These tips are culled from “Traditional Rug Hooking Resources,” a rich compilation of information about hooked rugs assembled more than 20 years ago by Deborah Merriam. It is available once again on Deborah’s blog. (Yes, the Internet is now officially old enough to have lost precious resources from its early years, and to find them again!)

One of the timeless issues she takes up is how best to clean and wash hooked rugs. She writes:

“Please remember that your rug is only as strong as its foundation. Burlap loses strength as it ages, is susceptible to extremes in temperature, and weakens when it’s wet. Linen and cotton are sturdier. However, the tips that follow will assume your rug has a burlap backing. If you treat your rug as lovingly as it was made, it should last for generations!

Routine Maintenance:

  • DON’T shake or beat your rug. This strains the backing, and an old rug might disintegrate in your hands.
  • DO air your rug outdoors occasionally, especially on damp, foggy days. This will make a dry burlap backing less brittle.
  • VACUUMING – Sand and grit will grind down the pile of your rug and weaken its foundation. Some books forbid vacuuming delicate antique rugs, while others say that gentle suction (with the upholstery attachment of a canister-type vacuum or a hand vacuum) is okay for any rug. Also, occasionally place your rug face down and pat it (or sweep it) to dislodge grit which has fallen between the loops.
  • Some books suggest placing your rugs face down on newly fallen powdery snow, then brushing the snow off, claiming that the moisture makes the burlap less brittle and brightens the colours; others call this method “an old wives’ tale”.

Washing Your Rug:

  • DO remove stains immediately. Blot LIQUIDS firmly with towels. If necessary, sponge the area gently with cold water; if the stain persists, you can try blotting with a mild solution of cold water and white vinegar or household ammonia or fresh milk. Gently lift SOLIDS out of the fibres, perhaps by spot vacuuming as you
    loosen the particles with a knife.
  • DON’T immerse your rug, because some backings will fall apart in water.
  • DO gently wash the *surface* of the rug using a mild detergent in cold water. Whip up the foam, gently moisten the spot, and rub very gently to dislodge the dirt. Use a cloth or sponge dipped in clear water to remove the foam. Don’t soak it! Blot dry. This method may also be used to surface clean an entire rug. Be sure to overlap sections so you won’t leave dirt rings. Also, work
    quickly so that the foundation won’t get wet and any insecure colours won’t have a chance to bleed.
  • DETERGENTS – Harsh commercial rug cleaners may damage the fibres and set a stain. Ordinary household detergents are usually highly alkaline, contain fillers and brighteners which damage textiles, and leave a residue. One book recommends that you use sodium lauryl sulphate, an extremely mild detergent with a neutral pH which rinses freely and leaves no residue. It’s
    commonly used by textile conservationists, and is sold at tack shops as a horse shampoo (Orvus WA Paste). The book recommends a solution of 1 teaspoon of Orvus WA Paste in 1 quart of water. Another book suggests that you use a new product designed specifically for cleaning hooked rugs called Heirloom Care.
  • DON’T wring the rug or hang it to dry. DO roll the rug (pile side out) in a heavy towel to absorb the moisture, then lay it flat to dry in a shaded area, or away from direct heat.
  • ABSOLUTELY DO NOT give your rug to a dry cleaner if it’s desperately filthy. The harsh chemicals and rough handling used by conventional dry cleaners are likely to destroy your rug. INSTEAD find a company that specializes in cleaning *hooked* rugs (even companies who regularly clean antique oriental woven rugs may not know how to treat a hooked rug).”