What is an Oriental rug?

The term "Oriental rug" refers to a wide range of floor coverings. The term is broadly used to refer to rugs that are made in Asian countries. The most prolific rug-making countries include Iran, Turkey, China and India. You also will see references to Caucasian rugs; this refers to rugs made in the Caucasus Mountains, between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. More recently, Southeast Asian countries, notably Vietnam, have begun creating Oriental rugs for export.

Authentic Oriental rugs are constructed by hand and made of wool, cotton or silk. In modern usage, you may see the term used to describe machine-made rugs with an Asian motif. For this article, we'll use "Oriental rug" to refer to handmade floor coverings.

Oriental rugs are designed to tell a story, with different patterns symbolizing life events and a region's history. Different countries and areas use a few primary motifs. These are one way to tell where an Oriental rug was made.

How Oriental rugs are made

Oriental rugs are crafted using a number of techniques, but all quality rugs are hand-knotted.

One of the most common methods for creating a rug is to use a simple flat loom. The artist begins the rug by forming a foundation of sturdy cotton, silk or wool fibers called the "warp." The cross fibers, the "weft," are then tied to that foundation, forming the pattern.

A quality Oriental rug will have between 16 and 550 knots per inch. The more knots, the better the rug. It's not unusual for up to a dozen artists to work on one rug. Depending on the size, the design and the quality, it can take several months to several years to complete one rug.

Oriental rug care and cleaning tips

Although a good Oriental rug can last for decades, a little basic oriental rug care is necessary to keep your prize floor covering looking its best. Below are just a few things to consider:

  • Rotate your rug. To avoid excessive wear in any one area, it's a good idea to rotate your rug every two to six months.

  • Avoid sunlight. Be careful where you place your Oriental rug. Direct sunlight will cause the dyes to fade.

  • Vacuum regularly. Vacuuming your rug will not only remove the dirt and debris of everyday use but will keep the rug fibers from getting matted. Be careful not to get the rug's fringe caught in the sweeper.

  • Spot clean. In the event of a spill and stain, blot all excess liquid with a cloth or paper towel. Loosen the stain with a little club soda, if necessary. Avoid using soap, detergent or other cleaners, as they can damage fibers.

Hiring a rug cleaner

Reasons for cleaning an Oriental rug yourself include:

  • Saving money. Cleaning your Oriental rug yourself is generally cheaper than hiring a professional.

  • Mobility. Depending on the size of your rug, your floor covering can weigh more than 100 pounds. Oriental rugs, particularly woolen rugs, can be very heavy.

Hiring a professional rug cleaner also has advantages:

  • Preserving value. Good Oriental rugs may be passed down from generation to generation. Professional care can extend the life and beauty of a rug.

  • Pick up and delivery. Most companies that specialize in cleaning Oriental rugs will pick up your rug and reinstall it.

  • Thoroughness. A company that specializes in cleaning Oriental rugs has specialized equipment to give your rug a more thorough cleaning and drying.

  • Access to superior cleaning products. Commercial cleaning services have access to products designed especially for use on Oriental rugs. Most carpet shampoos and cleaning products found in retail stores are designed for synthetic wall-to-wall carpeting and are often too harsh for the delicate natural fibers in Oriental rugs.

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