How to Clean an Area Rug (8 Expert Tips)

Area rugs are the center of a room. They shouldn’t be full of stains and dirt.

An area rug can add a nice touch of color, pattern and texture to any room. But how should it be cleaned? A carpet can quickly collect dust, dirt and debris from food items, pets and foot traffic.

Owning such a home item comes with responsibility. Every area rug owner should know to clean an area rug. Of course, the method will vary depending on your rug type. For instance, if your carpet is antique, Persian, or Oriental — more sensitive types — consider hiring a professional to avoid damage.

An area rug is excellent at adding a splash of color while protecting your floor or bringing warmth in the winter. However, after a while, it needs to be cleaned. Vacuuming your rug can help to keep dust and dirt at bay, but for stains, you’ll need to go deeper.

How often you should clean your area rug depends on where it is. Rugs in high-traffic areas will need more cleaning. A good rule of thumb, though, is to leave the deep cleaning until the rug is visibly dirty.

Vacuuming an Area Rug

1. Start at the Top

Grab your vacuum and set it to a carpet setting (if applicable). However, take extra care if your rug has extra-long fibers. Attachments such as beater bars or rollers can tangle them or rip them out of the carpet (1).

Push the vacuum back and forth across the rug. If you have a large area to cover, try to work in sections so that you’re sure you cover every part.

We highly suggest that you vacuum an area rug at least once a week. If your house is particularly busy with children and pets running around, you might need to vacuum more often.

To deodorize your rug, you can use baking soda about every three months or so. Sprinkle a generous amount across all areas of the rug and allow it to sit for a few minutes.

The baking soda will quickly absorb any odor that might be lingering. Then, vacuum the entire rug thoroughly to get rid of the powder (2).

Oriental, antique, Persian and home-made rugs are more sensitive, and you should be careful when vacuuming. Use a low suction without any attachments, or cover the rug with a nylon screen. This will keep the fibers protected while still being able to remove fine dust and dirt.

2. Flip Your Rug

Many people don’t give much thought to the underside of an area rug. But this is a mistake. A significant amount of dust and dirt can quickly gather underneath your carpet.

After flipping it over, vacuum the underside using long strokes back and forth. Flip the rug back once you’re done.

Doing this will help to keep allergens at bay. It can be essential in a household where one or more family members deal with allergies. Dust mites like to hide within thick fibers, and even after they die, their skeletons can stay behind and cause trouble if inhaled (3).

3. Take Small Rugs Outside

If you have smaller rugs, you can take them outside and give them a good shake. This will help to dislodge debris, dirt and dust that hold onto the fibers. If possible, hang the rug on a wall or line, and use a broom or carpet beater to get the last dirt out.

Take Note

If you have an expensive or old rug, beating or shaking it might cause damage. Instead, use safer methods such as a soft handheld brush to sweep it gently.

4. Remove Hair

Having pets can be a joy, but it can also be a pain if they’re shedding a lot. Hair will quickly stick to a rug, making it difficult to remove. Some vacuums aren’t even able to get rid of embedded pet hair.

For this, you should use a small, stiff brush. Brush using repetitive strokes to force the hair out. Clean the brush in between to avoid spreading the hair more.

Rubber brushes, such as this from Carrand, can also come in handy since it’s easier to clean than bristles. It uses static electricity to attract hair and fur quickly.

Avoid Metal

Some brushes are fitted with metal bristles. Unfortunately, however, these can ruin the fibers in a rug.

Deep Cleaning an Area Rug

1. Find a Suitable Rug Shampoo

There’s a wide range of choices available for carpet and rug shampoos — but you should choose wisely. You must use a product designed for the material in your rug. If you’re unsure about the material, check the label underneath the rug.

Check The Label

Some rugs react badly to certain chemicals or overexposure to water. Double-check the label and material before using water to clean.

Do a small spot test in an inconspicuous area to make sure the shampoo is safe for the material. Apply about half an inch worth of shampoo and leave it for one to two hours. Then inspect the area once the time is up and look for any signs of discoloration.

If you notice discoloration, do not use that product. Most stores and manufacturers allow you to return the product. Purchase a different one and run another test.

2. Saturate the Rug

If possible, one of the best ways to clean a larger area rug is to take it outside. Use a garden hose to saturate the carpet before applying the shampoo. If you don’t have a hose, you can dump multiple buckets onto the rug until it’s saturated.

Not everyone will be able to take their rug outside. In this case, you can use your bathroom. Place the rug in the middle of the bathroom and use the showerhead to saturate it. If the carpet is large, you can roll it and wash it in sections.

If these aren’t options, you can also take your rug to a car wash and quickly get the cleaning done.

3. Apply the Shampoo

Follow the directions and apply the shampoo as instructed. Use a brush to scrub the entire rug thoroughly — keep rubbing until it’s covered in bubbles or foam. Pay close attention to stained or extra dirty areas.

4. Rinse the Rug

After lathering the rug thoroughly, use the hose or shower head to rinse it clean. Keep rinsing until the fibers are free of foam or bubbles.

Use a squeegee to scrape off excess water. This will help the rug to dry quickly and help to get rid of leftover shampoo.


Never scrape against the natural direction of the fibers. This could disfigure the rug.

5. Dry the Rug

To dry the rug effectively, keep it in a well-ventilated room or outdoors. Work a standing fan or ceiling fan to help the process.

Use clean towels to soak up excess water. Place them on the rug and walk or jump on them to draw water out.

It can take up to two days for the rug to dry thoroughly depending on the thickness. Once the top is dried, flip the carpet and allow the underside to dry as well.

If you have a place to hang the rug, the sun and fresh air can dry it effectively. This will also reduce the chances of any odor developing.

How to Use a Carpet Cleaner

Cleaning an area rug isn’t a five-minute job; it can take a while, so make sure you free some time. However, you can make the job a little easier by using a carpet cleaner.

These come in various sizes, and most resemble and work similarly to vacuums. One machine favored by many homeowners is the Hoover PowerDash.

You start by filling the tank with either warm or cold water (see the instructions). Add a cleaner, such as a carpet shampoo — make sure it’s safe for the machine you’re using. Most brands like Bissell, Hoover and the Rug Doctor have specialized products available for the device.

Some carpet cleaners will have multiple settings to suit the task you’re facing, so choose the appropriate setting.

Plug the device into an outlet and turn it on. Place the machine on the rug and push the handle trigger. Move the carpet cleaner back and forth while pushing the trigger to apply water and solution.

When the area is wet, make a dry pass by letting go of the trigger. Glide the floorhead back and forth until there’s no more water left on the rug (4).

A carpet cleaner is a quick and easy way to deep clean your area rug. However, it’s not the cheapest option. Most machines start at around $100 and can reach close to $500, depending on settings and attachments.

Maintaining an Area Rug

Keeping your area rug clean is essential to avoid issues such as allergies caused by dust and dust mites. You can easily prevent these by vacuuming at least once a week on both sides of the rug.

Avoid damaging your rug and only deep clean it when necessary. Always choose a shampoo that’s safe for the material. Dry the carpet thoroughly by utilizing fans, or take it outside and let the sun work its magic.

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About the Author

Amy Anthony

Amy is a stay-at-home-mom, seasoned writer, and a home cleaning and organization aficionado. Amy enjoys having an absolutely spotless home and has worked hard to develop strategies to keep it that way, despite having 2 kids and 3 dogs!