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Oriental Rugs and the cleaning process

Oriental Rugs date back over 2,500 years with the discovery of the "Pazyrk Rug" found in a Siberian burial site. From travelling Nomads to Kings, people have taken advantage of their warmth and prized their long lasting beauty. Today, these elegant rugs grace homes and offices around the World. Historically, most oriental rugs will increase in value - with age and proper care. Often it’s a purchase of a lifetime and when correctly maintained will last through several generations! The information here offers easy, basic steps for the care and protection of your Oriental rug.

The Wonders of Wool:
Oriental rugs are generally made of wool, which is extremely durable, and consistently outperforms other materials. Unlike other fibres, wool is much more resilient, cleans better and stays cleaner longer.

Cleaning:
Trusted professional cleaning methods that will bring out the richness of colour and softness of the wool. Depending on the amount of traffic and environment, a professional clean is recommended every one (1) to three (3) years.

Rotation:
Please turn your rug every couple of months to ensure even wear. Use your common sense on the traffic the rug receives,

Vacuuming:
Vacuum on a regular basis to remove dirt and restore life to the fibres the same as carpets. Be sure NOT to vacuum the fringe.
Padding: A quality pad under your rug will help to protect it from dirt, wear and slippage.

Restoration:
Old and antique rugs sometimes need to be rewoven where worn and are restored to life. With a spill, first soak up the excess liquid by blotting with a clean absorbent material (paper towel or cloth). Do not brush or rub the stain as this will spread it and could also distort the rug's pile. Remove any solids with the dull side of a knife or with a spoon. Spot clean with small amounts of cool water mixed with a little white vinegar. Work inward from the edge of the soiled area. Avoid wetting the rugs’ backing material. Blot dry by using a paper towel on the selected area then weigh down with an object that is heavy until most of the moisture has been absorbed. Finally remove the paper towel and allow to air dry. Use a fan or hair dryer on a low heat to hasten the drying process. For any odours or stains that do not come out using these methods, consult a cleaning specialist.

Rug Shrinkage:
There are few soft floor coverings that are guaranteed against shrinkage, therefore, dimensional changes of your rug should be expected during cleaning. Your skilled professional rug cleaner will take every step economically possible to minimise this inherent characteristic. During the spinning and weaving process, fibres and fabric must be kept under tension for proper function of equipment. For example, warp yarns are held under tension on a loom during a rug's construction. Stretching occurs during this and other operations and fibres and fabrics remain tense until moisture causes them to relax. Shrinkage at this point is often referred to as relaxation shrinkage. The amount of shrinkage that can be expected will depend upon the construction of the rug and the fibres used. Most shrinkage is due to the type of backing fibres used.

The density of the face fibres will also have a bearing on the amount of shrinkage. The type of face fibre has no relation to the amount of shrinkage. Any type of shrinkage which causes dimensional changes results entirely from wetting the backing yarns. Moisture causes the fibres to swell and this forces the weave threads to contract, causing the overall floor covering to shrink. Most of this type of shrinkage will occur during the first thorough wetting (usually the first cleaning). On some rugs 10% shrinkage may take place, but it is more realistic to see about 2% shrinkage of the average rug. Shrinkage can also take place in the home due to the rugs backing yarns absorbing moisture from the humid air.

Rug Fringes
The cleaning of Oriental rug fringes is a complicated and can be an intricate process. One major concern during this process involves cotton rug fringes. These are prone to deterioration in normal use due to the loosely twisted cotton unravelling during traffic & servicing. Fringes of cotton are softer than the main body of the rug and generally come into contact with foot traffic first. Expect to replace two or three times during a rugs life. There are additional reasons why fringes may require special treatment during or after cleaning. The first reason is cellulosic browning.

Rug fringes are mostly made of cotton, a cellulose fibre, which undergoes natural changes with time. These changes may lead to the development of a brown stain or discolouration called cellulosic browning. The second reason is the possible change in the colour of the fringes during cleaning. This form of colour change occurs as the fringes absorb unstable or oxidised dyes from the wet rug during washing & drying. Due to the fragile nature of the fringes, hand washing is preferred but correction of more severe discolouration may require stronger oxidising treatment.

Shading
A carpet or rug may seem to change colour in certain areas. When looking at the rug or carpet from one angle, these areas can appear to be lighter than the rest of the carpet. Viewed from the other side, the spot appears darker. This condition is called shading. Carpet pile will have a natural slope in one direction. As long as the tufts slant in the one direction, the carpet has uniform colour throughout. However, several tufts may slant against this normal pile lay, causing a variation in the way light is reflected from the napped surface. Any changes in the lay of pile may develop gradually in more used traffic areas. Shading may also occur in areas of less traffic and under furniture. It has been known to   be present in brand new carpets! Shading occurs most frequently on dense, velvety, cut pile carpets.

