A fluffy shag rug can make any room feel cozy, but the warm fuzzies you feel might start to fade when you realize how much dirt can accumulate. Cleaning a shag rug poses a unique challenge because the carpet pile (the part of the rug you step on) is made from long fibers that can trap dirt, absorb spills — and get tangled in your vacuum. But with a few simple tips, you can learn how to clean a shag rug like a pro. We asked cleaning experts to share their shag carpet-cleaning secrets. The best part? You already have some of their must-have cleaning tools and products in your kitchen pantry and your bathroom drawer.
What to know before cleaning a shag rug
Too much scrubbing, spraying, and vacuuming can damage the delicate fibers of a shag rug. “You can absolutely clean your rug too much, which will result in wear and tear, and possibly even thin out the fibers,” cautions Toby Schulz, who worked as a professional house cleaner before co-founding the Maid2Match cleaning service. “Over-cleaning could also cause the color to fade, ruining the rug’s appearance.”
To keep your shag rug looking fresh and fluffy, your best bet is to limit the amount of deep cleaning and aggressive spot-cleaning you need to do. You can take a two-pronged approach to this: Follow a regular routine of gentle cleaning, so dust and dirt don’t have a chance to build up. And reconsider putting a shag rug in your kitchen or dining room, since these areas are more prone to spills, Schulz says.
Of course, even in the quietest corners of your house, your shag rug is eventually going to need some TLC. Whether you’re dealing with dust, dirt, or a whole glass of red wine, here’s how to clean a shag rug the right way. (Click to read about the best machine washable rugs and how to wash a ruggable rug.)
Routine cleaning for shag rugs
At least once a week, make it a habit to get dirt and dust out of your shag rug by brushing it, shaking it out, or vacuuming it.
Step 1: To neutralize any odors, Kendrick suggests sprinkling baking soda over your rug and letting it sit for at least 30 minutes before vacuuming.
Step 2: “One hack is to use a wide-tooth comb or a brush with metal bristles — like a dog brush — to gently brush the rug and fluff up the fibers,” says Ronnie Kendrick, founder of CompanyClean, a residential cleaning service in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. This will dislodge any stuck on dirt and allow the vacuum or the shaking to pick it up more easily.
Step 3: If your rug is too big to shake out easily, you can vacuum it — but you’ll want to make a few crucial adjustments to your vacuum first. “The first thing I recommend for shag rugs is to turn off the beater bar or brush to prevent tangling and pulling, and vacuum in the direction of the fibers,” Kendrick says. “If your vacuum has height adjustments, set it to ‘high.’”
How to deep clean a shag rug
If you’re maintaining your rug on at least a weekly basis, you may only need to do a deep cleaning once a year, Schulz says.
Before you deep clean, check the rug label to see if your shag rug is made from natural or synthetic fibers. This will make a difference when determining the best way to clean your rug. “Always pay attention to the care instructions in your shag rug’s manual or warranty card,” Schulz says. “The cleaning methods for your rug will depend highly on the material and type.”
Synthetic fibers: These fibers are more durable, so they can tolerate a wider range of cleaning products and may even stand up to steam cleaning, Schulz says. Just be sure to read the care instructions on the rug label carefully before you try a new product or cleaning method.
Wool rugs: Wool rugs — especially Flokati (a kind of Greek wool popular for making shag rugs)— can be more challenging. “The soft fibers attract dust and dirt, but as they’re so delicate, you need to be more careful when cleaning it,” Schulz says. When cleaning natural fibers, stick to a mild cleanser like wool soap or mild unscented detergent.
Better yet, opt for a dry carpet cleaner for wool rugs. “Even if your shag rug can tolerate moisture, it’s essential that you minimize the exposure to water,” Schulz says. “Shag rugs have thick fibers, so moisture can build up at the base or the fibers won’t dry completely. That risks damage to the fibers and the development of mold.” If you do need to wet-clean your wool shag rug, let it air-dry completely in a well-ventilated space.
Bonus tip: If you have dirt and dust buried deep in the base of your shag rug, Schulz recommends this simple (and moisture-free) vacuuming hack: Flip your rug over and vacuum the underside. This will remove deep-seated dirt and redistribute the fibers, he says.
Last but not least, try to steer clear of harsh chemicals. “They can degrade the fibers of the rug, reducing its lifespan,” Kendrick says. “Whether the rug is made of natural fibers like wool or synthetic ones like nylon or polyester, strong chemicals can break down the material over time.”
How to spot-clean stains and spills on a shag rug
No matter how vigilant you are about protecting your shag rug, the occasional stain or spill is inevitable. So what’s the best way to clean it up?
The secret is speed. “The quicker you can catch a spill or a stain, the better,” says Melissa Landspurg, the assistant director of housekeeping services for JW Marriott Charlotte (and an expert in keeping high-traffic carpets looking pristine). “The longer a stain or spill sits, the harder it is to get out. This is especially true in a shag rug.” (Click through to learn about homemade cleaner for upholstery).
Here’s how she handles some of the most common stains in shag rugs:
- Dust and dirt. “I like to use a standard vacuum for dust and dirt. It is gentle on the carpet, but very effective.”
- Wine or juice. “For a darker, deeper spill like wine or juice, I would reach for a StainBlaster enzyme boost. This is what helps lift the color out of a carpet.”
- Pet stains. “I prefer to use an enzyme spotter, followed by an odor eliminator for pet stains. The odor eliminator is especially important.”
If you spill something on a shag rug, Schulz says, “Your first action should be to blot the stain — blot, not rub, or you’ll push the stain further into the fibers. Sprinkle some baking soda or kosher salt to absorb the liquid, and wipe or shake the debris off once it has absorbed as much as it can.”
If the stain is still being stubborn, mix equal parts white vinegar and cool water and use a soft-bristled toothbrush to gently work the solution into the stain, and repeat until the stain is lifted. This technique can be used on both wool and synthetic rugs, Schulz says.
Click through the links below for more cleaning tips: