When it’s time to wash a rag rug, most homeowners have several options available:
- your own washing machine
- professional carpet cleaning
Here’s one that usually won’t work:
- rental carpet cleaning machines
And here’s another option you may not have considered:
Let’s step through your options and how to evaluate them.
How is the rug dirty?
Why do you need to wash the rug? Each challenge has its own solution.
- real, color-changing dirt
- spring cleaning
- pet accident or milk spill (that is, odor…)
When the problem is real dirt, then soap and water is usually the best answer. More below.
If the problem is simply dust, consider an old fashioned rug beating. It’s what they did before vacuums. Rugs were taken outside every spring and hung on a line. Then, people whacked the rugs with rug beaters until the dust stopped rising. This is hard work. I’ve used a broom to good result, hanging an entry mat over a sawhorse.
If you’ve spilled a milky coffee, or other milk product, or if your dog had an accident, water washing won’t solve the problem. You need to use an enzyme cleaner first. Any pet supply store sells an aisle-full of these products. If you think the accident may happen again (puppies), buy the concentrate or larger size. You’ll need it. Treat the stain according to label directions, and then wash. (Vinegar will NOT remove odor well enough to convince your dog it’s not there anymore, and may change the color of your rug.)
Soap and water options
Whether your own washing machine, or even bathtub, can be used to clean your rug depends on you, the rug, and the machine. Will the rug fit? Stiffer, warp-faced rugs do not fold into a washing machine gracefully. Knit and crocheted rugs may fit well.
How heavy will the rug be WHEN WET? Allow at least 1/2# of weight gain for every pound of dry rug (that is, a 12 pound rug, or 12 square feet, will gain at least 6 pounds of water weight). I blew a circuit on my top-loader washing machine trying to agitate a large (48″ diameter) rug once. The rug itself fit into the machine just fine, but once it was wet, it wouldn’t move at all. Front loaders can take larger rugs safely.
The “weight when wet” problem affects bathtub cleaning as well. Think through whether you will be able to safely lift twenty pounds of bulky, dripping rug in the position your bathtub allows you to assume, especially if you are planning to let the rug drip over a drying rack in the tub.
Most laundromats have oversize front-loading washing machines that can safely handle a wet rag rug. In addition, these machines are generally elevated, so unloading a wet rug is easier on your back. I have tumble-dried hand knit rugs successfully in laundromat dryers. You can also stop the dryer before the rug is completely dry to take it home, shape it and let it dry flat.
Washing a rag rug on a deck
If you have a deck and it’s warm, you can wash a rag rug with a hose or powerwasher (low power) outside. In July in NC, even the heaviest rug will be completely dry within three days. If possible, keep the rug out of the direct sun; not all colors are equally colorfast and outdoor summer sun can be fierce in some climates.
Washing a rag rug at a carwash
We have taken larger rugs to a hand-operated, wand-type carwash more than once. It helps if you have a waterproof vehicle (pickup) to bring them home in, because there’s no drying option. Spread the rug on the concrete, soap it up, scrub with their brush or one you take with you, and rinse till you run out of quarters.
We have done this with rugs that can stand up against the wall when rolled; we let them drain while we go on to wash the truck. When we get home, the rugs drip over sawhorses in the front yard until they are dry enough to carry through the house to the deck, where they finish drying under cover.