How to Care for Antiques – Rugs, Carpets and Tapestries


Most antique rugs and carpets can be used normally if they are placed where they will not get heavy wear and are kept free of dust and dirt. Always use an underlay on the floor, thick enough to protect from uneven surfaces, cut exactly to size. A wide variety of modern carpet underlays is available for both wooden floors and for placing a rug on top of a fitted carpet to stop the rug moving or sliding. Underlay also preserves the rug by removing creases from the wool and smoothing imperfections on the floor beneath. On stone or tile floors, lay moisture-proof paper beneath the underlay as they can be damp and cause carpets to rot. Never use nails, tacks or glue to secure the rug. Move rugs and carpets around occasionally so that the wear and fading from strong sunlight is not concentrated on the same area. Tapestries should be hung from a tape to spread the weight evenly whilst making sure the weight is supported through the textile, not just the lining.Wide Velcro tape can be stitched (between the stitches and not through them) along the top of the reverse side, with the receiving Velcro strip stapled to a wooden batten fixed to the wall. Rugs can be similarly displayed and should be hung lengthways so that the weight is taken by the stronger warp threads. Never tack a rug or tapestry to a wall or hang from rings as the strain can pull horizontal threads apart. Do not hang in direct sunlight which will cause fading and avoid hanging over a radiator which will dry out the fibres and make them brittle, or on outside walls that may be damp.


Dust and dirt should not be allowed to build up as it has a sandpaper effect on the fibres. It is best to use carpet sweepers on antique carpets but vacuum cleaners of the type which have a hose with nozzle attachments on a low suction setting can also be safely used. Sweep in the direction of the pile and take care not to run over the edge of the rug with the vacuum cleaner as threads get pulled out, eventually damaging the edges as well as the fringes. Small rugs can be hung on a washing line and beaten on the reverse side with an old fashioned carpet beater to dislodge dirt. It is advisable to do this and to sweep carpets on both sides, as well as the floor beneath, every six months. It is important to do so during the summer months when moths lay their eggs, especially in dark undisturbed areas such as under beds. For fragile rugs and needlepoints shake out loose dirt or if necessary carefully vacuum on both sides using a nozzle covered with a fine-net mesh or stocking attached with an elastic band, on a low suction setting. Tapestries, particularly those containing silk threads, should not be vacuumed but only cleaned by professionals.

Fresh spills should be dealt with immediately by first blotting the fluid with kitchen towel or a clean cloth to remove us much as possible rather than adding more water which will spread the stain and could act on the dye. Next, heap table salt onto the stain to draw out remaining moisture and leave until dry before vacuuming. For urine, after mopping up, douse well with soda water and then blot with clean towels. Removing old stains is harder and any kind of washing should not be done before spot-testing on a small inconspicuous area. This is especially important for rugs made after around 1870 when synthetic aniline dyes, of variable fastness, were introduced. First try washing the stain with a pint of warm water mixed with two tablespoons of white vinegar. If this fails to remove the stain, try two tablespoons of salt in a pint of water but remember that salt can have a bleaching effect.

You can also try a solution of warm water and non-detergent soap or carpet shampoo, preferably one that leaves an absorbent powder. Whichever solution is used, apply with a soft white cloth and work towards the centre of the stain. Always rinse with clean water and then blot with clean cloths. Do not use excess water unless the dyes are fast.Test a dye by resting a damp cotton bud on the carpet to see if the colour lifts. To remove wax or grease, pick off as much as possible with a finger nail or blunt knife then place several sheets of white blotting paper, or brown wrapping paper shiny side up, above and below the relevant area and apply a warm iron. Chewing gum can usually be gently eased off with a finger nail after applying ice in a plastic bag to chill and harden it.

If any of these methods fail to remove a stain, do not try more drastic methods or commercial stain removers, but take the rug or carpet to an expert. A LAPADA rug dealer will be able to advise you on a specialist for cleaning and restoration.


Damage such as fraying, burns or holes should not be tackled at home but taken to a specialist who can make expert repairs with exactly matching dyes, knots and threads. Early attention to such damage will avoid it deteriorating and needing more extensive and expensive restoration later.


Do not fold rugs, carpets or tapestries as this causes creases. They should be rolled, right side out, around an acid free cardboard tube or one of inert plastic such as a drainpipe. Find one with as wide a diameter as possible and roll a rug or carpet in the direction of the pile, from the top. A tapestry should be rolled in the direction of the warp. Interleave with acid-free tissue paper, tie a dustproof sheet around the finished roll and store horizontally in a cool, dark, dry and well-ventilated place.

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