There is Rug Washing and then there is Rug Washing
Or Is Rug Washing Bad for a Rug
It is not unusual to hear some Oriental Rug dealers advise against washing a rug because “Rug Washing is bad for a Rug”. They will often say that rug Washing will shorten the life of a rug.
Obviously anyone who really understands Oriental Rugs knows that this advice is ludicrous. How can any intelligent person give such bad advice? Well if you understand where the idea comes from it is much easier to understand the mistake.
Take a look at one of the popular old time books that talks about the dangers of rug washing:
From Home furnishing By George Leland Hunter
Unfortunately, the price of small antiques is exceedingly high, while that of large antiques is prohibitive. This is the cause of the attempt to finish modern rugs in antique tones.
The first washing done in Constantinople was of the roughest kind. The rug was plastered with a mixture of mud, lime, and Sulfuric acid and then rolled up until the mordants did their work.
The desired effect was quickly gained and for a time some buyers were delighted at the number of large antiques on the market. But before long it was discovered that the process left to the rug only a few months of life, and many dealers had the doubtful pleasure of redeeming spoiled rugs.
This put a quietus on rug washing temporarily and would probably have ended it forever if the American demand had not continued insistent. American buyers came to Constantinople with instructions to purchase antiques at any cost, and, if necessary, to go into the interior—where most of them are about as helpless as a South Sea Islander on the Bowery—and this not through any fault of their own, but because the Oriental has ways of doing business that are distinctly un-American.
What part these American buyers took in putting rug washing on a proper basis is difficult to say. Several of those most actively concerned never mention washed rugs except in a whisper, while others say that they have merely followed the example of the pioneers.
Home furnishing: facts and figures about furniture, carpets and rugs, lamps and lighting fixtures, wall papers, window shades and draperies, tapestries, etc
By George Leland Hunter, John Lane Company, 1913
What we can see is that when the old timers spoke about Rug Washing they were really speaking about chemically antiquing oriental rugs with “mud, lime, and sulphuric acid”. Obviously this would seriously weaken a rug but today they repeat this old advice without understanding what the real issues are. A professional rug washer carefully tests a rug before applying special detergents that in no way harm a rug. In fact quite the opposite a proper cleaning can drastically increase the life, beauty, and utility of a fine hand-woven Oriental Rug. So the next time you hear some well meaning person say that rug washing is bad for a rug just realize that while they mean well they just don’t know what they are talking about.