Washing and repairing oriental rugs and kilims

It is important to have rugs and kilims washed or repaired in the right place by competent professionals.

There are many carpet washing houses but it is an art to know who can repair or wash each carpet type the best way. There is not anyone who is just good at washing or repairing all kinds of carpets.

The carpet must not be cleaned chemically so the wool becomes defatted! Oriental carpets and kilims should be washed carefully with special caution.

The Munkholm family specializes in sending the carpets to the right places to be treated properly. Below is information about how the carpets are washed in Iran after they are taken down from the loom. In Europe, the carpets are washed in similar ways, but more sensitive in most cases.

Carpet washing

When a carpet is washed, it be important that it is treated correctly. With improper treatment, you can destroy several months’ worth of knotting in an instant. When the carpet is cut off the loom, it is stiff as a board. Several months or years on the loom have made it stiff with dust and dirt. In rare cases, in the villages and nomadic societies where natural conditions allow, the carpets are still washed in rivers, as it has always been done. Then, they are left to dry in the sun. However, this practice is no longer common because professional washing houses are better equipped to produce a good result. In the cities you can find large establishments that specialise in washing different types of carpets. There are different procedures for washing carpets. Each washing houses has its own formula and methods, which are kept secret with the intent of being passed on from generation to generation. Chemicals or natural soaps are used in the washing process, depending on the washing houses. First and foremost, the goal is to clean the carpet, but sometimes it is also to change its colour. For example, a few years back, there was great demand for carpets in shades of brown. The carpets that were originally knotted in very red colours received a special chemical wash. Chlorine was often used. This changed the colour to shades of brown and gold. Exposing the carpet to this kind of treatment decreases its resistance to wear substantially and the “soul” of the carpet is lost. With similar methods relying on chemicals, in particular chlorine, you can make a new carpet look like an antique in a fortnight. There are many ways to achieve different results. The washing process greatly affects the final appearance of the carpet. Therefore, it is very important that we, as carpet merchants, are very well acquainted with our washing houses. The establishment that washes one kind of carpet perfectly may almost destroy a different type of carpet due to a lack of experience with that particular kind. Just south of Tehran, you can find many washing houses due to the suitability of the climate. We have visited several of these to learn about this part of process. Washing a carpet is actually a form of art. We have always been happy to speak with the people in charge to learn about the different options and limitations within the field. To master this art, you need to have a feeling, understanding and respect for the enormous work that went into creating the carpet. In particular, you must have experience with and knowledge of the raw materials. You have to sense the “soul” of the carpet, and by washing it correctly, you can bring out the natural lustre of the wool or silk as well as the unique personality of the carpet. Typically, before actually starting the washing process, the carpet must be thoroughly rinsed on both sides with a special liquid that stabilises the dyes and prevents colour bleeding. You must make sure to press this liquid deep into the carpet’s innermost fibres. Then, the carpet should be washed with some kind of soap. The superfluous wool is scraped off with a tool that resembles a garden hoe. The carpet is rinsed several times with clean water, and then it is centrifuged in a large centrifuge. Finally, it is left to dry in the sun. If the colours of the carpet are too strong, it is left in the sun a little while longer to dull them. This does not affect its resistance to wear, and carpets from such washing houses do not have a pungent chlorine smell. Most washing houses use a little chlorine in the process. It’s not a problem if a carpet smells a little of chlorine if you moisten it and stick your nose all the way into the pile. It helps clean the carpet properly and prevents problems with moths. However, it should not have a strong chlorine smell when you moisten it. Excessive use of chlorine is harmful to the raw materials of the carpet. When you have seen the rather heavy-handed treatment carpets are exposed to during the washing process, you will understand why they can endure many years of regular use at home. You can almost say that the washing process is a quality test in itself.

Carpet repairing

Proper repairs

When you look at old carpets, keep in mind that they may have undergone different kinds of repairs. They may have a new fringe or edge stitching or they may have had a larger or smaller hole repaired. It is important to check that these repairs were carried out properly. Repair work must not be conspicuous. Naturally, this also applies to repairing holes in the pile. However, it can be difficult to determine if the colours used in the repairs will continue to look like the other colours in the carpet. In this regard, I have been disappointed a few times myself. When a new pile is put on an old carpet, it should ideally be done with old yarn, for example from an old kilim or the like, and the wool quality should preferably be the same as the wool in the carpet. This is why proper repairs cannot be carried out by everyone. You can find repairmen who specifically specialise in the restoration of old carpets. Of course, you need to be aware whether the pile is wearing out or the carpet is fading. It is OK if an old carpet is worn out. You just have to assess whether it is suitable its intended use. If you are going to place it somewhere where it is exposed to a lot of wear and tear, then I would recommend buying a carpet that has enough pile to wear off. It is OK if the colours of an old carpet have faded. It is just important that the fading is uniform across the whole carpet and that the colours are still beautiful. If the colours have burnt off or if there are visible shadows due to fading, it is better to look for another carpet

Take good care of your carpets

I encourage anyone who owns old or antique carpets to take good care of them. It will preserve their value. Wash them when they are dirty. A dirty carpet wears down quicker than a clean one. Fix them when they need new fringes or edge stitchings. It is important that this happens in good time so that the carpet is not seriously damaged. It is also important to stop exposing old carpets to wear and tear before it is too late. When they wear down too much, they suddenly get ugly and lose their value. This way, you may end up turning a fabulous work of art into an old rag. Rather “retire” the carpet by putting it somewhere where it will be exposed to less wear and tear. In general, take good care of your carpets, whether old or new. They deserve it.

From "Oriental Carpets - Knotted with Love"

This is an excerpt from the book Oriental Carpets knotted with love, written by Martin Munkholm. This informative carpet book can also be borrowed from Danish libraries and can be bought here on the website. The book is published by Muusmann publisher in Denmark.