Cleaning an antique wool hooked rug: don’t try this at home

I’m almost afraid to admit this, but I decided to toss my possibly antique wool hooked rug into the washer and dryer in hopes of restoring it to some sort of less-than-disgusting condition.

It worked… for me. But consider yourself warned: DON’T try this on your cherished heirloom rug and then try to sue me when it falls apart in the washer. The ONLY reason I tried this on my rug was that it was specifically NOT a family heirloom. It was a good thrifty vintage find, the right colors for the right price… but it has always been really, really dirty, and to be honest, I wasn’t entirely thrilled with having it in the house.

Here it is the day I brought it home… it’s about 3 feet by 4 feet in size.

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This “before” picture hopefully shows you how faded, dirty and matted-down the fibers were.

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I first tried to clean this rug last year by laying it out in the yard and blasting it with the garden hose. (“Sheep get wet, and they don’t shrink,” I reasoned.) It took for-ever to dry, and even then I felt like it wasn’t clean. Plus it had grass clippings on it. So I put it in the dryer, and it came out nice and soft, but not as “revitalized” as I had hoped from a cleanliness standpoint.

This time around, I decided to go all in. I set the washer on cold water, put the rug in by itself with a dash of liquid soap, and let ‘er rip. When I opened the washer, quite honestly I was sorry I’d done it: there were globs of loose, wet, matted wool all over the drum, and I was sure I had ruined the rug. I peeled all the loosened wool off the rug (and cleaned out the washer). To my surprise, after doing that, it really looked like the only actual damage was to a small section of the binding. So I went ahead and put it in the dryer.

An hour later when I pulled it out of the dryer, I was pleasantly surprised.

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Yes, I ruined a bit of the binding. I believe this would not have happened if I’d thought to set the washer on the gentle cycle. These two photos show the same section of binding, top and bottom.

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But, the rug itself was soft, and clean, and smelled like a dryer sheet. The colors really are beautiful, and the loops are no longer matted. This rug is welcome back in the Mom cave, even with the battle-scarred binding.

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Again, please remember: for me this worked because I had just $20 and zero emotion invested in my rug. And I got lucky, because the “sheep don’t shrink” theory holds somewhat true.

However, the “sheep come apart in the washing machine” theory is also somewhat true. And I would hate for that to happen to your family treasure.

More soon,

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