6 rug cleaning mistakes pros are urging you to avoid – and why they are so damaging

Get your floors super clean without the risk of damage by avoiding these six rug cleaning mistakes

A jute rug with scalloped edges next to a bed with white bedding
(Image credit: French Bedroom)

Rug cleaning mistakes might seem easily avoidable. After all, washable rugs come clean in the machine, while most rugs often just need a good sweet and beating, or a quick vacuum to pick up dust and debris. However, cleaning a rug requires a little more thought and effort if you want yours to look almost brand-new again. 

Rugs, given their vast range of sizes and materials, can prove quite the challenge. Be it the materials don’t like water, the size means it's hard to maneuver, or the fact they are difficult to dry.

As a result, it is easy to make some common rug cleaning mistakes that could end up doing permanent damage to our floor coverings. These are the six mistakes professional cleaners urge you to avoid, and why it's so important to get it right.

Rug cleaning mistakes

When cleaning a rug, your best bet is to follow the manufacturer's instructions and laundry symbols which will usually detail what you can and cannot do. If those are long gone, however, these are the six methods you should always avoid to be safe.

1. Vacuuming with the wrong suction

sunroom with rug

(Image credit: Kip Dawkins. Design by Ashley Hanley)

You might think that all vacuums are the same, and while they do the same jobs, some are better equipped for rugs than others, begins Chris Murphy, cleaning expert and technical trainer at MaidPro:

‘Many people make the issue of vacuuming their rugs incorrectly, either by using the wrong type of vacuum cleaner too aggressively or using the wrong attachment/tool for the rug. Doing so can lead to premature wear and tear,’ he explains. ‘Aggressive vacuuming can damage delicate fibers, and using a vacuum with a beater bar on high-pile or shag rugs can pull and unravel the fibers. Additionally, vacuuming with too much suction can cause rugs to stretch and distort.

‘To avoid these mistakes, use the best vacuum with adjustable suction and a setting specifically for rugs or carpets. For high-pile or shag rugs, use a vacuum without a beater bar or use a handheld attachment. Be sure to vacuum gently and regularly to remove dirt and debris without damaging the carpet.’

2. Using too much water

blush pink bedroom with yellow checked rug and yellow curtains

(Image credit: LAYERED Interiors)

While some rugs can be subjected to some water, too much water will damage any rug, warns Vanessa Terra Bossart, cleaning expert and owner of Green Terra Cleaning. This is likely to happen if you are trying to clean a carpet without a machine or when steam cleaning a carpet.

‘Excessive moisture can lead to mold and mildew growth, particularly if the rug is not dried properly. Overwetting can also cause the rug's backing to break down and create lingering odors,’ she explains. ‘When cleaning, use as little water as necessary. A spray bottle can help control the amount of liquid applied.’

If dealing with spills or stains, spot treating with a damp cloth is preferred, she continues, dabbing rather than soaking and rubbing the area to help lift the stain.

‘After cleaning, make sure the rug dries completely. Lay it flat in a well-ventilated area or use fans and dehumidifiers to speed up the drying process.’

3. Using the wrong products

A living room with a sectional and a olive green rug

(Image credit: Charlotte Lea Photography / a NABER Design)

‘Rugs are made from a variety of materials, each requiring specific care. Using the wrong cleaning products can lead to discoloration, weakened fibers, or a sticky residue that attracts more dirt,’ begins Vanessa Terra Bossart, cleaning expert. Understanding which products to use when cleaning an area rug isn't rocket science, so it should be easy to locate the right product for the job to avoid damage. Most products are labeled for cleaning a wool rug, cleaning a jute rug, or cleaning a sheepskin rug, for instance.

‘Check the care label or manufacturer’s instructions to understand the material and recommended cleaning methods,’ Vanessa suggests. ‘Use mild, pH-neutral detergents designed for rugs. Always test a small, hidden area first to ensure the cleaner doesn’t cause damage. Be sure to avoid bleach, ammonia, and other strong chemicals unless you are certain they are safe for your rug type.’

