How to Clean Area Rug on Hardwood Floor (Detailed Guide)

An area rug placed on hardwood floor is a classic and cozy design element in all kinds of rooms. It has the benefits of carpet without the drawback of becoming a breeding ground for mold in your subfloor.

However, cleaning a rug or carpet usually requires moisture, which is notorious for damaging hardwood floors. How can you properly clean your area rug without damaging the wood underneath?

It’s actually very simple. You can do routine cleaning as normal and modify deep cleaning to avoid moisture coming into contact with the hardwood. I’ll go over both the routine and deep cleaning in detail below.

Routine Care for Area Rug on Hardwood Floor

You will want to do routine cleaning of your area rug at least weekly. A rug still needs to be cleaned frequently, even if your house doesn’t get that dirty. This is because dirt and dust work their way deeper into the carpet fibers over time and become harder to remove. Luckily, this routine cleaning carries no risk to your hardwood, so you will need no special supplies or considerations.

Supplies Needed:

To perform this weekly maintenance, you’ll need only two things:

  • A vacuum
  • Baking soda

Routine Care Cleaning Steps:

1. First, remove all the furniture from the rug.

2. If possible, take the rug outside and shake it off or beat it out. Then replace the rug. If the rug is too big for you to shake or beat out, then disregard this step.

3. Sprinkle baking soda over the entire rug. This will help neutralize any odors.

4. Let the baking soda sit for ten to fifteen minutes. During this time, I like to vacuum off the furniture.

5. Vacuum the entire rug thoroughly, making sure to suck up all the baking soda. A well vacuumed rug will have a fluffy texture, and on longer carpets you will see the lines from the vacuum cleaner.

6. Lift the edges of the rug and vacuum under them too. This will ensure that no dirt gets trapped under the rug onto your hardwood floors. If allowed to sit, this dirt can be hard to get off. If you have a pad between the carpet and hardwood, be careful that this doesn’t get caught in the vacuum.

7. Replace the rug and furniture in the room.

Deep Cleaning an Area Rug on Hardwood Floors

vacuuming carpet with baking soda

Unlike the routine cleaning, you will not be able to proceed as normal with a hardwood floor. Rugs need to be washed every 6 to 12 months to stay bright and clean looking.

However, washing requires moisture, which is terrible for your hardwood flooring. Hardwood flooring, even sealed, should never encounter standing water, or remain wet for more than ten to fifteen minutes.

Instead, you will need to modify traditional cleaning methods. I will go through the way to clean each type of rug in detail, and how you can modify it to protect the hardwood floor.

Wool Rugs or Cotton Rugs

vacuuming cotton rug

Wool and Cotton are great at maintaining their color for a long time. However, they tend to have a soft, dense weave. This makes them the worst culprits for attracting dirt and staying wet. The trick for cleaning a wool or cotton rug on hardwood flooring is to clean the surface without reaching the back of the rug. This is done with damp cloths and dish soap.

Supplies Needed:

  • A simple dish soap (not one with added lotion or moisturizers)
  • A bucket of cold water
  • A vacuum
  • Old towels
  • Microfiber clothes or rags

Steps for Cleaning Wool/Cotton Rugs:

1. First, shake out and vacuum the rug as you would during routine maintenance. Make sure to move all furniture off the rug so you can easily reach everything.

2. Put a tablespoon of dish soap into the bucket of cold water and agitate slightly. You should see some (but not too many) bubbles. Keeping the water cold will prevent the color dulling in the rug.

3. Dampen the cloth or rag with the soapy water. Start at one corner of the rug and methodically dab the soap in, moving in the direction of the weave. Add more soapy water to your cloth as needed, but don’t use enough for it to be dripping. You never want to saturate either of these fabrics – they take forever to dry.

4. Once you’ve done the whole rug, empty and rinse out the bucket. Refill it with plain cold water. Discard the old cloth and get another.

5. Repeat the dabbing process using the new cloth and plain water. This should remove most of the soap.

6. Empty the bucket and discard the second cloth.

7. Pat the rug dry with your towels. Try to remove as much of the moisture as you can manually.

8. Ventilate the area with box fans and/or open windows. This will help the rug dry quickly. If done properly, there should be no moisture on the floor when you lift the rug. Once everything is dry you can replace the furniture.

