An Area Rug's Worst Enemies– Bradford's Rug Gallery

An Area Rug's Worst Enemies

There are four major issues that can drastically shorten the life of your hand made wool rug: dry rot, vacuum cleaners, moths and pet urine. As with most things, preventative measures and early detection are your best defense in keeping your rug looking good for a long time. In this blog post we will look at these each of these four issues to understand why they can be so detrimental and what can be done to prevent them from harming your area rugs.

Dry Rot:

Dry rot is caused by excess moisture within the structural fibers (warp & weft) of an area rug over time. Floods, consistently damp environments, plant pots sitting on top of rugs, are all root causes that could lead to dry rot. Mold and mildew are indicators of moisture problems in your rug. If you find either on your rugs you may still have a chance to rescue them from harm by getting them properly cleaned by a professional. If not cleaned and properly treated, mold and mildew, left to grow uninhibited, will lead to dry rot. Dry rot is the slow deterioration of the foundation fibers, usually cotton but it can also effect wool, jute, or silk. In the extreme it causes a total break down of structural integrity which means a rug can simply fall apart.  

Dry rot caused by a plant pot. Photo courtesy of

The ongoing condition of dry rot shows no outward or obvious signs while the damage is slowly accumulating. It isn't usually until after the real damage is done that some normal moving or handling of the textile brings the condition to light, seen as rips, tears, slits or other structural damage. You know dry rot has set in if an area is stiff to the touch and cracks when you slowly bend it, or it sounds like wood when you knock on the area with your knuckles. 

The two most common causes of dry rot are plant pots left to sit on area rugs and area rugs improperly stored for lengthy periods of time. See below for how to prevent dry rot from effecting your rugs.



The Common Clothing Moth (Webbing Clothes Moth or Wool Moth), Tineola bisselliella can become a serious pest if proper measures are not taken to prevent or eliminate them.


Unlike other household moths, clothes moths are not drawn to light, instead they prefer dark or shaded areas, which means they are usually found in the corners of rooms, under long-standing furniture, or in rolled up and stored rugs. Rugs can be of particular interest to them as the larvae can crawl underneath and cause damage from there. The clothes moth can also crawl under skirting boards or into other cracks and crevices to feed on any debris that has gathered and then lay its eggs there.

The larva of the clothing moth eat the keratin proteins in wool and other natural fibers, including silk, fur, feathers and hair. They prefer to feed on items contaminated with organic materials such as spilled food, body fluids, fungal spores or pollen, so a clean rug is the first step in protecting your wool rug against clothing moths. For more in depth information on how to keep your rugs moth free check out our previous blog Protect Your Rug from Moths.


Vacuum Cleaners:

Most common damage caused by improper vacuuming.

Power heads, or rotating bristles on a vacuum cleaner will catch and pull on your area rugs, little by little, literally pulling your rug apart. This damage almost always first becomes apparent on the edges and sides of the rug. Disappearing or damaged fringe, sides pulling away from the body of the rug, these are signs that a vacuum with a power-head is being used and once this damage starts it will escalate drastically if the vacuum with power head attachment is continued to be used. Frequent vacuuming of area rugs is recommended but only with your hard surface floor attachment (as long as there are no rotating bristles you should be good to go). Not sure if your vacuum has a power head or rotating bristles, check out the photo below.

If you have a vacuum head that looks like this, with bristles that spin, then you have a power head. 
Don't use this on your hand made area rugs.


Pet Urine:

When cleaned up immediately and thoroughly, pet urine presents very little problem to your wool area rug. It's when it is not gotten to immediately or when it is not thoroughly cleaned and urine is allowed to sit in the rug for a length of time that problems can arise. Over time pet urine can be devastating to a rug, not only in terms of dye bleed and discoloration, but also in causing dry rot. It can cause the “skeleton” of the rug to essentially crumble apart.

Pet urine, because it’s warm and acidic, penetrates the rug’s own acid-based dyes, most often causing a permanent discoloration, yellowed stains and/or spots bleached of color. It will also penetrate the rug face fibers (typically wool) and sink into the inner foundation threads of the rug (typically cotton) which then leads to mildew and dry rot. If you pull up a rug and see large pet stains on the backside, and if when you knock it with your knuckles, it sounds like hollow wood – then you’ve already got dry rot.


Okay, so now that we have talked about a rugs worst enemies, what can you do to protect your rug from these menaces? Suprisingly, there are really just a few basic maintenance and care practices that will help prevent all four issues from arising. Check out the list of care recommendations below.

1.) Vacuum your rug weekly using only the hard surface head on your canister vacuum cleaner (up-right vacuums are not recommended for use on area rugs), paying special attention to avoid going directly over the very ends and sides of the rug. Remember not to use the power head! Be sure to move furniture every few months to be able to vacuum areas of the rug usually covered up. This will help prevent moths making a home in those dark and typically undisturbed areas. Occasionally moving furniture can also expose previously un-noticed pet accidents and give you a chance to clean the rug if need.

2.) When storing a rug, proper techniques will prevent moth infestations, dry rot, as well as unpleasant smells. When storing wool area rugs for more than a month, make sure the rug is professionally cleaned prior to being wrapped for storage. Uncleaned rugs are major moth attractors. Moths love the proteins in food or beverage stains, blood, urine, or perspiration residue left on unclean rugs. Tyvek paper is the absolute ideal material to store your rug in because it allows moisture out but not in. If Tyvek is not available, brown craft paper is an acceptable second option. If you are going to be wrapping your area rugs to store make sure that a good amount of silica/dessicant packets are wrapped inside with the rug, they will help absorb any excess moisture that may accumulate inside the wrapping. If excess moisture builds up inside the packaging it can cause the rug to mold, mildew and/or smell, and as we know mold and mildew can lead to dry rot. Do not leave stored rugs directly on cement floors (cement holds a lot of moisture!), if storing a rug in an unfinished basement make sure it is elevated off the floor. Also, if you are storing rugs for a prolonged period of time, make sure you take them out and inspect them every few months, this will prevent any moisture or moth issues that do occur from getting out of control and causing irreparable damage to your rug.

Silica or desiccant packets can be purchased or you can come get some from us @ Bradford's Rug Gallery for free!


3.) The quicker you get to it the better when it comes to pet accidents or spills on wool rugs. The more time urine has to sit in a rug the more damaging it can become. If you have non-house trained pets, puppies or seniors for example, that you know are likely to have accidents in the house it can sometimes be the best choice to roll up your wool rugs and put them away for a period of time until you know your pet is more reliable. If you choose to leave your rugs down when you know you might have frequent accidents, just make sure that you scan each rug daily to looking for urine spots. If you find one, the best method for cleaning is to flush the urine out with cool to lukewarm water. You can also try diluted white vinegar (Mix 1/3 cup of white vinegar with 2/3 cup of water) or the enzymatic cleaner Bac-out to help remove any potential for odor. Always remember BLOT, don't rub - rubbing will change the texture of the wool and make it appear as though there is a stain. If you realize you've missed some spots and your not sure how long they've sat, it may be time to consider having the rug professionally cleaned.

If you need any further assistance with spot cleaning, general maintenance, repairs, or professional cleaning of your area rug please check out the links below or Contact Us directly with any questions. We are always happy to help!

Cleaning Your Wool Rug - Quick Guide

- Protect Your Rugs from Moths

- Caring for Your Wool Area Rug

- Materials Matter

- Rugs 101 & Professional Cleaning Services

- Repairs and Restoration