Oriental rugs are different from all others in that their pile (usually
wool) is tied to their foundations. That is why they are referred to as
hand-knotted rugs, and that, more than anything, accounts for why they last so
long- often50-80 years in use. That also accounts for their expense. The
knot-count in a square inch of an average Oriental rug is something like 100.
What is a Kilim?
A Kilimis a flat-woven Oriental rug,
made much like Navajo rugs, without pile. They don’t last as long in floor-use
as a knotted carpet- perhaps an average of about 35 years- nor do they cost as
much. Many collectors value kilims because often they retain the oldest and most
traditional designs and colors.
What Country Makes the Best Rugs?
No one country has established itself as making the best rugs.
For years Iran was most highly regarded, but now she seems to have fallen behind
many other countries in the use of natural dyes. Many of the best rugs today
come from Turkey, India, Pakistan (made by Afghan refugees), Nepal and China. A
small production of tribal rugs with a lot of character come out of Afghanistan.
Natural vs. Synthetic Dyes
Dyes made from natural substances such as roots- have been used
in Oriental rugs for virtually thousands of years, or they were until about
World War Two. By that time, synthetic dyes had almost entirely taken the place
of natural dyes. Starting in about 1980, natural dyes again began to be used in
a few rugs, and today both natural and synthetic dyes are used in Oriental rugs.
For all practical purposes, both are excellent. Connoisseurs, though, almost
always prefer natural dyes, citing especially a pleasant variegation in colors
made from natural substances and an impression of character natural dyes seem to
impart. Bottom line, the choice between natural and modern synthetic dyes is a
matter of preference- and money. Rugs with natural dyes cost around 30% more
than those with synthetic dyes.
What is Abrash?
Anyone who looks closely at the photographs of
rugs in this web site will notice that, in many of them, colors change in
horizontal bands throughout the rugs. A band of darker blue, for instance, may
lie between larger areas of lighter blue. That kind of color-variation is called
abrash. Most often abrash is caused by variation in dyelots and is most often
encountered when rugs are woven in relatively primitive conditions where each dye lot
may consist of only 20 or 30 gallons- as opposed to dye mixed in cities that may
consist of 500 or 1000 gallon batches. But there are other causes of abrash as
well. There can be large differences in the kind and the natural color of wool
used in one rug, and each wool absorbs dye a little differently. Also, when wool
is spun by hand, the tension of the spin varies and consequently so does the
capacity of the wool to absorb dye. That band of darker blue that we cited above
may result from a batch of loosely spun wool that absorbed a lot of dye.
Is abrash a flaw? The answer lies in the eyes of
the beholder. Germans, by and large, don’t like abrash. Other people enjoy the
character that abrash seems to add to oriental rugs. We would like to suggest
that strong abrash is not appropriate to finely knotted rugs and carpets made in
city workshop conditions- rugs like Kashans and Nains that seem to aim for a
kind of perfection. On the other hand, in tribal and village rugs, abrash often
looks good and is by no means a flaw. But you, the connoisseur, are the final
Judging Quality in Oriental Rugs
Connoisseurs spend lifetimes weighing which Oriental rugs are worthy of their
collections. In the end it all comes down to taste, and for you too, your own
taste is finally what matters. Still, there are criteria by which Oriental rugs
are often judged that are commonly agreed on. Some are elementary and nearly
rugs lie flat on their backs, without wrinkles or ripples along their edges.
Rugs with wrinkles, curled edges and so on, besides disturbing the eye, wear
prematurely. Still, don’t ask for perfection, especially from tribal rugs made
under difficult conditions.
· Some rugs are out-of-shape. They came off the loom wider on one end
than the other, or with bowing edges or an hour glass figure. All else being
equal, a reasonably regular, geometrically correct shape is preferable to a
visibly distorted one.
· Some folks love rugs that have faded into a low key, innocuous
absence of color, but, again, they should not be surprised when their beloved
rug is spurned by others. Good rugs have colors that resist fading in normal
light and bleeding when exposed to water.
· Rugs in good condition are prized above those in bad condition. Moth
damage, holes, rips, spots and stains and missing ends and edges are tolerable
to most people only when rugs are really old.
· Some wool is better than other wool. Good wool has a noticeable glow.
It feels fleecy, perhaps a little oily, soft. It absorbs dye well and it takes
heavy use. Inferior wool is full of kemp and hair and is scratchy, dry,
lusterless and incapable of properly absorbing dye. Obviously, good wool is
preferable to bad wool.
Besides the considerations above, there are others that are more
controversial, more subjective or more difficult to describe.
Are Finely Knotted Rugs Better than Others?
Most often, finely knotted or finely woven rugs
are more desirable than those that are less fine. There are several reasons why
that is so. For one, curved lines in a rug’s design can be “drawn” more
smoothly and gracefully in a rug with many knots per square inch, just as a lot
of pixels in a television screen allow for more natural looking lines. And too,
rugs that are very finely knotted have such dense surfaces that light is
reflected from them in an attractive way. But it must be said that fine knotting
alone does not make a rug good. A case may even be made that a fine weave simply
is not appropriate in certain kinds of tribal rugs. By and large though, if all
else is equal, a finely knotted rug is more attractive than a less finely
What is a Rug’s “Drawing”?
Connoisseurs of Oriental rugs often refer to the
“drawing” of a rug. My guess is that drawing means something a little
different to each of them- but all would agree that it is important. I believe
that drawing refers not to a rug’s design per se, but to how well the design
is executed: whether it is fluid and nimble or clumsy and static. Drawing
includes the matter of whether there is harmony among a rug’s various
components such as its border and field, though to a large extent that has to do
with color choices as well as drawing. Undeniably, some rugs are beautifully
drawn and others are not. But do connoisseurs agree as to which is which? Well
More about Natural vs. Synthetic Dyes
There is agreement among nearly all old-rug collectors that natural dyes in a
rug are better than synthetic. But the issue is clouded by the fact that often
it is impossible without expensive laboratory analysis to be certain whether a
given dye in an old rug is natural or synthetic. So much has been written about
natural dyes vs. synthetic (see Oriental Rugs Today, Emmett Eiland,
Berkeley Hills Books) that I will not tackle the subject here. But I believe it
is safe to say that no rug buyer will ever regret acquiring a rug or carpet with
well applied natural dyes. Natural dyes definitely add to the cost of a rug, but
they also add to its value.
Hand Spun vs. Machine Spun Wool
For thousands of years, weavers spun wool by hand to create the yarn that
makes up the pile of Oriental rugs. By about World War Two, nearly all wool was
spun by machines. Now, since about 1985, a small but appreciable number of
weavers are again spinning wool by hand. Though a few people prefer the
uniformity and formal appearance that machine spun wool imparts to carpets, most
collectors and connoisseurs value the effect produced by hand spun wool. When
spun by hand, yarn absorbs more dye where it is loosely spun and less dye where
it is spun tightly, thus producing pleasant variegation in the colors of a rug.
Though there is room for disagreement, I believe that the best Oriental rugs are
woven with hand spun wool.
Old Rugs vs. New Rugs
Are old rugs better than new rugs? In good
condition, old rugs certainly are worth more than new rugs, all else being
equal. Why? Age, or rather use, seems to add character to rugs- at least in many
people’s eyes. Colors mellow; wool pile acquires a patina. But I believe that
most people’s preference for old rugs over new was formed during the period
from about 1930 to 1990 when new rugs were clearly inferior to those woven
earlier, mostly because rugs fashioned during those 60 years were almost
invariably made with synthetic dyes. Now, though, a renaissance has taken place
in rug weaving, and natural dyes and hand spun wool are back in use in some
rugs, and old designs have been restored to the repertoire of modern weavers.
Today there is far less reason to prefer old rugs to new. Perhaps there is none.
So the answer is: You can not judge whether a carpet is a good one or not by its
Can You Judge Quality by Height of the Pile?
