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What’s the best way to clean an area rug?

Just like fitted carpets, area rugs need regular vacuuming to keep them free from loose dirt and debris, but every now and then, they need more serious deep cleaning. If you’re wondering how to clean an area rug, the good news is that you don’t need a carpet cleaning machine — you can do it by hand. 

With a little preparation and some time on your hands, cleaning an area rug is fairly simple. You’ll need to gather your supplies and find a suitable place to do the cleaning, but the rest should fall into place, and your rug will soon look as good as new.

How to clean an area rug

Prepare a cleaning area

If you have a suitable outside space, this is the best place to wash your area rug, as it will need thorough rinsing after being shampooed. Make sure you have a clear area where you can lay your rug flat and it’s not muddy or covered in debris that will make your rug dirty again as soon as you’ve cleaned it. However, if you don’t have a yard or the weather isn’t cooperating, you could wash your area rug in the bathroom and rinse it in the tub.

Choose your cleaning supplies

Puracy Professional Carpet Cleaner Machine Detergent

Some rugs are durable enough to stand up to harsh products and rough treatment while others are fairly delicate, so it’s best to err on the side of caution when choosing your cleaning supplies. Only ever use carpet cleaning solution on your rug, never other cleaning products, like dish soap or laundry detergent. Make sure your chosen carpet cleaner is suitable for hand washing, not just cleaning with a carpet cleaning machine. When working the cleaning products into your area rug, use a sponge or a soft bristled brush, avoid scourers or brushes with stuff bristles, as these could damage your rug.

Vacuum your rug

Before moving your rug to the cleaning area, vacuum it thoroughly to remove dust and loose dirt. If necessary, move any furniture positioned on top of the rug before vacuuming so that you don’t miss any spots. Next, turn the rug over and vacuum the underside to remove dirt that’s become trapped underneath. This will get your area rug ready to be deep cleaned.

Test your cleaning products

Move your rug to the area where you intend to clean it, but before you get started, wet a small area in the corner of your rug, apply some of the cleaning solution and leave it for 20-30 minutes to make sure the rug is color safe and your chosen cleaning product won’t damage it. If the colors haven’t run and the rug shows no damage, you can move on to cleaning the whole thing. If there are any issues with colors running or damage to the rug, you’ll need to find a different cleaning solution or your rug may not be suitable for wet cleaning. 

Clean your area rug

Rubbermaid Roughneck Heavy-Duty Utility Bucket

Follow the instructions on your chosen carpet cleaner solution to apply the cleaner to your area rug. Always check the method and ratios before you get started, but in most cases, you mix up a solution of carpet cleaner and water in a bucket and apply it to the rug using a sponge or soft brush. Make sure to work the cleaning solution as deep into the pile as possible so that you’re cleaning the whole rug rather than just the surface of the rug. Leave the cleaner to work its magic for the length of time specified on the package. This is usually anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour. 

Rinse your area rug

Flexzilla HFZG550YW Garden Lead-In Hose

Now you need to thoroughly rinse the carpet cleaning solution from your rug so you aren’t left with any residue. If washing your rug outside, the best way to do this is using a garden hose,  but buckets of clean water will also get the job done. If you’re washing your area rub in your bathroom, rinse it with a shower attachment over the tub. Rinse until the water runs clean and all the cleaning solution is out of the rug.

Dry your rug

BISSELL, 2554A CrossWave Cordless Max All in One Wet-Dry Vacuum Cleaner and Mop for Hard Floors and Area Rugs

Before you hang your rug out to dry, get as much water out of it as possible. If you own a wet/dry vacuum, this is ideal for the task at hand, otherwise you can use a squeegee. If the weather’s dry outside, hang your rug on a washing line or over a clothes rack — this will allow your rug to dry in the quickest time possible. If not, hang it over a clothes rack indoors. Drying times vary depending on the size of the rug, how dry you managed to get it and what the weather’s like, but it’s not uncommon for rugs to take two to three days to fully dry.

Vacuum your area rug again

Once you’re sure that your rug is completely dry, return it to its original spot. Carpet fibers can become flattened during the washing process, which makes rugs look a little odd. Vacuum the rug all over to fluff the carpet fibers back up and leave your rug looking its best. Now all that’s left to do is replace any furniture that usually sits on top of the rug, if relevant, and you’re left with an area rug that looks and smells fresh. 

What you need to buy to clean an area rug

Nature's Miracle Carpet Shampoo

Nature’s Miracle Carpet Shampoo

This carpet cleaner is suitable for hand washing or use with a carpet cleaner, if you have one. It comes in original scent, tropical bloom scent or an enzymatic formula that’s great for getting rid of pet odors.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

S.M. Arnold Soft Utility Scrub Brush

S.M. Arnold Soft Utility Scrub Brush

Thanks to its soft bristles, this brush is perfect for working carpet shampoo into your area rug without damaging it. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon


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Lauren Corona writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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