Oriental Rug Shrinkage

Updated: Jun 23

A short talk about a slightly shorter rug

Not long ago, we delivered a cleaned rug back to a client, unrolled it, and to most 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" oriental rugs. A handwoven rug isn't cut off a loom and shipped to a dealer near you. They are subject to a few key finishing steps to make them sellable. Every handwoven rug that's made is sheared, washed, and blocked before it's exported, and some rugs are washed twice.

new afghan rug shearing
Rug Shearing Afghanistan

The rug in this picture is fresh from the loom in the transformative stage of 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. In some cases, 2 or 3 such shearings and multiply washes happen to rugs before they are finished.

Rugs fresh off-the-loom are dirty and need to be cleaned, but this wash isn't just for cleaning; there are five primary goals in new rug wash: removing loose fibers, removing loose dyes, and adding sheen/ luster to the rug, and cleaning/ removing soil. 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. The key point is that every handwoven rug has been exposed to a full water washing before it gets to your home

Finishing new rugs in Afghanistan
Rug Washing In Kabul 2021

Wool and other natural fibers shrink

All-natural fiber rugs are susceptible to some 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 at Zollanveri rugs below on the outskirts of Tehran is an over twenty thousand sq ft. two-story blocking facility.

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

Is rug blocking that important?

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

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

Profit potential

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 or meter or in most rug producing countries the 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 with and four in length, he's increased his sales price by 156.00 a nice value increase.

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.

Can the rug be stretched back to size?

In most cases, yes, but it's better for the rug's foundation and for a rug to be static and not stretched to a slightly larger size. 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.

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