How To Clean An Area Rug On a Hardwood Floor

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Area rugs are often used on hardwood floors for many reasons. Sometimes just for decoration, other times to provide plush comfort when walking around with bare feet. Whatever the reason, these rugs tend to get dirty over time, and with hardwood floors under them, cleaning can present some challenges.

Hardwood floors, unless they are completely sealed, can be easily damaged by moisture. Since most cleaning methods involve some type of liquid-based cleaning solution, the method of how to clean an area rug on hardwood flooring will have to include different steps to protect the floors.

How To Clean An Area Rug On Hardwood Floor

Aside from the obvious reason that dirty rugs generally don’t look very good, when they are on hardwood floors there are additional considerations to take into account. Area rugs generally have two distinct parts, the pile (or top fibers) and the backing.

  • Dirt and grime can work their way through the pile into the backing. This can cause scratching on the hardwood as the rug pushes down and sometimes slides when traffic goes across it.
  • Moisture can seep through the area rug. With the insulation of the rug, the moisture often gets trapped, damaging the wood as it seeps in.
Woman using cleaning products to clean area rug on flooring

Vacuum at least once a week, moving any furniture placed on the rug if possible. Be careful when vacuuming the edges of any rug on top of hardwood floors. If the suction is too heavy it may suck in the edges and warp them, or if you run too far onto the hardwood the beater bar may damage the floor.

Consider deep cleaning your area rugs at least once a year. In households with heavy traffic or pets, you may need to do a deep cleaning more often.

Basic Cleaning of an Area Rug on Hardwood Floors

There are some simple methods to lightly clean area rugs on hardwood that should be performed on a regular basis. When rugs are cleaned consistently, and spills or mistakes are corrected immediately, a deep cleaning will not be necessary for a long period of time.

If at all possible, you should first remove any furniture that is on the rug. If necessary, just move the furniture to the side, and move it back once that area is cleaned. Otherwise, clean the best you can around table legs, couches, or other furniture that is too heavy to move.

Vacuuming an Area Rug

For smaller rugs, or larger rugs if you have help, it is recommended that you first roll up the area rug, take it outside, and shake or beat it to remove larger debris. At the same time, with the rug out of the way, clean any slip protectors and the hardwood area underneath, check for any damage, and use a dust mop to get rid of any other lint or dirt that may linger.

For your vacuum settings, if you have a pile area rug, use a carpet attachment with a beater bar if you have one. This will make the vacuum more efficient on the fibers. If your rug is embroidered or otherwise very fragile, a furniture brush attachment will do a better job of both cleaning and protecting the rug.

Tip – if you are not already using a slip protector underneath the area rug, try to stabilize it by other means so the vacuum does not cause it to slide back and forth on the hardwood. Double-sized tape, your own body weight, or the weight of a friend or child are all decent options. If you do use tape, be sure it will not permanently affix itself to the hardwood floor.

Use Baking Soda to Neutralize Odors

Sodium bicarbonate, also known as baking soda, helps neutralize odors by normalizing acids and bases to a neutral PH balance. The extra friction created by the powder can also help clean the pile fibers in the area rug.

  1. Sprinkle baking soda liberally on top of the area rug.
  2. Brush it into the fibers with your hands or a soft-bristled broom.
  3. Let sit for at least an hour, up to overnight.
  4. Vacuum the area rug
Woman cleaning her area rug on a hardwood floor

Spot Cleaning an Area Rug

Using a vacuum and baking soda can often remove the majority of dirt buildup on an area rug, but more times than not we need to clean small sections to remove stains, dropped food, etc. In these cases, you can opt to spot clean instead of going through the process of deep cleaning the entire rug.

Before spot cleaning, take the same precautions as with vacuuming in regards to prepping the floor. Be sure to protect the hardwood floor underneath the rug from water damage. Use plastic sheeting, a tablecloth, or anything waterproof that is big enough to cover the area you are going to clean.

  1. Combine a mixture of dishwashing liquid and warm water. A few squirts per half-gallon is a good ratio that will provide cleaning power without too many suds.
  2. Brush the solution into your area rug, but do not use too much water. The pile should be damp but not saturated.
  3. Let sit for 10-15 minutes.
  4. Blot the area with a clean cloth to remove as much of the water and dirt as possible.
  5. Rinse the soap away by blotting with a damp clean cloth. Do not scrub, and do not over-saturate the pile and backing.
  6. Allow to dry completely.

