Should Area Rug Cleaning be Done by a “Carpet Cleaner”?

ANSWER: We recommend a pro rug cleaning for natural fiber, expensive rugs, stains, odors, or deep cleaning.

Do you have the same company that cleans your wall-to-wall carpeting try to do your area rug cleaning?   In-home carpet cleaning companies use much quicker methods that are a bit less expensive than a professional off-site water-immersion area rug wash, but two central questions remain: 

  • Will a carpet cleaner damage your type of area rug?
  • Can they get your rugs clean, odor-free, and soft?

When a carpet cleaner comes to your home, they use a hot water extraction method with soap or chemicals and can clean three or four rooms of wall-to-wall carpeting in 30 or 40 minutes plus drying time. They will use the same cleaning solution on your area rugs because it’s convenient and usually, that’s all they know.

Why Professional Rug Cleaning is Different

An off-site area rug cleaning is a different and longer process.  Professional rug cleaners are experts in cleaning only area rugs and Persian carpets. They’ll first inspect it for its material, dyes, construction, and possible difficulties or possible repair issues.  They do the work in their own facility. They usually start with a rug dusting with a machine to “beat” or vibrate a rug and release loose and entrapped dry soil. This is followed by a full water immersion soak and a scrub with the right kind of shampoo for each rug.   The rug is quickly dried and the fringe (if any) is cleaned or gently bleached.  Finally, they will “groom” your rug with a broom prior to delivery.    

Some carpet cleaning companies will not touch oriental rugs, Persian carpets, or other types of area rugs, though others will.  However, most have no idea of the unique cleaning needs of different rugs.   These include the dyes used on hand-made rugs or the type of fabric or weave of the rug.  We have seen customers bring in rugs with color bleeding and fading, damaged fringe, or other damage caused by a carpet cleaner, but usually just unsatisfactory results.

When to Clean Your Rug?

You’re certainly ready for an area rugs cleaning if it’s been three or more years since your last one. Despite being used in more prominent and trafficked areas of the home, rugs seem to get cleaned less frequently than carpet. Therefore, they take more wear and receive more pet and food stains. Another factor is people (including carpet cleaners) know that rugs are different than carpeting and often require a different cleaning process. 

So, here are some questions to help you decide which type of provider is best for your area rug. 


If it has been some time since your last cleaning, you’re probably ready for deep cleaning. This need applies to all kinds of area rugs. An in-home surface clean is not the same as the multiple steps used by a rug cleaner near you.   Imagine wearing a thick garment for a year and then spraying a special hot water solution on it and vacuuming it up.  Would it be clean?  Of course not!  While steam cleaning does make a difference on a loose carpet, it’s typically not enough for an area rug cleaning. Cleaning your rug this way, you will notice a lingering odor, stiffness, and dullness to its appearance after it dries. That’s because the dirt, chemicals, or “soap” are not all out.   Now imagine the same rug, brighter and softer because it’s thoroughly clean!  


Fine hand-made, hand-knotted, or natural-fiber rugs such as Persian Carpets, oriental rugs, or any rug made of wool, silk, jute, cotton, or other natural fabric, should only be cleaned by a professional, off-site rug cleaner. Have your in-home carpet cleaner skip those types of rugs, along with any rug with a secondary dye or “tea wash.”

Here why:  


    An area rug entraps more dust and dirt from traffic, food and oils than carpeting. That’s because most area rugs, and especially hand-made rugs, are constructed differently than carpets. You’ll notice the density of the pile of rugs is usually much thicker than carpet.  Hand-knotted rugs, which are the most expensive and time-consuming to make, along with hand-tufted rugs, which have a backing, are some of the most challenging to clean.  These hand-made methods can lock in dirt and create a significant challenge to clean than the knotless construction of carpeting.  Most rugs need a more thorough cleaning process than a momentary water injection and extraction. That method simply will not remove most of the dirt!

    Traditionally, people would beat their rugs to remove the dry soil. Vacuuming alone can’t get this trapped dirt out.  Professional rug cleaners often use machines to gently beat or vibrate the dry soil out as a first step. That’s why you see so much soil and dust released in a professional rug beating.   After thoroughly cleaning a larger rug, it can lose several pounds of dirt and debris.

