Hand-Tufted Rugs - Part 1

July 12, 2007
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One of the trends in soft floor covering the rug specialist should be aware of is the hand-tufted rug. This rug has become very popular in the last 20 years, and varies widely in design, color, and quality. It also comes with several cleaning concerns.

The construction principles of hand-tufted rugs are very similar; however, there are several different levels of quality. First, a plain-woven cotton foundation material is stretched over a frame. A design is sketched on this cotton primary backing, and a hand-held pneumatic tufting gun is used to insert the face yarns (Image 1).

After tufting, the rug is removed from the frame and placed pile-side down on the floor. A coating of latex is applied, after which a secondary backing may be applied directly on the wet latex to give dimensional stability to the rug and provide protection from scratches on wood floors. Alternatively, after the latex is dry, a cotton cloth may be sewn over the back (Image 2).

Image 2

Hand-tufted rugs can be cut- or loop pile. The contemporary loop style is often called a hooked rug, but a hooking tool is not used for this construction; a tufting gun is much faster (Image 3).

China and India produce hand-tufted rugs from medium to poor quality. In Chinese production, the primary cotton foundation material is stretched on a frame and the designs are stenciled onto this material. The rugs are then tufted into this primary backing material, and a secondary backing of ivory-colored cotton is glued on the back. Hemming the primary backing, after the secondary backing is applied with latex, finishes the ends and sides. Chinese tufted rugs do not have fringe. The sides may be hemmed or overcast. A 2-inch-wide cotton binding may be glued around the four sides.

An older type of Chinese tufted rug is tufted into a primary backing, and then a tan-colored cotton backing is sewn, not glued, to the primary backing and then hemmed. These rugs are cut-pile, with wool face yarns tufted in a traditional Chinese design. Fringe is added to the ends (Image 4). These rugs do not have any stencil bleeding problems; however, some cleaners have reported that the secondary backing can shrink after cleaning. If the rug is cleaned with cold water, this shrinkage will rarely occur.

Image 3

The hook and cut-pile rugs from India are much thicker and heavier than those from China (Image 5). The face yarns are either wool or cotton, and the sides are overcast in the same material as the face yarns. The secondary backing material may be dyed in various colors, such as blue, green or ivory. Sometimes a 2-inch wide cotton binding is glued around the four sides. If there is a fringe on the cut-pile rugs, it is glued onto the ends. The glue may leave a discolored stain on the top of the fringe when it begins to oxidize. Customers may complain about latex off-gassing, but this odor is impossible to remove. If you are asked to clean this type of rug because of the odor, the best remedy is to have your customer return it to the store where it was purchased.

During your pre-cleaning inspection, watch for:
  1. Stencil bleeding. Look on the back of the rugs. Many times the red or blue stencil will have already bled into the secondary backing.
  2. Color run. The cotton rugs will be more susceptible to bleeding when cleaned than the wool faced rugs.
  3. Look for water stains on the back from spills or pet urine.
  4. Latex decay. In contemporary rugs, the latex used to secure the secondary backing to the primary backing breaks down over time and leaves a powdery residue on the customer’s floor. The customer can mistake this for incomplete dry soil removal. Latex decay can also cause the rug to lose dimensional stability.
  5. Pulled places and voids. The hook rugs are made with long, continuous yarns that are looped in the foundation. An animal or foot traffic can catch one of the loops and unravel an area of the rug.
  6. Hems can come unsewn or unglued.
  7. The fringe may come unglued.
  8. Inform the customer if the rug has latex odor.

  9. Image 4

    Because of the inherent problems with hand-tufted rugs, often the only cleaning method to use is surface cleaning. Do not use water that is too hot, and watch the pH of your cleaning products. Best practice is to use WoolSafe-approved materials. Cleaning of course would start with a good dusting or vacuuming of the rug.

    Image 5

    If the rug is contaminated with urine, this type of construction will not take full immersion soaking for very long. These tufted rugs can lose a lot of dimensional stability at best and delaminate at worst. This should be pointed out to the customer if she wants urine removal.

    Often, we are asked to perform miracles for our customer. As you can see, hand-tufted rugs can have many inherent problems that can be revealed by deep or immersion cleaning.

    Next time we will look at the high-end side of hand-tufted rugs.

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