Recently updated on June 12th, 2024

A young woman vacuums under her sofa with a bucket of cleaning supplies behind her.

Area rugs are beautiful additions to our homes. They muffle sounds, protect hardwood floors, and make a soft surface for children to play on. Rugs also act as home decor, tying the room together and reflecting your home’s personality. But they also trap dirt, dust, and allergens. Knowing how to clean an area rug can extend its lifespan and add a touch of freshness to your space. Regular cleaning also helps keep your indoor air quality healthy.

But with so many different rug materials and cleaning methods out there, it can be overwhelming to know where to begin. This guide will provide step-by-step instructions for cleaning your area rug, along with helpful tips for different rug materials.

Understanding Your Area Rug

Before diving into cleaning, it’s important to identify the material of your rug. Most rugs will have a label underneath that specifies the fiber content. Knowing this will help you choose the most appropriate cleaning method. Here’s a quick breakdown of common rug materials:

  • Natural Fibers (Wool, Cotton): Require gentler cleaning methods and natural cleaning solutions.

  • Synthetic Fibers (Nylon, Polyester): Can withstand harsher cleaning solutions and are generally more durable.

Pre-Cleaning Steps

Pre-cleaning your rug is a crucial first step before diving into a deep clean. This removes loose dirt, debris, and surface-level grime that could otherwise get pushed deeper into the fibers during the deep cleaning process.

There are two crucial steps to take before deep cleaning your rug:


  • Look for stains: Take note of any spills or spots that require special attention. Identify the source of the stain if possible, as different types of stains require different cleaning solutions.

  • Check for loose threads: Trim any loose threads with scissors to prevent further unraveling.


  • Remove loose dirt and debris: A thorough vacuuming is essential for removing surface-level dirt that can otherwise become embedded in the fibers during cleaning.

  • Flip the rug: Vacuum both sides of the rug to remove dust and pet hair that may be trapped underneath.

  • Adjust the vacuum settings: Use the upholstery attachment and adjust the suction power according to the rug’s material. Delicate rugs may require a lower suction setting.

  • For delicate rugs: If your rug is fragile or has a high pile like a shag carpet, avoid using the beater bar on your vacuum cleaner. It can damage the fibers. Instead, use the upholstery attachment and a low suction setting.

By following these pre-cleaning steps, you’ll prepare your area rug for a more effective and gentle deep clean. In the next section, we’ll explore different cleaning methods depending on the material of your rug.

A man on his hands and knees scrubs a spot on an area rug.

Spot Cleaning Techniques

Before deep cleaning your area rug, address any existing stains. Blot up spills immediately with a clean, absorbent cloth to prevent them from setting. Here’s a general guide to spot-cleaning different types of stains:

  • Water-based stains (coffee, juice): Mix a solution of lukewarm water and a few drops of mild dish soap. Blot the stain with the solution and a clean cloth. Work from the outside of the stain inward to avoid spreading it. Rinse the area with clean water and blot dry.

  • Oil-based stains (grease, butter): Apply baking soda to the stain and let it sit for several hours to absorb the oil. Vacuum up the baking soda and then follow the steps for water-based stains.

Important Note: Always test any cleaning solution on an inconspicuous area of the rug before applying it directly to the stain. This helps ensure the solution won’t cause discoloration.

A person wearing protective booties cleans an area rug with a carpet cleaner.

Deep Cleaning Your Area Rug

Now that you’ve pre-cleaned your rug, you can proceed with a more thorough cleaning. There are two main methods for deep cleaning area rugs:

Dry Cleaning

This is the safest option for delicate rugs or those with unknown fiber content. Professional rug cleaners offer dry cleaning services.

Using a Carpet Cleaner

For deep cleaning with a carpet cleaner, you can rent or purchase one with rug cleaning attachments. Choose a cleaning solution for your rug’s fiber content, pre-treat any stains, follow the manufacturer’s instructions to fill the tanks, and test a hidden area for colorfastness. Then, clean the rug in sections, rinse it with clean water according to the instructions, and allow it to air dry completely out of direct sunlight.

Deep Cleaning by Hand

Before cleaning your rug, prepare the solution following the manufacturer’s instructions. To ensure the solution won’t damage the rug, apply a small amount to a hidden area and let it dry completely. If the color seems unaffected, proceed by cleaning the rug in small sections. Use a clean cloth to apply the solution and gently agitate the fibers, taking care not to overwet the carpet. Once clean, rinse the washed area with clean water to remove any cleaning solution residue. A wet/dry vacuum can be helpful for extracting excess moisture. Finally, allow the rug to air dry completely out of direct sunlight. Resist the urge to use heat sources to speed up drying, as this could damage the fibers or fade the color.

A blue bucket with gloves and towels in it sits on the floor next to sponges, cleaning products, and a dustpan.

The Right Cleaning Products

Selecting the right cleaning product for your rug is key to maintaining its beauty and longevity. First, identify the fiber type of your rug, as wool and synthetic rugs require different cleaning solutions. Always check the rug’s care label for cleaning instructions. Opt for gentle, residue-free products that are safe for your specific rug material. If you have pets, consider an enzyme-based cleaner specifically designed to tackle pet stains and odors. When in doubt, choose a natural, green cleaning solution that will be less harsh on your rug and the environment.

  • Natural fiber rugs: Opt for natural cleaning solutions like a mixture of white vinegar and water or a wool rug shampoo.

  • Synthetic fiber rugs: You can use a carpet cleaning solution designed for synthetic fibers. Always follow the instructions on the cleaning product label.

A point-of-view showing a person vacuuming a floor.

Drying and Post-Cleaning Care

Drying your freshly cleaned carpet is just as important as the cleaning itself. Proper drying prevents mold growth and ensures the carpet maintains its shape. Maximize airflow by opening windows and turning on fans to circulate air and remove moisture. If possible, use a dehumidifier to further reduce humidity levels. Resist the urge to walk on the carpet until it’s completely dry, as this can trap moisture and lead to matting. Once dry, vacuum again to remove any cleaning solution residue and fluff up the fibers. For optimal results, avoid placing furniture back on the carpet for at least 24 hours. By following these steps, you’ll ensure your carpet stays clean, fresh, and beautiful for longer.

Two people slide a rolled area rug into a protective bag.

Storing Your Area Rug

Long-term storage requires extra care for your area rug. Instead of folding it and creating permanent creases, roll the rug up securely but without compressing it too tightly. Wrap the rolled rug in a breathable material like cotton or muslin to protect it from dust and pests. Choose a cool, dry storage location away from direct sunlight, and avoid placing the rug directly on the floor. A shelf, a carpeted area, or even a hanging rod in a climate-controlled closet are all suitable options for keeping your rug safe until you’re ready to use it again.

By following these steps, you can effectively clean and maintain your area rugs, keeping them looking beautiful for years to come. Remember, the key is to choose the cleaning method and products best suited to the specific material of your rug. If you’re unsure about cleaning your rug yourself, especially for valuable or delicate rugs, consider consulting a professional rug cleaner. Looking to refresh your space or replace a well-loved but worn-out area rug? Ocean State Job Lot has a large selection in-store and online in different patterns and sizes. Check out our online rugs or head to your local store today.