How to Clean a Rag Rug – Dos & Don’ts

In case you are new to the Ragged Life Blog, I’m Elspeth Jackson, author of Rag Rugs, Pillows & More… hello! I may be relatively young for a rag rugger, but over the fifteen years I’ve been rag rugging, I’ve made hundreds of upcycled rag rug creations, ranging from rugs and cushions to draft excluders and bunting… You name it, I’ve probably tried to rag rug it. Below are just a few of my creations…

Mollie Makes Berber Rag Rug by Elspeth Jackson

My Berber style rag rug in Issue 103 “The Sustainable Issue” of Mollie Makes magazine.

Rag Rug Cushions

Rag Rug Cushions

Ragged Life Rag Rug Wreaths made using recycled clothing and textile waste for Christmas

Here are just a few of the rag rug wreaths I’ve made over the years.

Rag Rug Bunting found in Rag Rugs, Pillows & More Book by Elspeth Jackson

Rag Rug Bunting found in Rag Rugs, Pillows & More Book by Elspeth Jackson

My mum, Victoria, is also a prolific rag rugger and some of her rag rugs have been going strong for the past forty years or so… I can even spot mine and my brothers’ old clothing in many of them.

Autumn Fall Rag Rug

Multicoloured upcycled handmade Winter rag rug in front of log burner

It’s all very well making beautiful rag rug homeware, but caring for it and making sure it lasts for years is another matter. Below I have put together mine and my mum, Victoria’s, best tips and tricks for caring for your handmade rag rugs, so that you know how to clean a rag rug once and for all. We hope you find our advice useful 🙂

Rag Rug it Right to Start with:

Before I deep dive into the practical tips on how to clean a rag rug, it’s worth mentioning that the key to keeping your rag rug in good nick in the long run is to rag rug it properly in the first place. This involves the below:

1. Choose good quality hessian. The base that we rag rug into is called hessian (or burlap in the USA). Hessian comes in a variety of different qualities, which impacts the ease of the rag rugging itself, as well as the longevity of your rug. If you use a coarse, unevenly woven, hairy hessian, your rag rug is unlikely to last as long as if you had chosen a better quality hessian. Choose a hessian with compact strands (as few loose, hairy strands as possible) and a very even weave. We generally find that the more yellow toned hessian is better quality than browner hessians. Or, you can save yourself the effort and buy some of our Ragged Life pre-hemmed hessian, which has been quality checked by the experts 🙂

Ragged Life Rag Rug Hessian to make a DIY rag rug

Our Ragged Life rag rug hessian is the perfect weave to ensure your rag rug lasts for decades.

2. Space your fabric pieces the correct distance apart. The hardest part of rag rugging is definitely the spacing. Space your fabric pieces too far apart and the hessian will stay loose and vulnerable, but space your material too close together and your rug will curl up. It can be a fine line. You can generally tell if you have spaced your pieces correctly by looking at the back of the hessian. The strands of hessian between your pieces should have closed up and tightened, without caving in and curling. This is what your spacing should vaguely look like in the shaggy technique of rag rugging

Back of Rag Rug

Here you can even see that the hessian between my fabric strips has closed up nice and securely.

Right, you’ve finished your first rag rug and you’re over the moon with how it turned out 🙂 how do you care for it and clean it?

Never back a rag rug:

Once you’ve finished making a rag rug, the temptation is to “finish it off”. Although I do sometimes sew bias binding around the edge of a rag rug to give it a cleaner edge, I never recommend fully backing it. Doing so traps the dust and grit between the rag rugging and the backing fabric, which makes it impossible to remove. This also has the added benefit of wearing your hessian away from the inside out… lovely!

How to Clean a Rag Rug:

Over time, rugs get a lot of wear and tear – people tramping back and forth across them, things being spilt and dust simply gathering. Of all the decoration in the house, rugs certainly have to work some of the hardest. Here is how to clean a rag rug…

1. Give it a quick vacuum. Rag rug beginners are very surprised when I tell them that I vacuum my rag rugs, but that’s how I keep them relatively clean on a fortnightly basis. As long as you’re carefully not to snag the loops of loopy rag rugs, it’s one of the most effective ways of keeping your rugs in good nick. You can view our vacuuming a rag rug video on YouTube here.

