Home Ec

Home Ec: How to Care for Rugs, Carpets and Floors

by Grace Bonney

The vast majority of the cleaning work I do at home revolves around cleaning up after our pets. No matter how well trained they are, accidents happen and they almost always happen on my favorite rug. So I’ve become something of an amateur rug and carpet sleuth, sussing out which techniques, tools and tips actually work for cleaning and maintaining floors at home. Flooring is one of the most important parts of our homes — it sees the most wear and tear, but with a little upkeep, it can do its job and stay looking nice for years and years to come. So, how do you take care of your carpets, rugs and floors and protect your investments in all of them? Today I’m going to walk you through simple techniques and tips for keeping your floors (wood, tile, carpet, rugs and synthetic) in good condition for the long haul. No one wants to save up for a beautiful rug or new hardwood floors, only to have them damaged a year later, so these tips will ensure you spend wisely and avoid costly repairs or fixes. xo, grace

*If you have any tips or secrets (Please tell me someone has a tip for cleaning sisal rugs!) you swear by to maintain your flooring, we’d love to hear them below! All of the comments on these posts have been so helpful and spot-on. Thank you for sharing your advice!


This post and the Home Ec section are brought to you by Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day. Visit the Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Home-Grown Inspiration section featuring 20 DIYs, including seven from Design*Sponge!

