Can I steam clean my wool carpet?

Getting your new carpet professionally cleaned every six to 12 months can help it stay looking new longer. (Photo by Patrick Dennison)

Getting your new carpet professionally cleaned every six to 12 months can help it stay looking new longer. (Photo by Patrick Dennison)

So you have wall-to-wall wool carpet in your home? Congratulations on your choice of flooring. You have the world most durable, tried-and-true carpet fiber known to man.

In the form of rugs, wool carpet has literally been around for thousands of years and is known to last for hundreds of years with proper care. The oldest known surviving rug is the Pazyryk Carpet, which is dated to the 4th or 5th century B.C. It’s only in the last couple hundred years that carpet was installed and stretched wall to wall rather than spread loose on the floor as rugs.

As wall-to-wall carpeting became more popular — and in the first half of the 20th century — wool fibers completely dominated the industry. There was simply nothing that compared with the quality. Sometime after the ’50s, however, nylon was invented and soon took the dominant position in the market, largely because it was much more economical than wool.

Wool is still available today and is much prized for its environmental perks, it ability to bounce back, ability to hide soil, its naturally fire-retardant qualities and many other advantages. The drawback is that a quality wool carpet typically costs 4 to10 times as much as the cheaper fibers.

Obviously, if you have a quality wool carpet in your home, you want to take good care of it. Now this article is primarily concerned with cleaning wall-to-wall wool carpets, not area rugs or Oriental rugs. These are very different and need to be cleaned differently. Always take your wool area rugs to a plant where they can be properly washed and dried in a controlled environment. Do not attempt to clean them the same way that you clean wall-to-wall carpet.

Now, can you get your expensive wool wall-to-wall carpet professionally cleaned? Absolutely, and you certainly should. One of the advantages of wool is that is can hide a tremendous amount of dirt before it begins to show. However, the dirt is still there and can cause Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) and odor issues as well as reducing the life of your carpet. Soil is very abrasive and will abrade the carpet fibers unless extracted out of the carpet. The good news is that it will not hurt your wool carpet to clean it using the industry recommended hot water extraction (steam) cleaning method. This is the most thorough, effective method for removing that greasy, gritty, fiber-eating soil in the base of the carpet. Here are a few pointers to remember when getting your wool carpet cleaned.

Being an organic fiber, wool will tend to smell a bit organic (wet doggish) when cleaned. This is part of the experience of owning a wool carpet, so don’t worry. This odor will quickly dissipate as the carpet dries. Drying should not take longer than 2 to 6 hours on average.

One of the advantages to using wool cloth or fibers is that it takes dyes very readily. One of the disadvantages is that it keeps on readily accepting dyes after installation. In other words, stain removal can be a pretty challenging proposition for wool, especially on old stains that have been set with time. You can certainly remove them with the right products and skill, but don't expect to see that Kool-Aid pop out of your wool carpet like it did on your olefin carpet. Having your cleaning professional apply a high quality wool-safe carpet protector will aid in the removal of potential stains and spots.

Be sure that your cleaner does not use highly alkaline cleaning agents: Somewhere around a pH of 8.5 is the limit. Alkalinity will degrade organic fibers, can show up as yellowing or browning and causes fiber degradation over time. This is possibly the most important difference between cleaning conventional carpet and wool. The cleaner must be very careful that he (or she) does not use overly hot cleaning solution. Also, bleach is a huge no-no because it will actually dissolve wool. So don't be tempted to remove a tough stain with bleach, and plan on hiring the carpet-dyeing guy. You'll be hiring the repair guy instead.

With these few guidelines, you can get your carpets steam cleaned every year for many years to come — and even many of your children's years — without fear that you are somehow ruining your wool carpets. If you hire a professional cleaner with the proper level of knowledge and skill, you are actually greatly extending the life and improving the appearance of your high end wool carpet. It’s perfectly safe and highly recommended that you get your wool carpets regularly steam cleaned.


About this Angie's List Expert: Mahlon Zehr is the owner of Beautiful Carpets and Floors, Inc., a professional carpet cleaning company in the Walla Walla Valley. Mahlon is certified by the Clean Trust (IICRC) as an individual and Beautiful Carpets is a certified company as well.

As of May 14, 2013, this service provider was highly rated on Angie's List. Ratings are subject to change based on consumer feedback, so check Angie's List for the most up-to-date reviews. The views expressed by this author do not necessarily reflect those of Angie's List.


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