cotton foundation fibers, this can
The rugs involved range in value soil and grit before it begins to look lead to brittleness, something like “dry
from $100 to $100,000. The cause of dirty. Those of us who operate rug rot,” where warps and wefts can crack
the problems inevitably comes down to cleaning plants will always shock our and break. The rug begins to feel stiff to
a lack of knowledge about the rugs clients when we show them how much handle and then eventually falls apart
being cleaned and how to clean them dirt we can shake and beat out of their from the inside out.
properly. rug before cleaning it. There is a better way and a best way
to approach this challenge.
• Better way: Rugs that are being
surface cleaned absolutely need
to be dusted to get as much soil
A wool woven rug can hold pounds as possible out before it gets wet.

of soil and grit before it

While you cannot create a
dusting area in a client’s home

begins to look dirty.

with your beater bar vacuum or
professional duster, you can in
your office or garage mini-plant.
Beating the dry soil out of the rug
prior to your off-site surface
More rug disasters occur from clean- This is a critical step in rug cleaning cleaning dramatically improves
ers treating natural fiber woven rugs that is missed with on location rug what you would have done on-site.
like synthetic installed wall-to-wall car- cleaning because this soil needs to be • Best way: Rugs brought to a rug
pet than anything else. They are using beaten and shaken out of the foundation washing plant will have the most
the wrong cleaning techniques, tools fibers, and not simply run over the top soil removed. Whether the
and solutions for wool, silk, cotton or with a vacuum cleaner. dusting method is accomplished
rayon rugs. When this soil is left behind, and the with a commercial vacuum,
Most carpet cleaning professionals I moisture from the cleaning process is professional duster, compressed
know are quality and service conscious. added, the grit that is nudged between air, giant tumbler, etc., rug plants
They want to do the best for their clients the warps and wefts of the rug essen- have the equipment and labor to
and give the best care for their clients’ tially becomes mud into those cotton get more soil out prior to
belongings. foundation fibers. cleaning. And the washing
They clean the rugs on-site because Because on-site rug cleaners are usu- method, whether by wash pit or
many simply do not understand the ally more worried about getting the rug an inclined wash floor, through
truth about on-site rug cleaning, that it too wet for too long instead of getting it fully saturating the rug, will
often does more harm than good to woven really clean, they end up only cleaning loosen up and flush out even
rugs. the surface of the rug’s fibers, and leave more soil than the dusting could
a mix of soil and chemical residue have ever reached otherwise.

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No rinsing
WHAT’S LURKING BENEATH THE SURFACE? When cleaning a rug in the home, usu-
ally the “top of mind” concerns are to
This room-size Chinese hand avoid bleeding the dyes and to not create
woven wool rug, with cotton foun- any problems with the flooring under-
dation, is dusted over a metal neath the rug.
This usually leads to a quicker cleaning
grate. The rug is dusted until no
to “freshen up” the rug with little or, in the
more dry soil is released. Pounds worst cases, no rinsing.
of soil have been removed. Besides the obvious problem of the rug
not being clean, there are additional prob-
The rug is wetted down and washed. lems with measurable residue being left
behind, especially in natural fiber rugs.
Suds are released from the fibers be-
If the rug is colorful, then a dye stabiliz-
fore our shampoo is even applied (this ing product will generally be applied to
is past residue). The rug is scrubbed the rug, brushed in a bit and left to dwell.
with a rotary scrubber, using a neutral Then the cleaning solution is added and
pH Oriental rug shampoo, followed by extracted, leaving behind some additional
residue along with that dye stabilizing so-
thorough rinsing with an acid rinse and
lution. Then, if a fiber rinse is used, many
gallons of water. However, take a look. of which, in the carpet cleaning lines of
chemicals, have added surfactants, this
Despite over an hour of washing, soil still remains caked into the foundation leaves behind residue as well.
fibers of this rug. The soil is hard to the touch, the result of several past clean-
ings performed in the home by a carpet cleaning company that did not special-
ize in wool rugs.
The embedded soil could not be released with aggressive dusting or standard
washing. A much higher alkaline cleaning solution was required, which with
this rug, because no dyes are involved, did not create a “bleeding” risk, and
the use of a stiffer hand-held brush to literally “scrub away” the soil physically
section by section was needed.
Because of the improper prior cleaning, the rug had to be handled much
more aggressively than usual. The wash took twice as long, used twice as
much solution and labor — all the result of a past cleaning that never got it

If you clean rugs in the home, after you complete your next job, simply bend
open the fibers and look closely. Once you do that, and see the dirty truth, you
A complete flushing of soils and rinsing of residues
won’t ever feel right about cleaning rugs on location again. with in-plant rug cleaning procedures means a
better result for the client.

