One of my first grown-up purchases was a real Moroccan Boucherouite rug. It’s colorful and shaggy and I love it, even though every time I vacuum it (which, given the amount of crumbs in my house, is very often) I feel like maybe I’m not getting it fully clean.
When dirt gets into a shag rug, normal foot traffic grinds the dirt against the fibers and damages the rug. The longer the dirt stays in the rug, the deeper it gets ground in, doing more damage over time.
After investing in a one-of-a-kind shag rug, keeping it in tiptop shape is a priority, so I turned to the experts to find out how to clean a shag rug.
How to clean a shag rug: The traditional method
My first stop was the blog on Anou, a website that allows Moroccan artisan collectives to sell their wares directly to consumers; it’s also the place I bought my rug. The blog’s advice, from the people who have been making and using these rugs for centuries, was to take the rug outside, shake it, rinse it off in the river, then set it over a shrub to dry. Unfortunately, my backyard is short on rivers and shrubs. But the blog’s Plan B for city dwellers is to shake the rug out at least once a week, vacuum with a canister vacuum in between, and get it professionally washed every few years.
The importance and challenges of deep-cleaning shag
For more details, I spoke with Lisa Wagner, aka Rug Chick, a certified rug specialist.
“Shag is one of the toughest rugs out there to clean and maintain,” she says. “Those of us who remember shag carpeting installed in homes in the 1970s also can remember why it quickly fell out of favor.”
Shag is beautiful and fun, she says, but nearly impossible to always keep clean.
“At our rug-cleaning facility we often charge more to clean shag rugs per square foot than we do to clean much more valuable silk rugs,” Wagner explains. “That’s because there is a lot of additional handwork needed to try to clean what gets embedded in the fibers of these rugs.”
According to Wagner, the way you clean your shag rug depends on what material your rug is made of.
Wool shag rugs come in a variety of styles, from sheepskin-looking flokati rugs to big, thick noodlelike fibers to silky soft shag. One thing to notice is how well the fibers are attached to the backing. If they’re easy to pull out, you’ll have to be extra-gentle. Some rugs can be cleaned with a canister vacuum or an upholstery attachment. Try it on a small area to make sure it doesn’t pull the fibers out, and then go row by row, cleaning down to the backing as best you can.
Wagner also recommends giving your shag a regular beating. Take the rug outside, flip it upside down, and flex the rug up and down to let the dirt fall out. After that, a wet-dry vac or even a leaf blower can help remove the bits of things from the strands. Small rugs can be fluffed in the dryer with no heat. Flokati rugs can be combed with a wide-toothed dog brush to keep them looking fluffy and clean.
Ultimately, though, you’re going to have to have your shag rug professionally washed. It’s just too heavy and thick for most people to clean on their own. You’ll want to take it to the cleaner every 18 to 24 months, or up to 30 months if you are vigilant about dirt removal. As you probably expect, it’s going to be expensive.
“If the cleaning price is more than the price of the rug,” she says, “you might just plan to buy a new one every two or so years.”
Cheaper shag rugs are probably going to be made of acrylic, but be careful—these are a huge fire danger. Wagner has seen two instances of acrylic shag rugs igniting and quickly going up in flames.
“I would not even allow one into my home,” she says. The downsides of a wool rug (expensive to maintain) versus an acrylic rug (highly flammable) don’t even compare. If you do have an acrylic rug, do yourself a favor and replace it.
Viscose, nylon, and polyester
These synthetic fibers can be treated the same way as wool, as long as you are careful about not pulling them out. Vacuum the rug with a canister vacuum or upholstery attachment, and shake it out as often as possible. The good news about this kind of rug is that it can be steam-cleaned, so the cost to have it professionally washed will not be as high.
Leather rugs are very hard to clean and—truthfully—not practical for anyone with kids or pets. The cotton backing absorbs spills and is very hard to clean, and the leather loses its perkiness with wear. To clean yours, Wagner says, you can try leather cleaner at home, but a professional wash is probably your best bet.
Ultimately, a shag rug is a pretty expensive decoration to have on your floor. If you’re not willing to dedicate the time and money to properly cleaning your rug (or replacing it every few years), it’s probably in your best interest to wait out this trend.