Rugs require expert specialized care to come clean. They can be permanently damaged if cleaned using improper methods or with poorly mixed chemicals. For some rugs—particularly expensive handmade or antique ones—additional dangers include dyes that run, fringes that tear, and warpage and shrinkage.

Unlike carpets, rugs should be cleaned outside your home, meaning you can’t supervise the work. If a company improperly cleans wall-to-wall carpet in your home, you can ask it to correct errors on the spot, perhaps even before permanent damage occurs. But if an incompetent company improperly cleans a rug in its plant, you won’t notice until it is too late.

Because the work is difficult and so much can go wrong—and since even a machine-made Oriental rug can cost thousands of dollars—make sure you entrust your rugs to a true expert.

Check Ratings

The results of our customer surveys and a review of complaint records, shown on our Ratings Tables, will help you find cleaners that do good work.

If you own an expensive or delicate rug, have several companies inspect it in your home and give you a cleaning proposal. If you’re uncomfortable with their answers, or receive conflicting approaches from different companies, ask the reps to justify their decisions.
When the cleaner picks up your rug, or when you drop it off, get a receipt including the type, size, and description of it.

If you know (or suspect) your rug is valuable, have it appraised so that you can be fairly compensated by the company or your homeowners insurance company if it’s ruined or lost. A delicate rug can be easily damaged by a less-than-diligent cleaner. And though you might think it would be difficult to lose a rug measuring 80 square feet or more, our reviews of complaint files at consumer agencies around the U.S. reveal that some cleaners just can’t seem to keep track of their customers’ belongings. A few rug cleaners warned us that some disreputable outfits take in expensive rugs for cleaning, sell them to rug dealers, and then tell their customers that their rug has been lost or stolen.

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Ask About Cleaning Methods

One reason cleaning area rugs is more challenging than cleaning carpeting is that their yarns are much more densely concentrated than those in carpet. Because of this density, rugs won’t get dirty as quickly as carpet (since dirt tends to stay on the surface, rather than settling into the rug), but once dirt penetrates them it can be especially difficult to remove.

Most rug-cleaning companies advertise that they “hand wash” rugs, but it’s a generic term used by almost all companies. Ask them to describe in detail what they do. You’re best off with an “immersion” method where a hand-scrubbing machine is passed back and forth over the rug to loosen dirt, and then the rug is completely soaked with water and rinsed with a high-pressure hose.

But many companies employ less-desirable methods. Some use large machines that pass rugs through an assembly line that automatically shampoos and rinses them. This means operators have little control over the cleaning process. Automated machines won’t spend extra time scrubbing out spots, and rugs might be damaged or snagged.

Other companies—particularly small operations—skip the shampooing altogether, cleaning the rug using hot-water-extraction equipment. This can adequately clean a rug made from wall-to-wall carpet remnants, but avoid companies that use this on other types of rugs. Hot-water-extraction equipment is meant for less dense wall-to-wall carpet and may not effectively remove dirt embedded into a rug’s pile.

Similarly, other cleaners may use a bonnet system, but this will give rugs only a topical cleaning—many of the loosened dirt particles are never removed. Also, since the bonnet method rarely utilizes a rinse process, repeated cleanings can overload the rug with residues that could accelerate re-soiling.

Special Considerations If Your Rug Is Delicate

The vast majority of rugs can be cleaned using the immersion/hand-washing method—most rugs, even expensive handmade ones, undergo this process after they are manufactured. But delicate rugs, particularly ones made of silk, may require a different method. They might receive a lighter lower-moisture cleaning or get lightly shampooed by hand. To rinse out remaining dirt and shampoo, the rug is lightly misted and then wiped clean before being spread out to dry.

With antique or semi-antique rugs, warm water can cause dyes to run. Companies can prevent this by lightly spraying the rug with an acidic conditioner before cleaning.

Ask Who Does the Work

A lot of carpet cleaners that take in rugs don’t actually perform the work themselves, but instead send rugs to specialized cleaners. It’s worthwhile asking companies whether they clean the rugs themselves, since you probably retain more quality control by dealing directly with whoever performs the work.

Also ask whether the company employs a dedicated rug-cleaning staff, or if its in-home carpet cleaners spend a certain amount of time each week cleaning area rugs. Though someone who normally cleans carpets in homes can also handle rugs, a full-time rug cleaner will probably be more of an expert.

What You Should Do

If you can locate specific spots or stains, and know what caused them, point them out to the company. Also detail whether the rug has been in contact with urine, feces, vomit, or blood; it’ll need to be decontaminated.

Some stains or problems can be difficult or impossible to correct; the company representative should speak candidly about the limits of its service. Keep in mind that companies often won’t know whether or not they can successfully treat a trouble spot until they try.

Get a Good Price

Our Ratings Tables show prices quoted to Checkbook’s undercover shoppers for in-plant cleaning of an 8-by-10-foot all-wool hand-knotted Oriental rug. Prices ranged from less than $200 to more than $400, including pickup and delivery. We also report price comparison scores, which show how each company’s prices compared to the average company’s prices. These scores are adjusted so that the average score is $100.

Because we asked the companies to quote prices for a moderately soiled medium-colored rug with no stains, use the prices on our Ratings Tables only as a reference for your own shopping. Ask your company to provide a written fixed price before giving it your rug.