Inexperienced rug buyers sometimes mistake a thick pile for quality. In fact,
the finest rugs often are the thinnest. Still, if a rug is going to take
significant traffic, it should have plenty of body.
Is the Finishing Process Important?
Yes. Good Oriental rugs have a natural glow. They have been either left to
age naturally or, at the very end of the rug-making process, are sensitively
washed in substances that subtly tone down the relatively bright colors of a new
rug. They are not bleached to death nor muddied up with gunk. Neither are they
washed to make them unnaturally shiny.
Summarizing “Quality in Oriental Rugs”
So the profile of a good rug is something like
this: It lies flat and straight on the floor and is reasonably regular in its
shape. It is in good condition and has lively, lustrous wool. Its colors have
neither faded nor bled. In fact its colors probably have been dyed from natural
plant substances and its wool spun by hand. Consequently there is a pleasant
variegation in its colors and a feeling that the rug has personality or
character. It has been intelligently “finished” so that it is not washed
out, unnaturally shiny nor unpleasantly bright and harsh. The elements of the
carpet’s design seem to fit together nicely and its colors are harmonious.
Above all, the rug has an X quality, a hook that grabs you personally, a
character that you like.
EMERGENCY CARE FOR ORIENTAL RUGS
If you don’t find the information you need
below, during business hours phone 831 373-1009
SPILLS and PET STAINS
1. Whether it is wine, coffee, coolaid, urine, paint or whatever, the
first step is to remove as much of it as possible from the rug- as soon as
possible. Paper towels work well. Keep blotting until you have got as much out
2. After blotting, many
spills will require diluting. If it is clear that much of the spilled substance
is still in the rug, dilute it with water (assuming that the substance is water
soluble)- as much water as necessary. That may mean a half cup for a small spill
or it may mean a quart of water for a major spill. Don’t get the rug sopping
wet unless you need to.
Please note that some rugs have unstable dyes that may run if you put water
on them. But they are a small minority of all rugs. Sometimes you simply must
take a chance.
3. Now back to blotting. Get as much out as possible.
4. If the rug has become
wet in the process, you needn’t panic. Chances are that it can stay wet for at
least several days without harm. Still, you will have to manage the wet rug and
promote drying. If the rug is quite wet, you may have to elevate it to promote
air circulation under it. You might just stuff some wadded up newspapers under
it. You may wish to play a fan on the rug to circulate air.
5. If the rug is still stained after all your efforts, consider taking it
to a professional rug washer as soon as you can. Very often spills come out in
6. Do not use spot removers on Oriental rugs that are formulated for use
on wall to wall carpeting. They will harm the wool pile of your rug.
If your rug has become sopping wet from plumbing problems, a
leaking roof, as a result of firefighting or anything else, the situation may
not be as bad as you fear. A rug can stay wet for at least several days before
it is harmed. Still, you must do the best you can to manage it. Even though the
water and the rug are dirty, your priority most likely will be to get the rug
dry. You can have it washed later.
In many cities there are 24 hour emergency services available to deal with
wet rugs. You can find them in the phone book under carpets. Their work
seems satisfactory on carpeting, but sometimes inappropriate and even harmful on
Oriental rugs. Unless you are simply overwhelmed, you may be better off to
handle the problem yourself.
1. If possible, get the rug to a wooden deck, a concrete patio or even a
sidewalk. If you have a squeegee on a long handle, use it to squeegee out the
water, pushing in the direction of the pile. In a pinch, you can use the back of
a heavy garden rake as a substitute for a squeegee. Get as much water out of the
rug as possible.
If you cannot get the rug to a flat, outdoor surface, you may vacuum it with
a Shop Vac or other wet-or-dry type vacuum, pulling as much water as you can
from the rug.
2. After squeegeeing or vacuuming it, you may now roll the rug without
folding it and stand it on end, letting it stand until water is no longer
dripping from it.
3. At this point the rug is still damp but no longer sopping wet. Finish
drying it however you can. If you have good weather, you can dry it in the sun.