    An in-home carpet cleaner is all about speed and getting in and out of your home.  There is no vibration to release entrapped dry soil.  They can only get that soil wet, which may further embed it into the fibers of your rug.

    Wool, when shorn, naturally carries an oil called lanolin. Much of the lanolin is removed from shorn wool in its original cleaning and dyeing process.  Some professional rug cleaners know wool’s propensity to absorb more oil and dirt in its thicker spun yarn.  It often requires soaking and gentle scrubbing with the right kind of natural and organic shampoos to deep clean wool or silk rugs.  This soaking process allows the solution to penetrate and release the greasy dirt that a carpet cleaner will likely leave behind (along with entrapped dry soil particles).   The right shampoo will even replace some of the lanolin-like oil and leave your wool or silk rug feeling soft.

    Because carpeting is synthetically made of a single solid color, carpet cleaners don’t expect color bleeds. They often use a cleaning solvent with chemicals and an acidic pH of 9+. This may provide the best result for a quick in-home carpet cleaning job.  However, many area rugs, with their gorgeous designs, are made from natural fabrics and colored with natural vegetable dyes.  That higher pH can cause color bleeding and color fading and ruin your rug! That’s why it’s critical to use the right cleaning agents and shampoos with the right pH level, along with the right cleaning method for your particular rug fiber and construction.   

    Some rugs are factory “antiqued” to make the rug appear older and more valuable. The manufacturer will use either an acid bleach or a colored “tea” stain. These stains may not be colorfast and can wash out, which will lighten the rug’s color.   An experienced professional rug cleaner will use cleaning agents that prevent unnecessary bleeding or decoloring.

    If you’ve got a fringe or tassels, know that they can be delicate.  Cleaners must be careful to clean them without causing damage.  Sometimes an organic bleaching process is needed to restore its natural crème or white color. A carpet cleaner will have very little or no knowledge of this, while an experienced rug cleaner can do a great job restoring them.


Wall-to-wall carpeting is mass-produced on machines and mostly with synthetic fibers.  Because of the plastics and latex adhesive, carpets can be surface cleaned using hot water injection and wet vacuuming. It’s fast and easy and doesn’t require much expertise for carpets.

If you have an inexpensive machine-made synthetic-fiber rug, you may find an inexpensive in-home carpet cleaning method satisfactory.  Your satisfaction depends, of course, on how clean and soft you want your rugs. And, if you need to remove pet stains or odors.  

But if you have a natural fiber rug, especially hand-made rugs, you certainly paid more for it. That’s because of the natural yarns and dyes, construction, and if made by hand, the skilled labor hours.  Fine area rugs are often woven or knotted by hand and made from naturally dyed wool, silk, jute, or cotton. Oriental and Persian rugs are entirely hand-made, making them beautiful and valuable, but trickier to clean. If properly cared for, these rugs can last a lifetime. An inexperienced cleaner can drastically reduce the value of your rugs by causing irreversible damage. So, you will probably not mind paying more for a professional rug cleaning service because of your investment.   


Now here’s a reason to consider an off-site pro rug cleaner even for synthetic and machine-made rugs.  While some carpet cleaners use commercial solutions to treat pet stains, they often charge more than a professional rug cleaner. Furthermore, carpet cleaners may have to get your rug very wet to clean any spot of embedded urine. This isn’t practical in a home setting. Yet a whole-rug soak, shampoo, including an enzyme soak, and thorough “clear rinse,” is truly the best method. This may take hundreds of gallons of water.


If you’ve decided to use a pro rug cleaner, do your research. While there are dozens of carpet cleaners in San Diego promoting “rug cleaning near me,” there are only a few professional rug cleaners. They will always clean your rug off-site with multiple steps over 1 or 2 weeks in their own facility.

When interviewing cleaners, ask them questions and make sure that they have the experience before touching your rugs.  For example, Rug Expo in San Diego has three-generation years’ worth of experience in area rug care. They are also expert craftsmen at repairing holes, rips, burns, stains, re-fringing, customizing, binding, and re-dyeing all kinds of rugs. Rug Expo specializes in Persian and Oriental rugs. That should be an essential qualification if that’s the type of rug you have!

To learn more about area rug cleaning near you by Rug Expo click here to learn more.