Jute Rugs

brushing jute rug

Jute rugs are made from the Jute plant and are some of the softest rugs on the market. However, they tend to be quite absorbent. This makes them in my opinion the most compatible with hardwood floors, as you will want to avoid traditional cleaners in favor of quickly evaporating, dye free ones.

Supplies Needed: 

  • A nylon bristle brush
  • White vinegar
  • Cold Water
  • A spray bottle
  • Old towels

Steps to Clean Jute Rugs:

1. First you will want to remove furniture and shake out the rug if possible. Then, vacuum the rug like you would for routine maintenance.

2. Fill the spray bottle with a 50/50 mixture of white vinegar and cold water.

3. Next, spray the cleaner onto the carpet. You want to moderately coat the entire surface of the rug, but not soak it.

4. Use the bristle brush to scrub the carpet starting in one corner and methodically working your way over the entire thing. Move with the weave, not against it. This will reduce tugging and tearing.

5. Use the old towels to remove what water you can from the rug.

6. Ventilate the area with a breeze or box fans. If I’m spot cleaning, I even sometimes use a hairdryer. Once the rug is dry you can replace the furniture.

Synthetic Rugs

cleaning rug with dish soap in a spray bottle

Synthetic Rugs are the hardest to clean with a hardwood floor. I highly suggest taking them outside or to a waterproof surface for deep cleaning, because traditional cleaning methods suggest soaking them with a hose. The best solution is cleaning the rug outdoors on a patio or driveway in the sun and bringing it in once dry.

If your only option is to clean your rug inside on the hardwood floor, then carefully follow these steps for manual cleaning. For cleaning with a carpet cleaner, go here (insert link to cleaning a rug with carpet cleaner article?).

Supplies Needed:

  • A spray bottle
  • Store bought carpet cleaner OR dish soap and cold water
  • A bristle brush
  • A tarp large enough to put under the entire rug
  • Many old towels

Steps to Clean a Sythetic Rug:

1. First, remove the furniture, and shake out the rug. Then, vacuum your rug as normal.

2. Place the tarp under the rug. Make sure it covers the floor under the rug with several inches of extra tarp on all sides. This will protect the floor from the moisture needed to clean a synthetic carpet.

3. Next, fill the spray bottle. If using a store-bought carpet cleaner, then follow the ratio directions on the product to fill the bottle. If using dish soap and cold water, then fill the spray bottle with cold water alone.

4. Soak the rug with the spray bottle. This may take several fills, but the spray bottle gives you enough control to avoid spillage onto the hardwood.

5. If you used water alone in the spray bottle, then next you will need to apply dish soap directly to the carpet. Simply squeeze out lines about 1 ft. apart onto the carpet.

6. Now work the cleaner into the carpet gently with the bristle brush. This should create some bubbles if you used dish soap. Follow the weave to avoid damage.

7. Next, fill the spray bottle with water and spray down the carpet thoroughly again.

8. Use the old towels to gently rub the carpet dry.

9. Repeat steps six and seven several times to rinse the soap out of the carpet.

10. Once you have used the towels to dry the last time, ventilate the room and use fans to dry the carpet. Due to soaking the fibers, this could take several hours depending on your climate. Do not replace the furniture or remove the tarp until the rug is dry.

Final Thoughts

Hardwood floors are beautiful and go well with area rugs. Despite this, hardwood floors can be sensitive to moisture which makes deep cleaning the area rugs we put on them tricky. For natural fibers, the weave is dense enough that we don’t need to (nor should we) soak the rug to clean it. This allows us to carefully clean the rug without exposing the hardwood floor to moisture for a prolonged period.

The job is significantly trickier with synthetic fibers, which are typically sprayed down with a hose during the cleaning process. If you cannot take your synthetic rug outside away from the hardwood floors for cleaning, then your next best option is to is to put the rug on a tarp and use extreme caution.

This method is time consuming, which is why it isn’t my first choice. Following the directions in this article will help keep your rug looking new and your hardwood floors safe. Good luck!