Vacuuming Rugs The Right Way

How to Vacuum Rugs the Right Way

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Rugs are a great way to increase comfort and improve the look of your home. But when it comes to vacuuming rugs, they can be a royal pain. If, like me, you’ve ever found yourself frustrated with your rugs bunching, fraying, and generally misbehaving under the vacuum or are dissatisfied with a lackluster job, then allow me to help you learn the correct way for vacuuming rugs.

So, Are You Vacuuming Rugs Properly?

The answer is dependent on the type of rug you want to vacuum. There are a few general rules to follow, and I will explain how to tackle every rug vacuuming challenge below.

Basic Rules for Vacuuming Rugs

You will want to clean most rugs at least once or twice weekly. If your rug is in a high-traffic area, like the entry hall, it will need attention more often.

  • Clean underneath.
  • Beating or shaking your rug first or instead of vacuuming.
  • Vacuum with the grain or nap of the rug.

Three Main Types of Rugs

Woven Rugs

vacuuming a woven rug

The design will look the same front and back. If you have a handmade tribal rug, it’s best to treat it like a thinner rug, even if it has thicker pile.

Cleaning Woven Rugs

  • How Often? Every 1-2 weeks for thinner rugs, 1-2 a week for heavier, thicker pile rugs.
  • With What? If your woven rug is thin, use an upholstery attachment. You may use the vacuum directly if it has a thicker, heavier pile.
  • Which Direction? Using the attachment, work with the grain. Go ahead and pet your rug. It will be clear which direction is the correct one.

How To Vacuum Woven Rugs

Determine grain and thickness to sort out which cleaning method you’ll use.

  1. Lift rug and sweep or vacuum thoroughly beneath it.
  2. Flip rug and vacuum the backside to prevent bugs from making a tidy home in your rug.
  3. For thinner rugs: Use a vacuum upholstery attachment and move in short strokes, going with the grain from side to side. If you’ve hung your rug, work from the top down.
  4. For thicker rugs: Use the vacuum and move from one side to the other in the direction of the grain.
  5. For fringe: Do not vacuum. Use a short, bristled brush to clean and straighten any fringe.

Tufted Rugs

vacuuming a tufted rug

You will not see a design on the back, instead, you’ll see a layer of latex that holds the rug together. These mass-produced rugs are often lower quality than woven rugs and sometimes shed fuzz. The fuzz results from broken fibers, not remnants from the manufacturing process.

Cleaning Tufted Rugs

  • How Often? Weekly or bi-weekly, depending on traffic.
  • With What? For thinner wool rugs, use the upholstery attachment. Use a power brush head for thicker rugs.
  • Backside? Because of the latex backing, vacuuming will be less effective on these rugs. Sweep or vacuum under them regularly and shake them before vacuuming.

How to Vacuum Tufted Rugs

  1. Determine the direction of the pile and thickness of your rug to determine cleaning tools and methods.
  2. Move the rug and thoroughly sweep or vacuum the floor beneath it.
  3. For thinner rugs: Using the upholstery attachment, move in the direction of the pile from one side to the other. If hanging, start from the top and move toward the bottom.
  4. For thicker rugs: Use the vacuum’s power brush from side to side. Be mindful of the power; switch to the upholstery brush if it starts to pull up fibers.
  5. Use a soft-bristled brush to clean and fluff any fringe.

Shag Rugs

vacuuming a shag rug

These are deep pile rugs and are notoriously difficult to vacuum. Thankfully, there are other ways to get these comfy rugs clean.

Cleaning Shag Rugs

  • How Often? Weekly or bi-weekly, depending on traffic.
  • Alternatives? If you don’t want to take your large shag rug outside and shake the dickens out of it (I don’t blame you), it is possible to vacuum it with a wet/dry vacuum, a specialty vacuum for soft and long-pile carpets, or a brush attachment. Avoid high-powered vacuums because they can suck out fibers. Additionally, you can take these to a dry cleaner to tackle. It’s a good idea to do that yearly to keep them in the best shape.
  • Backside? Refrain from vacuuming the back of these rugs as you can lose fibers in the process. Sweep under regularly and shake out often.

How to Vacuum a Shag Rug

  1. If you are going to vacuum, test a small area with your vacuum first to see if it will be gentle enough not to remove fibers. DO NOT use your upright vacuum. You can damage both the vacuum and your rug.
  2. Begin by removing the rug to sweep or vacuum beneath.
  3. Take your rug outside for a good shake or beating before you vacuum. Beating will help release some of the dirt. You can bring a few friends and shake, shake, shake or hang it over a line and use a trusty carpet beater to work loose dirt. Leave it on the line to soak up the sunshine to help lessen any lingering odors.
  4. When vacuuming, go slowly and pay attention. Move in all four cardinal directions to suck up debris hiding in the deep pile. If you notice fibers getting caught and pulling free, stop.

