Sheepskin rugs are made from incredibly-soft sheep wool. While they look a bit intimidating to clean, they’re actually pretty easy to freshen up.
So, how do you clean a sheepskin rug? There are five main ways to clean a sheepskin rug depending upon how dirty it is and if it is stained:
- Freshen it with natural starch or baking soda
- Spot clean with a mild detergent
- Hand wash with wool wash in a large sink or tub
- Put it through the washing machine on the gentle wool setting
- Drop it off at a professional cleaner
Read on for the detailed instructions for each step of washing sheepskin rugs, whether you need a quick freshen-up or a thorough deep cleaning.
Characteristics of natural sheepskin rugs
Natural sheepskin rugs are essentially the pelt of a sheep. The wool fibers are permanently fixed to a leather backing during the tanning process.
Sheepskin rugs are often used as a soft place to set your feet down when you get out of bed, or as a warm spot to cozy up in front of the fire. They’re also used as throws on beds and furniture for a touch of traditional, Nordic-inspired decor.
When choosing where to display your piece, make sure to avoid storing it in damp or wet conditions!
Quality sheepskins are made with “Long Wool”, which is about 2-3 inches long. These thick, tufted wool fibres are durable and long-lasting. A sheepskin rug generally has a durable leather underside.
Wool is an excellent, cozy insulating material. Wool fibres are solid (not hollow) and can absorb moisture. Wool can absorb almost one-third of its own weight in water (Source: Ontario Sheep Farmers). This amazing absorption characteristic makes the drying process an essential part of cleaning your rug.
Wool is also a nice material for a rug because it can trap and hold dust from the air in a room. The microscopic scales in the fibres trap and hold dust in the top layers until the rug is vacuumed or otherwise cleaned (Source: Campaign for Wool). Many homeowners consider sheepskin rugs nice in all seasons, easy to care for, and resistant to odors.
Cleaning a wool sheepskin mat or rug removes dirt, other contaminants, and natural oils from the wool. The rug may have trapped dirt and other particles from its surroundings. It also may have some residual lanolin. Lanolin is a waterproof, fatty, waxy substance that sheep secrete to help protect the wool. While it is generally removed and sold for use in beauty products, there may be some residual lanolin in the sheepskin.
Freshening up a sheepskin rug
Every once in a while, your rug needs to be taken up from the floor and given a freshening up to eliminate odors and remove surface dirt.
There are two main steps to freshen up a sheepskin rug:
- Vacuum or shake out the rug outdoors to remove particles
- Use a plain suction vacuum cleaner for this!
- Use corn or potato starch, baking soda, or a sheepskin freshening spray to absorb odors
The most basic method is perhaps to shake it out, let it hang in the fresh air overnight, and then brush the wool carefully.
Remove the sheepskin rug from the floor. Shake it outdoors to dislodge particles that have become trapped in it. Use only a plain suction vacuum cleaner. A powered rotary brush can damage the sheepskin while removing particles and pet dander. Vacuum in the direction of the wool growth.
Odor can be decreased by applying natural starch or baking soda to absorb the smell. Spray the sheepskin rug with water until it is damp, and then lightly cover it with cornstarch, potato starch, or baking soda. Gently rub it into the entire rug and then leave it to dry. Once dry, vacuum or brush the starch away, and shake off any residue. Replace the sheepskin back to its location.
Caution: Remember to never use a powered rolling brush attachment from the vacuum cleaner on a sheepskin rug! Use a non-powered suction attachment instead.
Spot cleaning a sheepskin rug
Spot-clean stains with a damp, clean, cloth and a mild detergent. Use a specialist wool shampoo specifically designed for this type of material!
Gently blot the spots with a mixture of detergent and water. Only use cold water and a very mild detergent. Woolite makes this fantastic wool cleaner that is gentle enough to use on sheepskin rugs. Never use laundry soap, bleach, fabric softener, or alkaline cleaners as they can irreparably damage the sheepskin.
To spot clean your rug, you will need the following supplies.
- Wool cleaner (Woolite or Ugg)
- Spray bottle
- Clean cloth
- Wool wire brush or sheepskin wool carding brush
Here are the steps for spot cleaning a sheepskin rug:
- Mix the wool cleaner (if required) as suggested on the label of the cleaner of your choice.
- Place the mixture in a spray bottle (if not supplied with cleaner).
- Apply the mixture to the soiled or stained area. The cleaner may include instructions to wait for a period of time after application.
- Using a dry clean cloth, gently pat the sheepskin dry to remove any excess liquid.
- Lay the sheepskin rug out to dry, making sure not to place the rug in direct heat or sunshine.
- Brush the sheepskin rug now, and then while it is still damp, and once again after drying.
- Shake the fluff off the dry sheepskin rug.
After the rug is clean and dry, replace it on the floor for more enjoyment.
Hand cleaning a sheepskin rug
Hand washing a sheepskin rug using the following method will leave it smelling fresh and looking great.
