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If lovingly and regularly maintained, hand-woven wool rug may very well outlive its owner (perhaps an unnecessarily morbid thought, but it’s healthy to remember our own mortality from time to time).
In fact, oriental rugs are only considered antique once they pass their 100th birthday. More than a few rugs survive well beyond the centenarian landmark; vibrant 17th century Persian carpets grace the international marketplace to this day.
But alas, all wool rugs don’t often come with a handy instruction manual tucked inside. Proper care is often passed on orally, from experienced dealers or rug cleaners to neophyte clientele.
Luckily for all of us, wool is a resilient fiber designed by nature to withstand dirt and abrasion. As long as it’s subjected to semi-regular cleaning, it should never be too much of a hassle to maintain.
That being said, the uninitiated rug owner may be at a loss when it comes to wool rug maintenance. Let’s take a look at three of the most common problems with wool area rugs and the simple steps that can be taken to avoid them.
Wool Rugs Spills and Stains
This first wool rug problem is less an issue with the rug and its fibers and more an issue with human fallibility.
We may have a glass of wine (or three) and whoops—splash that 2011 Merlot all over the new oriental rug.
We love our dogs so much that we keep them indoors, where they may mistake a traditional Bokhara for a nice patch of absorbent grass. Forgive them—they’re partially colorblind.
In this imperfect world, spills are practically inevitable. Our job as carpet caretakers and custodians is to ensure that no spill has the chance to develop into a stain.
The very same properties that make wool so accepting of a lustrous palette of dyes also render it vulnerable to stains of all sorts. While wool is indeed moisture repellent—lest those poor sheep get soaked to the bone every time it rains—liquids will penetrate the fiber given sufficient time.
No matter the nature of the spill, time is of the essence. Act fast, and you’ll save yourself a boatload of hassle in the future.
First, remove any and all debris, particles, crumbs, etc. from the affected area. No need to be grinding solid matter down into the wool fibers.
Next, lightly dampen the remaining spill with a half water, half white vinegar solution. Vinegar’s acidity strengthens the bond between dye and fiber and prevents color bleeding. It also helps control any odors that may result from the spill.
Use a cotton towel or rag—preferably white—to gently blot the spill area. A fresh, dry towel or two can be used to soak up lingering moisture. Ensure that all fibers are completely dry before returning the rug to its usual resting place.
If vinegar and water don’t do the trick, your best bet may be enlisting the help of a professional carpet cleaner. Experimentation with chemical cleaners or spot removers is a dangerous game when it comes to wool oriental rugs.
In yet another example of Mother Nature’s prowess as designer and engineer, wool fibers do a remarkable job of hiding dirt. By the time wool oriental rugs looks dirty, it is really, really dirty. Too dirty.
Microscopic particles of all shapes and sizes are constantly wafting through the air, seeking a cozy place to settle down: in this case, the tips of your beloved wool rug’s pile.
Over time, this particulate accumulates appreciably. Professional cleaners often pull pounds of old dust from neglected braided wool rugs.
With every footstep, dust and dirt particles are ground further into the rug, where they can wreak structural havoc, not only on the wool fibers but also on their cotton foundation.
The result? Shorter pile, bare spots, loose fibers, even holes in the rug.
Regular vacuuming is an essential part of oriental rug maintenance. The goal here is suction rather than brushing and agitation.
Set your vacuum on its highest carpet setting and run it along the length of the rug, from fringe to fringe. Every woven wool pile carpet has a natural “grain;” the pile tends to sit in a certain direction.
Whenever possible, vacuum with the grain of the wool pile. This will reduce fiber decomposition while still removing the vast majority of settled dust.
Staying on top of dust and dirt is the one of the best things you can do to ensure your rug’s longevity.
At some point in the lifetime of oriental rugs, tiny white dots may begin to emerge, scattered amongst the carpet’s richly colored wool fibers. Many rug owners panic upon noticing these dots, fearing disintegration or dye migration.
But truth be told, these minuscule white knots are a natural part of the rug weaving process that tends to reveal itself slowly with wear, washing, and age.
The foundation of a woven wool rug is typically composed of vertical and horizontal strands of cotton yarn, respectively referred to as warps and wefts. As this foundation is being established on the loom, the cotton yarn frequently runs out and must be tied to another section of string, leaving behind a small knot.
Other times, warps and wefts may break during weaving and must be re-tied to continue the process.
Most of these structural knots are eventually hidden amongst the longer wool pile. If this isn’t possible, weavers may touch-up white knots with dye or ink to provide a bit of camouflage.
Whether through the gradual shortening of the wool pile, or thanks to a thorough professional cleaning, these white knots become more noticeable over time, like stars slowly but steadily punctuating a dusky sky.
The easiest solution is just to accept the knots as a natural part of the aging process. Consider them the hallmarks of a handmade piece of textile art.
If possible, the knots can be pushed through to the backside of the rug where they remain out of sight. If not, a little touch-up with dye or ink of a similar color can help mask the white knots temporarily.
Please feel free to reach out to us here at RugKnots if you have any questions about common issues with wool rugs cleaning. Wool is a powerful natural fiber, and most problems can be resolved simply without further damaging the rug. Remember, always err on the side of caution and avoid harsh chemical cleaners at all costs!