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Understanding Rug Shrinkage: Reasons and Remedies

Updated: Mar 23


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 during rug cleaning, or did we?


Shrinking is often a combination of factors that manifests itself during rug cleaning of natural fibers, but there's much more to consider: production techniques, fiber choices, and environmental factors. Identifying these causes is the first step in tackling this common carpet issue. Let's explore what leads to rug shrinkage and offer practical solutions to avoid, prevent, or reverse it, ensuring your carpet's longevity and maintaining its beauty and longevity.


Key Takeaways

  • Shrinkage can be normal or excessive, caused by a few factors, including production-related issues that become apparent during rug cleaning. The type of fibers used and their processing, exposure to heat, and water during cleaning, with natural fibers like wool being particularly sensitive to environmental changes, play a bigger role.

  • Preventive measures to avoid carpet shrinkage include choosing the right rug material, proper cleaning and pre-cleaning practices, and controlled rug cleaning techniques to prevent excess soaking and exposure to high heat.

  • If shrinkage occurs, minor shrinkage may be addressed with home remedies, while professional intervention is needed for severe shrinkage, involving processes like re-stretching, re-binding, or full restoration services.

  • Shrinkage can be an inherent issue with a rug manufacturing.

rugs being stretched to size on a sizing floor
Rug Sizing Floor in Iran

The Long, and Short of Rug Shrinkage

Since wool is the most common fiber in Oriental rugs we will focus on area rugs made with wool.


Wool is hygroscopic; meaning it loves water and has a high affinity for absorbing water molecules. In fact, wool fibers can absorb 40% of their weight in water. Wool fibers have tiny scales on their surface, and as the fibers swell, these scales interlock and bind to adjacent fibers, similar to velcro. During rug cleaning, wool absorbs water, and as the wool begins to dry, and the swelling reduces, these fibers lock together like velcro shrink, causing the fibers to contract or shrink.


 In many rug production workshops, cleaning and scouring wool for carpets and clothing reduces these scales or buffing them and reduces their sticking power, which helps reduce shrinkage. In clothing, wool is given a "superwash," a process to buff the scales and reduce the scratchyness of wool scales as well as shrinkage. Smart wool socks, for example, are given a "superwash" to soften the wool in socks and keep them from shrinking. If you have washable wool at home it's been given a "super wash" treatment.


Shrinkage can seem like a mystery, especially when considering the various factors that can cause it. Some shrinkage is normal. The type of carpet fibers used, exposure to heat during cleaning, and even the specific cleaning techniques employed can all contribute to shrinkage during rug cleaning. They can be particularly prone to shrinkage in hand-woven rugs due to a lack of processing and finishing processes.


rug not laying flat
Ripples in an Afghan Rug

Vintage rugs from Afghanistan, like the one in this photo, are notorious for excessive shrinkage and often a double issue. Since the foundation warp and weft yarns are wool, their shrinkage can be excessive and unfixable. Their issue is driven by a lack of proper washing and scouring of materials used in weaving, resulting in excessive shrinkage.


Heat Exposure: The Role of Hot Water in Shrinking Rugs

Hot water can cause a rug to shrink more than cold water It's important to note that all wool is dyed in hot water, so the simple concept of hot water causing shrinkage during rug cleaing is more of a fallacy. When natural fiber rugs, such as wool, are exposed to hot water, the fibers swell even more than cold water. If your rug shrinks with hot water, it shrinks more than in cold water.


However, this doesn't mean you should never clean your rugs. Rug cleaning is important to the longevity of your carpets. The key is understanding the type of rug and cleaning limitations. For some rugs and carpets, the manufacturer recommended clean suggestions and the Carpet and Rug Institute. Exposing natural fiber rugs to water temperatures higher than recommended can result in irreversible contraction and, thus, permanent size alteration.


While wall to wall carpet can sometimes shrink or wrinkle during cleaning, depending on the method, most wall-to-wall carpets will relax completely when dry. This rippling is normal for many styles of wall to wall carpets our discussion will focus most on oriental rugs.


Cleaning Techniques That Can Cause Contraction

The way you clean your rug can also affect its size. You might choose a low moisture and low heat cleaning method. While low mosture might save you from wrinkles, it comes at the cost of cleanliness. According to the Carpet and Rug Institute, the most effective method to clean a wool rug is washing, while low mosture cleaning methods may be a safer approach. Low mosture cleaning methods fail to remove deeply embedded soils and odors.


Inadequate cleaning techniques and equipment can result in adequate soil removal, odors, moth infestation, and accelerated wear. This is why it’s crucial to understand the proper way to clean your rug. By doing so, you can ensure its longevity and keep it looking its best for years to come.


