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.


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


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.


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.

rug3 rug4

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.


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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