FELT RUGS... Special Fabrics Need Special Care

Felt can be made from various fibers.  In this article we will focus exclusively on felts made from wool.

Felt Making

Felt is a fabric formed when sheep's' wool or animal fur is subjected to heat, moisture and pressure or agitation.  Soap, or an alkaline environment, helps the felting process. Heat and moisture cause the outer scales along the fiber to open, and the soap allows the fibers to slide easily over one another thereby causing them to become entangled. 

Not All Felted Rugs Are Created Equal

One of the overriding problems with felt rugs is that they tend to buckle.  Even newly installed rugs may not lie flat. 

Others that may start out flat may start to buckle over time.  While wear and humidity are two factors that contribute to the buckling of these rugs, it is the manufacturing process that is the overriding factor.  If a rug is stretched too tightly or unevenly during the manufacturing process, as the rug relaxes from use and humidity it can shrink or buckle. 

Vacuum, Turn and Rotate

Felt rugs can be difficult to clean so preventive maintenance is a must.

Vacuuming is key to any successful maintenance program.  Removing the dry soils that can cause premature wear can be better achieved with a beater-bar/brush head than with suction alone.  

Most felt rugs are reversible and should be turned over and rotated periodically in order to distribute wear.  For rugs that are not reversible, rotating rugs is the only option and should also be done on a periodic basis.

We are often asked what is meant by a “periodic basis.”  The problem is that everyone’s lifestyle is different and living conditions vary.  As a general rule, these rugs should be turned and/or rotated no less than every other month.  

Spot Cleaning

Spot cleaning of felted wool floor coverings is accomplished in much the same way as spot cleaning orientals and other wool floor coverings.  The following are the important rules for spot cleaning wool:

  1. Avoid excessive agitation.  Wool is up to 20% weaker when wet and can be easily damaged and/or distorted by overzealous mechanical action.
  2. Minimize the use of alkaline (high pH) cleaning agents.  Wool can be damaged by alkalinity and dyes are more likely to bleed under high pH conditions.
  3. Never use sodium hypochlorite (household bleach), even in diluted form, on wool or other protein fibers.  It will damage or dissolve the fiber.
  4. Avoid chemicals containing optical brighteners.  Spotting with chemicals that contain optical brighteners can cause light spots or long-term yellowing.

Cleaning Concerns

Felt rugs are prone to show soiling, which is directly related to construction.  Without a pile, soils tend to “stick out” because they become lodged on the surface.  Visible soiling is also accentuated when light-colored backgrounds are used.

These rugs should be cleaned regularly… before the soiling becomes pronounced.     

Some manufactures of these rugs suggest cleaning the smaller rugs in a washing machine with cold water.  The problem is that any water can cause shrinkage and/or buckling.  It is best to dry clean these rugs when possible, minimizing the chance of shrinkage and/or buckling.

Unfortunately dry cleaning has limited cleaning capabilities and wet side cleaning is often necessary to remove spots and spills that do not respond to dry cleaning. 

When wet cleaning is necessary, it is best to use water or water-based detergents sparingly and to dry the rug as quickly as possible.  If shrinkage and buckling occur, it is very possible that blocking techniques will need to be employed to restore the original shape.  Again, testing and rapid drying are a must.

Dye bleeding is another possible issue when cleaning felt rugs.  There are always concerns with colorfastness whenever dark colors are involved.  Careful inspection and pre-testing should be performed on each suspect color and the rug should be dried as quickly as possible after cleaning in order to minimize dye bleeding.

Trust the Professionals

When it's time to consider adding soil and stain resistance to wool floor coverings, the best bet is to choose a product that has been tested and found safe and effective.

Fiber-Seal Brand protective treatments have been tested by Cleaning Research International in accordance with international performance criteria and are verified safe and effective by The WoolSafe Organization.