Preventive Measures to Avoid Rug Shrinkage

Now that we understand the causes behind rug shrinkage, the next logical step is to explore preventive measures. After all, prevention is better than cure. It’s important to allow your rug to acclimate to the room’s conditions before installation to prevent rug shrinkage. Besides acclimation, using a dehumidifier in environments with high humidity can aid in maintaining stable conditions that are less likely to cause rug shrinkage.


Extra caution should also be taken when moving heavy furniture to ensure that the rug does not stretch or compress, which contributes to maintaining its original dimensions. Moreover, making sure the rug’s dimensions accurately match the room’s dimensions is crucial in avoiding tension that may lead to shrinkage. Let’s delve deeper into these preventive measures, starting with the importance of choosing the right rug material.


Rug blocking

The cure for wavy ends and sides in some rugs is blocking or sizing to remove ripples; 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 like the one below, 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 day or two.

Profit potential in rug blocking

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 thirty dollars sq ft. If that producer can stretch the rug two inches in width and four inches in length, he's increasing his sales price by a value increase. Many producers have learned to make thier 8x10, rugs. smaller, say loom size 7.9x9.9 and blocking to size of 8x10.

A strong sizeing compound is applied to the rug to hold to 8x10 size, what happend when it's time to clean the rug? In many cases rug shrinkage has nothign to do with the carpet fibers and everything to do with rug finishing processes.



rug on a sizing jig in Nepal
New rug blocking/Sizing in Nepal

Choosing the Right Rug Material for Your Space

Choosing the right material for your rug is crucial, as certain fibers can significantly reduce the likelihood of shrinkage. A new rug from India, Nepal, or Turkey is less likely to have severe shrinkage issues for fiber shrinkage. Their issue is being stretched to a larger size loss of sizing during cleaning. Polyester and cotton blend rugs offer a good balance of durability and comfort, with less susceptibility to shrinkage, wrinkles, pilling, and static.


Choose a face fiber and pattern that match your decor and performance needs. One should also consider the type of material the rug is made of, as this can greatly affect its durability and tendency to shrink. The right rug material can significantly improve your rug’s lifespan and appearance.


Proper Pre-Cleaning Practices to Protect Your Rug

Proper pre-cleaning practices can do wonders in protecting your rug from shrinkage. Knowing the rug’s material is essential because selecting an inappropriate cleaning technique can lead to irreparable damage and rug shrinkage. For rugs with jute backing, low moisture cleaning methods are preferable to prevent the jute from swelling and causing the rug to shrink. Jute backings have a tendacy to yellow or brown and are better left to experts.


Before cleaning your rug, it’s always a good idea to conduct a spot test with the cleaning solution on a small, hidden section of the rug to ensure it doesn’t cause color bleeding or shrinkage. Moreover, taking immediate action on spills and stains by blotting and using a mild cleaner helps avoid permanent damage without rubbing the spill area, which can exacerbate the issue. These steps play a crucial role in maintaining the quality and size of your rug.


How to Address Shrinkage After It Happens

Even with the best preventive measures in place, rug shrinkage can still occur. The extent of rug shrinkage can range from minor waviness in the edges to permanent pile distortion requiring professional restoration. However, there’s no need to panic. Minor damage from rug shrinkage can often be fixed by attaching fabric or adhesives to the receded edges or by using gentle heat from a hair dryer to relax synthetic or wool fibers.

Sometimes, hanging a rug can assist in stretching out fibers and removing wrinkles caused by shrinkage. But in cases of severe shrinkage, professional intervention may be necessary. A carpet technician can re-stretch and re-install the carpet, mitigating the shrinkage. Additionally, a carpet stretcher can be used to manually stretch out a rug, especially for large rugs, to remove wrinkles and adjust the size after shrinkage.



Can a Shrunken Rug Be Stretched Back to Shape?

Certain rugs that have experienced minor shrinkage during cleaning may be candidates for stretching back to their original shape. However, re-stretching shrunken rugs is a delicate process and is not guaranteed success, especially if the shrinkage is substantial.

Due to the complexity of re-stretching rugs, it is recommended to seek a professional, such as an experienced carpet fitter, particularly for loose-laid rugs needing size adjustment.


A specialist may be able to adjust the outer perimeter cord that was not pre-shrunk during weaving, such as Navajo rugs with shrinkage. For rugs that have been cut and bound, professional re-binding may be offered as a solution for some types of border rugs to counteract the effects of shrinkage. It is best to consult rug experts such as cleaning companies and consider which option makes sense.


When to Call in the Experts: Professional Rug Restoration

When a shrunken rug does not regain its original shape after a period of settling, seeking the advice of a professional is essential to evaluate potential damage and avoid further deterioration. Professional restoration services such as re-backing with new latex adhesive and secondary backing material can correct issues such as minor lumps or wrinkles, while immediate repair is crucial for issues like holes or tears to maintain the rug’s longevity.

