How to Clean Area Rugs (Because They Get Gross Fast)

Ready to give your area rugs a fresh start? Here's how to wash your area rugs so they look brand-new.


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Project Overview
  • Working Time: 1 hour
  • Total Time: 1 day
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Yield: Clean rug

Area rugs can hold on to a lot of dirt, pet hair, and other grime—especially if you place them in high-traffic areas, and people track in dirt from the outside on their shoes. But fortunately, there are ways to minimize the mess with regular cleaning of your area rugs.

Cleaning area rugs is a lot easier than cleaning wall-to-wall carpeting, since you can often haul it outside for a good scrub. Here's how to clean an area rug, no matter what material (or how dirty it's gotten!).

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Vacuum Cleaner
  • Clean Broom or Rug Beater
  • White Cloth
  • Soft Sponge or Brush
  • Washing Machine (Optional)
  • Plastic Tarp
  • Clean White Towels
  • Fan


  • Carpet Cleaner or Liquid Dish Soap
  • White Vinegar
  • Baking Soda, Dry Carpet Cleaning Granules, or Corn Starch


How Often to Clean Area Rugs

Regular maintenance can help keep your area rug cleaner longer. Vacuum your area rug at least a few times a week (daily if the area rug covers a high-traffic area) and clean up any spills as soon as they're noticed to help keep stains and dirt from settling in.

Plan to deep clean area rugs at least once a year, and more often if your rug gets a lot of traffic and wear and tear from kids and pets. Keep in mind that smaller rugs can often be easily washed in the washing machine, so you may be able to give them a quick scrub whenever they're looking a little dingy.

Considerations Before You Get Started

Put down the carpet cleaner and the scrub brush! Here's what you need to think about before you clean your area rug.

Check your rug materials

Look for manufacturer's care instructions or material information before you get started. That'll give you an idea of the types of products and cleaning methods you can use on your area rug.

Consider your area rug size

The size of your area rug may impact how (and where) you'll clean it. Smaller and thinner rugs are easier to take outside or to a more water-resistant spot for an easier clean, while a larger area rug may need to be cleaned in place—more like wall-to-wall carpeting.

Spot-test carpet cleaners

You may be excited to get started cleaning your area rug, but take a moment to test any cleaning products you're planning to use on a small, inconspicuous spot. Apply it with a clean white cloth, and scrub to make sure that the colors don't run or bleed.

How to Clean an Area Rug

  1. Vacuum the rug (on both sides, if possible)

    Give the area rug a thorough vacuum to remove trapped dirt, then flip it over, so you have access to the dirt that's embedded deeper into the rug.

  2. Give your rug a good shake

    Take smaller area rugs outside for a really good shake. (Consider wearing a mask while you do it to avoid breathing in all that dust and dirt!) You can also hang the rug up and use a clean broom or a rug beater to get even more dirt out.

  3. Start the washing process

    If your area rug passed the spot test, you can clean it following the manufacturer's directions. That could be using the washing machine on a gentle cycle (put the rug inside a mesh bag or pillowcase to help protect it), or using a special carpet cleaner or diluted liquid dish soap to gently clean the rug with a clean cloth or sponge.

    For rugs that aren't colorfast, stick with water-free cleaning methods as much as possible. Try applying baking soda, dry carpet cleaning granules, or cornstarch to the rug, letting it sit, then vacuuming the rug.

    If you can't bring the area rug outside to clean it, place plastic sheeting or another waterproof barrier between the rug and the flooring to avoid damaging the floor beneath it.

  4. Rinse away the dirt and grime

    For colorfast rugs, use water with a small amount of white vinegar to rinse away any remaining cleaning products and dirt—but try to minimize the amount of water left in the rug.

  5. Speed the drying process

    Clean your area rugs on a breezy, sunny day, so you place your rugs outside on a drying rack or draped over a railing to help speed drying. If you're washing your area rug indoors, you can blot away excess moisture with white towels and run fans over the surface to help it dry faster.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you get pet hair out of an area rug?

    Even the best vacuums often leave some evidence of your pets behind. Run a rubber squeegee over the area rug to attract and pull the hair out.

  • How do you clean a shag rug?

    Shag rugs can especially difficult to clean, as many of the typical cleaners and techniques can leave your shag rugs looking bedraggled.

    Vacuuming helps remove trapped dirt, but avoid using water during a deep clean. Dry carpet cleaning granules (or even a generous application of baking soda), followed by a second pass with the vacuum, is the way to go. (You may want to let the granules or baking soda sit in the rug for an hour to help release more of the dirt.

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