4. Not rinsing the product out after washing

A living room with white walls, a tan textured rug, and wooden furniture

(Image credit: Julie Soefer / Marie Flanigan Interiors)

You would never leave your shampoo or conditioner in your hair after a shower, so why leave soap and cleaning products in your rug? This cleaning shortcut might save you time in the short term, but leaving behind cleaning residue after cleaning a rug is a surefire way for your rug to grow mold and attract more dirt, points out Taylor Riley, co-owner of Impact Cleaning Professionals.

‘After applying the solution, rinse with clean water and blot with a dry towel,’ he urges. ‘Always test the cleaning solution on a small area of the rug to ensure it doesn’t cause discoloration or damage and ensure the rug is dried completely to prevent mold and mildew. Use fans, dehumidifiers, or hang the rug outside in a well-ventilated area away from direct sunlight,’ he recommends.

5. Not cleaning often enough

wayfair chris loves julia rattan rug

(Image credit: Wayfair)

‘You’d be surprised how much dirt can build up in your rugs without you even noticing,’ warns Will Cotter, cleaning expert and owner of HappyCleans. ‘The dirt doesn’t just sit on the surface. It can work its way deep into the fibers, weakening them from the inside out. You may notice bald spots or even holes that can make them look worn and frayed much faster than they should.

‘It’s not just about looks, though,’ Will continues. ‘All that dirt can be a health hazard, too. It could be the culprit for your allergies or asthma. A cleaning tip? Regular vacuuming is a great start. Aim for at least once a week, especially in high-traffic areas like the hallway or living room. You can also use door mats and adopt a no-shoes policy inside your home to minimize the dirt that gets tracked in.’

6. Not cleaning under the rug

White kitchen, brick floor, rug

(Image credit: Madeline Harper Photography)

We might like to clean a house fast, but neglecting to clean beneath a rug is making your home dirtier and could be worsening allergies and attracting pests, warns cleaning expert Will Cotter:

‘This buildup acts like sandpaper, slowly wearing down your hardwood floors or leaving marks on your tiles. And if your rug has a rubbery backing, moisture trapped can cause it to stick and damage the floor even more. So, whenever you vacuum, lift the edges and vacuum underneath, too. If you’re rotating your rug (which is a must!), that’s another chance to check if there’s buildup.’


Why does my area rug smell worse after cleaning?

If your area rug smells bad after cleaning it can be for a few reasons. Firstly, you might not have allowed the rug to dry properly or quickly enough, resulting in a lingering musty damp odor. It is important to let your rug sit in a well-ventilated spot, preferably raised off of the ground so that air can dry the rug from both sides. 

Secondly, you may have used too much product or detergent and not washed it out of the rug well enough, leaving behind a residue that attracts odors and dirt. Finally, you might have used the wrong products to clean the rug, resulting in the fibers reacting negatively or even breaking down.

Why does my rug look streaky after cleaning?

If your rug looks streaky, spotted, or stained after cleaning, it is likely because you used the wrong products or used too much water during the cleaning process. Overwetting means it is much harder to remove all of the water from the rug after cleaning, resulting in watermarks and stains. Often, a carpet cleaner with a water vacuum setting will help to remove this.

It is not just rug cleaning mistakes that can leave your floor covering looking worse for wear. Not fluffing up the rug can also impact how long the rug lasts and how it looks in your home, adds Will Cotter, cleaning expert. ‘If your rug is in the living room where everyone hangs out, or maybe by the front door where everyone kicks off their shoes, all that walking can flatten the fibers,’ he says. ‘That’s where grooming comes in. Just use a rug brush or comb and gently work against the grain of the fibers to fluff them back to life.’

Chiana Dickson
Content Editor

Chiana has been at Homes & Gardens for two years, having started her journey in interior journalism as part of the graduate program. She spends most of her time producing content for the Solved section of the website, helping readers get the most out of their homes through clever decluttering, cleaning, and tidying tips – many of which she tests and reviews herself in her home in Lancaster to ensure they will consistently deliver for her readers and dabbles in the latest design trends. She also has a first-class degree in Literature from Lancaster University.