You can help the area dry by placing spacers underneath. Wire cooling racks work well, but you may try using bowls or cups as well. 

Raise up the area rug and wipe up any moisture that you find on the plastic underneath. Be careful not to bend the rug too much, a damp area drying with a bend in it may warp some rugs permanently.

Deep Cleaning of an Area Rug on Hardwood Floors

On an annual basis, or if a major spill has occurred, you will want to deep clean your entire area rug. Since we will be using liquid, the primary concern is keeping moisture from damaging the hardwood underneath.

Deep Clean Preparation

A deep clean can be performed in any room in the house where there is space. If another room has sealed, waterproof flooring and enough area, it may be easier to clean the rug there without having to put down sheeting. Just be sure the floor is completely clean first, so the rug does not end up absorbing more dirt.

  1. Roll up the rug and remove it from the room, or just place it to the side.
  2. If you have a rug protector underneath, roll it up and remove it from the room, or just place it to the side. This is a good time to clean the protector as well.
  3. Clean the hardwood floor. It is especially important to remove any large debris that might scratch the floor, or cut the sheeting, while the cleaning is in process.
  4. Lay down sheeting that goes far beyond the edges of the rug. Wall to wall is preferred but most of the time that is hard to do with other furniture in the room. 
  5. Tape the sheeting down so it does not slide.
  6. Place the rug down on the sheeting.
Woman spot cleaning her rug

Area Rug Deep Clean Option 1: Shampoo by Hand

Carpet shampoo can be used to clean most area rugs. Be sure to check the material and construction of the rug, as well as the carpet shampoo’s recommendations. Consider testing in an inconspicuous area of the rug first.

  1. Check the carpet shampoo instructions to see if it needs to be diluted, or if you are supposed to use it at full strength.
  2. Apply by hand with a soft-bristled brush for small rugs.
  3. Consider using a mop with a sponge head for larger rugs.
  4. You need to use just enough water to get the entire carpet damp, but not so much that it is soaking and the backing is completely saturated. Wring the mop before cleaning the rug.
  5. Brush any sections that have more difficult stains.
  6. Rinse the shampoo by brushing or mopping with clean warm water. Again, do not saturate – wring the mop often.
  7. Go over the entire area rug until the water is clear. Replace the clean water as much as necessary so you are not spreading dirty water over the rug.

Area Rug Deep Clean Option 2: Carpet Steamer

You can use a carpet steamer to clean an area rug on hardwood, as long as the preparation instructions listed above are followed. These are available to rent at most grocery and hardware stores. Be sure to follow all instructions, and make sure that your area rug is strong enough to hold up to the more powerful cleaning of a carpet steamer.

Drying an Area Rug After Deep Cleaning

You will need to allow the rug to dry completely before returning it directly to the hardwood floor. This can sometimes take a few days. Do your best to keep any traffic from walking on it during this time. Patience is key.

  1. Lift up the area rug and wipe dry any lingering water that may have pooled up in the plastic sheeting.
  2. Lay the rug back flat on the sheeting.
  3. Open all the windows in the room.
  4. Add a fan if one is available.
  5. Allow the pile surface to dry to the point where it feels dry to the touch.
  6. Lift the rug and dry the plastic sheeting again if necessary.
  7. Flip the area rug over and allow the backing to dry completely.

Put the Area Rug Back on the Hardwood Floor

Again, be sure the rug is completely dry. Residual moisture can and will be squeezed out onto your hardwood floor once the first bit of traffic passes over the area rug.

  1. Roll the rug up and move it out of the way.
  2. Gather up the sheeting, making sure it is dry. This will be another hint as to whether the area rug is dry or not.
  3. Place the rug protector and area rug back where they came from.
  4. Vacuum the rug to lift the pile. This may take a few passes.
  5. Replace any furniture that was moved out of the way.


An area rug on a hardwood floor can be a bit tricky to clean. As long as you protect the hardwood from moisture, most cleaning methods you would use on carpeting can work on the rug as well.

Allen Michael is the Founder and Editor of Home Viable, a website that he started to provide readers with tips on home efficiency and automation. He draws on his engineering background combined with his family-of-four experiences for his articles.