Daily care and cleaning

The day-to-day care of an oriental rug is no more complicated than looking after any other household furnishing. Most home items carry a label giving a few recommendations as to the care that should be given to them - unfortunately, this is rarely the case with oriental rugs and in this section, the general guidelines for everyday care arc given.

Cleanliness is perhaps the most important factor concerning the long-term preservation of any rug. As shall be seen further on in the book, dirt - if unlodged and ground into the rug's foundation - can cause untold damage. Cleaning a rug makes it look good and it also prolongs its life.

For daily removal of surface particles of dirt and dust. a good hand broom should be used. Lt is also essential that the rug be moved and the underlying area swept clean. A non- electric hand carpet sweeper may also be used for this purpose.

Any earnest rug preserver would not favor the daily use of a powerful, electric vacuum cleaner (although one can appreciate the time-saving service it renders), which can pull the knots out of the rug with its strong air suction. With today's frenetic pace of life, I concede to the use of a vacuum cleaner about once a month, provided it is not too powerful and does not have rotary brushes. A low-powered vacuum cleaner with a nozzle attachment can be most effective when used on stair rugs.

A warning to vacuum-cleaner users: only vacuum the pile of the rug. not the delicate fringes. The fringes will not last long if a vacuum cleaner is used on them regularly. Use of the vacuum cleaner, with a built-in 'beater', on the back of the rug every six months is an excellent idea for removing ground-in loose fibers, sand, dirt and grit.

With the increasing importance, value and scarcity of handmade rugs today, there is only one method of cleaning that I can recommend without reservation: hand cleaning. Quite simply, a rug made by hand needs to be cleaned by hand. No two rugs are exactly alike and each rug requires individual treatment. Even within a single rug different areas need different care, depending on the amount of wear and tear to which they are subjected. Such individual attention is only possible with careful hand cleaning and can never be given by a machine.

Cleaning a rug by hand is a time-consuming process and. when carried out by an expert, will be more expensive than machine cleaning. Therefore, as a second and cheaper choice, a rug may be taken to professional, specialized oriental rug-cleaning companies (not to be confused with companies cleaning machine- made carpeting) which have years of experience and most sophisticated machinery, especially designed for the cleaning of hand- made rugs. I must stress however, that no old, antique or silk handmade rugs should be cleaned by machine under any circumstances.

Cleanliness is probably the best defense against any damage. Regular cleaning. of course, protects the investment value of the rug; the money spent on cleaning is fractional, compared to the rug's constantly appreciating value.

How to Know When a Rug Needs Cleaning

An expert's advice is not normally required to determine when a rug needs cleaning. A rug with a light background and open field cries out for cleaning when dirty. However, with a rug of a darker hue and with a more intricate pattern, it is a little less obvious. The first sign will be the feel of the pile, which will be some- what matted and rough - not soft and velvety, as it should be. You can also see the dirt by folding one corner of the rug: and with the cupped palm of the hand under the pile, tap the back of the rug with the other hand. If grit, broken wool fibers or dust, sprinkle into the palm of your hand, it is time for cleaning. This test is both important and accurate.

How often cleaning is required varies from rug to rug, home to home, family to family and is dependent on the owner's lifestyle. As a very general guide, I recommend that rugs in daily use on the floor be cleaned at least every two years.

Hand Cleaning at Home

The idea of attempting to hand clean an oriental rug at home may seem daunting, yet it can be carried out successfully by the amateur at virtually no cost. Provided the simple step-by-step instructions arc followed, the results will amaze even the most dubious.

The great majority of rugs can be hand cleaned by the layman, but rugs in the following categories should not be attempted by a non-expert: antique rugs: silk or part silk rugs, whether antique, old or contemporary, and seriously damaged rugs in need of major restoration. The rugs in these three groups are normally extremely delicate and may be most valuable: only experienced hands can assure successful cleaning. The slightest error by the unpracticed could result in costly and irreparable damage. If there is any doubt as to whether a rug can be cleaned at home, consult your local dealer. He will gladly advise you as to whether the cleaning can be done at home, if he can do it for you, or refer you to another professional who specializes in such cleaning.

Preparation for Hand Cleaning

The preparation for hand cleaning is as important as the hand cleaning itself. For comfort, small rugs can be cleaned on a raised surface, like a table. The following steps should be taken prior to cleaning:

The rug should be inspected for possible damage, which may need repair. If damage is found, this area should be sewn together temporarily to prevent the damage going further and immediately attended to after cleaning. Repairs that require repiling should be carried out after cleaning in order to best match the wools.

All dirt, dust, grit, sand, broken fibers, and other extraneous material, must be removed from the rug. Gentle beating on the back of the rug with a traditional cane beater is the best way to leave the rug dirt free. Make sure that this is carried out thoroughly and that no particles remain; otherwise, when wetted during the hand-cleaning process, such particles will turn to a mud-like substance which, when dried, will act as an abrasive cement. Taking short cuts when removing this dirt will leave the pile of the rug rough and shaggy after cleaning; and it will also eventually reduce the life of the rug.

Any specific stain on the rug should be removed prior to cleaning. If these are not properly treated beforehand, the hand-cleaning process will cause the stain to 'set' and it will be more difficult, and sometimes even impossible, to remove this at a later stage.

A color fastness test should be done before cleaning is started. This can be done by test cleaning a small highly patterned area of the rug. Wipe this area with a damp white cloth or towel. Provided no color penetrates the cloth, the rug is colorfast. If the color bleeds on to the cloth, the rug should not be cleaned at home, but given to a professional.

Equipment Needed for Hand Cleaning

Hand cleaning requires considerable time, effort and patience: the equipment needed is minimal by comparison. Most items will probably already be in the house: a bucket, brush, vinegar and carpet shampoo.

The brush that assures most successful results is a fine horse brush used for grooming. These are available in varying sizes and fibers; select one with soft bristles of an approximate depth of 1 inch (2.5 cm). The bristles should be made from a natural fiber, not plastic or any other man-made fiber.

The most suitable type of rug shampoo to use is one that will dry to a powder after it has been applied to the rug. The suspended dried soil and solution can then be removed by vacuum cleaner or brush.

To mix the solution for cleaning, use the proportions of half a cup of rug shampoo to four and a half cups of water (never use hot or boiling water). One tablespoon of white (natural) vinegar should then be added. This prevents any possible color run, and helps bring out the natural luster of the wool.

How to Clean

With a dirt-free rug and mixed cleaning solution ready, surface cleaning can be carefully carried out as follows:

Lay the rug on a flat, hard surface (if the size permits then use a table) with the pile of the rug facing upwards. Dip the brush into the prepared solution and starting at one corner of the rug, begin to dispense the solution by gently massaging it into the pile. Brush in a gentle up and down movement, with and against the pile. Hard rubbing or brushing will not clean the rug more thoroughly and may even damage it. The amount of solution and brush pressure should be as constant and even as possible. Avoid soaking the rug, as over-wetting can damage the foundation. Progress across the pile of the rug with short, overlapping movements until the entire surface is cleaned. End with a brushing movement in the direction of the pile. The fringes do not normally require cleaning but they may be brushed carefully with solution if necessary. Here again, do not soak them and ensure that a very gentle motion is used.

During cleaning, handle the rug with added care, as it is more delicate than usual in its clamp condition: the chances of potential damage arc therefore increased.

It is neither necessary nor advisable to wet clean the back of the rug, for it does not come into direct contact with dirt. Carefully, remove the rug for drying - try not to fold it while wetted, but carry it flat or rolled. Weather permitting lay the rug outside to dry in natural sunlight on a clothesline (only light-weight and small rugs can be hung on a clothes line) or on a hard and dry surface. It is not advisable to dry the rug on a lawn as the rug would further absorb and retain the moisture of the grass. If climatic conditions provide no warm sun, the alternative is to dry the rug flat at home, preferably where there is a warm air current heating system. Placing a damp rug back on the floor will damage its foundation and, over a period of time, will cause disintegration of the rug: therefore, check that it is completely dry before doing so. The warp, weft and pile of a fully dried rug should feel soft and pliable.

Remove the dried dirt and shampoo powder from the rug by brushing or gently vacuuming. Clean and rinse the brush thoroughly with warm water and leave to dry.

Hand cleaning has multiple rewards for the patient individual who tackles the job himself: great personal satisfaction, the distinctly improved appearance of the rug and the know- ledge that the rug has been given a new lease of life. Yet, perhaps most rewarding of all is the greater affinity and understanding that develops through this cleaning - every tiny motif, every subtlety of shade and every nuance previously unseen by the owner, has now come into view.

Beating

The periodic beating or shaking of a rug outdoors is recommended. The amount of wear it receives dictates how often this should be done. An old-fashioned carpel beater is the best implement for this. Small and finely knotted rugs should be hung outside on a clothesline and should be beaten gently on the back. Heavy and larger rugs should be placed pile downwards on a dry floor. You then hold one corner, elevate part of the rug and beat it softly. It is vital that this beating should not be done too harshly. This beating action should always be applied to the back of the rug, allowing all the dirt to fall to the ground from both the back and front of the rug.

Antique and silk rugs should not be cleaned in this way; they require professional attention to assure their preservation.

Turning

The term 'turning' means turning the rug around one hundred and eighty degrees to change its position: thus ensuring even wear all over the rug. The turning of a rug is a protective measure and all rugs need to be turned regularly during their use on the floor. The heavier the traffic, the more often the rug should be turned. Oriental rugs in an entrance hall and those used as doormats obviously need more regular turning than bedroom or study rugs. From time to time, it is advisable to replace rugs, which have been subjected to a lot of tread with others, which have had lighter wear.

Damaging Elements

Heavy Furniture

Where possible, avoid placing heavy furniture on oriental rugs for long periods of time. The weight of such items crushes the pile and can damage the rug's foundation. The placing of furniture cups (similar to small ashtrays) under the furniture legs helps disperse the pressure from a concentrated area and also prevents sharp furniture edges from damaging the rug. Every few months, the furniture should be moved slightly (lift the furniture to move it: do not drag it across the rug) to allow the crushed pile to breathe. When the furniture is moved, the pile of the area on which the furniture rested may be matted together. To rectify this, dampen the matted area and gently play with the wool with your fingers until the pile springs back into shape.

Moths

Damage from moth larvae should not occur if a rug is properly cleaned and turned. Moths favor undisturbed areas such as: underneath grandfather clocks, under beds and undisturbed areas on which a rug may lie. Regular cleaning is therefore essential.

An added protection from moths can be provided by airing a rug out-of-doors, turning both the back and the front of the rug to the natural sunlight. The rug should be laid flat on a dry surface for some hours.

Damp

Dampness is the enemy of an oriental rug and care must be taken to ensure that rugs are not used or stored in damp areas. Moisture is easily absorbed by the rug and will eventually rot the foundation and make the rug brittle. Dampened dirt in a rug is also dangerous as, like glue, when dried it forms splinters that cut the knots and foundations.

As it is impossible to repair a damp-rotted rug, it is absolutely essential to prevent the rot in the first place.

Intense Heat

Any form of direct or intense heat - heat from an open fire, heat from a radiator, and the worst, that from heated flooring, is damaging to handmade rugs. Such high-level heat dries the natural oils in the wool, making it brittle and lusterless. Care should be taken to avoid placing rugs in these undesirable conditions.

Direct sunlight Rugs should be used and kept in light areas to avoid possible moth damage, but strong, direct sunlight over a long period will fade the colors. This is yet another important reason for turning the rug periodically, thus ensuring that any fading will occur all over and not just at one end or corner of the rug.

Domestic Animals

Most animals seem to love oriental rugs. Untrained animals or animals that are not properly exercised create a problem. They will often select a leg of furniture or a rug as their urinating spot and will return to the same spot time and time again. The acid in the urine can severely affect the coloring of the rug. Continual urination will eventually rot the rug altogether. Any urine must be cleaned up immediately. If the urine is left unattended for some time, it is almost impossible to remove at a later stage. It is, therefore best to keep untrained pets away from rugs.

Bumps and Wrinkles

Bumps and wrinkles in an oriental rug occur most frequently in rugs where the foundation is of wool, as in Afghan, Kurdish and certain modern Pakistani rugs. The woolen fiber of the warp and of the weft stretches and pulls with use and does not con- tract again. Wrinkling may also be the result of the use of unevenly spun warp or weft thread fibers; mishandling by folding a rug for trans- porting; or possibly continuous traffic on one side or part of a rug which has been used without under felt.

Unfortunately, there is very little that can be done to rectify the wrinkling in oriental rugs. Where the bump is minor, a professional rug restorer can insert new foundation threads if the old ones have been stretched or damaged. If the damage is more extensive, the specialist may have to remove the wrinkled section of the rug and re-sew it in order to enable it to lie flat.

When the first sign of a bump or wrinkle is noticed, the most effective home remedy is to remove the rug to an area where it will be trodden on much less. This will not cure the problem, but it will certainly prevent the bump becoming more acute.

What Not To Do

As a further plea for rug preservation, the following unacceptable ways of cleaning handmade rugs are mentioned. Some readers may be mildly amused by this list but many destructive results have been wrought on helpless rugs subjected to these unfortunate actions.

Washing Machines

A washing machine is for the cleaning of clothing, and should not be used for irreplaceable works of art. Obviously, the detergent, water temperature and vibrations can leave a rug with cement-like wool, no luster, color run and the entire rug may even end up in shreds.

Dry-Cleaning

Dry-cleaners often advertise their expertise as rug cleaners, but this is limited to the handling of machine-made rugs and not to hand-knotted masterpieces. Some cleaning solutions used by dry- cleaners ruin the wool and damage the warp and weft. Such damage is irreparable, not even a rug weaver or restorer can rectify this. Sometimes, the full damage done by dry-cleaning is not seen for a matter of months and, if no guarantee is given at the time of cleaning then there can be no redress.

Water Soaking

The complete immersion of a rug in a bath of water or the hosing down of a rug has sometimes been recommended. This is not advisable for, in most cases, especially with modem rugs, it can cause color run. In addition, the warp and weft threads are soaked unnecessarily, for they do not need cleaning, as they are less exposed to dirt, being completely encased by the single fibers which form the knots. Such soaking of the foundation can cause damage when not fully dried.

In some books and films, there are scenes of Persians soaking and washing rugs in rivers and, therefore, many people wrongly believe that this cleaning method is correct. It is important to note that only rugs of recent manufacture (never antique or silk rugs) are subjected to this process. This soaking and washing is carried out to remove the millions of wool fibers embedded in the pile after the rug has been trimmed and cut down from the loom. The water is cold, the process is carried out in a very short time and the rug is immediately laid out in the hot, sun to dry completely.

Powered Rotary-Brush Cleaners

These machines arc often available for rent; they were invented specifically to clean machine-made carpeting and not fine, handmade floor coverings. The heavy circular brushes have coarse bristles which, when powered in a circular motion, will twist and break the fibers of the pile of an oriental rug.

Dealing with Accidents

Water damage is perhaps the greatest enemy of the Oriental rug. It can happen in many ways: flooding, leaking roofs, burst pipes, leaking radiators or simply a bucket knocked over. As with all damage to rugs, the essence of successful treatment is speed. As soon as water damage occurs, the following steps must be taken immediately:

Absorb all the excess water from the wet area of the rug. This should be done with an absorbent towel, sponge, tissue or cloth made from undyed cotton. The material should be placed above and below the rug and a mopping motion used. Ensure that all the water is removed.

Sponge the damaged area with clean water, but do not soak. On no account should any carpet shampoo be used.

Dry the wetted area immediately with warm air - a hair-dryer with variable temperature settings is probably best for this purpose. (Make sure to dry the back and front of the rug.) Do not set the temperature at the highest setting; a warm current is sufficient. The wetted area must be completely dried. Whether or not the rug is completely dried can be ascertained from its feel and texture; if it feels more leathery and harder than the rest of the undamaged area of the rug, then it is not yet fully dry.

After the drying process has been completed the wool fibers may be matted together. This can be rectified by separating the fibers with a rubbing movement of the fingers.

Failure to carry out the above steps at the earliest opportunity may cause the warp and weft to rot. As they gradually dry the damaged area will become brittle and perished. It may also result in color run: if this has occurred, and the degree of unsightliness merits the action, the rug will need the attention of an expert restorer either to bleach out the offending color or, more often, to delicately repile parts of the damaged area. It is not recommended that the layman tackle a color run problem. Such well meaning but inexperienced handling could make the damage even more acute.

Stain Removal

Spillage and stains are inevitable in busy households, particularly ones in which there are children and pets. Provided swift and correct action is taken, spillage need not affect oriental rugs. Most spills can be removed by following the instructions below, and the items needed for carrying out the stain removal job successfully are usually everyday household items. These stain removal methods are not necessarily the same as those used by professional spot removers, but the results can be just as good, provided action is taken immediately.

There may be instances not covered in this section, which will require the services of a professional. A case in point is the removal of stains on valuable antique and silk rugs, which should not be attempted at home. Expert attention is absolutely necessary here.

When any substance or liquid is spilt on an oriental rug, the spill should be absorbed immediately by blotting the area with un- colored paper towels or any natural un- starched piece of cloth. This simple absorption process, when carried out at the very soonest, is the greatest contribution to successful stain removal. The longer the spill remains on the rug, the more difficult it is to remove.

Before any of the following stain removal methods are carried out, a color fastness test should be done to ensure that the color of the fiber will not run or bleed.

First Steps in Stain Removal

Test for fastness by wiping a small, colorful area of the rug with a damp white cloth or handkerchief. If the color is fast, the stain may be removed at home. If it is not fast, an expert will have to do the job. Even when the color is not fast, the spillage should still be blotted up, as this will help the expert when he comes to removing the stain.

When the spillage has been absorbed and the colorfast test has proved positive, the stain may be removed at home. When working with a stained area, start at one end of the stain and work upwards or downwards; it is inadvisable to start at the center and work outwards as this may make the staining more extensive. Neither is it advisable to rub or brush the spot more than is necessary.

The thorough drying of the stained area after the stain has been removed is essential before the rug is put back into use. If weather conditions preclude natural drying in the sun, a hair-dryer may be used to dry the area, pro- vided the temperature is set as low as possible.

Urine stains arc particularly common and can be most damaging to oriental rugs if left unattended. There will be no serious damage if the urine is absorbed immediately, but if it is left to dry, it is almost impossible to remove and will leave a stubborn and unsightly stain.

Urine affects the rug fibers chemically and bleaches the wool as well as rotting the foundation. A particular problem with dried animal urine is that the animal will often return to the same spot to urinate time and time again, thus making the situation even more serious.

In the case of stains caused by tea, coffee, soft drinks, juices, milk, ice cream or alcohol never use soap or carpet shampoo, as this will make them even more stubborn. With stains caused by blood, egg or wet gelatin, never use hot water, as this will set them.

In the average family, pets have the run of the house and it is not practical to keep them away from oriental rugs. Urine stains from young, untrained animals should be dealt with immediately. Although unsightly, molted animal hair is not harmful to oriental rugs, but should be removed by hand brushing or with a vacuum nozzle. Heavy, upright vacuum cleaners should never be used.

Rug Storage

The area where rugs are stored should not be subject to wide temperature variations. Some humidity is all right, but it should not be high enough to support mildew. Optimum storage conditions are 50% relative humidity and a temperature of 70 degrees F (21C). Donít place rug in storage unless they are clean. Soiled rugs invite insect attack and mildew.

Periodically inspect stored rugs. This is the only way you can be absolutely sure that the rugs are not being attacked by insects. Moth repellent products are not entirely dependable. Though their use is recommended, do not rely on them to the exclusion of regular inspections.

Roll rugs up for storage. Itís best to store rolled rugs horizontally rather than on one end. Rugs will be damaged along crease lines if they are folded for long-term storage.

Regular brown wrapping paper can be used to protect most rugs in storage. Never store rugs in plastic bags or plastic wrapping. The rugs should be able to absorb moisture from the atmosphere and release moisture into the atmosphere. For antique and very valuable rugs, acid-free paper is placed on the rug and rolled up with the rug. Heavy acid-free paper is then used to wrap the rolled rug.

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