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How To Clean Burlap

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Burlap is a rustic material made of jute fiber that, because of its susceptibility to fraying, should be handled carefully when cleaning. We will show you a few different methods how to clean burlap without ruining it through unfurling, cracking, or disintegration. Dry cleaning is normally recommended, but you clean this temperamental material at home with the correct precautions.

How To Clean Burlap

Burlap material can be woven from pure jute fiber, or blended with other fibers such as polyester or wool to increase durability and flexibility. 100% jute fiber burlap should be treated cautiously, while the blends can normally take a bit more abuse such as wringing and agitation when cleaning.

While burlap, with its roughness and tensile strength, seems like it should be a material that will stand up to just about anything, the weaving process and fibers used tend to not deal with moisture very well. Burlap kept wet for too long will start to unravel, and damp jute can mold very quickly, so dry the material as soon as possible.

Burlap textile

The most important thing to keep in mind when cleaning burlap is that hot water will shrink the fabric. Always use cool or room temperature water, or even cold water if it is available. Water coming out of the cold tap by itself should be fine.

Hand Washing Burlap

Always hand wash 100% jute burlap fabric if you choose not to have it dry cleaned. The rough agitation of a washing machine can tear or crack the stiff burlap, and can even make it begin to disintegrate because of the prolonged contact with water. In addition, jute fibers can come off of burlap, so it should be washed alone.

  1. Fill a large container, sink, or tub (depending on the size of the burlap) with cool to cold water.
  2. Mix in a bit of mild cleanser like dishwashing liquid. You will not want it too foamy, but there should be bubbles showing.
  3. Soak the burlap, unfolded if possible, for 2-3 minutes.
  4. Agitate the fabric gently back and forth.
  5. Do not wring, fold, twist, or otherwise manipulate the burlap too roughly.
  6. Rinse well under clean running water.
  7. Hang outside or in a well ventilated area to dry.
  8. Keep out of direct sunlight that may heat up the burlap, causing it to shrink.
  9. You may also consider drying the fabric between two clean towels.
  10. After the burlap is dry, shake it outside to remove any excess jute lint that may have become loose.

Cleaning Burlap in a Washing Machine

Burlap that is made of jute blended with other materials can sometimes be cleaned in a washing machine. Be sure to check the label first to make sure, but if your burlap is very flexible, does not let loose jute fly when it is rubbed, and seems more modern, it will probably be ok.

  1. Program your washing machine to the delicates setting.
  2. Be sure that cold water is selected.
  3. Use about half the amount of laundry detergent you normally would for a similar load size.
  4. Wash burlap separately from other fabrics and clothing. The fibers that can come off of burlap tend to stick between the threads of other clothing and are incredibly difficult to remove.
  5. DO NOT use the dryer to dry burlap.
  6. Hang dry following the same instructions as for hand washing.
Clean burlap

The main concerns with cleaning burlap in a washing machine are:

  • The jute breaking down, causing the fabric to disintegrate.
  • Heavy amounts of loose jute lint can damage a washing machine.
  • The folding and twisting agitation can tear or otherwise damage older, stiff burlap.

Removing Stains from Burlap

If a spill occurs on burlap in your home, first try to absorb all the liquid you can with a clean white cloth. Removing all the stain-causing material first can help ensure that the stain will not spread any further.

When spot cleaning burlap, you may choose to only use a sponge that is dampened with cool water. If you get to the spill quickly enough, that might be all you need. Blot, do not scrub, from the outside of the stain to the middle to avoid spreading the stain.

A little detergent can go a long way as well when combating stains on burlap. Again, only use a blotting motion. Keep in mind that detergent can change the color of the fabric that it comes in contact with, making the spot lighter than the rest of the material.

Rinse and dry the spot cleaned area completely.

Removing Odors from Burlap

Burlap has a tendency to pick up smells from objects around it, and can also end up becoming musty just on its own. There are some quick fixes for these odors that are easy to perform at home.

  1. Leave Burlap in Direct Sunlight – This is only recommended for burlap that is completely dry. Heating the water in wet or damp burlap will shrink it. Sunlight can kill many germs and bacteria that cause odors, so leave it in the sun for a few hours. Flip it over to deodorize the other side.
  2. Sprinkle Burlap with Baking SodaBaking soda, or sodium bicarbonate, helps deodorize by neutralizing the pH level of volatile compounds that create smells. Dust the burlap with baking soda, let sit for a few hours, then flip it over and dust the other side as well. After another few hours, shake out or vacuum the burlap to remove the baking soda.
  3. Vinegar and Water SolutionVinegar is a cleaner and deodorizer that works well in the household but can leave its own smell behind. For deodorizing burlap, mix about a capful of vinegar per gallon of cool water, and follow the hand washing instructions earlier in this article.
Burlap fabric

Tips for Cleaning Burlap

In addition to the previously described methods of deep cleaning burlap, there are some things you can do to extend the time between cleaning with water.

For burlap around the house, dusting regularly will help keep your burlap decorations like table runners, lamp shades, or curtains in top shape without having to resort to soap and water. You can dust most burlap with a dust mop, but a vacuum with an upholstery attachment or dusting brush may work better.

When dusting burlap around the house, the jute fibers tend to flake off, creating even more lint to pick up. This is where the vacuum upholstery attachment comes in handy since it sucks up both the dust and the resulting lint. Otherwise, you may end up having to bring out the vacuum cleaner anyway to clean jute fibers from the area underneath where you just dusted.

Cleaning Solutions for Washing Burlap

All of the below cleansers can be mixed with cool to cold water to clean burlap. Follow instructions on the label for the ratio, look for “cleaning delicates” or other similar notifications.

  • Non-HE laundry detergent
  • Gentle dish soap
  • Castile soap
  • Vinegar
  • Lemon juice

Ironing Burlap

After burlap is cleaned, it is often very wrinkled. You can iron burlap with an iron on its lowest setting while it is still damp and not completely dry. Quickly move the iron so that one area does not heat up and shrink.

Conclusion

Burlap can be a thick, strong fabric, but that does not mean that holds up well to some cleaning methods. Keeping the amount of time in water down, and using very gentle agitation, will minimize the amount of jute that is lost from the material. Be sure that your burlap is completely dry before putting it into use or storing it, as it is very susceptible to mold.

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.