If you must, dry it indoors in a warm room, elevating it, if necessary, to let
air circulate around it. A fan trained on the rug will help.
4. If necessary, you can, at your convenience, have the rug washed by
HOW TO CARE FOR ORIENTAL RUGS
People think that because Oriental
rugs are valuable they must be pampered like fine China. But Oriental rugs have
earned their reputation of being magical in part because of their sheer
endurance. When they are dirty, they can be washed (unlike wall-to-wall
carpeting, which can be surface cleaned only). And when they are injured they
can be fixed. Their dyes resist fading and running, and their wool, full of
natural oils, keeps many potential stains from penetrating and setting. We have
seen that in the Middle East some new rugs are thrown into the streets for “aging,”
where they are driven over by trucks and camels alike. They come through the
ordeal looking much improved. Rugs are, as they say, forgiving.
But still, rugs need a congenial atmosphere and a little attention to help
combat their several natural enemies: sunlight, moths, carpet beetles and
Rugs Fade in Sunlight. Be Careful!
A congenial atmosphere includes protection from
too much sunlight. After inspecting rugs in many homes over the years, I have
come to think that sunlight may be a rug’s principal nemesis- more to be
feared, even, than moths. Sunlight streaming through a window directly onto a
rug is virtually guaranteed to harm it, whether morning or afternoon, southern
or western sunlight. Naturally dyed rugs and synthetically dyed rugs suffer
equally. Colors fade unevenly and wool and cotton dry out and become brittle. A
good rug can be spoiled in a month or less. Of course there are situations where
the risk to your rug is less clear, like when it is in a sunny room yet does not
take direct sunlight. Be careful. Some rugs will take that much light and others
will not- and there’s no way to know in advance which will and which won’t.
It is possible and prudent to monitor your rug in this circumstance, which you
may do by periodically comparing its colors on the front to those on the back of
the rug. They should be the same. When colors are softer or lighter on the pile
side of the rug than they are on the back, it’s time to take action. You can
eliminate or prevent the problem by keeping the curtains closed or by having
your windows professionally coated with mylar. Mylar is a film which can be
applied to your windows and which filters harmful ultraviolet light. It does not
impart a noticeable tint to windows. I must caution, however, that applying a
mylar coating to certain windows may negate manufacturers’ warrantees. Mylar
has the secondary effect of taking a couple of degrees of heat off hot summer
sun and softening glare through a window. Most damage is caused by light shining
through a window, of course, but often enough rugs are faded by sunlight
streaming through a skylight. Sometimes people have no idea that is happening
because it occurs at a time of day when they are not at home. In my own house I
once had to replace my Plexiglas skylight with Plexiglas that had been UV
filtered. A special word of caution: don’t forget that, if the sun is not
coming directly through your window now, it may do so at a different time of the
year when, for instance, the sun is lower in the southern sky.
If your rug has already suffered fading by the sun, there is still hope that
it can be improved. If the fading is merely on the very tips of the pile (and
you can determine that by looking closely at it), then washing the rug
(professionally) may help the problem by simply abrading the faded tips of the
wool. More sever fading can sometimes be improved by professional clipping of
the entire pile. Occasionally a rug is so faded that neither of these methods
will work, and then one must decide whether to accept the rug as it is, or to
attempt to fade the entire rug evenly. This involves leaving the rug in the
blistering sun, covering parts of the rug that are already faded and leaving
exposed the previously unfaded portions of the rug. How long do you leave it in
the sun? Until the job is done. That might be three days and it might be three
weeks. It is obvious, though, that one must be cautious with this approach lest
you cook your rug too long.
The second major enemy of Oriental rugs is moths. The moths you
need to worry about are small and hardly noticeable. They are the same moths
that raid food in the pantry and wool clothes in the closet. They do their
damage in the larval stage when, as (horror of horrors) little maggot looking
creatures, they eat tracks in wool rugs. In rugs with wool foundations they
often eat right through the rug. They leave behind a web-like material. Moths
can cause devastating damage to a rug in a matter of weeks. Here is some
comforting news, though: moths rarely infest rugs and carpets that are in
regular use. They prefer to be undisturbed, and they seek out rugs that are
stored or are under furniture. They also appear to prefer dark places. So a rug
that is walked on and vacuumed or swept is hardly at risk at all, except parts
of it that may be under a never-disturbed bookcase or bed.
