Cleaning Wool Carpets and Rugs without Chemicals| Updated: Nov 28, 2018
I love the look, feel, and nontoxicity of chemical-free flooring. However, it is important for those considering wool to undertand that maintaining and cleaning it is quite a bit different from conventional carpet.
Cleaning Conventional vs Wool Carpets and Rugs
I like to characterize stain removal from conventional carpeting as a “brute force” approach.
Chemicals are sprayed on or applied with brushes and/or special equipment. After a brief period of time, dirt and stains come up rather easily and quickly thanks in part to chemicals pre-applied at the factory.
Cleaning a 100% wool rug or carpet requires a total change of mindset!
Before discussing proper cleaning of wool flooring, let’s briefly examine the dangers of conventional carpets first.
Dangers of Carpet Chemicals
Nylon is the king of carpet because it is the most resiliant and longest lasting. This durability comes with a heavy price … chemicals. Lots and lots of synthetic, man-made substances.
Individually, these chemicals are dangerous enough on their own let alone the completely untested scenario of when in synergistic toxicity with one another!
Nylon carpeting along with its polypropylene backing and solvent based adhesives are almost always pre-treated at the factory with flame retardants, 3M Scotchguard, DuPont Stainmaster, and/or other chemicals. Even insecticides and anti-fungals are commonly added! The dangers of upholstered furniture and conventional mattresses such as Sleep Number are similar.
According to Greenpeace research, eight random conventional carpet samples all contained high levels of endocrine-disrupting organotins, flame retardants, and permethrin (a pesticide), along with low levels of carcinogenic formaldehyde.
Many people are aware that the peak off-gassing of new carpet occurs within 72 hours of installation. These chemicals are potent and can cause a life threatening situation for the vulnerable.
An elderly family member of mine was once rushed to the hospital with an emergency respiratory condition that arose suddenly from exposure to newly installed nylon carpet.
What most people don’t know is that low and persistent offgassing of these chemicals can continue for YEARS.
Carpeting chemicals are linked to serious health risks including infertility, birth defects, neurodevelopmental delays, reduced IQ scores and behavioral problems in children, hormone disruptions, and various forms of cancer. (1)
Beware Untreated “Green” Carpet
In the past few years, carpets engineered to be stain resistant without chemical pre-treatment have grown in popularity. These “green” carpets now represent about one-third of carpets sold.
One example includes carpet fibers made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Manufacturers construct it from the same plastic in soda and water bottles. Another choice is polytrimethylene terephthalate (PTT), or triexta, a fiber developed by DuPont. This material is considered to be “renewable” because it’s partly made out of cornstarch, almost certainly of GMO origin. (2)
While these materials are certainly better than pre-treated nylon, they still present health challenges. The potential for release of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) still exists from the synthetic materials. GMO cornstarch would almost certainly contain glyphosate residue from heavy spraying of GMO Roundup-Ready corn.
Combined with solvent based adhesives and pre-treated padding, the health risks are magnified.
Renewable might mean “green”, but it doesn’t mean natural!
For those that are truly seeking nontoxic carpet, wool is the only way to go. I say this with confidence, as I researched literally for years before we took the plunge with 100% wool carpet combined with nontoxic adhesives and padding.
Proper Care and Cleaning of Wool Carpets and Rugs
Hopefully by this point I’ve convinced you that wool is the way to go if you prefer carpet.
The question is how to keep it clean?
In comparison to the brute force approach of conventional carpet cleaning, wool carpet maintenance requires gentleness and patience.
You will see what I mean below.
Wool Naturally Repels Dirt and Spills
Wool naturally repells spills that sit on the surface similar to water off a duck’s back.
This occurs not from the lanolin in wool as this is mostly removed at the factory. Rather, it is an inherent characteristic of the wool fibers themselves.
This doesn’t mean that you can spill a glass of juice on it and simply wipe it up.
It does mean that if you give a spill prompt attention, you can almost always remove it completely with no stain.
It also means that dust and dirt don’t adhere well to wool fibers and a thorough vacuum once or twice a week is suficient to keep it looking beautiful!
If I can give you one piece of advice in cleaning wool carpet, it is this. Do not ever rub a stain.
This will destroy the texture of the wool in a hurry.
Gently blot only!
White Vinegar and Filtered Water
Here are the 6 simple steps to keep your luxurious wool carpet stain free:
- Gently blot up a spill quickly and as thoroughly as you can.
- Fill a clean spray bottle with half nonGMO white vinegar and half filtered water. Turn the bottle a couple of times to thoroughly mix.
- Spray this mixture on the stain and leave for 2-5 minutes.
- Repeat step #1 above by gently blotting up the vinegar/water mixture with paper towels or another clean white towel. Never, ever rub!
- Let dry and vacuum.
- Repeat steps 3-5 above as many times as you need to completely eradicate the spill. Be patient as it may take several days to remove the stain completely.
This approach has worked for me on a wide variety of spills including a backed up disposal that leaked gooey, brown liquid from underneath a kitchen cabinet!
Usually, two or three applications work to eliminate the stain. In the case of the backed up disposal, it took me about 6 applications over a period of a week.
Need More TLC for Your Wool Carpet?
I suggest checking with the Woolsafe Organization to locate a service provider in your area that is experienced with cleaning wool carpets and rugs properly.
The Woolsafe Organization also certifies a range of eco-friendly carpet cleaning products that are appropriate for wool to help remove old stains that don’t come up with the simple white vinegar/water approach described above.
(1) Carpeting Presents Complex Health Issues
(2) Carpeting: Wall-to-wall Health Concerns
Sarah Pope has been a Health and Nutrition Educator since 2002. She serves on the Board of Directors for the Weston A. Price Foundation.
Sarah was awarded Activist of the Year at the International Wise Traditions Conference in 2010.
Sarah earned a Bachelor of Arts (summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa) in Economics from Furman University and a Master’s degree in Government (Financial Management) from the University of Pennsylvania.
Mother to three healthy children, blogger, and best-selling author, she writes about the practical application of Traditional Diet and evidence-based wellness within the modern household. Her work has been featured by USA Today, The New York Times, National Review, ABC, NBC, and many others.