Do you believe in the magic of Oriental rugs? The idea that magical properties exist within these ornate rugs may seem absurd. However, consider how a rug on a wood floor can transform a simple room in a house into a haven. Or, how a proudly displayed Oriental rug has the ability to generate discussion, inspire dreams, and prompt reflection of the past.
With proper and consistent care and preservation, Oriental wool rugs can and will provide years of enjoyment, and that in itself is a bit of magic. The question then becomes how should rugs be cared for to ensure their longevity and beauty? For expert insight we turned to A.E. “Tad” Runge Jr., owner of A.E. Runge Oriental Rugs, located in Yarmouth, Maine. Runge has more than four decades of experience buying and selling, studying and assessing Oriental rugs, and lecturing about their history and care.
Tad Runge cutting pad for a rug. Photo courtesy A.E. Runge Oriental Rugs
The Oriental rug market has undergone changes in the 30 years since Runge began working in the business full time. However, some things remain unchanged, including the practical and proper measures that preserve Oriental rugs, Runge said.
“I’ve loved textile arts for years, and I’ve been blessed to have wonderful customers who also love textile art,” he said.
Celebrate your love of textile art with vigilance
When asked the best approach to caring for Oriental rugs, Runge’s response is clear: “Be vigilant. Give them a little attention.” Without it, a sneaky and damaging group of critters will be more than happy to cozy up to those rugs, notably the dreaded wool moth.
Wool moths are the most likely invaders of rugs, Runge explained. The wool moth, not be confused with the meal moth, is about the size of the fingernail of a pinkie finger and buckwheat in color. “They avoid light at all costs, unlike most moths that are drawn to light,” Runge said. “You can’t catch them by shining a light, they hide. The most likely place an infestation will occur is an underutilized space, like the edges of a rug or the back.”
A rug damaged by wool moths. Photo courtesy A.E. Runge Oriental Rugs
Tip #1: Make sure to regularly “disturb” areas that wool moths are most likely to occupy. This means vacuuming the front, or face, of a rug at least monthly, and more often depending on traffic. In addition, taking the vacuum to the back of a rug a couple times a year is highly recommended.
In the event wool moths have taken up residency in a rug, telltale signs include spaces of wool missing on the rug, small holes, and the appearance of small white larvae. At this point, in order to dispose of the intruders, remove the rug from the home or business. Do an in-depth inspection of other rugs and woolen items in the area. Then take the rug and any other affected textiles to someone who washes rugs professionally.
Tip #2: Shampooing an Oriental rug is not the same as washing one. The process of shampooing leaves a soapy residue that not only dulls the rug, but compromises the wool fibers. The proper process for washing an Oriental rug should include significant use of water, Runge said.
Tabriz rug, 1980, wool, 6 feet 8 inches x 9 feet 7 inches. Sold for $460. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers/Jasper52
Beat rugs today for a better tomorrow
When it comes to preserving Oriental rugs, incorporating a regular schedule of “beatings” ranks near the top, according to Runge.
“Oriental rugs are particularly good at trapping dirt,” said Runge, whose great-grandfather was also in the business of buying and selling rugs in the late 19th century. “That trapped dirt is what wears the rug out. The dirt cuts the wool fibers when there is traffic on the rug.”
The act of “beating”an Oriental rug is as simple as 1-2-3, and doesn’t exactly mirror the rug-beating technique of the past. First, take the rug outdoors and lay it on a clean, dry surface, Runge said. Flip it so the back of the rug is facing up, and vacuum multiple times. Then turn the rug over and vacuum the front and, again, repeat the process. This is the modern approach to beating a rug.
Tip #3: When beating the front of a rug, stick to the standard process of vacuuming. While the array of attachments that are standard with many models may be helpful in cleaning wall-to-wall carpeting, they can do more harm than good when used on Oriental rugs.
Vintage Shiraz tribal geometric Oriental rug, 5. 7 x 8.6 feet. Sold for $240. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers/Jasper52
Protect with padding and casters
Adding padding beneath rugs can serve double duty. In addition to preventing slippage, padding helps create a more structured base for a rug that bears the weight of furniture and regular foot traffic. Placing casters on the bottom of furniture legs and periodically moving furniture helps limit wear, Runge said.
When it comes to selecting the right pad, density and natural fiber are two qualities to keep in mind. “There is a broad range of pads, and in many cases the cheaper the pad, the poorer the pad,” Runge said. “A poor pad often will turn to powder. Good pads should last 10 to 15 years.”
Treating Oriental rugs as a respected item of textile art — truly functional art — will help ensure a light-on-dirt and moth-free existence for the rug and years of appreciation for you.
Find exceptional antique rugs in this week’s Jasper52 rug auction.
Tad Runge is owner of A.E. Runge Oriental Rugs in Yarmouth, Maine. He’s been buying and selling Oriental rugs since the 1970s, when dealing helped to pay for his college tuition. He lectures on the subject of Oriental rugs and authored the book “One Woman, One Weft.” Tad said if he could speak with his late great-grandfather and fellow rug merchant, Edward Runge, his wish would be to hear all about his rug-buying travels and the people he bought from.