A lot of the Chinese and dense pile Indian rugs will show some pile distortion after use or the first cleaning. Although it can effect multi-coloured or printed design carpet the problem is most obvious on solid coloured carpets In some cases, shading becomes more apparent after the carpet is cleaned which may lead you to believe the shaded appearance develop during the cleaning process.  This phenomenon cannot occur overnight; it will develop gradually over time. The shading was probably not visible before cleaning because of the lighting, the placement of furniture, or uniform soiling over the entire surface. Not a lot can be done to prevent or correct shading; it is an inherent characteristic of certain types of carpet. It may be mitigated by vacuuming or brushing the pile in one direction during daily or weekly maintenance.

Colour Changes:
Dyes are chemical compounds that are added to fibres to give them colour. Sometimes these dyes react with airborne chemicals or gases and changes in the colour occur. Fume fading is a reaction to gaseous pollutants such as oxides of nitrogen or sulphur, in the air. It is a gradual change, accelerated by sunlight, heat, high humidity and the presence of acid on the fibre. The most common colour changes are blue to pink, greens to yellow, and brown to red. The colour change usually starts at the tip of the tufts and progresses toward the backing. The expression ozone fading is caused by the ozone gas in the atmosphere. It is also accelerated by high humidity and heat. Ozone is more prevalent around electrical motors, fluorescent lights and pollutants in the air. Fibres subjected to ozone fading may lighten, turn white, or change from one colour to another as in fume fading.

Some carpet fibres are dyed with Indicator Dyes. The dyes used are very sensitive to either acid or alkaline chemicals. An alkaline-sensitive dye will change colour if exposed to ammonia or high alkaline (high pH) detergent. The colour often can be changed back with dilute acetic acid (white vinegar). An acid-sensitive dye will change colour when exposed to vinegar or other mild acids (low pH) used in cleaning. The original colour may not be permanent and often can be reversed. Other colour changes due to strong chemicals (concentrated acids and bases or other reactive chemicals) are not a result of this "indicator effect" and may not be reversible. Colour changes that become apparent after cleaning are sometimes incorrectly blamed on the cleaning process. In many cases, however, the colour change is due to the ravages of time - the aging and oxidising of dyes and fibres. Cleaning reveals the true colour by removing soil and loosened dyes.

Silk Textiles Silk fibres are being used increasingly in textile furnishings such as rugs, upholstery and draperies. Silk is a luxury fibre used in the manufacture of expensive, high fashion products. These can be either dyed ir printed to produce very beautiful designs and bright shades. These properties make silk a beautiful, very desirable fibre. Silk however, also characteristically exhibits several problems when cleaned. Silk dyes can be soluble (dissolve) in water, detergent and/or any dry cleaning solvent. Silk is prone to colour bleeding and the formation of water spots, ring marks or perspiration stains. Colours which bleed is more problematic with darker colours than with pastels.

This is made of protein, silk is very susceptible to any type of abrasion; yarn slippage, sunlight damage, discoloration and can show texture changes. These problems often are often revealed or accentuated by normal cleaning.  To minimize the problem or problems discussed, special procedures are required for cleaning silk. The choice of method depends on various factors such as the age and condition of the silk textile, and the spots and stains present. It is advised to dry clean silk. Some silks can be wet cleaned successfully, but others may not. Wet cleaning of silk aids soil and stain removal but may result in texture distortion, which is often permanent.

Remember, more intensive cleaning usually is required to restore the appearance of an excessively soiled rug or fabric. Any type thorough cleaning will have a higher propensity to cause damage. Any silk textile should be maintained well (and vacuumed regularly) and cleaned more frequently, before they become excessively soiled.  Use silk textiles prudently. As an example, use silk rugs in areas with no foot traffic (as wall hangings) or at least, limit the amount of foot traffic on them. Avoid using silk draperies in sunny windows and protect them with drapery linings.

