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Cleaning Silk Rugs Safely

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While you may have plenty of experience caring for area rugs, cleaning silk rugs yourself isn’t always quite as easy as cleaning area rugs of other fibers. Because of the delicacy of the silk fibers, spot-cleaning silk rugs and gentle ongoing care may be the best ways to ensure your silk rug continues to look beautiful for years to come. If the idea of cleaning silk rugs at home leaves you feeling a little on edge, reviewing how to clean silk rugs safely can give you the information you need to properly care for your silk rugs between professional cleanings.

About Silk Rugs

An elegant silk rugs lends a unique kind of beauty to a home. Because of the delicate nature of these fibers, silk rug cleaning requires a different approach than cleaning ordinary cotton or even wool rugs. Most silk rugs are made in western Asian countries, and the fiber is obtained from the cocoon of the silkworm. Silk fibers are surprisingly strong and very resilient. A silk rug can be stretched but will easily return to its original size because of the resiliency of its fibers.

Silk rugs are very smooth and lightweight but are quite delicate. The material can be easily stained and should never be placed in an area where they will be frequently walked upon. Frequent traffic can lead to color fading and damage to the rug’s embroidery–two situations that can never be corrected. Abrasive cleaning will also easily damage a silk rug, and care must be taken to ensure that any cleaning is effective yet safe.

Keeping a Silk Rug Clean

Keeping a silk rug in a seldom-used room is perhaps the best way to keep it clean in the first place. To protect their investment, some silk rugs owners choose to hang their rugs on the wall, as decorative art pieces, rather than place them on the floor.

To remove dust and any debris that may settle on the rug, it can be gently swept with an ordinary broom or vacuumed. A light touch with the broom should be used to avoid damaging the rug fibers. If the rug is vacuumed, only the vacuum’s brushless suction head should be used. A roller brush will damage a silk rug, and even a stationary brush may lead to problems.

Removing Stains

Any accidental spill should be cleaned up immediately to prevent it from setting in and becoming impossible to remove. Solid spills can be scooped up with a spoon and discarded, though care should be taken not to scrape the rug itself. Any scraping or sharp friction of this sort can potentially tear the silk fibers. A liquid spill, as well as any remaining liquid from a solid spill, should be gently pressed with a clean, white cloth to absorb as much as possible. If the spill’s color remains, a gentle cleaner can be used.

Some silk rug owners trust club soda to remove the color from a stain. The soda can be poured onto a clean rag and then blotted against the stain. A dry cloth should be used to absorb any excess club soda, and then the area can be left to air dry. Another option is to blot the stain with a 50/50 mixture of white vinegar and water. Again, the excess liquid should be blotted up and then allowed to dry.

No matter which solution you choose, it’s essential to test the cleanser on a small, hidden area before using. Blot the club soda or vinegar onto a portion of the rug and then allow it to dry normally. If any damage at all is noticed, the cleaning solution should not be used.

Avoid Heat and Chemicals

Heat sources, whether from a hair dryer or space heater, should never be used on a silk rug. The heat will certainly help the rug dry quickly, but it can also permanently shrink or otherwise damage the rug. Likewise, the water used to clean the rug should be cool or lukewarm. Hot water may shrink, fade colors, or cause other damage.

Chemical cleaners or stain removers must never be used for silk rug cleaning. Most silk fibers are simply too delicate to withstand the harshness of these chemicals. Colors may fade, holes may appear, or the rug’s texture may be changed. Even if no damage is noticed right away, the chemicals may permanently weaken the silk fibers and allow holes or rips to develop easily later on.

An Overall Cleaning

At some point, it may become necessary for your silk rug to receive an overall cleaning. Because a silk rug cannot be exposed to heat or chemicals, it’s impossible to use an ordinary carpet shampooer. After sweeping the rug gently to remove loose dust, a cloth dampened with equal parts white vinegar and water can be blotted or very gently rubbed over the entire surface. The vinegar odor will disappear as the rug air dries.

Is Your Rug Genuine Silk?

Whether you have a rug that has been passed down in your family for years or you’re eyeing a silk rug in a marketplace, there may come a time when you wonder if a certain rug is truly genuine silk. Vendors in some markets have been known to pass off mercerized cotton as “100% real silk” with the price tag to go with it.

Though it’s not foolproof, rubbing a rug with the palm can help determine if it is real silk. Silk will begin to feel warm, while other fabrics remain cool. The “burn test” is more accurate. A rug dealer may agree to let a potential buyer pull a loose thread from the back of the rug. When burned, if the thread smells like burning hair while the ash “balls up,” it is genuine silk. Artificial fibers will melt or smell like burnt paper.

The only way to know for certain if a fabric is silk, however, is to perform a chemical test. While that’s not likely to happen in an Asian marketplace, it may be worth considering for a rug you already own.

Silk Blends

Silk rug cleaning can be easier if the rug contains a blend of silk and another fiber, especially wool. Because wool is water-resistant, spills are likely to just “bead up” instead of soaking into the fibers. This makes them easier to completely remove if attended to right away.

Professional Cleaning

While you may prefer cleaning silk rugs yourself because you worry about letting your treasured family heirloom out of your sight, any professional rug cleaning business should be able to safely and effectively clean a silk rug. It would be a good idea to discuss their cleaning procedure, solutions used, and any guarantees that are provided prior to letting them take your rug. While some people may say dry-cleaning silk rugs is safe, it’s often better to stick to a company that focuses specifically on area rug cleaning, as they’ll have the most experience dealing with silk rugs.

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