Rugs or portions of rugs covered by furniture must be disturbed from time to
time to prevent moths from settling in. That may mean moving furniture off rugs
every several months or so and vacuuming or sweeping. When inspecting rugs for
moth activity, remember that most moth damage is to the back of a rug where
moths are least likely to be disturbed. So examine the back of the rug along its
perimeter and look for moths, moth larvae or the casing or webbing they leave
behind. You may elect to leave moth crystals in areas that are hard to get at,
but remember that moth crystals lose their potency rather quickly. Rugs mounted
on walls can attract moths because they typically are never disturbed. Check
their backs in particular. I am now in the habit of handling rugs mounted on
walls as I walk past them just to make them inhospitable hosts for moths.
If, after all your efforts to prevent moth
damage, damage still occurs, don’t despair. Your rug can be repaired. The
question will be whether the value of the rug warrants the cost of repair.
Carpet beetle is not a great factor in the
Western United States, but it is the scourge of East Coast rug owners. The adult
is a small oval insect, dark with colored marks on the back, about a quarter of
an inch long. Carpet beetles eat pollen and nectar, and often they are brought
into the house on cut flowers. They lay eggs in dust and lint in dark, hard to
access places. Both adults and larvae eat wool rugs (and sometimes silk rugs),
but most damage is done by the larvae. While moths eat tracks through wool rugs,
carpet beetles eat right through the rug, cotton foundation and all. They leave
behind bristly “shells” of shed skin. The best control is prevention through
fastidious housekeeping and proper storage (see How to Store Oriental Rugs
below). Carpet beetles may be killed by freezing (-20 degrees F for three days),
or through use of pyrethrin or other sprays.
Stored rugs are the most likely victims of moths,
since in storage they usually are both undisturbed and in the dark. I would
suggest that you store a rug in the following way. Moths seem to love dirty
rugs, so start with a clean rug if possible. I would roll moth crystals into the
rug, maybe a fistful into a 4 by 6 foot rug. Some people object to the smell and
toxicity of moth crystals. An alternative is to leave a rug in the sunlight for
a half-day on both sides, hoping thereby to kill any moth eggs in the rug. A
third alternative is to spray the rug with a moth spray (Fuller Brush makes one)
before you roll it. The smell from a spray seems to dissipate long before the
smell of moth crystals does. Fold the rug, roll it up, tie it. The simplest next
step is to place it in a heavy garbage bag, or a double or triple layer of bags
and to seal it really well. If the carpet is too big to fit into a bag, use
garbage bags on both ends and tape them together in the middle. An alternative
is to wrap the rug in a heavy paper or plastic wrap, like Tyvac. In any case,
the object is to seal them in some container unreachable by moths (and,
incidentally, by water). Finally, store the sealed rug where its wrap will not
be pierced by something sharp and where the package will not be exposed to water
An alternative to wrapping a rug for storage is
storing it in a cedar closet or a cedar trunk. Natural resins in cedar wood
repel moths. The advantages are clear: no chemicals are involved and no wrapping
is required. There are two problems with cedar closets and chests though. First,
not everyone has them, and, second, cedar eventually loses its anti-moth
properties. My wife and I stored our collection of Oriental rugs in a cedar
closet for many years without harm. Then suddenly, in what must have been about
the 75th year in the life of the cedar closet, it lost its punch and
was breached by moths. I can’t tell you what a mess that was. I was told that
sanding it the cedar wood, which I did, might restore its aromatic quality. But
I never again really trusted the closet. Cedar chips are sold which may be added
to chests and closets. Perhaps they work. Also, perhaps they don’t.
