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Rug Shrinkage

Not long ago, we delivered a cleaned rug back to a client, unrolled it, and to almost everyone's surprise, the rug was several inches shorter in width and length.

We shrank our client's rug, or did we?

Oriental Rug Cleaning
Rug blocking.jpg

Why Do Rugs Shrink?


Matural materals like wool, cotton and linene shrink. It's helpful to understand the key steps in rug weaving and "finishing" new oriental rugs. A handwoven rug isn't cut off a loom and shipped to your local rug dealer. All rugs are subjected to a few critical finishing steps to make them sellable by improving colors, texture, design, and in some cases size.


Every handwoven rug that's made undergoes a labor-intensive finishing process of shearing, washing, often a second shearing, and blocking or sizing before it's exported. 

The dramatic transformation begins with a shearing machine made in one pass from a long uneven pile to a uniform pile height, color, and design dramatically improved.

Wool Shrinks In Wash


Wool like other natural fibers absorbs water during washing and swells, and as it begins to dry, and shrink. As wool starts to shrink and contract during drying, the microscopic scales on the wool lock together, compounding the shrinkage.


Every rug production/finishing facility I've visited in Turkey, Iran, and Afghanistan is equipped with sizing/blocking floors; some are small and makeshift, and others, like this one in the first photo at Zollanveri rugs, on the outskirts of Tehran, Iran is a massive over twenty thousand sq ft. two-story blocking facility solely dedicated to rug 


Rug Stretching


Some rugs need to be stretched in the trade; we call this blocking or sizing to remove ripples or even wavy ends or sides; it's a relatively simple process. Rugs are tacked to the floor with nails or staples at one end, stretched under tension by a tensioning tool, and tacked to the other end. A sizing compound such as laundry starch is mixed with hot water and applied to the back of the rug to hold that size, and the rugs are left under tension to dry for a or two.

Wash class Afghanistan
rug shearing

This type of washing, or as we call it, "finish washing," can take hours, and it's a very labor-intensive process. All Oriental rugs are washed this way to improve the overall aesthetics of hand-woven rugs. The key point is that every handwoven rug has been exposed to a full water washing before it gets to your home, and rug shrinkage happens and wool can shrink in cold water. 

Rug blocking Nepal

Profit Potential In Rug Stretching

Rug weaving is an expensive, labor-intensive process of workers tying knots one at a time to make a rug design. The cost of a handmade rug is by sq. ft outside the USA, or in most rug-producing countries, sq meter. A rug maker that blocks or stretches a rug a few inches has increased the sale price, not by much but a little.


Consider an 8x10 that sells for fifty dollars sq ft. If that producer can stretch the rug four inches in width and four in length, he's increased his sales price by $302.00, the cost of having a weaver weave an extra three and a half sq ft costs more than stretching the rug, an excellent value increase.


Rug stretching has its limitations and drawbacks In some cases, sizing can fail in places, the rug becomes ripply or sides wavy from use, and the sizing compound can fail on its own. These sizing compounds are water soluble and are often washed out in washing.

Cleaning and Rug Shrinkage 

Years later, that rug is now in its forever home and needs cleaning, so it's sent off to a local rug cleaner. The rug cleaning removes soils, odors, and the starch sizing compound, holding the rug to several inches larger size or your rug square. The rug snaps back to its original size, several inches shorter and narrower, and the materials in the rug relax to their pre-blocking size.

To the owner, we shrank the rug, but there are extenuating circumstances; in reality, this is the rug's real size off the loom.

Dry Cleaning And Shrink Wool

Dry cleaning can reduce shrinkage however, It s important to consider the performance of dry cleaning and low mosture cleaning system. Floor coverings absorbed so much soiling that they benefit from full water washes these washies remove soils and imppurties like carpet sizing compounds  and dry cleaning and low mosture cleaning fail to deliver good results.​ 


Can the rug be stretched back to size?

In most cases, yes, but it's better for the rug's foundation and for the rug overall to be static and not stretched too aggressively. Most rug-sizing compounds are water-soluble products, and in some situations, such as high humidity or carpet cleaning in the home, a liquid spill sizing can lose its holding power on the part of a rug, causing bumps and ripples or sizing to fail. 


Most laundry sizing compounds are starch-based; some have antimicrobial ingredients but not all. In the right environment with mosture and temperature, these sizing compounds provide abundant food for mold and mildew growth.


Is stretching a rug worth it?

Blocking sometimes makes sense when a rug needs to fit a specific space. Or a performance issue, a very thin carpet needs sizing to give body and stiffness to help keep them in place or from rippling on a floor.

It's important to remember this is a post-wash finishing process, and we charge to block or size a rug, which must be done after every cleaning. Sometimes it's an added cost with little return and a waste of money while other times it improves the esthetics of a rug in a room 

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