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5 Things That Ruin Rugs And Carpet

Installing new carpet is a big step — you planned, measured, looked at samples, consulted your family, moved all your furniture, and finally got it all installed. Now, you want to keep it looking nice for as long as you own the house — or at least as long as possible.

With that in mind, here are a few of your carpet’s worst enemies.

1) Prolonged Exposure To Water

Water is used for cleaning rugs and carpets — what most people call “steam cleaning” is actually the practice of forcing hot water through carpet fibers and then vacuuming it out — but that doesn’t mean you want water sticking around. In fact, one of the main reasons we recommend a professional carpet cleaner over one of the rental units you can use yourself is that the rental units simply aren’t strong enough to get the water back out of the carpet after putting it in.

If water and moisture linger in a carpet or rug, they can actually rot natural fibers like wool, cotton, or silk — common materials in premium rugs. If left damp for long enough, carpets and rugs can start to grow mildew and mold, which make a musty smell, produce spores that can aggravate allergies, and degrade the fibers so that they’re brittle and inflexible.

A rug whose fibers have degraded enough — a condition called “dry rot” — can’t be rolled or folded anymore without cracking the foundation, causing permanent damage to the rug. The same thing can happen to the backing of your carpet, even with synthetic fibers. Unless it’s taken care of quickly, dry rot can’t be fixed.

To avoid prolonged water exposure, be careful not to place flower pots directly on the carpet, and clean up any spills as thoroughly as possible when they happen. It’s tempting to leave water spills alone because they’ll dry out anyway, but water can absorb into the carpet backing or pad and linger for a long time. Keep windows closed during storms, and try to avoid installing carpet near sinks or washing machines.

2) Insects And Their Larvae

Insects like moths and carpet beetles will lay their eggs in almost any kind of natural fiber, but wool and silk are their favorites. If you have wool carpet or a silk rug, preventing insect infestation is a priority.

In fact, the insects themselves aren’t the main problem — it’s their larvae. If you see small, dark, reddish-brown bugs around your rugs or in drawers and closets, there are probably larvae close by. You should also look out for missing carpet pile, fine white webbing, or a dry, sandy residue, as these are all indicators that larvae might be munching on your rugs.

You can use mothballs, cedar chips, or similar products in your closets and drawers to deter insects and keep them from taking up residence in your house, but those remedies are just deterrents — they don’t actually kill bugs and larvae once they’re already in the building. The safest insecticide to use in your home is pyrethrin, which is derived from chrysanthemums. It’s a common ingredient in dog flea shampoo, and is safe for carpet fibers, but is extremely toxic to cats. If you have a cat and want to spray your carpets or rugs, you’ll need to keep your cat away from the area until the spray dissipates.

The best way to prevent insect larvae from settling in your carpets and rugs is to clean up all spills immediately — especially those with sugar or milk in them — and to vacuum at least once a week. Once every couple of months, you should also vacuum under furniture and under the backside of rugs, which you can do by flipping the whole rug or by folding over smaller sections at a time.

3) Your Household Pets

Everyone loves having a furry friend around the house, but young puppies and kittens tend to like chewing on whatever they can find. In many cases, that means the corners or your rugs. If you have a new puppy that won’t leave the rug alone, moth flakes can be very useful — they’re not toxic to dogs, but puppies don’t like the smell or taste and will avoid them.

Cats tend to scratch rather than chew, but enough scratching or a stuck claw can tear loose carpet fibers and do long-term damage to carpets and rugs. Dissuade your cat from scratching, and provide an outlet for their energy in the form of a carpeted or cardboard scratching post.

The other problem pets can pose is their little “accidents.” Pet urine is very bad for rugs and carpets, as it can permanently bleach colors and damage the fibers. Worse still, the aromas from pet urine will linger for a long time and, if not cleaned properly, will only attract the pet to the same spot over and over.

If your pet has an accident on the rug, sprinkle it with a mixture of club soda and white vinegar, which will break down the stain and remove the odor. Blot dry and repeat until there’s no odor or residue left, then let it dry. If you can, hang up the rug to let air circulate and dry it more completely. Otherwise, run the vacuum over the spot after everything has dried thoroughly.

4) Ultraviolet Light

We love the sun, and every realtor in the world knows the appeal of “natural light,” but sunlight can be just as damaging to your flooring as to your skin. Antique rugs are generally made with all-natural dyes that retain their color better over time, but cheap rugs with synthetic dyes can fade, soften, or both.

Luckily, most synthetic carpets are less susceptible to fading than they used to be — the color is mixed right into the fibers at the factory, so they don’t bleach over time. But older synthetic carpets can fade, bleach, or change color entirely with enough sun exposure.

If there’s an area in your house that gets a lot of direct sunlight on the floor — a living room next to a south-facing sliding door, for example — consider using lighter-colored carpet to begin with. You can also reduce the impact of the UV rays that come through the window with UV-resistant film or UV protective glass. Another option is curtains — sheer white curtains will cut down the impact of direct sunlight, while still allowing through enough sunlight to light your space.

5) Common Spills

Whenever you spill something into your carpet, act quickly! Whatever it is — even water — can be absorbed into the fibers, the backing, or even the carpet pad, and will only become more difficult to clean over time.

If you spill water, simply blot the spill with a cloth or paper towel until the wet spot is as dry as you can get it. Water won’t stain or leave residue behind, so it doesn’t need much more than that. If you spill a lot of water in one spot, you can stack books on a folded towel — or just stand on it — to press the water out of the carpet.

If you spill something more damaging, like juice, soda, wine, or coffee, start by treating it the way you’d treat a water stain. Blot up as much of the liquid as you can — don’t rub, as rubbing will just work the substance further into the fibers — until the spill is mostly dry. Then sprinkle club soda or diluted white vinegar on the stain and blot again, repeating until all visible coloration is gone.

If you spill something oil-based, like olive oil, sprinkle the stain with flour and press a brown paper bag against it for 15-20 minutes until the oil is absorbed, then vacuum up the residue. You can also rub a dye-free dish liquid into the carpet until the oil seems to be broken down, then blot and rinse like you would with a water-based spill.

No carpet or rug will last forever — most are designed to last 15-20 years at the high end, and eventually you’ll have to replace them. But with these tips — and a little preventative care — your carpet will look fresh and new for as long as possible!