When rugs stay wet too long, they become mildewed
and, eventually, suffer dry rot. The classic example is dry rot caused by a
potted plant placed on a rug. The typical result is a horribly rotted circular
area in a carpet that is otherwise in good condition. Don’t even think about
putting a potted plant on a rug. No matter how clever you are, no matter that
you use a glazed pot and a glazed saucer and you put a vapor barrier between the
saucer and the rug, the rug will get wet and will stay wet unbeknownst to you
and will become a rotten mess in an area about one foot in diameter. Another
typical situation comes up when rugs are stored poorly, in a garage for
instance, and they become wet without anyone realizing what has happened. Even
though dry rot is not inevitable in such cases, a mildew smell is, and sometimes
the smell of mildew simply cannot be removed. I have seen several occasions when
moisture under a house has caused rugs on the floor above to mildew. Another
situation not uncommon is for rugs to be soaked by a leak in the roof or by a
plumbing problem upstairs. In my first rug store, a stoppage in a main sewer
line caused my toilet to back up, overflow and leave six inches of standing “water”
throughout the showroom. (Isn’t it amazing that we somehow do get through life’s
surprises? For the peace of mind of those who might have been my customers in
those days, I had each rug washed thoroughly before they again became
Please do not worry needlessly, though. A little
water on a rug, or even a lot of water, will not cause it to mildew unless the
rug stays wet too long. For instance, rugs one steps onto from a shower or
bathtub rarely are hurt by water because they have time to dry out between
times. And don’t panic if you spill a glass of water on a rug. Just dry it as
well as you can with towels, and if it dries in several days, it will be all
Unfortunately, besides causing mildew and dry rot, water sometimes causes
dyes in rugs to bleed or run. All you can do in this situation is to get the rug
dry as soon as possible, preferably with a water vacuum as outlined below.
If a rug is just a little wet, as from a spilled glass of water, do what I
suggested above. Merely soak up as much water as possible with a towel or paper
towel and everything will probably be just fine. If you are worried about the
floor underneath, elevate the wet spot until it dries.
A rug that is thoroughly wet is another matter. The goal is to dry it before
it mildews in about four or five days. If you have a Shoepac or other vacuum
that will take in water, vacuum out as much water as you can. If not, lay the
rug flat on its back outdoors and squeegee out as much water as you can. In a
pinch, you can use the back of a garden rake as a squeegee. If you cannot do
that (perhaps because it is raining heavily outside), then roll the rug tightly
and stand it on end until water stops dripping out of the bottom end. If you
have sunlight and a place to lay the rug, open it and let it finish drying
outdoors. Or, if you know that the rug is dirty as well as wet, dry it enough so
that you can get it to an Oriental rug cleaning specialist. If all else fails
and the rug has been wet for four or five days and you have no prospects of
drying it soon, spray it with Lysol. If you must dry a wet rug indoors, keep air
circulating around it with a fan or hairdryer. Many a rug has come through
seemingly hopeless situations and come out in good shape.
MAINTAINING ORIENTAL RUGS
How to Keep Your Oriental Rugs Clean
Rugs gradually wear as they are
walked on. That can’t be avoided, but you can lesson the problem by turning or
rotating your rugs from time to time so they don’t always get walked on in the
same places. Walking on a dirty rug shortens its life prematurely. Dirt and sand
fragments act like sandpaper as you grind them into the surface of your rug. How
often should you have your Oriental rugs washed? On the average of every four or
five years, but the real answer is that you should wash them when they are dirty
and not before or long after. You can tell whether your rug is dirty by testing
it with a white, wet cloth. Rub the rug’s pile vigorously with the wet cloth
and check to see how much dirt is transferred to the cloth. Don’t worry about
a little discoloration; any rug has a little dust on its surface. A dirty rug
will transfer a lot of dirt to a cloth, and the results of your testing will be
unambiguous. Dirty rugs may not look especially dirty, but typically they look
flat and lusterless.
