A nice area rug brings comfort and style to a room with natural hardwood floors. But all carpets, including area rugs, are notorious for accumulating stains from spills, pets, or muddy feet. Even gentle use over time can break down the intricate fibers that together form a beautiful rug.

That’s why it’s critical to clean an area rug regularly and to know the right way to do it. Your technique is especially important on a hardwood floor because you can seriously damage the floor with improper cleaning.

Follow the steps in this guide to keep your area rugs looking and smelling fresh for years without removing the rug from the room or harming the flooring below.

How Often Should You Clean an Area Rug on Hardwood Floors

area rug on hardwood floors

If you take the time to clean your area rug often, it will last you a long time and stay looking neat throughout its lifespan.

The simplest way to take care of a rug is to vacuum it weekly. Dirt, dust, and small rocks that end up on a rug need to be vacuumed up or they will eventually work their way into and through the carpet backing. This will lead to wear and tear on the rug, or worse, the hardwood floors. 

Since some dirt and other material will always pass through the woven backing of the rug, it is a good idea to vacuum the underside, too. Simply flip the rug over (you can do half at a time if it’s easier) and vacuum the backing with the wand attachment.

Stains or pet accidents should be cleaned as soon as possible — preferably while they are still wet. This is the best practice to eliminate odors and watermarks.

A deep clean using baking soda, carpet shampoo, or steam should be done every six months.

If you aren’t sure how to deep clean your rug on hardwood floors, keep reading this guide for the steps you can take to keep both the area rug and the floor looking great.

What You’ll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • A vacuum cleaner
  • Soft sponges, brushes, or rags

Materials

  • Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)
  • Carpet shampoo
  • A thick plastic sheet (slightly larger than the size of the rug)
  • Masking tape, painter’s tape, or another non-marking tape

Instructions

Before you get started, gather the items you are going to need from the list above. Move any furniture that is sitting on top of the rug, preferably a few feet away. If you are only cleaning a small stain or the rug is not very dirty, you may not need to do all of the steps listed below. Skip the heavier cleaning methods if you do not find them necessary.

Remember to pay careful attention to the state of your hardwood floor. If the cleaning process is getting more than a very slight amount of water on the floor, clean it up with towels or a mop right away.

How To Clean An Area Rug On Hardwood Floor

Cleaning an area rug on top of a hardwood floor demands extra care. Remember that prolonged exposure to water or even brief exposure to a large volume of water can severely damage your hardwood floor.

If you work carefully and prepare the area, you can get your area rug clean again without hurting the floor. Here are the steps in the process:

1) Vacuum the Rug

Roll over the whole rug with a vacuum cleaner. Remember to flip the rug and vacuum the backside if at all possible. Shaking the rug can also help remove dust from the fibers and backing. Vacuum or sweep up any dust left behind from the rug before you move on to the next step.

2) Prepare the Area

Prepare the area so that you can clean the rug without exposing the hardwood floor to water or chemicals. The best way to do this is to create a waterproof barrier between the area rug and the floor.

Roll the rug up to one end and lay out a thick plastic sheet that is at least as large as the area rug. Use some non-marking tape on the corners of the sheet to keep it from sliding around. Choose a plastic layer that is thick enough so it will not tear easily during the cleaning process, as small tears will cause water to leak through.

Finally, unroll the rug to sit on top of the plastic sheet.

Note: If you are only performing a small spot clean, it may be sufficient to substitute a smaller area rug for the plastic sheet. Just be sure that it is larger than the area you are going to be cleaning. This won’t be waterproof, but it can provide enough protection for a light cleaning.

3) Remove Odors with Baking Soda

baking soda

Baking soda, also known as sodium bicarbonate, is a powerful odor absorber. To remove odors from your area rug, sprinkle a thin layer of baking soda over the entire rug. Allow plenty of time for the baking soda to absorb smells from the rug — plan for at least four hours, but overnight is best. After that, vacuum up all of the powder left on the rug.

For a stronger effect, you can create a thick paste by mixing a little lukewarm water in with the baking soda. Apply the paste with a soft brush or rag, rubbing it into the fibers in one direction. Just make sure to let the mixture dry completely before you vacuum it up.

This is a great method to target pet stains which can cause an unpleasant smell in a room.

Note: You can also use baking soda for spot cleaning if you only have one or two stains causing the odor and you do not have time to treat the whole rug. Or, if odors are not an issue in your room, you can skip this step.

4) Spot Clean the Rug

Now is the time to focus on any visible spots or stains on the rug. Dilute a small amount of dish soap into lukewarm water (hot water can affect the colors on some rugs). Apply the mild soap solution to the rug using a soft brush or sponge.

Scrub gently with the soapy brush to loosen any stuck-on dirt and stains. Avoid soaking the area rug completely. Use just enough water to get the rug clean.

To remove the soap, dip the brush in clean water and scrub again. Rinse the brush and replace the water several times until no more soap bubbles or dirt appear.

5) Clean with Carpet Shampoo

If the area rug requires a complete cleaning, use a carpet shampoo. Make sure to read the labels carefully and follow the directions to avoid damaging the color of your rug. Some shampoos need to be diluted with water before you use them.

Rub the carpet shampoo into the fibers of the rug gently with a soft sponge or brush. Use enough to cover all of the material but take care not to use so much that the rug is soaking wet.

Remove the shampoo by dipping the sponge in clean water and rubbing it into the rug. Repeat with fresh water until no more suds come out of your sponge into the clean water.

6) Dry the Rug Completely

Take your time to get all the water out of the rug. Speed the process by opening windows or setting up fans to move air around. This step is critical to prevent mold or mildew growth and to protect the hardwood floor when you remove the sheet.

During this step, also check the wood floor to see if any water has spilled or seeped in. Dry this with towels and fans immediately to avoid damage.

7) Replace the Rug

Once you are satisfied that the rug and the floor are completely dry, remove the plastic sheet from the hardwood floor. Roll the rug back out in its place.

8) Vacuum to Finish

Make one final pass with the vacuum cleaner. This will lift the carpet pile if it is matted down from cleaning and leave your area rug looking brand new.

FAQs

Can you steam clean a rug on hardwood floors?

The short answer is yes, but you need to be very careful to protect your hardwood floors from steam exposure. Water, including water in the form of steam, can damage hardwood floors in a number of ways. Improper steam cleaning may watermark or even rot the floor. A relatively slight change in humidity can cause the floor to expand or contract too rapidly, warping the individual boards and leaving your floor bumpy and uneven.

To avoid these problems, you need to place a waterproof barrier between the rug and the floor. After vacuuming the rug, roll it up to one end and carefully lay out a clean plastic sheet or tarp that covers the whole area underneath the rug. Roll the rug out flat on top of the plastic sheet and steam clean the rug. Wait for the rug to dry completely (fans can speed this process) before removing the plastic. Carefully inspect both the rug and the hardwood floor to be sure they are completely dry before you roll the rug out on the floor again.

Can you use a carpet shampooer on hardwood floors?

You should not use a carpet shampooer on a rug that sits on a hardwood floor. These machines put down too much water to safely operate on top of hardwood, even with a protective plastic sheet in place. It is much better to use carpet shampoo by hand with a soft sponge or brush so you can control the amount of water yourself.