How to clean a rag rug - Vacuuming a blue Rag Rug with a Dyson vacuum

Yes, even a powerful Dyson vacuum doesn’t suck all the strips out!

2. Give it a good beating. The traditional way to “clean” a rag rug is to give it a good shake outside or, better yet, a beating on the line. Not only does this shake loose any small bits of debris that have got trapped in the rug, but it also fluffs the rug up again, which gives it a new lease of life. As mentioned above, we never back our rag rugs, as doing so, traps the dust been the backing and the rag rugging. This means that dust can’t pass through the rug. A tennis racket makes an excellent rug beater if you don’t have a proper carpet beater.

3. Put it in the washing machine. From time to time, beating your rag rug just isn’t going to cut the mustard. We have a black and white checked rag rug in a hazardous area in our kitchen, which often becomes a victim of stray food bits, for example. The other day we decided “Checkmate” was due for a wash, so we followed the below steps…

Checked Rag Rug

A few of you may well recognise this kitchen 🙂

Words of Warning:

Firstly, before putting your pride and joy handmade rag rug into the washing machine, we suggest you read the below advice:

We do not recommend machine washing…

  1. Rugs that have been rag rugged too loosely (see our point above about rag rugging at the correct spacing). These rugs are more likely to fall apart and shed pieces of fabric, which can a) clog your washing machine b) create bald patches in your rug.
  2. Rugs that are already falling apart or have weak patches of hessian. Depending on the amount of wear they’ve had, some vintage rag rugs will have weakened enough over time that the hessian is completely worn. This isn’t the end of the world as you can actually patch old rag rugs to make them as good as new, but you should always make any repairs before washing a rag rug, rather than making the problem by washing it.
  3. Partially rag rugged pieces of hessian. If you machine wash hessian that hasn’t been fully rag rugged then the empty hessian warps and waves, which makes it harder to rag rug into. It’s not unusable, it’s just difficult to use.

If your rug passes the points above then it’s safe to wash… hooray! If your rug fits in the washing machine, put it in a pillow case or old duvet cover in the washing machine – this helps to protect the rug and your machine. Next wash it on a 30 degree wash with non-biological washing powder. The hessian holds up well at these temperatures and we’ve never tried any higher setting, so we wouldn’t recommend trying any hotter. Larger rugs can be washed in the same way in commercial washing machines at your local laundrette (although you may look a little funny loading it in!) Hehe.

Rag rug in washing machine how to clean a rag rug

Drying a Rag Rug:

Rag rugs take a while to dry out fully, so we recommend hanging them out to air dry on a sunny, breezy day. If you don’t have outdoor space, then a clothes horse inside near a radiator is also a good shout. If your rug is taking too long to dry then you can even give it a little helping hand with a hairdryer. We don’t recommend dry cleaning or tumble drying a rag rug as it’s just not worth the risk.

How to clean a rag rug - black and white checked rag rug hanging out to dry on a washing line

This is my black and white checked rug hanging out to dry in the sun.

4. Re-rag rug a section. If something terrible has befallen your rug… a glass of red wine for example, don’t panic. Firstly, remember that it’s fabric. Spot cleaning with something like Vanish will often fix things. However, if that doesn’t work, you can actually pull out the discoloured rags and rag rug the area with news ones. As long as you are careful to match to the colours or blend well then this shouldn’t be an issue – rag rugging is a very forgiving craft 😉

Right, those are your steps for how to clean a rag rug. If you have any specific questions then feel free to contact us at elspeth@raggedlife.com. We may not have all the answers, but we’ve certainly made our fair share of mistakes!

If you’d like to be the first to see future rag rug tutorials and tips, why not join our Rag Rug Community on Facebook or join our fortnightly newsletter here.

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As always, happy rag rugging!

Elspeth x

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