1. Moisture. Dampness from flooding, leaks, potted plants, and condensation can cause mildew, rot, bleaching, and degradation of fibers. Any wetting should be dried immediately–a carpet cleaning or flood restoration service can be helpful in extracting water, but make sure an experienced Navajo or oriental rug professional does the cleaning. Some exceptionally damp environments are not compatible with the long-term care of antique textiles.
2. Sunlight/ultraviolet light and heat. Especially in the high desert southwest, sunlight will cause irreversible fading of colors and accelerate degradation of fibers. If you are placing a rug near direct sunlight, windows should be filtered with 100% UV protection. Also, radiant heat installed in many newer homes can accelerate fiber degradation, especially in antique and luster-washed contemporary rugs.
3. Insects. Wool moths can infest any wool or animal fiber if it is dirty, in dark or undisturbed areas, or not checked regularly. The most vulnerable pieces are those hanging on walls, stored without protection in dark areas, or placed with furniture covering them so that they cannot be properly vacuumed or inspected. Other damaging insects include beetles and silverfish. Never use moth balls, moth crystals, or pesticide sprays, which can all damage fibers and dyes. Cleanliness and good housekeeping are the best preventative.
4. Improper cleaning. It is actually better not to clean a rug than to have it improperly cleaned. High temperature solutions, high suction vacuums, high alkaline cleansers, and incomplete rinsing/soap residue build-up are all common and serious problems caused by commercial rug cleaning. Inexperienced or indifferent rug washers can cause color run, buckling, mildew buildup, crusty fringes, tears, over-washing/scrubbing/bleaching of stains, and other often irreversible problems. Get referrals from trusted dealers or conservators for a trustworthy rug cleaner in your area, or contact us at Textival.
Household pets, vacuum cleaners, metal sculpture/furniture legs, and heavy traffic can all do serious damage to floor rugs as well. For more thoughts on the care and maintenance of household rugs, see our article for Chubb Insurance.
Selection/placement of rugs and textiles
Moth and insect problems
Signs of wool moth infestation include small (1/4 - 1/3 inch) beige flying moths, spider-like webbing on wool surfaces, small cocoons and/or larvae, and grazing, holes and/or tunneling in woolens. Flying moths lay eggs on wool, hair and feather surfaces, and when these eggs hatch, the new larvae begin their most damaging life stage by grazing on the fibers. Repeated life cycles and generations will destroy large areas of a weaving.
If you determine that an item has been infested, first remove it from the vicinity of other wool textiles, being careful not to shake loose any eggs or insects that could remain and do more damage. Carefully vacuum both surfaces of the item, focusing on areas with webbing residues, eggs, or damage. Then discard or clean out the vacuum bag, as moths can hatch inside a vacuum canister and get out. Sunlight or home freezing can pause the life-cycle, but is not a preventative.
Moth crystals (PDB) can be used judiciously to kill moth larvae and adults in extreme cases, but should not be allowed to touch the item (PDB crystal fumes are heavier than air, and are only effective when the item is at the bottom of a closed system such as a polyethylene garbage can or sealed storage box).
In most cases of insect infestation, the services of a professional cleaning service are recommended to remove any eggs in the weaving and to clean the item, thereby discouraging re-infestation.
offers a non-toxic silica-based fiber seal treatment for Navajo rugs and
tapestries/kilims that can be applied as a deterrent after washing. All
other ‘moth-proofing’ treatments are either very temporary
or hazardous to textiles and the environment.
2003 Textival Rug & Textile Workshop
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