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No matter what the steps, measurable
soil and solution residue is being left be-
hind in the rug. And if the residue is on
the alkaline side on a wool rug, this can
lead to yellowing, fading and future dye
migration problems with a rug’s acid
There is a better way and a best way to
approach this challenge.
• Better way: Rugs being surface
cleaned off-site can be rinsed more
thoroughly due to the ability to use
a pure (no surfactants added) acid
rinse to remove more residue from
the fibers. Cleaning off-site allows
you to use rinsing solutions you
can’t use in the home, either due to
odor or possible damage to the
floors, and allows you to spend
more time rinsing because you
have a better setup for drying the
rug out completely.
• Best way: Rug washing is the best
way to remove the most residue, in
addition to any other additional
soil that has been released from
within the warps and wefts during
the cleaning process. With the rug
either placed on elevating tiles in a
wash pit, or with hoses running
from behind the rug on an inclined
wash floor, you can flush water
through the back to the front of the
rug and with the use of a squeegee,
linoleum roller or pressure washer
rinse the rug thoroughly until the
water runs clear. Pure acid rinse
solutions are mixed and ready to
use if additional residue removal is
needed, and large water removal
equipment (such as a rug wringer
or rug spinner) allows you to re
move the most excess moisture
before placing the rugs in the rug
drying area.

No fringe cleaning
The fringe is the smile of a rug. A per-
son could have a perfectly clean face, and
if they smile and reveal brown or black
teeth, it stops you dead in your tracks.
Often a rug is considered “dirty” by an
owner when the cotton fringes are visibly
soiled. Wool face fibers can hide pounds
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of soil and still look “good,” but cotton
does not work the same way. There is
no place to hide the soil on those cotton
Getting fringe tassels to look tassels.

really good is a huge Quickly surface cleaning cotton fringe

tassels will not get them clean. That’s like

challenge. having soiled shoelaces and taking a

damp rag to wipe them down and expect
them to look better. They don’t.
Fringe requires scrubbing to get them
clean, using a cotton or all-fiber sham-
poo, and rinsing to remove as much
residue as possible. It takes time. Most
cleaners who choose to clean rugs in the
home do not even bother to touch the
fringe because they don’t have the time
or the tools to do it properly.
So you usually end up with a rug that
looks a bit better in the field, but has that
grimy “smile” to it along the ends.

A quick surface cleaning of the cotton fringe only

removes a small amount of soil. A complete scrub-
bing and rinsing are required. Bleach fringe only
when it is absolutely necessary.

