Carpet/Rug/Upholstery Cleaning

Rug Dyeing Tactics Part II: Color Correction

August 31, 2012

(Editor's Note: Click here for Rug Dyeing Tactics: Part I)

In my last article, I talked about a few of the color corrections you can perform on rugs that will not only bring more income to your business, but also make you a “hero” in your client’s eye. Now I’d like to share a few more rug color correction options you can offer.

Let me emphasize that since you’ll be working on more expensive or “one-of-a-kind” rugs, you should already have a high level of expertise before offering and performing these services. So if you’re new to the rug cleaning business, haven’t taken a specialized training course like CRT and don’t have a lot of practice and patience, you might want to consider out-sourcing these services to a more experienced rug cleaning company. In other words, don’t practice on your clients’ rugs!

First, let’s discuss a few terms related to color correction. A “spot” is the result of a material adding substance or texture to a fabric or surface. Normally, spots may be removed with general cleaning using a WoolSafe®-approved cleaning solution and shouldn’t affect the color of the rug.  Unfortunately, when consumers use over-the-counter spotters to attempt removal of spots and stains, discolorations often result. Discolorations occur when dye structures are altered or removed from the pile or foundation yarns from high pH cleaning solutions, oxidizing agents (bleach) or quite commonly, urine. Wool, silk and nylon fibers are the most sensitive to color loss and staining because they are colored with acid dyes. Since wool is the most common foundation fiber found in hand-knotted Oriental, hand tufted and many other area rugs, both discolorations and stains are quite common.

Stains are the result of a substance adding unwanted color to a fiber that cannot be removed with normal cleaning solutions and procedures. Stains may be left after the removal of spots. Staining materials are normally acid-based dyes that alter nylon, wool or silk fiber color and may come from natural or synthetic sources.

  • “Natural” (organic) stains include coffee, herbal tea, wine, mustard, furniture stain, urine, feces, vomit, etc. Natural dye stains are usually brown or muted in color.
  • “Synthetic” (man-made) stains include Kool Aid®, Gatorade®, Jello®, Play Dough®, candy, pet food, etc. Remember, if it will stain the kid’s skin or clothes, it will stain the rug. Synthetic dyes normally are brighter in color. And many staining materials may contain both natural and synthetic dyes.

“White knots” are a result of cotton foundation yarns breaking during the weaving process These broken warp yarns are spliced together with another small length of warp yarn to form two knots in the foundation. Over time, the pile wears to the point where these knots become visible.

Variation in pile height due to wear is a normal condition in rugs. “Threadbare” rugs are those which have exposed foundation and both the warp and weft are visible. In other words, the wool face fiber is gone!

So let’s talk about adding color to the rug. Since acid dyes are transparent, you cannot “over dye” a stain. But if an area of a rug is discolored, faded or lighter than the surrounding colors, spot or area dyeing is possible as long as the fibers have not been permanently damaged.

Using water soluble acid dyes, which can be purchased through a local supplier or on-line from a reputable manufacturer, color repair for discolored areas on wool and nylon rugs from pet urine, strong oxidizers or fading may be performed. Prior to performing color repair, the rug must be cleaned, the discolored areas must be neutralized and the rug must be acid rinsed. This type of color repair is a permanent repair if professional acid dyes are used and proper procedures are followed throughout the color repair process. Using union dyes (like Rit®) purchased from the grocery or box store will not. Specific techniques for professional color repair may be learned by attending a color repair course, but here are the steps I typically perform:

1. Always test the fiber for dyeability.

2. Determine the replacement colors needed.

3. Clean the affected area(s) or entire rug.

4. Adjust the pH of the color repair area to between 4-5 pH by using an approved acid rinse. Dry vacuum the excess moisture.

5. Use hot water in preparing the dye bath (at least 150ºF/66oC) and adjust the pH of the dye bath to between 2-3 pH.     

6. If several colors are needed, prepare dye bath colors separately and apply them one at a time starting with the lightest color. Always test the color(s) in an inconspicuous area.

7. Apply dye bath in light coats to build the color gradually using a pipette, syringe or sprayer. Blot or vacuum out the excess moisture. Repeat until the required color is achieved.

8. If fibers are not readily accepting color after repeated applications, lower the pH slightly and raise the temperature of the dye bath.

9. Over-application of dye can cause dye migration into other areas of the pattern.

10. Speed-dry the rug. (See photos 1-4)


Another term related to adding color to a rug is “painting,” which is coloring areas of a rug that have been worn to the foundation yarns.

The goal of painting is to match the surrounding yarn colors and pattern so the rug appears to be covered with pile. Color repair crayons, chalk, markers or dye sticks can be used as a non-permanent, inexpensive color repair option. I’ve also used markers to camouflage white knots that become more apparent after rug washing (See Photo 7). The markers or crayons can be used when normal acid-based color correction dyes cannot be used.  So when there is a small area of wear and the client isn’t interested in reweaving the area, “painting” is an option (See photos 5-6).  Keep in mind that this color repair option will be removed during the next cleaning.  Therefore, this should be explained to your client that this is only a temporary color repair solution. Art markers may be found at your local craft store or on-line.

I typically charge an hourly rate for this type of service, with a minimum of $35. After you have practiced, and practiced, and practiced some more, you’ll be able to guesstimate the time it will take you to perform color correction.

Finally, as always, I have to emphasize that rug color correction must be performed in your plant or shop so you can take your time, use procedures progressively and evaluate your results more accurately! Specialized training, practice and patience are definitely virtues when working on rugs, especially when performing color correction.

In my next article I’ll discuss one final color correction you can offer your clients - color removal or dye stripping.

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Recent Articles by Ruth Travis

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