How often your rug needs to be cleaned, and the method of cleaning, depends on the type of FIBER it is made of, and the level of ACTIVITY on the rug.

(protein and cellulose fibers)

Wool rugs under normal use, and vacuumed regularly, should be thoroughly washed every 2 years. If you have high activity on the rug (pets, kids, etc.) then annually would be needed, and likewise if you have low activity, less people in the home, no pets, always wear indoor shoes, the cleaning can be extended to 3 years.

Wool is the BEST fiber for a rug for many reasons. It is strong, dyes up very well, has a great sheen and look to it, is a completely sustainable and renewable fiber choice (it grows back on sheep!), but the best reason is this – it hides soil brilliantly.

Wool fibers are comprised of layers of cuticles there are a lot of “pockets” to hide dust and soil. This means over time the rug does not look “filthy” even when it is, because it hides the dust and dry soils and just starts to look duller.

This means wool rugs look better longer versus all other fiber choices.

This also means, however, that most wool rug owners who have no idea how often they should be cleaning their rug, wait too long.

Those dust filled layers of the wool fibers are what result in fiber breakage and wearing down of the pile over time. That is because dust is small silicon particles (essentially glass) that cuts and tears the fibers when people walk on the rug. This is why on older rugs you will often see areas of the rug that are worn lower than other areas. It is not from feet, it is from the dirt and it not being washed as frequently as it should have.

These dust-filled layers of wool fibers are also why rugs should never be cleaned in the home by carpet cleaning equipment. That type of “surface cleaning” traps soil in the fibers and packs it down into the foundation of the rug, and causes damage to the rug that manifests itself as fiber wear, discoloration of the dyes, a “graying” of the rug, stiffness of the pile, and in the worst cases dry rot of the foundation.

Other natural fibers (silk, cotton, sisal, jute, hemp, and other derivatives) do not hide soil as well as wool does. They should be cleaned when you begin to see grayer areas in the field of the rug.

(petroleum based fibers)

Synthetic fibers are petroleum-based plastic made in a way to give a softer feel that makes them more attractive as a rug. These are nylon, olefin (polypropylene), polyester, acrylic and other derivatives.

These rugs should be cheap, because they are machine woven, and they do not last anywhere near the length of time as wool rugs do. Wool rugs can last decades easily, and many can last centuries if cared for properly. Synthetic rugs will last you a few years.

Synthetic fibers, especially polypropylene and acrylic, starts to flatten and matt together over a short space of time. Dust and grit has nowhere to hide, so it sticks to the outer shell of the fibers. Because these fibers are oil-based, they also grab soil and spills and attract them more than other fibers do.

These fibers also are not strong, so foot traffic will create pile distortion and wear much faster than with natural fibers.

However, because these are cheaper rugs, and most are stain-proof (because they are solution-dyed plastic), they are a perfect choice for an area you expect a lot of abuse with spills. They will fade, but most are able to repel juice and other dye-based stains.

Also, because synthetic fibers are plastic, they can be safely “steam cleaned” with hot water extraction carpet cleaning equipment, and much more aggressive cleaning chemicals. There is no need to hand wash these rugs, they can be blasted with high heat and high alkaline cleaning solutions, just as your wall-to-wall carpet can.