RUGS: PROTECTION The best thing you can to do prolong the life of your rugs is to protect them from damage in the first place. To protect your rugs: 1. Place plastic or felt pads/feet on all furniture. 2. Think about placement. Place your most treasured rugs in places where they won't be exposed to high sunlight, heat or moisture. 3. Use thick felt rug pads to prolong the life of your rug. 4. Use a green carpet protector. There are many brands of eco-friendly carpet and rug cleaner you can use to treat your carpets. [Photo from Aelfie's shop]
RUGS: CLEANING Keeping your rugs clean and not letting stains sit will help your rugs lead a long and healthy life. 1. Shake out, air dry and vacuum your rugs regularly : This will help prevent dirt and stains from setting into the carpet. 2. Hand-wash if possible. If you have a rug that can handle washing, wash it in a full tub with 2 cap-fulls of a gentle dish soap and let it air dry. 3. If you have a delicate antique rug or a rug with colors that will bleed, hire a pro. I have our rugs professionally cleaned once a year at a cleaner that doesn't use chemicals and it's worth it. 4. Nature's Miracle: If you need to clean a pet/bio stain, I swear by this cleaner. 5. Be Careful with Sisal! Follow these steps for natural fiber rugs! [Photo from Jen Chu]
RUGS: REPAIR If you have major damage, here's how to deal with it: 1. Spot-Mend: You can stitch small holes in rugs like you would a shirt, or place a neutral color of fabric behind it to attach as well. Be sure to use a heavy-weight thread. 2. Combine remnants: If you have two small sections of rug that are past their prime, you can consider stitching them together to create a new rug or have backing added to strengthen them. 3. If you have a stain you can't cover, don't be afraid to use fabric paint to cover it up in a pinch! I've done this and no one ever notices. 4. When in doubt, layer! Layering rugs on top of sisal or another neutral area rug allows you to keep using them when they are in need of some cover-up. [Photo from Aelfie's shop]
CARPET: PROTECTION The best thing you can to do preserve your wall-to-wall carpeting is to protect it with these steps: 1. Place plastic or felt pads/feet on all furniture. 2. Consider a no-shoes-inside rule: Reducing the amount of dirt you bring indoors is a big help. 3. Use doormats at each door to reduce what's tracked inside. 4. Use a green carpet protector. There are many brands of eco-friendly carpet and rug cleaner you can use to treat your carpets. [Image via Shaw Floors via This Old House]
CARPET: CLEANING Cleaning carpet is all about regular upkeep and making sure things don't settle into the fibers. 1. Vacuum regularly: Get a good vacuum and make sure the bristles are rotating to pull dirt out of the fibers. 2. Deep Clean: Depending on the type of carpet you have, consider setting aside the funds to have your carpets professionally cleaned (steam clean, shampoo, etc.) once a year, if possible. It will go a long way toward protecting the overall condition, color and feel of your carpet. You can rent steam and shampoo cleaners at most grocery stores if you're comfortable enough to DIY. [Image via Sarah's Big Idea]
CARPETS: REPAIR 1. Clean quickly and dry thoroughly to prevent major stains. The faster you move to clean something, the less time it has to soak deeper into the carpet fibers. 2. Remove stains with a dry cloth first: Moving from the outside of the stain toward the center, dab with dry cloth or paper towel to soak up as much of the stain as possible. 3. Use a cleaning solution that matches your rug type: I use Nature's Miracle for everything from pet stains to BBQ sauce, but there are a wide range of cleaners on the market. 5. Cleaning Machines: Depending on the severity of your stain, you can rent, buy or hire someone to steam clean (or chemically clean) your carpets. It's cheapest to DIY, though. [Photo via LocalNoir]
WOOD: PROTECTION Wood floors are an absolute treasure. They have so much character and the older they get, the more their patina changes and feels richer and deeper. Taking good care of your wood floors on a weekly basis will go a LONG way toward keeping them for your lifetime. 1. Place plastic or felt pads/feet on all furniture. 2. Use doormats at each door to reduce what's tracked inside. 3. Make sure they're treated: A sturdy coat of poly or another sealant is necessary to prevent major damage over time. 4. Trim Pets' Nails: Cat and dog nails can scratch floors, so keep them trimmed. 5. Avoid Heels: High heels and other shoes with a sharp point will damage floors -- exchange them for slippers indoors. [Image via this Bungalow reno]
WOOD: CLEANING The wrong cleaner can damage your wooden floors, so when it comes to cleaning, be sure to check the labels. 1. Use a wood-safe cleaner : Most cleaning brands make a wood cleaner now that you can easily use with standard mops and even Swiffers. Use them weekly to keep the shine and finish on your floor in good shape. 2. Keep em' dry: Keeping moisture away from your floors is key. Be sure to thoroughly dry after you mop, dry spills immediately and use mats near all doorways so water doesn't sit on top of wood. Moisture will warp and discolor the wood quickly. [Image via Gabriel & Olivier's home tour]
WOOD: REPAIR Wood repair can be tricky if you need major patching or sections redone, but there are great online tutorials for almost every problem now. 1. Scrapes: Using a very fine sandpaper (220 grit), sand away the scrape in a circular motion. Cover the spot with mineral oil, fill any deep scrapes with wood filler, sand off excess and seal the patch with whatever sealant the rest of the floor uses (ie: poly). 2. Patches: For sections that need to be replaced, remove the floor board, cut new pieces to size, secure, stain and finish with a sealant. This tutorial is a great walk-through of the process. [Image from our living room]
TILE: PROTECTION Tile floors can be sturdy depending on their material, but most are susceptible to cracks from weight damage and staining. Use these steps to protect them. 1. Place plastic or felt pads/feet on all furniture. 2. Make sure they're treated: A sturdy coat of poly or another sealant is necessary to prevent major damage over time. 3. Clean Regularly with a Safe Cleaner: Depending on your tile material, buy a cleaner that's safe and use it to clean the grout and tile often. This will prevent stains from setting in. 4. Trim Pets' Nails: Cat and dog nails can scratch all sorts of tile, so keep them trimmed. 5. Avoid The Beater Bar on your Vacuum: Use the low/flat floor setting on your vacuum to clean tile. The rotating brush head can scratch and damage tile over time. [Image via Kim's bathroom makeover]
TILE: CLEANING Cleaning tile and grout regularly will keep it looking as fresh as possible for as long as possible. 1. Use a tile-safe cleaner (non abrasive) and mop the floors weekly. Cleaning the grout regularly will help that stay bright, too. 2. Dry thoroughly: Make sure your floor and grout dries completely. Mold can set in easily and other minerals in sitting water can stain the tile. [Image via Lori's makeover]
TILE: REPAIR Tile repair can be tricky, but there are a number of products on the market (and techniques) that will help you handle scratches and cracks. 1. Matching paint or filler: For small cracks and lines, you can use matching paint or tile filler to fill the gaps and make them less visible. 2. Remove the tile: For a tile that needs to be replaced, follow this technique to take out the single tile and replace it. [Image via April's bathroom makeover]
SYNTHETIC FLOORS: PROTECT There are a wide range of laminate, linoleum and otherwise composite or synthetic floors on the market. They often make great, budget-friendly options and have less upkeep than other types of flooring. 1. Place plastic or felt pads/feet on all furniture. 2. Trim Pets' Nails: Cat and dog nails can scratch floors, so keep them trimmed. 3. Avoid Excess Humidity: Excess humidity or moisture can warp laminate and cause tiles to peel up. Keep things try and cool to keep them in good shape. [Image from DS Best of Floors]
SYNTHETIC FLOORS: CLEANING Cleaning synthetic floors is usually a breeze and regular mopping is the best way to keep them in great shape. 1. Mop regularly with a cleaner approved for your material : be sure to dry thoroughly to prevent excess moisture. 2. Avoid bleach and use a gentle cleaner with a stiff brush for stains: Spot cleaning with a stiff brush and safe cleaner for your floor's material will prevent stains from setting in. [Image from DS Best of Floors]
SYNTHETIC FLOORS: REPAIR Much like tile, synthetic and composite floors have a host of products that will help you repair them in a pinch. 1. Appropriate filler: For small scratches and dings, you can use a filler (most hardware stores carry them) to match the color of the flooring and hide the mark. 2. Remove single strip/tile : Peel-and-stick tiles are easy to remove and replace, but synthetic wood flooring can be tricky. This video is pretty clear and easy-to-follow if you need to remove and replace a piece. [Image from DS Best of Floors]

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  • I don’t have a tip for cleaning sisal rugs, alas — looking forward to hearing folks’ suggestions!

    I love these Home Ec posts. And this is slightly off-topic, but I’d love to see a post on how to find classy, durable carpet. My condo association requires carpeting (no hardwoord, alas), but because wall-to-wall carpet isn’t often considered a great design element, it’s hard to find good recommendations!

    • Hi SLG

      Thanks! I’ll ask around. I sadly don’t know much about carpet brands, other than tiled carpets, which aren’t of the same quality for an overall space (especially if you have pets- their hair gets trapped in the edges).


  • These Home Ec posts are becoming some of my favorite to read on the blog! Thanks so much and keep up the awesome work!

  • Have just added more pages to my Design Sponge notebook– Home Ec: section. Thank you for updated how to info.
    Hugs and smiles, Reva

  • I have a large wool area rug which I love. Unfortunately it has dark blue backing (why???) that bleeds through to the surface whenever the rug gets damp. I can’t completely avoid that happening with a toddler and dog in the house. The rug is now covered in small blue spots and most cleaning methods involve moisture which could make the problem worse. Any tips for this problem?

    • Kristen

      Oh no! Does the color disappear again when it’s dry? Or is it a permanent stain? I would honestly call the manufacturer and ask for a refund. The bottom liner should never bleed through and visibly damage the rug :(

      The methods I know to remove stains won’t work if it’s the actual rug dye seeping through. I rarely suggest this, but I really think you have a case for a full refund here.


  • This is great, thank you! I am curious if there is a type of area rug that you suggest for households with destructive cats? Ours mercilessly scratch our rugs!

    • Hi Anna

      Cats are tough on rugs, but tougher on ones that have a large loop structure, like a Beni Ourain or a shag rug. I’d suggest a flat weave for everything. We use Dash & Albert flatweaves (the indoor/outdoor kind) and they’ve been perfect. Our cat occasionally does a stretch-and-scratch on them, but hasn’t done any visible damage. If your cats take to it- you can also try “SoftPaws”, which are a humane, painless plastic covering you can put over your cat’s claws. But they do fall off after a few weeks (or less, depending on your cat) so they have to be reapplied every once in a while.


  • Grace,

    Some of them seem like they are there for good, and some I’ve been able to lessen the appearance of. I’ve kind of given up on it, which is a shame because I love the rug. It hadn’t occurred to me to ask for a refund as it has been over two years since I bought it. However, it is a ridiculous problem and the back liner should be colorfast!

    • Kristen

      Is it from a major manufacturer? Most large companies will still refund you or send you a new rug if there’s an issue like that.

      I’m so sorry that happened. The only drastic solution would possibly be to dye the whole thing the color of the backing, but that’s a lot of work. Perhaps you could use that carpet as your backdrop and layer area rugs on top to cover the stains?

      Here are some examples if you’re game to try that: http://www.houzz.com/area-rug-on-top-of-carpeting


  • Helpful info! I love my rugs, but it’s so hard to have nice ones with dogs! I actually JUST had to throw away a rug this morning from World Market that was only 5 months old. Let’s just say that our senior dog and a white jute rug isn’t the best combo ;)

  • Grace,
    It is. I’ve now told them about the problem and asked for a refund. They asked a few questions and wanted pictures of the problem. We’ll see. Thanks for your suggestions! I hadn’t thought about dyeing it, but that’s an interesting idea! Probably too much trouble because it’s a giant rug, but something to think about.

  • An update: they will give me $75 or $100 credit. Kind of disappointing as that is a lot less than I paid for the rug. I guess I should not have waited 2 years to complain!

    • Kristen

      I’m so sorry. That’s such a bummer. Would it be possible to see if a local repair place could deal with the stains and change the backing? I’m guessing that’s probably more hassle than it’s worth though :(


  • Thanks for the tips! I have a rug that I got on my study abroad to Korea that I really like. It was pricey, so I want to make sure that it will last a long time. I liked your tip to use plastic or felt pads on all furniture. My rug is really long, so there’s no way for me to avoid the furniture legs standing on top of it. I should get some so that they can slide easily along my rug without damaging it.

  • I have four kids and three dogs. I really know the importance of keeping up with your floor’s cleaning. There are so many stains and scuff marks. I vacuum about two or three times a week and I also have my carpet cleaning done every year. Some people think that that is an excess but I like things to look clean but if it was up to my three year-old we’d be living in a sandbox because she keeps trying to bring in little plastic buckets filled with sand into her room. I know I’m not the only parent who has these types of problems!

  • These are some great tips on how to protect your rugs from getting damaged. I had never thought about putting foam pads on the bottom of my furniture feet to stop them from indenting my rugs. Doing that along with having the rug cleaned regularly seems like the best way to keep it look great.

  • I really like your tip to have carpets deep cleaned once a year. Do you think it would be a good idea to do it more frequently is you have pets? I want my carpets to last as long as possible! Thanks for all these great tips!

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