When choosing a professional rug restoration service, ensure that the company has a good reputation and experience with handling large area rugs to guarantee quality repair. The expertise of these professionals can be instrumental in restoring your rug to its former glory.



Humidity and Temperature: Environmental Factors Affecting Your Rug

Environmental factors like humidity and temperature can also significantly affect rug shrinkage. More specifically, heat and excessive humidity can destabilize sizing compounds, soften them, and reduce their ability to hold a rug to size. Rooms with heat and moisture in sunrooms with lots of light and plants


 Rugs may contract in hot, dry weather due to high temperatures or expand in high humidity, which can result in visible ripples on the surface of the rug.


For rug preservation, it is recommended that indoor humidity levels be maintained around 40 to 50%, with a digital hygrometer to monitor these levels. Using an air humidifier can help maintain rug conditions when indoor humidity levels fall below 40%, especially in typically dry environments. Excessive moisture must be avoided to prevent rug damage, such as mold and mildew growth; spills should be dried thoroughly, and non-slip pads can be used to prevent rugs from sliding and trapping moisture.


Maintenance Tips to Extend the Life of Your Rug

Careful maintenance can significantly extend the life of your rug and prevent shrinkage. To prevent rug shrinkage and maintain condition, ensure that you follow these steps:

  1. Thoroughly dry the rug after cleaning.

  2. Regularly rotate your rug every six months to prevent uneven wear and exposure to condition changes that might cause shrinkage.

  3. Use window treatments or UV-protective films to avoid color fading from direct sunlight exposure.

By following these steps and ensuring your rug can lay flat, you can keep it in good condition and prevent shrinkage.

Additionally, using a Persian rug as a wall hanging is an effective way to safeguard it from the warping effects of heavy furniture. Interestingly, wool rugs inherently resist shrinkage when properly cared for due to their resilient natural fibers. However, the placement of furniture and routine care also play significant roles in the longevity of your rug.


Regular vacuuming and spot cleaning can contribute significantly to maintaining the condition of your rug and preventing wear and tear that may lead to shrinkage. Here are some tips for maintaining your rug:

  • Vacuum your rug at least once a week with a vacuum that has adjustable suction and a brush attachment. This helps keep the fibers from settling dirt, dust, and debris, preventing wear and tear.

  • Spot clean any spills or stains immediately using a mild detergent and a clean cloth. Blot the area gently to avoid spreading the stain.

  • Rotate your rug regularly to distribute the wear evenly.

  • Avoid placing heavy furniture on your rug, as this can cause indentations and damage the fibers.

  • Use rug pads underneath your rug to provide cushioning and prevent slipping.


By following these tips, you can keep your rug in good condition and prevent shrinkage.

Adhere to these routine care practices to extend the life of your rug, maintain its condition, and ultimately prevent shrinkage. It’s a small investment of time and effort that can make a significant difference in its longevity and appearance.


Summary

In conclusion, rug shrinkage is a multifaceted issue influenced by factors like the type of fibers, cleaning techniques, and even room conditions. By understanding these factors and taking preventive measures, you can effectively manage and even prevent rug shrinkage.

Remember that maintenance is also key. Regular vacuuming, spot cleaning, and mindful furniture placement can go a long way in preserving the size and condition of your rug. And if shrinkage does occur, know that there are ways to address it, from stretching the rug back to shape to seeking professional restoration services. With the right knowledge and care, you can protect your rug from shrinkage and ensure its longevity.


Frequently Asked Questions


How do you fix carpet ripples after cleaning?

The best solution to fixing carpet ripples after cleaning is to have the carpet power stretched after it's been cleaned and dried. This involves removing furniture from the room, detaching the carpet, power stretching it, trimming it to fit, and then reinstalling it.


Do rugs shrink in the wash?

Yes, rugs can shrink in the wash, especially on their first wash if they have not been washed after being woven. It's a good idea to check the care instructions before washing.


How do you fix shrunken carpets?

To fix a shrunken carpet, it must be stitched back to size, and a sizing compound must be applied to the back of the rug or wall-to-wall carpet stretched back into place carpet. In some cases, a rug's construction is part of the issue, and a shrunken carpet cannot always be stretched back to its pre-wash size.


How can I prevent my rug from shrinking?

To prevent your rug from shrinking, choose the right material, allow the rug to acclimate to the room's conditions before installation, and employ proper pre-cleaning practices. These steps can help maintain the integrity of your rug and prevent shrinkage.


How does room condition affect my rug's size?

The condition of the room, such as humidity and improper installation, can cause a rug to expand or contract, leading to shrinkage and impacting its perceived size and flatness. Be mindful of these factors to maintain the quality and appearance of your rug.













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