Antique Oriental Rug Care

Antique Rug and Carpet Care


Detail of Hadji Jallili Tabriz rug

An antique Persian rug or carpet, as with any valuable art object, needs periodic care to assure lasting beauty and value. By taking a few simple precautions, your older carpet, whether it’s a 70-year-old vintage rug or an antique carpet at one hundred years old or more, can be preserved in good floor condition into the next generation.

Spills:

The finest older Persian carpets utilized lanolin-rich wool which has amazing stain repellent properties.

If a spill is dealt with immediately, often it can be easily blotted up before staining occurs. Use a moist, clean cloth to blot from the edges toward the center of the spill. If soap is needed, use hair shampoo, as the protein of wool is similar to human hair. Do not scrub, as this will embed the stain more deeply into the wool. Then elevate the damp area on a short stool or box for quick air drying. Avoid allowing your carpet to sit damp for an extended period of time, as this could possibly rot the cotton foundation.

We strongly advise against using home remedies for stain removal, as they can cause irreversible dye run and discoloration, and chemicals should never be used. If the above method is not effective, consult a professional oriental carpet cleaner for spot cleaning.

Potted plants should never be placed on top of the carpet, even with a water basin beneath the pot, as it is still possible for moisture that collects under even a leak-proof pot to infiltrate the carpet, causing considerable, irreversible mildew damage to the carpet’s cotton foundation.

Red wine stains often can be safely lifted by first blotting up the liquid without rubbing using dry towels. Then make a solution of one quart water with 2-3 drops ONLY of mild unscented colorless detergent like Ivory Soap and 1-2 teaspoons of plain white vinegar (NOT apple cider vinegar). Rinse lightly with this solution. Now blot up again with dry towels. Then rinse with plain water, a little more if needed. Elevate the moist area of the rug and air dry with a fan for 24-48 hours, not just dry to touch, but so that the foundation as well as the pile is dry.

Rugs which have been flooded accidentally need to be attended to immediately. Smaller rugs can be taken outside and spread on a lawn or hung over a railing to dry in the sunlight. For larger rugs, a water vacuum can be used, followed by the use of space heaters or a hair dryer. Again, the carpet must be dry, back and front, so elevation is advised. Often, having the rug professionally washed and dried within several days is advisable. Please do not hesitate to call us for advice at 1-800-441-1332.

Cleaning:

The wool of the Persian carpet is lustrous, durable, and rich in natural lanolin. It is best to interfere as little as possible with this natural protection, so please avoid treatments such as moth-proofing, dry cleaning or steam cleaning. Instead, have most older carpets hand-washed or tumbled by a professional oriental carpet cleaner every five to six years, or sooner if needed. Tumbling in a large machine similar to a clothes dryer is a gentle process that removes dirt and dust particles which penetrate to the base of the pile of the rug and have an abrasive effect on the wool fibers. The tumbling process is recommended for older or less sturdy carpets, since it puts less strain on the structure of an antique carpet than submersion in water.

For carpets with lower pile, daily or weekly cleaning should be accomplished with a non-electric sweeper rather than a suction vacuum cleaner. Modern carpet sweepers work via static electricity and are very effective in cleaning the surface and into the pile of your rugs, as well as in bringing out the sheen of the wool. We have found the Hoky carpet sweeper to be the most effective. Electric vacuum cleaners should never be used on antique rugs. A vacuum cleaner with suction may be used only on heavy-pile vintage or younger rugs. Never use the beater brush on any handwoven rugs, as its rotary action is far too rough and can pull out knots and fray out the wrapped selvedge edges.

A broom with straw bristles is another option if a carpet sweeper is unavailable. With a carpet sweeper or broom, your rug can be cleaned as often as you wish. At least once a week is recommended.

Pads:

We strongly recommend use of a high-quality pad under your older carpet whether it is on a wood, stone or carpeted floor. A firm pad extends the life of a rug by cushioning it from below and preventing sliding, wrinkling, and stretching, as well as possible punctures from furniture legs. A padded rug is also more enjoyable underfoot and provides better sound absorption.

Sun Protection:

Although the dyes used in high quality, older carpets are usually quite impervious to extreme fading, precautions must be taken against prolonged daily exposure to strong, direct sunlight. If closing the draperies during the periods of strongest sunlight will interfere with the view or the lighting effect you wish to create in your room, we recommend screening your windows with a clear plastic film. With trade names such as V-Kool and 3-M Mylar, these products are quite effective in eliminating the damaging effect of ultraviolet rays with virtually no color distortion to your window glass. We advise rotating your rug 180 degrees either annually or bi-annually to equalize the naturally softening effect of sunlight and the gradual wear of foot traffic.

Moths:

An old English butler, when asked the best way to protect woolens against moths, replied, “regular fussing in the wardrobe.” Our advice is similar: regular carpet sweeping is your best insurance against moth damage. Moths seldom are attracted to an oriental carpet which is clean and in use. It is important to include in your carpet sweeping agenda periodic cleaning underneath or behind furniture, since moths prefer low light and undisturbed areas. Carpets hung on the wall should definitely be taken down and shaken or vacuumed at least three times per year. Commercial moth-proofing formulas are not recommended.

The use of cedar chips or a cedar-lined trunk or closet is effective for short-term storage. Carpets that will be stored for a period of months should be professionally packed to prohibit moth and mildew damage.

Furniture:

For heavy furniture placed on your carpet, furniture cups are helpful in preventing the crushing of the carpet’s pile. Furniture can also be regularly shifted a few inches back and forward, or from side to side to minimize point of contact wear. Avoid dragging heavy furniture across an antique, as it can snag or even tear the carpet.

At Claremont Rug Company, we have many years of experience in assisting our clients in selecting and maintaining antique and vintage oriental carpets for both home and office settings. Even antique carpets 150 years old or older can be lived on very successfully by families with children and animals, if the piece is of high quality materials and construction, and the care instructions outlined here are followed.

STORING A CARPET:

  1. Professionally hand wash rug before storing. Moths are less attracted to clean rugs.
  2. DO NOT wrap in PLASTIC. Wrapping a rug in plastic may create moisture condensation, which can cause mildew. Instead, roll the rug tube-style. In some cases, it is acceptable to vertically fold the rug, then wrap in Tyvek paper, which is moisture-resistant, acid-free and archival. If the rug is well-wrapped, we rarely see moth damage.
  3. Use plenty of tape on the roll to make sure all seams are covered. One can put mothballs in a cloth, similar to a sachet, and put them in the areas where moths may enter: at the ends of the roll and along the center of the rug if it is folded.
  4. The major problem comes from moisture. Try to elevate the rug from the floor rather than storing it on a concrete slab floor. Do not store in the attic because temperatures can be too high. Look for a stable temperature environment.
  5. We do not recommend pesticide sprays because they are toxic and acidic and can be harmful to rugs. If you have a moth-concentrated environment, there are some sprays that can be used.
  6. Guarding against rats and mice is hard because they can eat through the paper. The best advice it to store the rug in a clean environment. To ensure effectiveness, mothballs should be changed every 6 months as their strength dissipates over time.

Jan David Winitz, President and Founder of Claremont Rug Company in Oakland, CA, has built a global reputation among carpet collectors and connoisseurs since he founded the company at age 25 in 1980.