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Shrinkage In Floor Coverings

Updated: Nov 20, 2023

A short talk about a slightly shorter rug

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?

Why Do Oriental Rugs Shrink?

It's helpful to understand the key steps in weaving and "finishing" new oriental rugs. A handwoven rug isn't cut off a loom and shipped to a dealer near you. All rugs are subjected to a few key finishing steps to make them sellable by improving colors, texture, and even the design rug finishing can make or break a new rug.

Every handwoven rug that's made undergoes a labor-intensive finishing process of shearing, washing, often a second shearing, blocked before it's exported, and some rugs are even washed twice.

new afghan rug shearing
Rug Shearing Afghanistan

The raw rug in this picture is fresh from the loom in Kabul. A strong graphic of the beginning transformation a rug goes through on its way to becoming a rug for a floor in America.

Notice the dramatic difference the shearing machine has made in one pass from a long uneven pile to a uniform pile height, color, and design dramatically improved.

Rugs fresh off-the-loom is dirty, and so this finishing is part of cleaning, but this wash isn't just for cleaning; there are five primary goals in new rug wash:

-Cleaning/ removing soil.

-Removing loose fibers,

-improving pile by setting the knap

-Removing loose or unstable dyes

-Adding sheen/ luster to the rug wool

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 here first.

Finishing new rugs in Afghanistan
Rug Washing In Kabul 2021

Wool and other natural fibers shrink

All-natural fiber rugs are susceptible to shrinkage, some more than others. As you might expect, 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 below at Zollanveri rugs, on the outskirts of Tehran, Iran is a massive over twenty thousand sq ft. two-story blocking facility.

rug sizing and blocking
Large rug blocking/Sizing floor Zollanvari Tehran, Iran

Is rug blocking that important?

Some rugs need 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 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 or two.

Oriental rug shrinkage, blocking , sizing and stretching
Rug Stretching Tool Zollanvari Rugs Tehran, Iran

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 in length, he's increased his sales price by $131.00, a nice value increase.

In some cases, sizing can fail in places, and the rug becomes ripply or sides wavy from use, and the sizing compound can fail on its own

Rug Cleaning

expert rug washing cleaning Portland ,Oregon
Rug Cleaning at Renaissance Rug Cleaning

Years later, that rug is now in its forever home and needs cleaning, so it's sent off to a rug cleaner like Renaissance Rug Cleaning. The rug cleaning removes soils, odors, and the starch sizing compound, holding the rug to several inches larger size.

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.

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 to a slightly larger size. Most rug-sizing compounds are water-soluble products. 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.

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 blocking/ Sizing 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.

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