Rug Dyeing Tactics: Part I

June 1, 2012

I just finished teaching another successful Color Repair course in Denver for a group of professional cleaners. Quite naturally, I had a few skeptics in the class, those who don’t see the income potential they might enjoy by performing this service for their customers.

I just finished teaching another successful Color Repair course in Denver for a group of professional cleaners. Quite naturally, I had a few skeptics in the class, those who don’t see the income potential they might enjoy by performing this service for their customers. However, I had several students who have added rug cleaning to their businesses over the past few years and realize the great opportunity that color repair of rugs can be.

Rugs now represent over 20% of carpet production here in the U.S. And if you take into account the number of imported rugs consumers purchase, rugs represent more than 30% of the floor coverings found in our clients’ homes. So if you’re not cleaning rugs, you’re missing a great opportunity to expand your business. But before you jump into it, take my advice and be sure to get some specialized training. There are a number of hands-on courses available now. In fact, I just returned from Australia where I taught a four-day course for 14 terrific students. We successfully cleaned 27 rugs in the class. During our class time we discussed many add-on services you can offer, such as color correction, and the tactics for doing so.

Fringe Browning

One of the most common color-related problems rug cleaners face is fringe browning.  Cellulosic (cotton, linen, jute, rayon) fringe browns easily while wool or olefin fringe does not.  Cellulosic fiber is comprised of cells of cellulose bonded by a reddish-brown substance called beta-glucose or lignin. Moisture eventually dissolves the lignin, which then wicks to the surface of any cellulosic fabric to form browning. Browning can be avoided, at least to some extent, by thoroughly cleaning the fringe using neutral or slightly acid cleaning detergents. Treat the rug before extracting excess moisture with an acid rinse, and force drying while lying flat – particularly the fringe.  If browning persists, as a follow up corrective step use a reducing agent such as sodium bisulfite, sodium metabisulfite, sodium hydrosulfite, Haitian Cotton Cleaner®, Streepene®, or Red Relief®. Rinse and speed dry with an air mover or even a hair dryer.

Color Migration into Fringe

The second most common color-related problem rug cleaners face is color migration into the fringe, which is where dyes may migrate from the rug’s wool pile yarns into the cotton fringe. This is a particular problem when dark-colored (e.g., black, dark blue, dark red) outside guard borders are present. Dye migration can be caused by movement of fugitive dyes, excess moisture and high alkalinity. Since acids are used to set wool dyes, alkalinity can encourage dye migration. This is another reason why rug cleaners should use detergents that have been tested and approved for use by WoolSafe®. As is the case in browning prevention, an acid rinse before extracting, speed drying and drying flat as opposed to hanging the rug helps prevent migrating dyes from affecting fringe.

There are two options that can be used to correct color migration once it occurs. The first would be an oxidizer (3% hydrogen peroxide or other industry recognized product - never use chlorine bleach!). The second is a reducer (sodium bisulfite, sodium hydrosulfite, sodium metabisulfite, Haitian Cotton Cleaner®, Streepene®, or Red Relief®). Since oxidizing agents should never be used on wool, and they can degrade cellulosic fiber in high concentration or with repeated applications, I recommend you stick to using reducers.

Loss of Tea Wash

A third color-related issue is loss of tea wash. Tea, herbal or golden washing is a process in which new rugs are over-dyed with a tan or golden brown dye to mute the rug colors and provide an aged or antique appearance. Many Indian (Eastern not North American) and Pakistani rugs are tea washed. Originally tea or coffee was used in this process, however today other types of dyes are used to over-dye rugs. If they are acid dyes, they will not “fix” or adhere to the cotton fringe. So when you see tips of the fringe that appear “whiter” than the rest of the fringe, the rug was likely tea washed. And when the fringe is cleaned along with the rest of the rug, the fringe loses color, whereas the rest of the rug may not. When you discover this issue during your rug assessment, be sure to relate this condition to your client before cleaning the rug so you can’t be blamed for removing the tea wash.

Once tea wash has been removed, the only practical solution is to re-apply dye to the fringe. A dilute tan or golden brown dye that is appropriate for use on cotton fiber should be used. Rit®, Tintex® or Dylon® (union dye) which can be purchased at many grocery or box stores may be an option or you may find a direct dye (for use on cotton) at a craft store or online. Use a sponge applicator or paint brush to apply the dye to the fringe only. Start light, thoroughly dry and repeat as necessary to achieve the desired results. I charge $2-plus dollars per linear foot in addition to the cleaning price for this service.

Similarly tea wash may be applied to the entire rug. Union dyes are a mixture of acid dyes, disperse dyes and direct dyes to get a “melting pot” of dyes that has the capability of one of the dye types attaching itself to the type fiber in the blend that dyes it best. Thoroughly mix and dissolve the powered dye with hot acid water. Pour the dye bath into a pump sprayer and lightly (and evenly) apply the colorant to the entire pre-cleaned and acid rinsed, damp rug. Vacuum off the excess moisture and dry. Remember, it may take several applications to achieve the results you want. And again, this would be an additional charge above the cost of cleaning (typically $2-plus per square foot). 


Other color correction options I will discuss in my next article will include spot or area dyeing, painting, white knot correction, stain removal and color stripping.

The advantage of working on rugs in your plant or shop is that you can take your time, use procedures progressively and evaluate your results more accurately! Specialized training and patience are definitely virtues when working on rugs, especially when performing color correction.

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