How to Vacuum a Wool Rug

100% wool rugs are more durable than others and are among the easiest to care for. Wool’s natural lanolin repels stains, dust mites, and bacterial growth. Natural wool rugs shed in the few months after purchase. Don’t panic.

  1. Shake or beat smaller wool rugs to loosen dirt. While its outside soaking up the sun (and shedding lingering odors), clean the floor beneath it.
  2. Vacuum the back.
  3. Vacuum the front from the center out, moving with the grain. Avoid running over any fringe, as this can get tangled and damage both carpet and vacuum.
  4. Finish up by using a handheld vacuum or upholstery attachment to clean any fringe.

How to Vacuum Fast (When You’re in a Hurry)

If you have guests coming over and absolutely need to get a dingy carpet cleaned fast, give it a quick sweep with a broom or electric broom, use a gentle handheld vacuum, or give it a quick shake outside (away from the house and main pathways). If you truly don’t have time to deal with it, roll it up and put it out of sight.

How to Clean a Carpet Without a Vacuum

Just beat it! Take it outside, away from main pathways, doors, and windows, and get your cardio in.

You can lay it over a porch railing, sturdy clothesline, or several garden chairs. Shake it or beat it with a carpet beater, rake, or make a beater from a bundle of bound willow branches about 2′ in length.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I Vacuum Area Rugs?

The steps to vacuum an area rug depend on its type. It’s easiest to stand with your feet on each side of the rug to hold it in place while cleaning.

How do I Clean a High Pile Rug?

High pile rugs are typically shag carpets, though not always. Treat the rug like a woven rug if it is thick and not loose. If the pile is loose, treat it like a shag carpet.

How do I Vacuum a Low Pile Rug?

If your rug is delicate, made of silk, or handmade, treat it with extra care. Low pile rugs can be woven or tufted. Look at the back of the rug and follow the directions for each of those.

Can You Vacuum a Fur Rug?

You should not vacuum a fur rug. Instead, brush it clean and keep it away from direct sunlight.

Can You Vacuum a Silk Rug?

Silk rugs are delicate. Keep them out of high traffic areas and away from direct sunlight. Hang and beat to clean or vacuum with an upholstery attachment; never use a roller brush.

Can You Vacuum an Antique Rug?

Older rugs are more delicate and may not survive the vacuum, even with an upholstery attachment. A stiff horsehair brush can loosen dirt. If using an upholstery attachment, lift after each stroke to prevent damage to delicate fibers.

Can You Vacuum a Sheepskin Rug?

Never use a vacuum with a sheepskin rug. Instead, brush with a sheepskin brush to prevent matting and shake dirt loose. Spot clean with careful dampening, then sprinkle cornstarch; once dry, shake the powder free to lift the stain.

Does Vacuuming Damage Carpets?

Yes, vacuuming does damage carpet fiber over time. However, lingering dirt does more damage, so it’s better to clean frequently using the appropriate method for your rug.

Can You Vacuum a New Carpet?

Yes! You won’t damage your new carpet by cleaning it well once you lay it down. Keeping it cleaned regularly will preserve the fibers and extend its lifespan.

Can You Vacuum a Wet Carpet?

Yes! But you should only vacuum a wet carpet with a wet/dry vacuum or a shop vacuum. Don’t use a regular household vacuum for wet carpets. You risk destroying your vacuum’s motor and potentially electrocuting yourself.

Does Vacuuming Fluff Up a Carpet?

Vacuuming can fluff up and revive tired fibers. So can shaking and beating.

How Often Should I Vacuum a Carpet?

Wondering how often to vacuum? Carpets in high traffic areas should be cleaned twice a week in most cases. Those in lower traffic areas should get attention once a week.

Is Vacuuming a Carpet Every Day Bad?

Vacuuming your carpet every day is overkill and can lead to the deterioration of your carpet fibers, shortening the carpet’s lifespan. Once or twice a week is sufficient. But keep in mind, the more you vacuum, the more you need to clean your vacuum filters.

Should I Dust or Vacuum First?

The age-old question: should I dust or vacuum first? The answer: dust first, then vacuum. You always want to work from the top down. Tackle the high-up areas first, and work your way down.

What are the Best Types of Vacuums for Rugs?

The best vacuum cleaners for rugs are those with an upright design, like a corded stick vacuum for instance. This type of vacuum will allow you to get into tight spaces more easily.

Ken Lyons
Ken Lyons has 20 years expertise in the cleaning industry. He's owned and operated two residential cleaning companies, providing services for hundreds of clients in the Greater Boston Area.