Basic care – Carpets and rugs
Carpets and rugs are used not only to beautify the floors of our homes, but they also make attractive wall decorations whether they are oriental, silk, hooked or rag rugs or kelims. This combination of the practical and the aesthetic has helped ensure their popularity through the ages. The size and condition of a carpet or rug often helps determine how it is used or displayed.
There are several techniques for making rugs. They can be knotted, woven or hooked. Modern carpets and rugs are usually constructed from synthetic fibres, but heirlooms are fashioned of natural fibres. These carpets and rugs are often made of wool, as well as cotton and silk. The foundation is usually cotton or linen. Hemp and jute may also be used.
On this page:
Causes of damage
Wear and tear (i.e. usage) is a major cause of damage to carpets and rugs. Fringes on carpets get worn out. Carpets under furniture suffer when chairs are pulled in and out. When possible, avoid putting heavy pieces of furniture directly onto a carpet or rug. It is a good idea to reposition furniture on carpets periodically to avoid leaving permanent indentations. Use castor cups under the feet of furniture to help spread the weight of the piece.
As with all textiles, light (both sunlight and artificial light) is damaging to carpets and rugs. Light can dry out the fibres and cause colours to fade. Avoid placing a carpet in direct sunlight or keep nearby windows covered whenever possible.
Temperature and relative humidity
Temperature and humidity levels also have an impact. Heat causes wool to lose its natural oils, which weakens the threads. High humidity also damages fibres and may cause colours to bleed.
Dirt and dust
Dirt and dust can work their way into a carpet and act like sandpaper, grinding away at the base of the rug. As well, some moths and carpet beetles like to eat away at wool and other fibres. Carpets that are wall-mounted may be more susceptible because the pests can get between the rug and the lining on the back. Regular vacuuming will help discourage this problem.
If you want to move a large, or even an area, rug, do not grab hold of one edge. Roll up a bit of the carpet and pull gently with both hands. To reposition furniture, pick up the pieces and carry them into position. Do not drag them over the surface of the rug.
For all textiles, it is best to avoid folding whenever possible, and rugs are no exception. The creases may leave permanent marks or, worse, cause threads to break. Instead, they can be rolled, such as with carpets and rugs. It is usually best to have two people do this. To roll a carpet or rug, follow these steps:
- The rug should be clean and dry before being rolled for storage.
- Place the carpet face down on the floor.
- Cover the back with acid-free tissue or a length of prewashed cotton muslin and roll from the top of the carpet (in the direction of the pile) onto a wide diameter tube.
- The tube should be covered with Mylar (polyethylene) plastic sheeting or prewashed, unbleached muslin (or you can use a plastic plumbing tube, if the diameter is sufficient, and it is covered with acid-free tissue).
- The tube should be slightly longer than the carpet.
- Cover the rolled-up carpet with either more acid-free tissue or with unbleached muslin and then tie lightly in several places with wide cotton ribbons.
- Store the carpet off the floor, hung on bracket supports that touch only the ends of the tube.
As with most of your collectibles, avoid storing them in basements and attics (where humidity and heat are likely to fluctuate).
A good underlay or underpadding provides protection and prolongs the life of a carpet or rug by cushioning the unevenness of the floor and the weight of furniture. Underlays should be 1/8 to 1/4 in. (3 to 6 mm) thick and be large enough to extend to the edge of a carpet. Never fold or overlap an underlay. Avoid underlays with self-adhesives or underlays made of foam rubber, vinyl, jute or recycled felt. Because there is no ideal underpad readily available, periodically check the underlay and rug. If the underlay is degrading or damaging the rug in any way, replace it with a new underlay. Continue to routinely check the underpadding and rug for signs of damage.
Rotate carpets and rugs periodically so that they wear more evenly.
Hanging carpets and rugs
Carpets and rugs are often hung for display. The carpet or rug can also be lined, with prewashed cotton, to protect it from dust. Attach the lining to the top edge and partially down the sides of the carpet or rug, leaving the bottom edge to hang free. Velcro is one method to hang rugs and carpets. Velcro is sewn onto a cotton sleeve and the sleeve, in turn, is then aligned at the top of the carpet and hand stitched to the carpet, making sure to stitch between the threads of the carpet. The hooked side of the Velcro is stapled to a wooden batten, which can be hung on or screwed to the wall.
Rigid backing support
Rugs, depending on their size, can also be mounted on a rigid backing support such as eight-ply mat board, corrugated plastic board or sealed plywood. The support should be at least 3 cm larger all around than the piece. The mount can be padded with a layer of polyester felt. Before mounting, prepare a colourfast backing fabric of cotton, cotton-polyester or linen (prewashed and dried) and cut it at least 5 cm larger than the support. On a smooth, clean surface, place the backing fabric right-side down. Apply white glue in a 5-cm-wide strip along one edge of the back of the support. Then, fold the fabric allowance over onto the glued edge and press down.
Place weights at each end and let dry. Repeat on the opposite side. The backing fabric can also be secured to the back side of the mount with rust-resistant staples. Finally, centre the rug on the mount and secure with stitching. The rug should be stitched to the mount around the perimeter as well as with a grid-like pattern of vertical and horizontal stitching through the carpet or rug to evenly distribute the weight of the piece. Ideally the rug should be placed in a frame or Plexiglas case.
Cleaning and repairs
Carpets and rugs can be maintained by regular vacuuming using a standard vacuum cleaner head (do not use a power head) and a low level of suction. Move the head of the vacuum across the carpet slowly. Pressure or rubbing will only damage the carpet fibres. Always vacuum in the direction of the pile. Watch for any loose threads and the carpet fringe. When possible, and if the carpet or rug is particularly fragile or mounted on a wall, use a protective screen when vacuuming. The back of the carpet or rug should also be vacuumed periodically as well as the underlay and the floor itself.
Do not use commercial carpet shampoos on important rugs because dust and dirt are more likely to be attracted to the fibres after cleaning. Consult a professional about cleaning.
If liquids are dropped on a rug, clean the area immediately by soaking up as much liquid as possible with an absorbent material (such as a cotton cloth). Dab gently and avoid the temptation to rub because that will only push the stain into the rug more. Place clean absorbent material over the area, weight down until dry.
Contact information for this web page
These resources were published by the Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI). For comments or questions, including reproduction requests, contact the CCI.
Report a problem or mistake on this page
- Date modified: