So varied are oriental carpets, they often leave even studious collectors in a quandary. Many of us cannot quickly discern the stylistic differences between a carpet from Turkey or a tribal rug from Afghanistan, even though we fill our homes with these rugs. Whether Kilim or Kazak, such an old and colorful textile can warm bare floors for your family’s feet and enhance a room in a way few things can.

People who own very valuable prayer rugs treat them with reverence, hanging them on walls to avoid the wear and tear of foot traffic. Collectors are also often concerned about moths and dry rot. The most tragic thing of all, many experts note, is when someone inherits a rug but takes little interest in it and omits the simple, proper steps that are needed to ensure its longevity. The same goes for those who buy an expensive rug, treat it indifferently, and expect it to last a lifetime.

Therefore, in order to ensure both your investment and your heirloom, professionals advise a few tips. Rug pads and proper cleaning are just two of the simple precautions for a hand-made treasure that can last more than a century with the right attention. Rug pads are often the first line of defense for keeping a carpet in place and discouraging uneven wear. Placing a carpet on a wooden or tile floor, which by nature is uneven, without a rug pad is asking for trouble. Of course, you can place furniture on top of a carpet, if you follow correct procedures, such as using furniture slides and never placing a heavy table leg on an area of great wear and vulnerability.

Since newer rugs may have special cleaning issues, and older, antique ones may be damaged by neglect, there are a few basic steps you can do at home before seeking professional help. For smaller rugs, a good shake before regular vacuuming will do no harm, and if they are used in areas where they get loads of wear, they are most likely not in danger of moth attacks.

Every rug should be aired out at regular intervals (depending on the amount of wear it receives) by lifting it outside on a sunny day and laying it on the ground or hanging it on the clothesline (along the warp threads is best) for a few hours. During this time, inspect the underside for signs of moths and damage. Sunshine, despite notions of fading (it won’t fade during one bright, hot afternoon), warms the rug and makes it a bit more pliable. Then you can give it a good beating with a flat implement (try an old fashioned rug beater or similar tool – a broom head is often too narrow, its pole too long and unwieldy). This loosens and releases the dust particles from the center weave.

When replacing the rug on the cleaned floor, rotate it’s position. If certain areas are extremely fragile and need to be rewoven (thin holes and threads going in one direction only are already past the point of catching it in the bud), place these areas under furniture, to sustain them from further damage, until you can get the rug to a specialist. Then give it a good vacuum. Collectors should give all their rugs at the very least an annual airing out, so that if moths do strike, a qualified pest controller can be put to the job in one fell swoop.

If small size rugs are dirty (and not fragile), they can withstand some homespun attention with soap and water. A manageable two by three size can be hand washed in a bath of cool water and a mild, generally available wool detergent. If you have a clean and flat outdoor surface, another strategy on a sunny morning is to fill a bucket with wool detergent and cold water and pour it on the rug, gently yet quickly working it through with a soft sponge mop. Dirty spots can be worked at with a soft brush. Rinse thoroughly with cold water from an outside hose, which always takes longer than anticipated the first time, but you must rinse both sides three or four times to rid the rug of any foamy residue. After you have run your hand over the pile, in both directions, and are satisfied with the rinsing step, remove the excess water with the aid of a squeegee. Lay the rug in the warm sun to dry, and by late afternoon, the rug will be fresh and clean, ready for a quick vacuum before you lay it back down indoors.

If you attempt this (and I have with great success) you must be aware of three things. First, handle the wet rug gingerly, with special attention to the selvages (ends) which could mat or tear if improperly handled when wet. Second, do not leave the soap mixture soaking in the rug for extended periods, as the detergent can break down fibers (as the owner of any loved, well-worn and overly washed T-shirt can attest to) or cause the dyes to bleed. Lastly, keep the rug very flat when drying, as it could buckle if you do not. If you are in doubt, consult a specialist in oriental carpets, as less expensive modern rugs may not have colorfast dyes. Most source countries are much less cautious when washing their rugs, beating and washing them in a creek, for instance (and I can assure you the detergent they use is not Woolite), so no one should be put off by the home method.

Should your carpet have damage, a visit to a qualified rug reweaver is the only solution, and the labor in this country is certainly more costly than in the country where the item was made. The cost of the repair work notwithstanding, you will fare far better to have a solid and mended treasure to pass along to your children (and their children) if early measures are taken. Often the end weave and fringes will wear and must be consolidated by tying all of the loose warp ends along the last exposed weft. Also the bindings are normal replacement candidates during the long life of a carpet. Continued wear to the pile, resulting in holes, will need to be rewoven by a skilled professional. Experts not only match wool colors but the exact type of weave, so that a good repair is difficult to find on the surface. Most reweavers require (or at least suggest) a proper cleaning before repair and these experts can also provide you with names of reputable cleaning companies they have worked with.

If you care for a carpet properly, the unparalleled panache and warmth it gives to a room – as well as its value – are enormous, and it is only sensible to ensure your treasure is adequately maintained. Then we can get to the business of researching whether or not a rug is indeed a 19th century Heriz.

Credit: Renovate with Tommy Mac