For hand washing a sheepskin rug, you will need:
- Basin for water
- Lukewarm or warm water
- Wool cleaner
- Wool wire brush
Follow the following washing process to make a sheepskin rug smell good and look beautiful.
- Mix the wool cleaner following the manufacturer’s instructions on the package. Avoid hot water when working with wool!
- Soak the rug for at least thirty minutes.
- Squeeze the sheepskin rug gently to allow the water to run throughout the fibers.
- Remove the rug and gently squeeze out the excess water (but do not twist).
- Line dry or lay the sheepskin flat out to air dry. Make sure the sheepskin rug is not in direct sunlight or heat.
- Brush the rug often while damp and once when it is dry.
- Shake off any residue such as fluff from the sheepskin rug.
After cleaning, replace the rug to its place on the floor.
Machine washing a sheepskin rug
Machine washing a sheepskin rug works surprisingly well, especially if it has become unbearably dirty or smelly. It is vital to wash a sheepskin rug on the gentle or wool cycle of the washing machine. While uncommon, sheepskin can be damaged in the process in the washing machine even if washed in cold water/gentle cycle.
NEVER put a sheepskin rug in the dryer, as the rapid drying can crack the leather backing. Even tumble drying can cause damage. Air dry it instead!
Check the back of the sheepskin rug for a backing that the manufacturer warns cannot be machine washed. If you find a label or suspect the rug may have such backing, then use another method to clean the sheepskin rug. Some manufacturers specifically state that their sheepskin rugs are machine-washable (such as Auckland Sheepskins).
I like to use cold water and a very mild household wool cleaner to clean sheepskin in the washing machine. Some manufacturers recommend using a special sheepskin detergent that doesn’t contain bleach or enzymes. Some of these sheepskin cleaners even contain a bit of natural lanolin to maintain the health of the wool.
Some rugs may allow for a mild liquid detergent to be used, but in general, stay away from soap flakes, soap-based powders and detergents, and biological washing powders as they may cause damage.
I like Eucalin Delicate Sheepskin Wash. In a pinch, I’ve used Woolite and it has been fine. I don’t wash my sheepskins too often though, so I’m not sure if frequent use of Woolite would harm the rug more than Eucalin (although it probably could).
Follow these steps for machine washing a sheepskin rug:
- Set the washing machine to a cold water temperature of 100 F (38 C).
- Place the wool cleaner into the machine following manufacturer directions or 2 Tbsp of a mild household detergent.
- Run the machine on the gentlest wool cycle.
- Lay out or hang the rug to dry, ensuring it is not in direct heat or sunlight.
- Brush the rug once while it is still damp and then again once when it is dry.
- Shake the rug to rid it of excess sheepskin fluff.
Replace the sheepskin rug back onto the floor once it has completely dried.
The professional cleaning of a sheepskin rug
If the sheepskin rug becomes soiled or stained, it is highly suggested that the rug be taken to a professional sheepskin cleaner or a dry cleaner. If this happens, deal with the stains promptly!
If, however, you do take it to be dry cleaned, make sure before leaving the sheepskin rug with them that they are experienced in cleaning sheepskin and leather as it requires a few extra steps than regular dry cleaning.
Tips for maintaining the cleanliness of a sheepskin rug
You can take a few simple steps regularly to maintain the cleanliness of a sheepskin rug. They can get kind of matted with foot traffic and as they absorb and trap particles. Here are some routine maintenance activities to keep your rug at its freshest while keeping the sheepskin fluffy.
Keep a sheepskin rug away from sun and moisture
Sunshine and moisture are its natural enemies. Keeping the rug out of direct sunlight is vital to maintaining the sheepskin rug’s beauty because the UV rays will cause them to fade and dry out quickly.
Avoid damp or wet conditions
Avoid getting a sheepskin rug wet (unless cleaning it) because the skin will grow stiff and crack.
Shake and brush regularly
Make shaking and brushing a sheepskin rug part of the regular cleaning routine. Simply carry the rug outdoors and shake it to dislodge dirt. Giving it a proper brushing is also highly recommended to deep clean any dirt out from inside of it. Regular brushing keeps the sheepskin fibers straight and fluffy.
Things to avoid
Always allow a sheepskin rug to dry naturally. Never throw a sheepskin rug into a dryer or use a hairdryer to get it dry; this will clog the fibers and cause them to become brittle. Using direct heat on a sheepskin rug is just as bad as allowing it to sit in direct sunlight.
Don’t store the sheepskin in direct sunlight, direct heat, or in a sealed container and avoid damp conditions. Sheepskin is best kept in a cool, well-ventilated space where the fibers can “breathe.”
We hope that these tips for sheepskin rug care and cleaning have been helpful for you! By using proper sheepskin products, occasional brushing with a good brush, and careful cleaning, you will be able to keep your rug soft and fluffy for many years.
Other cleaning articles
Some messes are easier to clean than others! Here are some other cleaning articles that may come in handy.
- How to clean the inside of a windshield
- How to get mascara out of clothes
- How to get detergent stains out of clothes
- How to clean seat belts
- How to get crayon stains out of clothes
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