Sheepskin rugs are a comforting, luxurious item for any home. They can look snug on bare wooden floorboards or add a touch of class draped over chairs or sofas. However, when it comes to washing a sheepskin, it can feel far from straightforward.
Since most rugs have a soft, sheepskin backing, you ideally need a cleaning solution which can clean wool and leather at once without damaging either. This might be as easy as a simple spot clean or a hoover for small spills or extra freshness. However, it can be more difficult to find a method which won’t damage the quality of your sheepskin product when there’s a more extreme cleaning emergency.
In this post, we will consider the pros and cons of several possible cleaning methods, to help you find your rug’s perfect route back to fluffy freshness.
Before you start…
Before trying any cleaning solution, there’s three things you should consider:
- Is it definitely a real sheepskin?
It may sound ridiculous, but many people toss an attractive rug into their Ikea trolley without really thinking about whether it’s a true or faux sheepskin. Unless you’re an expert, it can also be difficult to tell the difference by look and feel alone.
If the rug comes with a label, this should come with details about what it’s made from - look out for those tell-tale ingredients: acrylic and polyester. If not, you can often tell by inspecting the backing.
· Does the backing seem to be made of a material other than sheepskin? (Like knit or a woven fabric?) If yes, it’s probably not a real sheepskin.
· Can you easily feel the backing fabric through the woolly side? Real sheep's wool is extremely thick so, if you can, it might be a faux product.
· Can you easily pull the wool away from the backing? If so, it’s more likely to be glued on rather than grown naturally
At the end of the day, washing faux sheep skin is quite like the real thing. However, because it’s a non-organic product, you may have to worry less about exactly what products you use on it.
- Any washing instructions attached to the rug
Depending on the process made to create them, different sheepskins can react very differently to the same washing methods, so always let any washing instructions included with your rug be your guide.
If the label states that your rug should not be put in the washing machine, for example, you’d do well to listen, even if the internet says this is a viable washing method for sheepskins in general.
- The age of the rug
A well cared for rug can stay in great condition for a long time, but they still become more delicate as they age. If your rug is more than ten years old, it’s not recommended to use the more vigorous cleaning methods such as the washing machine, as it may disintegrate or warp the backing beyond use.
1. Day to day care
If your rug’s starting to look a bit flat and worse for wear, but there’s nothing actually staining or spoiling it, regular care can make all the difference.
Regular hoovering and shaking is important for maintaining all sheepskin rugs. This can help to keep them fluffy as well as removing any detritus which has become buried in them. Regularly brushing the pelt with a wire brush can also help to maintain the texture and keep the rug from looking flat or matted.
If your rug’s developed a stale smell, the old trick of sprinkling it with bicarbonate of soda and leaving it overnight can work a treat, just make sure to hoover out the powder afterwards.
It’s usually recommended to keep white sheepskin out of direct sunlight to stop it from yellowing, but leaving your rug out on a sunny day can also help to bust funny smells with the power of UV. If the smell persists, you might have a mould problem. Try one of the cleaning methods mentioned, ensure it dries thoroughly, and ensure you don’t leave it anywhere too dark and damp in the future.
2. Spot Cleaning
Sheepskins should only be immersed in water in desperate situations, so spot cleaning is the best solution for most spills and stains. When removing stains from a sheepskin rug, you should act right away where possible.
Quickly use a dry paper towel to blot as much of the liquid as you can and prevent the stain from spreading. Sprinkling corn starch on the stain can help to absorb any grease or dirt contained in it. Once dry, the starch can be vacuumed away.
If this doesn’t reduce the appearance of the stain to your satisfaction, you can try gently dabbing the mark with wool shampoo. Once you’ve left the treatment in place for around 20 minutes, it can be wiped away with a clean, damp cloth.
White vinegar can also be used to help bleach a stain back to the rug’s original colour, however, it can be difficult to get rid of the smell afterwards.
3. Hand washing
If you’re in a position where you need to wash a sheepskin rug in its entirety, washing it by hand is one good solution which is gentle on both the pelt and backing.
Begin by thoroughly brushing the rug with a wire pet brush to work out any tangles and avoid matting.
Then, fill a bath or basin with cold water (hot will damage the leather) and add a small amount of wool shampoo. If you’re working with a faux sheepskin, you may be able to get away with any gentle detergent. However, with the real thing, these may damage the wool fibres.
Place the sheepskin in the water and swish it around. Scrubbing the wool can create a permanent felt-like effect, so you will want to avoid this. If the water becomes murky, drain it and refill again until it stays clear.
Squeeze out as much of the water as you can manage and leave it to air dry - lying flat with its leather-side up. This is likely to take a long time but it’s important to do this away from sources of heat or direct sunlight.
Once dry, hanging your sheepskin by one end on a clothesline and beating it with a wooden spoon can help to restore the softness of the leather.
4. Steam Cleaning
This is another gentle cleaning method, suitable for older rugs. However, it requires specialist equipment so you may need to take it to a professional cleaners if you don’t have a steam cleaning machine yourself.
Move the steam nozzle in the same direction as the wool growth and work on the rug for up to 15 minutes. The steam can remove a good amount of dust and dirt without any further treatment.
Avoid making contact with the backing where possible, as leather will harden and become brittle on close contact with heat.
5. Machine Washing
If all else fails, most newer sheepskin rugs will survive a few machine washes if the correct process is used. This is unlikely to reduce the appearance of stains, but may be helpful if you just need to remove dust and dirt from the rug in general.
Again, you will need to use the wool shampoo for this. Some cleaning experts suggest also adding a tablespoon of an enzyme-free detergent to the machine drawer, but consult any cleaning instructions on your rug before doing this.
Place your rug in the washing machine and select the coolest and most gentle wash available on your machine - one specifically for wool if possible. Washing in warm or hot water will cause your backing to become stiff.
Never tumble dry your rug. However, the spin cycle of your machine should remove the majority of the liquid, so you may find it dries naturally faster than when you hand clean a rug.
Similarly to other methods, the rug should be left to dry flat in a well-ventilated area out of direct sunlight.
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