Abrash or Colour Variation in Rugs
Authentic oriental rugs have many variations because they are handmade rather than machine made. The manufacture results made by hand have certain distinct, beautiful and unique characteristics that set oriental rugs apart from lesser reproductions. Rugs made by hand will always have certain variations in their surface colouration, density of hand knotting the pile, irregularities in shape along the edges or borders, and differences along the fringes or fringe ends. One of the most common and typical characteristics of a real oriental rug, and especially among older or 'nomadic' rugs, is the beautiful colour variation know in the trade as "abrash". The effect of abrash is to create or produce differing colour patterns, colourations, various shades or hues. Gradations can often be seen within one colour or colours. These variations may appear as bands or horizontal bars, but other shapes or sections of colour variation are possible.

Abrash colouration can vary from very subtle shade differences to distinct or even bold variations in certain colours of the rug. Abrash results from differences in the dyeing process. Small skein quantities of pile yarn are dyed by hand from natural materials gathered at different camp sites before the rug is made. Each dye lot is hand knotted into the rug; but when another dye lot is next used, some colour variation is inevitable.

The connoisseurs in the antique and semi-antique world of oriental rugs value their beauty and handmade appearance that is typical of abrash. In certain situations the abrash colour variation is covered over or obscured by soiling and compaction of the rug pile with use and wear. When the rug is cleaned, much surface soiling is removed and the pile is then groomed and made more erect. The truer and authentic pile colouration is now revealed, along with some abrash colour variation. Sometimes slight variations in pile direction or 'shading' will also be seen after a thorough cleaning. One or both of these effects show up as colour variations in the rug.

These distinct colourations are not defects at all but are characteristic of the many variables and dye lot differences that went into the original handmade rug.  Many highest rug manufacturers will spend a lot of time and money simulating this abrash in their machine woven rug designs.

Flat Woven Rugs Flatfooted rugs, or "flat weaves," comprise numerous types of rugs with names such as Aubusson Berber, Dhurrie, Drugget, Killim (Kilim or Kelim), Navajo, Rag Rug, Soumak, and Zapotec. This type of rug is usually handwoven in a tapestry-like construction, and have a flat surface without a distinctive raised pile. Many Flatfooted rugs are reversible. Currently the most popular flat weave types are the Dhurries with cotton or wool face yarns, Kilims with wool face yarns, and rag rugs made of cotton or polyester fabric scraps. Dhurries traditionally are woven in India and Afghanistan; Kilims usually are woven in Turkey, but also are produced in other countries; and are rag rugs are woven in many countries, including the United States. These very prominent rugs provide amazing service, along with good value and a pleasing appearance.

Sadly, they also characteristically exhibit some problems when cleaned. The warp, or lengthwise yarns, in most Flatfooted rugs are generally cotton, although they may be wool, or occasionally silk, in older or finer rugs. These longwise yarns are hand-wound onto the loom before weaving. Irregularities in warp and weft positioning, tension and weave structure appear in woven goods from even the best weavers. Additionally, there many are a range of variations in yarn twist and diameter. The cleaning process reveals these inherent irregularities, which may or may not be visible before cleaning, in the form of curling, rippling, striping or buckling in the rug. The sides and the edges of this type of rug is especially prone to curling. Some Flatfooted rugs may have pattern markings placed on the warp by the weaver. These are usually marked with coloured chalk or ink (red, blue or black) to aid in the weaving.

The markings are completely hidden as the rug is woven, but since the markings are seldom colourfast they can bleed during cleaning. Since your rug service specialist has no way of predicting this inherent problem in advance, it should not be construed as the fault of the servicing agent. The yarns on the surface of the rugs are sometimes bright, bold colours that may bleed when cleaned. Your professional carpet cleaner always takes precautions to avoid this condition by using the most appropriate cleaning techniques.

Despite cautious handling of such rugs there are some unavoidable risk of dye bleeding (or colour run) after cleaning. It may not be possible to remove dyes that have bled. This issue is linked to poor dye selection and the improper dyeing and handling during manufacture. In addition, most dyes are weakened by age, exposure to sunlight, atmospheric fumes, pet urine and spills, all of which contribute to dye bleeding before, during and after cleaning.

A lot of Flatweaves have fringes that are continuations of the warp yarns, which are part of the rugs’ weave structure. All fringes fray and darken with age and soil. Only special chemical treatment can lighten the fringe colour. Some rug cleaners would prefer to leave the fringe "natural" looking. Flatfooted rugs have limited clean ability, because their flat surface readily shows soil, dirt, dust, spills and stains. Many Dhurrie rugs are designed in pastel colours and hence, always appear more soiled than darker rugs. Flatfooted rugs, therefore, should be vacuumed regularly and cleaned more frequently than other rugs. Application of a fluorocarbon-based protective treatment may be advisable.