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 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 details for each way to clean a sheepskin rug, starting with the quick freshen-up through to a thorough deep cleaning.
Characteristics of Natural Sheepskin Rugs
Natural sheepkin 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 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 decor.
Quality sheepskins are made with “Long Wool”, which is about 2-3 inches long. This thick, tufted wool is 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 drying the rug an important part of cleaning it.
Wool is a nice material for a rug because it can trap and hold dust from the air in a room. The microscopic scales in the fibre trap and hold dust in the top layers until the rug is vaccumed or otherwise cleaned (Source: Campaign for Wool). Many homeowners consider sheepskin rugs to be nice in all seasons, easy to care for, and resistant to odours.
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 your 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, a sheepskin rug needs to be taken up from the floor and given a freshening up to eliminate odors and to 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 corn or potato starch, baking soda, or a sheepskin freshening spray to absorb odours
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. To use a vacuum cleaner, use only the plain-suction type of machine. A powered rotary brush can damage the sheepskin while removing particles and pet dander. Vacuum in the direction of the wool growth.
Odour can be decreased by applying a 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 in to the sheepskin and then leave it to dry. Once dry, vacuum or brush the starch away, then 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. Gently blot the spots with a mixture of detergent and water. Only use cold water and a very mild detergent, preferably one that is made for the task. Woolite makes this wonderful 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 a sheepskin rug, you will need the following supplies.
- Wool cleaner (Woolite or Ugg)
- Spray bottle
- Clean cloth
- Wool wire 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 water.
- 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
- Wool cleaner
- Wool wire brush
Follow the following method 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 rug out to 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 actually works surprisingly well, especially if the rug 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, a 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.
Check the backing of the sheepskin rug for a backing that the manufacturer warns cannot be washed. If you find a label or suspect, the rug may have such a 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.
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 out to dry, being certain 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 very soiled or stained, then it is highly suggested that the rug be taken to a professional sheepskin cleaner or dry cleaner. If, however, a dry cleaner is used, make sure before leaving the sheepskin rug with them that they are experienced in the cleaning of sheepskin and leather as it requires a few extra steps than regular dry cleaning.
Tips to Maintaining the Cleanliness of a Sheepskin Rug
There are a few simple steps you can take 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 are some routine maintenance activities to keep a sheepskin at its freshest.
The first tip is to 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 it will fade and dry out quickly. Avoid getting a sheepskin rug wet (unless cleaning it) because the skin can will grow stiff and crack.
A second tip is to make shaking and brushing a sheepskin rug part of a regular cleaning routine. Simply carry the rug outdoors and shake it to dislodge dirt. Giving a sheepskin rug a proper brushing is also highly recommended to deep clean any dirt out from inside of it. Regular brushing keeps the fibers straight and fluffy.
Things to Avoid with Sheepskins
Always to 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 it to become brittle. Using direct heat on a sheepskin rug is just as bad for it as allowing it to sit in direct sunlight.
Don’t store the sheepskin in direct sunlight, direct heat, or in a sealed container. Sheepskin is best kept in a cool, well-ventilated space where the fibres can “breathe”.