Clean sweep: Carpet and rug problems

Home Columns Clean sweep: Carpet and rug problems

Part 1 of 2

By Patricia Harman

There are a number of issues that may arise as customers use and care for their specialty rugs or wall-to-wall carpeting. Here is an overview of several problems to make customers aware of at the time of purchase or before providing cleaning services.

In real Oriental and older ‘nomadic’ rugs, one of the most common characteristics is the color variation known as “abrash,” or different color patterns, colorations and various shades or hues. These gradations can often be seen within one color field such as the blues, reds and browns. While these variations usually appear as bands or horizontal bars, other shapes or sections of color variation are possible.

The color variation is the result of different dyeing processes since small quantities of pile yarn skeins are dyed by hand before the rug is made. Each dye lot is hand-knotted into the rug, but as different ones are used, some color variation is inevitable. Connoisseurs of Oriental rugs value the beauty and handmade appearance that is typical of abrash. Sometimes it is obscured by the soiling and compaction of the pile through daily use and is not revealed until the rug is washed and groomed. It is also possible that the slight variations in pile direction or ‘shading’ may become more visible after a thorough cleaning.

Frequently following carpet cleaning, consumers will find a mysterious stain appears where there may not have been one before, or a stain that was successfully removed makes its reappearance after the carpet dries.

This common situation, known as reappearing or wicking, is caused by staining matter from a prior spill having dried at the base of the carpet pile. Although the surface stain may have been fully removed, some of the discolored matter remained behind, unseen and hidden down in the pile.

During a thorough wet cleaning, the hidden stain is moistened and becomes mobile, allowing it to wick to the surface of the pile as the carpet dries. Since wall-to-wall carpet dries from the bottom up, this means the top part of the pile is the last to dry completely, allowing the mysterious staining matter to wick or find its way up to the carpet’s surface.


A carpet or rug may seem to change color in certain areas. When looking at the carpet from one angle, these areas can appear to be lighter than the rest of the carpet. Then when viewed from the other side, these spots appear darker. This condition is called shading. Changes in the lay of pile usually develop in traffic areas or in front of frequently used articles of furniture.

However, shading may also occur in areas of less traffic and under furniture, most frequently on dense, deep, velvety, cut-pile carpets. Many Chinese and dense-pile Indian rugs will show some pile distortion after use or the first cleaning.

In some cases, shading becomes more apparent after the carpet is cleaned but this phenomenon cannot occur overnight. It develops gradually over time. The shading was probably not visible before cleaning because of lighting, the placement of furniture, or uniform soiling over the entire surface.

Next time we’ll examine several more examples of commonly occurring issues with specialty rugs and carpeting.

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