Did you know that rugs are not all made the same way? Some are knotted by hand, some are flat woven by hand, some rugs are machine made, and some are tufted.
It’s this last type that has become most popular with consumers, but tufted rugs have many problems that their hand knotted, hand woven, and machine made counterparts do not. These are the rugs with a fabric backing material found in big-box stores, furniture stores, and in retail shops. The labels may even say “Hand Made in India” or “Hand Made in China,” but don’t be fooled. These rugs are tufted – by hand, yes – but still tufted.
What does that mean? Instead of the pattern being knotted onto a warp and weft foundation, like in a hand knotted rug, tufted rugs are comprised of short length pieces of yarn poked through a piece of stenciled canvas that has been stretched onto a frame. When the short yarns have completely filled in the pre-stenciled design, the canvas is turned over and a layer of latex adhesive is rolled onto the back. A secondary backing is then attached to cover up the latex and clean up the appearance of the back.
Tufted rugs have taken over the retail market with a proliferation of contemporary and traditional designs, a variety of standard sizes, and economically friendly price tags, but they do not last a long time – maybe only as long as 10 years (a quality hand knotted rug may last as long as 100 years or more!) with normal wear, regular professional cleaning, and a little bit of luck, and they also prove to be difficult to clean properly.
The latex inside the rug begins to off-gas (a noxious, petroleum-like odor), decay, and break down over time, giving off a white, powdery silt called latex dust. Latex dust is impossible to remove during cleaning, as it resides well inside the body of the rug, and it may also wick to the surface of the rug during the drying process, causing an overall yellowish tinge to the colors. Sometimes this yellowing can become permanent.
When your rug starts to give off latex dust, you can also bet that the secondary backing is loose or delaminated in places. This causes dimensional instability. In other words, the rug which once felt stiff and sturdy, may now feel more like a heavy, floppy blanket and may shrink or become misshapen during the wash process. This issue can be resolved if a rug owner wishes to invest a little bit of money to repair a tufted rug they may have developed an attachment to. A rug cleaning professional can remove the existing secondary backing, scrape away any remaining latex inside, re-latex the back, and re-attach or, if necessary, replace the secondary backing. A rug pad may even be used in place of a canvas backing material to provide additional cushion and support. Remember that this type of repair is not a permanent fix, as the new latex will eventually break down as well, but it is a process that can be repeated when the time comes.
The latex inside a tufted rug may also pose a real danger to individuals with a latex allergy. The off-gassing fumes and loose latex dust, if handled or breathed in, could cause a reaction for someone with allergies to latex, possibly of a severe nature.
Another of the many cleaning dangers are the stencil marks on the primary backing. These marks are brightly colored and sometimes not waterproof. This means that they could possibly wick to the face during the drying process. Pet urine stains seem to make this problem worse.
Speaking of pet urine stains… Completely removing pet urine from a tufted rug is incredibly hard for a rug cleaning professional to do. Because of the way these rugs are constructed, a more aggressive and thorough flushing of the rug from both front and back, is not always feasible.
There is good news – if you’re looking to buy, you can find yourself a pretty sweet looking tufted rug for very little money. Just remember the cleaning challenges a tufted rug may pose and the short life-span it will have. But, if you’re in the market to buy, take a look at hand knotted rugs. Today’s hand knotted rug market is at a low point. Very nice hand knotted rugs are being sold at prices that almost compare to tufted rugs.
Buying a new rug is a little bit like buying a new car. The consumer is often at the mercy of the person selling – relying on their expertise and knowledge to guide them to a fair-market priced item. Having an outside resource, like a local area rug cleaning specialist, is key if you want a qualified 3rd party opinion on a rug purchase. Any rug you buy should have a return policy. Bring it to your rug cleaner before taking it home! Cleaners are trained to look for hard to see pre-existing flaws or hidden concerns that may not be disclosed by the seller, and will always have your best interests at heart.