Shag Rugs. What You Need To Know

One of the frequent questions I get asked by cleaners and consumers today is, “what about SHAG rugs?”

Shag rugs in the market today are far and away the most difficult rugs to clean and maintain.

In theory, I understand the “fun” of it. You can get a crazy, cozy, unexpected look in a home that would be fun to walk on, roll on, and play on…

…but the coolness factor fades pretty fast for the owner, especially when they find out how hard it is to keep many of these rugs looking good and how expensive it is to have them professionally cleaned. (Though if they know these things before buying them, they can just get something cool and know they will replace it in a few years after it gets too dirty to enjoy anymore.)

Our rug cleaning facility often charges more to clean shag rugs per square foot than we do to clean much more valuable silk rugs. That’s because a lot of additional hand work is needed to try to clean what gets embedded in the fibers of these rugs.

The shag rug may be inexpensive from Pottery Barn or IKEA or pricier from a designer shop like Modern Rugs (which has a wide selection). Shag rugs of all values present challenges that take considerably more time to clean these rugs.

And more time to clean means more cost to the shag rug owner.

Here is what you need to know about shag rugs if you own one (or are thinking of buying one) or if you are a professional cleaner and will attempt to wash one.


Some of the first “shag rugs” were woven Flokati rugs from Greece, which cleaners often call sheepdogs because it’s a big fuzzy construction difficult to wash and brush out smooth, as a sheepdog can be.

If you clean them regularly (before they look dirty! ), you can keep Flokatis looking good and staying “fluffy” for years. Extra time is needed to groom and get the rug nice after a wash, so generally, cleaners charge more to clean Flokatis than regular wool woven pile rugs.

Here’s an even older shag rug that came into our shop that is not wool but is SILK. A client’s grandmother crafted this during World War II with silk parachute cord strands:

The problem is that this was woven on a burlap/jute foundation which, over time, has become brittle, so the rug is slowly falling apart. But this may be the “oldest” shag rug I’ve seen in my rug career:

It’s a shame the foundation is weak because this is a good fiber to build a shag rug from. The silk cords are strong and do not “mush” up and lose shape. The slickness of silk also keeps the inside fibers relatively clean – you can shake the rug upside down and get much of the dust to simply shake away. The grit does not grab onto the fibers as they do wool or synthetic fibers with this type of shag construction.

Back to WOOL shag rugs…

Today we are beyond just the Flokati type of construction. We are getting rugs that many describe as NOODLE because the wool fibers look like pasta noodles. =)

These rugs have heavy twists of wool as the face fibers, loosely woven into typically a heavy cotton backing. Here are some of the drawbacks of these wool shag rugs, both the “noodle” and the “shaggy sheepdog” ones.

If you have pets, you will NEVER get the pet hair out. If you have kids that crumble food on the rug, you will NEVER get all the crumbs out of the rug with any vacuum you own. It’s almost like a microfiber cloth; it picks up everything and does not let go of it.

Wool can turn yellow over time from exposure to light, exposure to certain chemicals (like laundry detergents), or due to being woven on a jute foundation or with a construction that has used latex to hold it together.

Usually, the wool used has been bleached to make it “whiter” in the beginning, and this does damage the wool, so it will become yellow over time as a result. Sometimes short-term “whitening” can be done again using a low percentage hydrogen peroxide treatment, but all whitening attempts add more damage to those already weakened fibers.

The construction of these wool pieces makes it impossible to vacuum with a regular vacuum. A Dyson on these rugs would be a disaster. You need a canister vacuum, or an upholstery attachment, to try to vacuum the sides of these fibers and between them row by row.

Spills also can be a disaster and need to be gotten to immediately; otherwise, they work their way down into that heavy cotton foundation, which is much harder to clean afterward.

If your vacuum (canister) is too strong, or your spotting attempt is too aggressive, you might pull some tufts out because they are typically not in there very securely.

Though wool is far superior for rugs on the floor, that is when you are discussing short pile woven rugs. With the shag construction, the looser weave construction with wool can grab a lot of lint, hair, dust, and general mess and embed it deep in the fiber base to where you may not be able to keep it clean and sanitary.

Some higher quality wool shag rugs have much more fiber density that helps protect that grit from easily falling into the base, like these other wool examples I’ve shown.

Here is a sample of a high-quality wool shag rug from Unique Carpets Limited, their Shagtastic line:

I had a client bring this sample to show me because I was trying to dissuade her from buying what I thought was a “typical” wool shag rug. This UCL construction has a very high density of wool (8 pounds of yarn per square yard). It also has a strong backing construction that is not the loose and absorbent cotton style.

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