Many Europeans are fearless about washing their
own rugs and have developed methods so hallowed by time that they are
unquestioned. People of German origin have told me about their mothers turning
rugs upside down in the snow and beating them on the back. I have no doubt that
the results can be quite dramatic when the rug is removed and an impressive
amount of dirt is left behind on the snow. And the snow approach must do a good
job of freshening the surface of an Oriental rug. But this approach can’t
really compete with thoroughly wetting a rug and washing it with appropriate
materials. I used to wash my own rugs, and it can be done, but these days I let
the professionals wash my rugs. They do a better job than I do and they are
better at dealing with color-run when that occurs.
Here is a summary of how rugs are (or should be)
washed professionally. (I would like to thank David Walker of Talisman in Santa
Cruz, California for some of the information herein about washing rugs.) First,
as much dirt and dust as possible is loosened and separated from the rug before
it is exposed to water. Some professionals use giant tumblers to accomplish
this. Professionals test colors for fastness before they wet a rug to determine
how they will approach the job. They may protect weak areas of the rug, perhaps
by sewing gauze around them. If the rug’s dyes are stable and the rug can be
washed, the rug is laid out flat and thoroughly wetted. Some experts filter
chlorine out of the water. When the rug is wet, it is scrubbed by hand- that is,
by brushes, usually on poles, operated by hand. Machines never should be used
for the scrubbing. Rotary type machines often tangle the wool pile, and no
machine can sense where scrubbing should be lighter or heavier depending on the
condition of the rug.
The choice of a cleaning agent, of course, is
critical. An unformulated (that is, neutral balanced) detergent is ideal,
despite the old caveat that detergent should never be used on an Oriental rug.
Conditioners may be added if wool is dry, and so may denatured white vinegar be
added to stabilize the dyes. The rug or carpet is rinsed thoroughly and dried
and then brushed down to soften and finish the rug’s surface.
Does that sound easy? How would you like to turn
the hose on someone’s $30,000 antique Oriental rug? Good rug washers live with
that kind of pressure every day and rarely have accidents. I have the greatest
respect for the handful of specialists who are conscientious and who know what
they are doing.
It is possible to freshen the surface of an
Oriental rug without washing it. Simply sponging the pile with cold water will
brighten it. You may also use the type of appliance made to clean carpeting at
home, such as the Spray’n Vac. But do not use anything except water and a
little denatured white vinegar (about a quarter of a cup in a gallon of water):
no soap, no optical brighteners. You may clean a rug’s fringe with soap and
water, but don’t bleach it.
Do not shake an Oriental rug to dust it. Do not
beat an Oriental rug. You may use a vacuum cleaner, even a beater type vacuum,
but be careful not to catch the fringe in the vacuum. You may also use a broom.
Whatever you do to an Oriental rug should be appropriate to its condition. Don’t
sweep a ninety-year-old, worn rug too vigorously.
Ends, Edges and Holes
Ends and edges are often the first
parts of rugs that need attention as rugs age. It is critical to maintain them
in good condition because problems with them soon lead to more expensive
problems with the body of a rug. Typically, a rug’s fringe begins to wear away
noticeably within 10 or 15 years from the time the rug was new and is nearly
gone when the rug is 40-60 years old. Fringe can be replaced, though, often, new
fringe on an old rug looks inappropriate. Many people who are accustomed to old
rugs simply get used to seeing eroded fringes and they don’t worry about it.
Fringe is not structural, and your rug will suffer no harm from its absence. On
the other hand, worn fringe is a sign that the end finish of the rug may be
threatened by wear. Rugs are bound on their ends in a number of different ways,
but each is designed to keep the foundation threads intact. When the foundation
is frayed, a rug begins to lose its pile, and that requires expensive work. So,
typically, a rug needs “end stopping” to secure the end from raveling,
usually after something like 30 years.
Likewise, the edges of a rug, called selvages,
need to be maintained. Selvages are wrapped with wool or cotton to protect the
edges of the rug, and eventually this wrapping wears out and has to be replaced.
This is routine work and not terribly expensive. To maintain a rug’s value it
is important that a new selvage looks just like the old selvage: the same color,
material and so on. Resist the temptation to replace the original selvage with a
cheap, machine binding.
