What Is An Oriental Rug, and How Do I Properly Care For One?

May 02, 2018

Posted by D. A. Burns

What Is An Oriental Rug, and How Do I Properly Care For One?

What is an Oriental Rug?

Treasured by collectors and adored by interior designers, Oriental rugs have found a permanent place in stylish homes and buildings across the world.

So … what type of rugs are considered Oriental? True Oriental rugs can be defined as a hand-woven rug of natural fiber, made in geographical areas that include the Near East, Middle East, Far East and the Balkans.

They also share a common characteristic—the manner in which they are made. Oriental rugs are either flat-woven or hand-knotted. Here are those distinctions:


In flat-woven, pile-less rugs, horizontal and vertical yarns form both the rug itself and the design.


In hand-knotted rugs, strands of yarn are tied into the flat-woven fabric of warp and weft yarns, creating a pile and pattern. From this weaving foundation, a variety of styles, designs and geographic similarities have developed, often making Oriental rug identification difficult.

Is There a Difference Between “Hand-Knotted”, “Hand-Made”, “Machine-Made”, “Tufted” Rugs and Installed Wall-to-Wall Carpeting? 

Of these varieties, hand-knotted rugs are the only true Oriental rugs. Industry standards insist that for a product to be labeled as “hand-knotted” it must actually be knotted by hand. Many other rugs are labeled and advertised as “hand-made” or “hand-tufted”, including hooked and needlepoint rugs. “Tufted” rugs can be made by hand or machine. The pile yarns are punched into a fabric (usually cotton), the face pile is clipped, and a cotton material often covers the back of the tufted rug. 

“Machine-made” rugs, as the name suggests, are made by machine and can be woven (i.e., Wilton and Axminster weaves) or tufted. The face yarns of a machine-made, tufted carpet are looped through a primary backing and secured with an additional, secondary backing that also adds dimensional stability. Broadloom carpet that is installed “wall-to-wall” is generally not as durable as a hand-knotted rug.

How Do Oriental Rugs Get Their Name?

The names of Oriental rugs are often difficult to pronounce and can be confusing to many. Exotic locales such as Sarouk, Kashan, Kerman, Bokhara, Peking, Samarkand, Heriz and Tabriz conjure up images of faraway lands. The names originally referred to the cities, villages or nomadic tribe which specialized in a specific rug weave, pattern or quality. 

That method of identifying specific rug styles has changed today since many patterns are now woven in cities – and countries – other than their origin. The names are now more useful in describing a pattern than discovering the area where the rug originated.  

Today, many rug names include a prefix that identifies their country of origin. For example, the rug name “Indo-Kashan” describes a rug with a Kashan design made in India, whereas a “Sino-Tabriz” is a Tabriz design made in China. This is not always the case, however, as new designs are sometimes given their own names by the wholesale rug companies that have them produced.  

Why Are So Many Hand-Made Rugs Made of Wool?

The great majority of Oriental rugs are made of wool because of its beauty and durability. Plus, in rug-producing regions, sheep have long been a vital part of the culture. Wool is capable of absorbing deep color from dyestuffs, locking it within the fiber in a unique molecular bond, almost like a sponge.  And, wool is a low luster fiber which gives colors a rich, deep quality.

The texture of wool does not change over time, and its original color is not altered by foot traffic and repeated cleanings. This is due to wool’s resistance to staining, matting, wetting, crushing and burning – giving it great durability.

Throughout countless centuries, the many special properties of wool have made it the most popular fiber for floor coverings. Those same properties continue to endear it to rug weavers and owners today.

Why Should I Have My Oriental or Specialty Rug Cleaned “In-Plant” Rather Than in My Home?

We at D. A. Burns advise that hand-knotted rugs, especially those with a cotton foundation, be taken to an experienced cleaning firm to receive a thorough and safe in-plant cleaning. On-site cleaning, with its prolonged drying time, may result in color-run and permanent damage to the cotton foundation yarns of the rug (not to mention risk of damage to the finished floor underneath).

Area rugs and carpets differ greatly in their construction, dyeing methods and fiber content. In-plant cleaning, rinsing and controlled drying allows experts to employ special methods, equipment and procedures to assure a safe and thorough cleaning.

What Are the Benefits of In-Plant Cleaning?

  • A more thorough removal of abrasive soil and unhealthy allergens.
  • Special attention to stubborn (i.e. pet) stains, plus follow-up attention.
  • Better control of fugitive dyes and dimensional stability.
  • Multiple (complimentary) cleanings, if necessary.
  • Rapid drying, controlling temperature and humidity, to guard against weakening of the rug’s foundation due to prolonged, improper drying techniques.
  • No risk of damage to your finished floors.
  • Hand finishing when the rug is dry, hand cleaning of the fringes and grooming of the pile.

Can an Oriental Rug be Professionally Cleaned On-Site?

At D.A. Burns, we do occasionally clean selected specialty rugs on-location, under special circumstances. These special circumstances may include:

  • An unusually large-sized rug
  • Furnishings that are difficult – or impractical – to move
  • Premises that make it extremely difficult to remove the rug for a more thorough in-plant cleaning.

If you own an Oriental rug and would like more information regarding cleaning and/or repair, please give us a call at 206.782.2268 or visit our Oriental & Area Rug Cleaning page. Whatever your rug’s origin, you can trust its cleaning and repair to the experts at D. A. Burns.


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