Saturday, May 25, 2013

How to Deep Clean a Nasty Area Rug

Ever had an area rug in a high-traffic area that just got really icky nasty dirty? Yeah, me too. Vacuuming obviously had no effect to being dingy and dirty and stinky... I even got a steam cleaner, and while that helped, it was only better in relation to how bad it had been... it was by no means even close to clean.

 Clearly, I had to get drastic. Luckily, I knew what I had to do, and I shall share the plan of attack - and my results - with you. It really, honestly looks like a whole new rug, except for one little section that is still slightly greyish, but only slightly. (And if I would get down on my hands and knees and really attack it with a brush, I could probably get it all sparkling again, but I decided I'd rather live with a slight grey patch rather than the pain should I kneel and bend over for that long...)

Materials Needed

  • 1 nasty, dirty rug
  • garden hose with pressure nozzle (I have a great one I got at Home Depot for about $7, that has about ten different settings, including a pressure jet)
  • clean area outside large enough for your rug (I pressure-hose cleaned out our open garage)
  • 1-3 Tbs laundry detergent
  • 1-3 Tbs washing soda (like baking soda, but stronger)
  • 1/3-1 tsp dishwashing liquid (Dawn, etc.)
  • 1/2-1 gallon container, preferably one that can be made to only pour a small amount at a time (I used a 1-gallon pitcher with the lid set to only expose only a single slit of the ice setting; a watering can with sprinkle head would work beautifully as well)
  • stiff bristled broom or scrub brush (optional, helps if you have really nasty spots) 
  • equipment to dry the rug in some manner (hanging, vacuum suction, etc.)

Cleaning the Rug

Step One

Take the rug outside, obviously.  Lay it out upside down.  (This is important, as it allows you to get the dirt that's compacted over the years at the bottom of the rug/fibers to get washed away.) 
Get your hose and wet it down thoroughly, then go over it slowly with the pressure nozzle, trying to cover every inch of it.  I found it helpful to slowly work the stream back and forth in about six inch waves, each moving up about the width of the stream of water across the rug, paying extra attention to visibly nasty spots.  Did I mention you should do this slowly?  You really want to pound the daylights out of every bit of it, this is mostly what gets the dirt out, and you want to get as much of it out as you can before adding the cleaners, so that they can be more effective.  It would take me two or three seconds to make each six inch pass.

Step Two

Mix the laundry detergent, washing soda, and dishwashing liquid in the container, and top off with hot water.  Scale the amount you use depending on size and general nastiness of your rug.
Distribute evenly over your rug.  I found it easiest to accomplish this by pouring a thin stream, then shaking the pitcher back and forth to make it 'sprinkle'. 

Step Three

Go inside and get something cold to drink.  No, seriously, this is a long process and you'll need the hydration!  Also, you should let it soak for at least 15 minutes, or up to about an hour, before continuing.

Step Four

Repeat the pressure washing procedure from step one.  Try to hit every single fiber for a second or two at least. 

Step Five

Flip your rug over (this sounds much easier than it is, you will swear it has been transmuted from yarn to lead).  It will look much nastier than it did before you started.  Don't panic!  This is normal.  It means your deep cleaning is working and all the nasty that was compacted at the base of the fibers has released.
Repeat the pressure washing procedure again (yes, again).  This is when you will see the drastic, dramatic change!

If your rug is really nasty, or has stubborn spots like mine, you may need to repeat steps two to five on the front side.  Use a stiff bristled broom or scrub brush on really stubborn stains after applying the cleaning solution.

You can see the still-dingy section on the top side in this image, that I went back and cleaned a second time.

Step Six

Dry your rug.  This is not as simple as laying it out in the sun!  All that will accomplish is a soured and possibly moldy rug – there is simply too much water soaked into the fibers.  I made that mistake and ended up having to re-wash the rug; after a day and a half, I lifted it off the ground, and water was still pouring out, literally.

I had a steam cleaner at hand, and after a second, de-souring wash, I used it to suction up as much water as possible with 3-4 passes from different directions, then draped it over a cooler and outside table in the sun to finish drying.

After that, within about twelve hours it was still damp, but dry enough that we brought it inside and put a fan on it to finish drying, as it was no worse than after steam cleaning.

Enjoy your rug's second life!

Our Yorkie-Pom, Nyxie, was quite confused by the newly cleaned carpet that no longer smelled 'right'!


  1. "Very good post...well i think writing this kind of article is a tough job.Thanks for your blog. pressure cleaning southport nc

  2. Thank you!!! I appreciate your writing and advice!

  3. Thank you for this post! I used your recipe and added a splash of stain remover and a bit of Oxyclean. My brown rug has become cream colored again! Thanks! (I also used a pressure washer which really helped.)

  4. Funny because I just did the same thing but I've got a 3000 psi pressure washer I hope my results come out good because it's a huge wool area rug that weighs about 250 pounds wet!

    We will see how it goes, but I didn't use detergent or scrub it I just pressure washed

  5. I'm about to take on this very task on my own area rugs, dingy, smelly, stinky, disgusting as ever can be but expensive non the less and definitely not somthing I can easily replace!! I came up with the idea to power wash them because I can borrow a machine very easily for free and did not want to dish out the money for a carpet cleaner to rent.... My boyfriend looked at me like I was crazy and the idea was not going to work?!🤔😵😬 thank God I came across your post to guide me along my new cleaning adventure and I hope it goes as well as yours did!!! Thank-you for sharing your post! 💙 Much appreciated!

  6. I, too, wanted to wash my large area rug (5'x8') purchased in 2002 at a big box store for about $400. I first vacuumed, then carried outside and scrubbed the spots. Then hosed it and watched the colors brighten and the dirt travel down the sloped surface. Set on saw horses with a box fan blowing. After two days (didn't sour!) brought it inside because of rain threat. Laid it down and vacuumed the many loose fibers. Then, discovered that the glue holding the backing on had dried into fine sand and dropped out onto the floor. Swept that up, placed towels down to help wick away the remaining damp. Rug looks good, but now I should buy a pad to collect the grit underneath. Biggest problem with this is getting the rug dried without sun bleaching or souring and the destruction of the glued backing.

  7. I have a pressure washer I'm going to attempt to do this today, my rug is not old it just has been peed on by a very stubborn old dog and instead of throwing it away I'm going to try this first.

  8. I wish I would have read this before I started. I am drying it now and realize I should have pressure washed it a few more times

  9. this is exactly what i was looking for after raising a litter of 10 golden retriever puppies. Perfect!!! the only criticism is your background makes this difficult to read.

  10. I knew there had to be a way to deep clean area rugs without paying $100.00 or more. This is just what I needed.

  11. Thanx. Will try it later on.