People think you need to baby silk items, but silk is a solid – and beautiful – fiber. (Unlike rayon and viscose, both are names for artificial silk rug fibers, which are incredibly weak, yellow, lose color, and break at an alarming rate under foot traffic.)
Silk has muscular tensile strength and unique properties that, beyond making fabulous-looking fabrics and textiles, may become known for many other things. This short video on TED shares some of the magic of silk in other uses (this was amazing to watch):
If silk was not strong, weavers could not weave these intricate designs at a knot count exceeding 1500 knots per square inch for the finest of weaves.
If it was not strong, those strands would break, so real silk rugs will be thinner, more pliable, and have much more detailed designs than any of the “fake” knock-offs.
Silk rugs are woven in many countries besides the Middle East; you see many from China, India, and Turkey. And their construction, as you can see, is fine, thin, and very colorful:
Rug cleaners – especially new ones – are frightened of handling silk rugs.
And they should be.
Not because silk is not strong enough to be washed. It most certainly is. The problem is not with the fiber strength but with the dyes…
…and silk rugs, especially finely woven ones, are VERY expensive to replace if you bleed them. (Your insurance may not cover this – you must check with your agent.)
It’s not unusual for a small silk rug to have been purchased for thousands of dollars, especially if it is a fine-quality Qum or Hereke.
So if you are a rug cleaner and have a silk rug on your hands, these are the questions you need to ask yourself:
Is this real silk or artificial silk
You will not necessarily clean it differently because due to rayon/viscose being weak, you have to treat that inferior fiber very gently so you may follow the same steps as with real silk. But what matters is the VALUE of the piece and whether you are insured if a lack of experience results in ruining the rug during cleaning. That is why you want to know if it is the real thing.
A rough rule of thumb, obviously with exceptions (there are ALWAYS exceptions in the rug world), the thinner the nap of the pile and the higher the knot count per square inch, the more valuable the piece. That is for silk, not for wool. Wool rugs and value are another ball game entirely.
Do you have experience and the facility to clean silk
If you have a full rug cleaning facility, with a roller wringer to feed the rug through, then it is possible to quickly wash a silk rug. And that is what is needed for a silk rug, a quick overall wash process. Using the right dye stabilizing solution, keeping the cleaning solution on the acidic side, and removing the excess water as soon as possible.
You have to be a MASTER at fiber and dye testing and pre-inspection to know exactly what needs to be done with the textile to clean it – or to know if you cannot clean it safely.
Some rug plants will dry clean silk rugs if you have dry-cleaning capabilities.
We like to wash rugs. I don’t like to leave residue in fibers. I like them to be truly clean. And I am sensitive to dry cleaning solvents, so I’m not a fan of them. That said, we have a roller wringer that allows us to remove the moisture in under a minute so that the rug can lay out flat to dry very quickly. If you do not have a wringer, you will not want to tackle handling any silk – or fake silk – rugs for washing. Subcontract them to a full-service rug cleaning facility with experience with silk.
Another tool I have found that works extremely well for cleaning silk fabric furnishings and silk rugs, which may be too risky to fully soak in a wash due to dye migration risks, and rayon/viscose rugs that can’t take much agitation at all, is the new Upholstery Pro by Sapphire Scientific.
The advantage this tool has in regards to riskier fibers/fabrics is that it has two vacuums surrounding the moisture delivery, so it is thorough, controlled, and immediate wash and extraction:
My friend and peer Jim Pemberton, who is an expert in fine fabric care, have used this tool successfully on both microfiber upholstery, rayon, and aged (i.e., fragile) upholstery with no marking, excellent cleaning, and complete control of the moisture delivery and removal.
I’ve used the tool on rugs that I normally would turn away due to the risks of proper cleaning. Real silk rugs that, due to age, were too fragile to put through a proper wash, as well as rayon rugs that were too crummy that even brushing them was causing fibers to break off.
It also is excellent for any spot work you need on a rug, where you would like to work more on a specific area without keeping the entire rug underwater during that extra specialty servicing.
This is a tool that every professional rug cleaner, or fine fabric specialist, needs in their facility.
That said, even the best tool in an untrained hand will lead to a disaster. So if you are just getting into the professional rug cleaning field, plan to get your rug cleaning education through courses and real-world training on your rugs first. Thrift stores and garage sales offer a myriad of cheap and filthy rugs of all shapes, sizes, and qualities – so if you are serious about getting into rugs, don’t practice on rugs owned by others; that’s tempting fate. Even eBay has many cheap rugs to invest in to get some practice.
And while you are doing this, find a local long-time rug cleaning plant to subcontract the valuable textiles your clients send you. Sometimes the best (and easiest) thing to do is to put your client’s valued textiles into more experienced hands.