A variety of other problems that need repair may beset a rug during its
lifetime: holes, wrinkle lines, curling edges, visible wear, moth damage and so
on. There is nothing that cannot be fixed. The question always will be whether
the value of the rug warrants the cost of repair.
The Controversial Practice of “Painting”
When a rug in need of repair is judged not to
have enough value to warrant repair, an alternative to consider is having it “painted.”
Painting is neither repair nor maintenance but is simply a cosmetic quick-fix.
Painting is an emotionally charged issue because it has most often been used as
a device to hide wear in order to sell a rug. Painting is just what it sounds
like: textile dyes of appropriate colors are painted onto a rug, usually with a
stiff paint brush, in such a way as to cover worn areas. Ideally the process is
inexpensive and remarkably effective, sometimes making a badly worn rug look
really good for another ten years. Eventually the paint wears off, so painting
is never a permanent solution- except with a rug so worn that it will not
survive the paint. Many people are opposed to painting, usually, as I have said,
because its practice is often associated with dishonest rug dealers.
Furthermore, a bad paint job can be quite noticeable and off putting. And
finally, if the wrong materials are used, the “paint” can run when exposed
to water and bleed into the rest of the rug. Some object to the idea of
something foreign to the rug being added to it, and a few people simply don’t
mind wear in Oriental rugs and would rather see wear than know their rug has
been painted. One further objection: the value of some very desirable,
collectible rugs may be hurt by painting.
Having duly noted all these objections, I still submit that sometimes
painting is a reasonable approach, especially when a rug lacks enough value to
warrant repairing it properly. I say this knowing full well that by doing so I
have just established myself as a butcher in the eyes of some
WHAT TO DO ABOUT SPILLS AND OTHER ACCIDENTS
The best medicine for spills is to get the substance out of the
rug as fast as possible. Use a paper towel or anything handy to absorb the
spill. Some people pour salt on a spill, but doing so just makes a mess. If
color from the spilled substance is still visible after you have sopped up as
much of the spill as possible, you will have to dilute it by sponging on cold
water (assuming that the spilled substance is water soluble) and then removing
as much of it as possible. It is best not to get the rug really soaking wet. If
you do, you will have to deal with it as we describe in the section of this
chapter called What To Do with A Wet Rug. If a stain persists after all this,
you will probably have to have the rug washed. Do not use off-the-shelf carpet
stain removers. They are formulated for the synthetic fibers of carpeting and
are likely to hurt a wool Oriental rug.
Urine stains from pets are probably the most common of all
stains in Oriental rugs. They present a special problem because urine actually
changes the chemical composition of dyes once it has had a chance to set. The
best strategy then (besides preventing it from happening) is to remove it the
same way as other stains- as fast as possible. After removing as much as
possible, rinse the area with a solution of water and distilled white vinegar-
about one tablespoon per cup of water- and then remove as much as possible from
the rug. If a urine stain is already dry when you discover it, act as quickly as
possible anyway, and get the rug to an Oriental rug cleaning specialist. Enzyme
type urine removers feed on wool and should not be used on Oriental rugs.
SHOULD YOU USE RUG PADS?
The people who live where Oriental
rugs are made do not use rug pads under rugs, but it is customary there to
remove street shoes upon entering a home. No one has ever methodically
demonstrated that rug pads make rugs last longer, but clearly rug pads prevent
many accidents by keeping rugs and people from slipping around on hardwood
floors. For that reason I usually recommend them. There is no need to have thick
rug pads unless you especially want a cushy feel underfoot. Most likely your
Oriental rug will outlast its rug pad many times over. Pads tend to dry out and
eventually they crumble. I have seen cases in which pads have discolored
hardwood floors, especially when they have been used on newly finished floors
that, presumably, have not had sufficient time to cure. Pads are now available
that are designed to go between wall to wall carpeting and Oriental rugs. They
are most effective if the carpeting underneath is not terribly long-piled. There
are many products on the market, and you should ask your rug dealer for his or