There is a better way and a best way to

approach this challenge.
• Better way: Getting fringe tassels
to look really good is a huge
challenge — the biggest challenge
I hear from cleaners. Many clients
wait too long to get their rugs
cleaned, so soil is ground into
those cotton strands. Off-site
surface cleaning can give an
opportunity to sit and scrub those
fringes clean, and use some
stronger temperatures, or
solutions, to help release
the ground in soil.
• Best way: The wash process itself
soaks the tassels and releases soil
during the immersion; the
agitation of the scrubbing (rotary
or hand brushes), with thorough
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Tufted rugs in my world are “fake” rugs.
They are cheaper ways of manufacturing the “look” of a woven rug without the labor
rinsing of the entire rug, also gets
or quality. They are the “particle board” of the rug world.
the fringe tassels much cleaner.
Fringe bleach can be used (care Latex is used to hold the loops in place, the top side loops are sheared off, and ma-
fully) if whitening is needed after terial is usually attached to cover up the ugly latex backing. Tufted rugs take days to
the cleaning. And if the fringe is create as opposed to woven rugs taking months (or years).
especially bad, most rug plants Generally, the latex provides enough of a moisture barrier for surface cleaning in the
offer fringe replacement for those home, but the latex can discolor and yellow the floor underneath. That said, thorough
who waited much too long to get rinsing and the slower drying that results from this latex will generally lead to the
their rug cleaned.
“quick clean and run” decision.
Many tufted rugs are poorly constructed. Delamination and crumbling of the adhe-
No time
When a cleaner is in the home cleaning a sive is common. Stenciling of the design motifs in ink is a common manufacturing flaw
rug, he usually has another job to go to — or that can wick up and stain the face fibers during cleaning, especially in hooked rugs.
several. In some cases “surface cleaning” is the best choice to avoid getting the foundation
Since the fee is based by size, not time, the and latex wet. Not because it is the best cleaning method, but because it is the best
faster the job can be accomplished, the more option for a rug that is not of high enough quality to handle a proper washing. They cut
profitable it is to him. No time to worry corners in production to make the rug cheaper, and this makes it a problem rug.
about dry time, or fringe cleaning, or if the
The rug cleaning professional needs to weigh all factors from his pre-inspection into
rug might bleed during the drying stage.
his choice on the best actions to take. Fiber type, dye stability, construction type and
And if the rug is wool, which does smell a
bit like a “wet dog” when damp, it’s another
pre-existing conditions will all collectively direct his actions.
reason to not get it too wet. And with many of the inferior tufted rugs on the market today, surface cleaning may
It’s to the on-location cleaner’s advantage be the better choice than washing.
to not do “too much” to rugs and get out of Of course, the best choice is to educate consumers on why to buy woven rugs in-
there as quickly as possible (before anything stead of these disposable tufted rugs... but that’s a topic for another time.
bad happens).
The fewer steps, the better, especially if
the cleaner has limited knowledge about
Oriental rugs, and whether the rug they are
working on is worth a hundred dollars or
worth thousands. There’s a tendency to just
get it done quick, get paid and get out of
The rug could be left with soil embedded
in its foundation, sticky residue in the fibers,
dirty fringe, and then the client handed a bill
for “cleaning” a rug that is actually still dirty.
There is a better way and a best way to ap-
proach this challenge.
• Better way: Doing surface
cleaning off-site allows a cleaner
to spend more time being
thorough with specific cleaning
steps, and use better tools and
solutions. If anything does go
wrong, it also gives an
opportunity to correct the
problem. Having a disaster
happen on location with a rug,
in most cases, means the cleaner
has “bought it.” A cleaner can take
the needed time if the work is
done off-site.
• Best way: The limitation with a
mini-plant is that you often are
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CLEANFAX.COM APRIL 2011 CM/Cleanfax® 37

able to work on just one rug at a not cleaning. to be properly cleaned. Even hotels send
time during the day due to space If a rug owner is educated on the reasons their rugs out for cleaning.
and, if you are an owner-operator, why wool rugs are different than installed If a cleaner gives in to cleaning a rug on-
labor. A dedicated rug plant will synthetic carpet, and why surface cleaning site, then it is the responsibility of that
have the resources to handle more on-site not only leaves behind soil and suds, cleaner to inform the owner of the limita-
volume while also allowing the but also can create damage, most will do tions and potential damage that can occur,
time needed to achieve the best what is best for the rug. and to protect his or her cleaning company
results. There will be dedicated by getting a release of liability because the
areas for specific phases of the rug
cleaning process in a rug plant, as There’s a tendency homeowner is choosing a method that car-
ries short and long-term risks to it.
opposed to having to do all of the If something goes wrong, it is the cleaner
steps in one small area. If more to just get it who will be expected to replace the rug.
time is needed on a particular rug, However, if you are being asked to do some-
it does not create a backlog done quick, thing against accepted industry standards for
preventing other rugs from being
cleaned. You can take the time get paid and woven rugs, the risk should be placed right
back on the homeowner. That’s only fair.

get out of
you need to in order to do the When it comes right down to it, it is the
job right. professional cleaner’s role to advise on and

execute the best cleaning process for the
Do what’s best for the rug health and welfare of the home environment
I often hear from carpet cleaners that their and its valued contents.
clients don’t want their rugs taken out for Our business refuses to do on-site clean- When professional cleaners relinquish all
cleaning, or they won’t allow their rugs to go ing because the recommended method for cleaning decisions and direction to the
out for cleaning — and that is why they clean cleaning woven rugs is washing them. I can’t homeowner, then they are no longer the
on-location. remember a single time when a rug client of cleaning “experts.” They are simply the
That is a cop-out. And that is absolutely ours has refused to have their rug taken out hired help. CF

Philadelphia - Saturday, April 2

Choose your rut carefully, because you Columbus - Wednesday, April 6
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