How to Clean an Area Rug

Updated: Jun. 21, 2023

No need to hire a professional when you can clean an area rug yourself! You may need a friend if it's large, but otherwise this is a basic DIY project.

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No need to hire a professional when you can clean an area rug yourself! You may need a friend if it's large, but otherwise this is a basic DIY project.

You love your area rug, and you probably do the regular care and maintenance that it needs. You vacuum it regularly, making sure to keep the pet hair in check. And you likely rotate it once a year so that it doesn’t get too worn out. And even if you don’t have time for a thorough cleaning, you probably shake it out every now and then and handle spot treatments.

Eventually, the time comes when your area rug or removable carpet needs more than just another vacuuming. If stains are piling up or there are deep-rooted problems with dust (or worse, dust mites), it’s time for a full cleaning. Fortunately, you don’t need to hire a professional to fully clean your rug! You just need the right tools, cleaner and approach. Here’s how to clean an area rug from start to finish.

Note: A true area rug will be far too large for one person to successfully handle. Spare your muscles by getting a couple of other people to help you with this task. It will only take a couple of hours if everything is properly prepared!

Project step-by-step (7)

Step 1

Set Up an Outdoor Station

  • Pick a day when the forecast is clear and sunny (preferably for the next few days), and set up a station to clean your rugs.
    • Pro tip: Summer is an excellent time to clean your rug because you’ll need to do it outdoors. Try not to set up over the lawn, as you don’t want any cleaners soaking into the grass.
  • The support system you choose needs to be a lot stronger than a clothesline, as rugs are usually quite heavy.
  • If you have two trees, you can stretch bungee cords or thick rope between them.
  • Benches and any sort of sturdy wall can also work.
Step 2

Vacuum Thoroughly On Both Sides

  • Give yourself a helping hand and start by doing a quick spot clean on the area rug.
  • Vacuum the fibers, then flip the rug over and vacuum the other side to remove any lingering dust.
  • When it’s clean, it’s time to roll it up carefully and take the rug outside to your cleaning station.
  • Prop it up at the station with the right side facing you.
  • If your rug is still dusty at this stage, you can beat it with a broom handle or similar tool to knock even more dust out.
    • Pro tip: Don’t whack too hard, but give the rug a few firm knocks to see if clouds of dust come out. If they do, keep whacking.

Under the carpetKinga Krzeminska/Getty Images

Step 3

Test Out Carpet Shampoos

  • Always test out the carpet shampoo before you apply it to the whole rug.
  • Apply a little to a small corner or patch, mix in some water, and let it settle for a few hours.
  • Go back and rinse that spot off.
  • Check carefully to see if there is any color damage or fiber damage.
    • Pro tip: It’s a good idea to look for carpet shampoos designed for the materials that your rug is made with. Don’t try to make your own DIY rug cleaner or use other cleaners that are not specifically intended for rugs and carpet!
Step 4

Wash the Rug and Apply Shampoo

  • With a safe shampoo chosen, pull out the garden hose and give your rug a good rinse.
    • Pro tip: Don’t worry about getting it too wet, you need to prepare it well for the shampoo application.
  • Using a sturdy brush with a stout handle, work the shampoo deep into the carpet fiber.
    • Note: This step will require a lot of scrubbing and foam. Dress accordingly, get the rug really wet and focus on any stains. 

hand wash area rugFar700/Getty Images

Step 5

Rinse the Rug

  • Read the directions and leave the shampoo on your rug for as long as indicated.
  • When the time comes, hose down the rug again.
    • Note: It’s important to rinse all the shampoo out, so you aren’t left with any residue.

Cleaning a carpet with waterfotocelia/Getty Images

Step 6

Help the Rug Dry

  • Try to wring the rug as much as possible to get rid of all the excess water.
    • Pro tip: A squeegee can help with this step.
  • After that, your rug will still be very wet and you’ll need to wait for it to dry completely outdoors before moving it back inside your house.
    • Note: Drying may take longer than a day—or even the weekend.
  • For more protected drying, consider moving the rug to the laundry room or garage.
  • When the rug is fully dry, you won’t be able to feel any water even when you squeeze hard, and it will probably be a bit stiff. While you’re at it, learn how to clean a Persian rug.

An Oriental red carpet with patterns dries on a yellow metal fence near the house. Carpet cleaning and drying.Foto-Video-Studio/Getty Images

Step 7

Vacuum One Last Time

  • Put the area rug back in its place, and then give it one last vacuuming.
    • Note: The carpet fibers will probably be flattened and odd-looking after a washing. A thorough vacuuming is like combing your rug to restore its proper appearance. Congratulations! You now have a fresh and clean area rug! 

Young Woman Vacuuming Her Apartmenturbazon/Getty Images