Editorials and Publications

Excerpt from Cleaning & Maintenance Distribution Online


Dye bleed can make rug cleaning customers see red
By Robert Preuss, news editor

Truckmount-equipped cleaning pros often perform Oriental rug cleaning on site after dye fastness tests and taking precautions.

Immersion cleaning for fine oriental rugs, especially Afghani tribal rugs with bold reds — can be problematic, rug experts told CM e-News Daily/Cleanfax Online.

Both dye types and methods make them bleeders not cleanable by conventional methods, they said.

“Rug makers will use as dyes whatever is available to them,” said David Levine, proprietor, David Levine Oriental Rugs, Concord, NH.

Levine said some rugs from Iran, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, etc., may behave similar to the way the old aniline dye types did (and still do, as 19th century rugs are washed) — bleeding profusely.

Dye types

Anilines were the first synthetic dyes (1856), replacing natural vegetable and insect dyes in parts of the rug-weaving world. They were actually derived from coal tar and acid. Laws (and harsh penalties) restricted their use in Persia before the 20th century.

Chrome dyes, containing potassium bicarbonate, largely replaced aniline dyes in the 1940s. They are much gentler on wool and more colorfast. In some places, though, especially India, some people are calling for a wholesale return to plant/insect dyes for environmental reasons.

“When you think about it, any dye can be toxic,” noted Levine. He did say, though, that natural dyes are the most colorfast of all.

It is possible, said Phil Auserehl, owner, Castle Cleaning and Rug Co., Berthoud, CO, that Afghani weavers are combining synthetic and natural dyes.

What makes a bleeder?

Certain dye techniques make for bleeding rugs: Failure (even purposeful/cultural, or due to the lack of availability of water) to rinse thoroughly after drying; poor mordants (reagents like alum, tin, copper, tannic acid, etc., for fixing coloring matter in textiles, leather).

Other potential dye problems facing carpet cleaners tackling Oriental rugs:

  • Urine from pets may alter the chemical nature of dyes, causing discoloration or dye run, sometimes appearing only during/after cleaning
  • Unstable glue on the backing of some Chinese tufted rugs may break down and “leech” or “wick” to the rug front, affecting dyes
  • Any handmade, hand-dipped rug may have been over-saturated with dyes, which can lead to bleeding in the wash process
  • Color variation inimical to the best rugsTribal weavers using hand-spun, high-lanolin wool, who hand-dip with natural dyes (such as the best rugs from Turkoman tribal weavers using Afghani wool), produce rugs that exhibit abrash, color variation throughout the rugs. It’s a quality prized by collectors.

Make sure the customer and any technician (yourself included!) is aware that the abrash isn’t something cleaning has created!


“The best advice for cleaners is to avoid them,” Levine said of the bleeders emerging from Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and Iran.

“People can buy these rugs and enjoy them for many years, but they should understand that they’ll never be able to wash them.”

Auserehl, with training partner Ron Toney, is showing carpet cleaners how to wash those “unwashable” rugs without colors running.

Jacuzzi for rugs

CM/Cleanfax magazine first described a compressed air/wash cleaning system in February 2001 and Michigan-based carpet cleaning industry veteran Nathan Koets has been demonstrating the system.

The system is designed to turn a building — even a garage with plumbing, basically — into an Oriental rug cleaning center.

The process utilizes compressed air to blast dirt out of the rug before wetting and to force out soiled water during immersion. That, Auserehl told CM/Cleanfax, is one reason the system permits washing of even heavy red dye-bleeding rugs. bullet To be useful, the vessel must first be empty. Auserehlian system cleaners used compressed air not only to blow out dirt before immersion — but also to blow out a great deal of dye crocking, the excess dye that has not been bound to the fiber.Furthermore, Auserehl said that filling the vessel — using dye bleed control, pre-spraying a “blocking” agent — prevents dye loosened in immersion from settling. The red dye cannot penetrate this barrier to turn a white area pink. The white yarn is filled with a blocking agent and there is nowhere for the loose dye to go.

“Don’t stop the bleeding,” Auserehl said. “Bleed it until it’s done.”

Some rug plant cleaners take just the opposite approach. They use a commercially supplied mordant to fix loose dyes in place. However, over-saturation means there’s no available fiber for the excess dye to attach itself too, mordant or not.

It’s much the same as when you use too much soap in your carpet cleaning solution: You’ve got a strong solvent, but now there’s nowhere for the soil to go, because you’ve used up the available water.

Using pneumatics (compressed air) in submersion also moves loose dye away from the rug during the wash. Both functions are necessary, Auserehl said.

First thing in, last thing out

Auserehl uses the analogy of the movie theater. The lone guy who sits in the first row is going to be out of the theater last — all things proceeding in order.

It’s that way with soiling.

  • If urine, for example, went into the rug first, then you add soap, rinse, etc., the urine will still be the last out
  • Everything else, especially the soap or shampoo, has gone on top of the urineThat’s why Auserehl uses clear water — rinse, rinse, rinse, with the aid of pneumatics — to carry away the soiling.

There are some idiosyncrasies to Auserehl’s drying system as well; you could say he has turned in-plant rug cleaning upside down.

That just describes the basics. A long list of hand tasks is involved. Make no mistake, carpet cleaners using either this system or the Moore system must be prepared to offer a high level of service.

Cleaning a fine Oriental rug — every three to five years, one rug merchant recommends, or more often depending on traffic and the presence of pets, etc. — is a premium service. Repairs offer additional opportunities.

Why clean?

Cleaning reduces wear. The rug nap — especially where traffic is moderate to heavy — becomes matted down over time. That means fiber is turned sideways and “glued” down by soil. The exposed area of fiber (the side of the fiber compared to the top) is thus subject to additional wear from traffic. That’s why cleaning and grooming of Oriental rugs reduces wear.

Improving appearance and indoor air quality are more obvious reasons.

As a fiber, wool, Levine pointed out, is tough. The natural “spring-like” form of the fibers and their natural lanolin coating, like built-in rug protection, enable rugs to resist damage and stains.

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