Rug Cleaning through the Ages: Rug Cleaning History

From Tea Leaves to Suction Sweepers

Rug Cleaning Through the Ages

Rug Cleaning history

In 2019, most people who need their rug cleaned prefer to call a professional. Can’t blame you–I’m not much for scrubbing myself. But, back in the day, you didn’t always have the option.

So how did people clean their rugs?

Buckle up folks cause I’m about to share some cool and crazy cleaning methods from the 19th century to the 21st. Who knows, maybe this will motivate you to try some out when you’re spring cleaning?

Half Baked Ideas

The year is 1827. Some rug wisdom seems the same. For example, the best way to start cleaning your rug is to beat out dirt and dust. Lemon is a handy cleaner for certain stains–so handy in fact that people still use it to this day! Something a little less familiar is the method for removing grease stains:

Scrub with bread.

Rug Cleaning

It makes a certain amount of sense. Bread is absorbent. We love how it soaks up butter and sauce–If you don’t wipe up the last of that marinara with your roll, you’re just not living right. Presumably soaking up a grease stain works on a similar principle.

This antique cleaning method called for a hot loaf of white bread. First, you rinse the affected spot with cold water. Then, you cut your bread lengthwise, separating the top and bottom into equal halves. Finally, you use the exposed interior to clean thoroughly. In the end, even if this strategy works, it feels like a lot of effort, and a waste of bread.

On the other hand, if it makes your rug smell like a bakery, maybe it’s worth it?

The Grass is Always Greener

Sweeping your rug is another method of cleaning. However, it can only do so much, and rugs might still end up smelling musty. In 1863, a common solution was sprinkling tea leaves on the carpet before you swept. This method wasn’t perfect however, as the tea leaves could cause staining.

Another option was fresh cut grass.

Rug Cleaning

Supposedly, lawn trimmings were less likely to leave stains, and better at preventing dust accumulation. They could even brighten the colors of the rug!

Of course, the idea of sweeping a rug at all isn’t particularly popular anymore. In modern times, you can still use the old wisdom of sprinkling tea leaves. The difference is that, after letting them sit for about ten minutes, they are vacuumed up instead of swept. Presumably, one could try the same with grass cuttings!

But then again, this might just invite hay fever.

Gall of Ox and Horn of Hart

Today, we’re used to scientific and artificial cleaners. Spray bottles in bright colors with foaming action and adjustable nozzles. But, chemical cleaners have been around for a long time. Cleaning solutions in 1879 felt more like potion making than science, but there is a method to the madness!

Rug Cleaning

Spot cleaners in 1879 used ox-gall. What is gall? Well, to put it simply, the contents of the gallbladder. In the case of cows, this contains cholesterol, lecithin, taurocholic acid, and glycocholic acid. As you may have guessed, ox-gall is gall, harvested from an ox. Ew.

This chemical is still used today, in varying types of artwork. Though harvesting methods are a bit more sanitary, the source is the same.

Again I say: Ew.

Some tougher spots like ink required different types of cleaner. You have probably heard of ammonia based cleaners. As it turns out, these were also used in the old days! In this time, one such popular cleaning solution was Hartshorn. Which is to say, a cleaner made from the horn of a hart, or deer.

Hartshorn today still refers to the ammonium carbonate used in smelling salts, or the solution of these salts in water–But it’s not usually gathered by extracting essences from antlers.

Burn Baby Burn

1884 is a more civilized time. We have learned by now that bread is not the best way to pull out a grease stain. Instead, we pack pipe clay into the rug, for a similar absorption process. But just because things are more civilized, doesn’t mean we’re wiser. In 1884, a popular treatment for rugs to remove moth eggs and worms was Naphtha.

Naphtha happens to be highly flammable.

rug damaged with burn fire

To me, it doesn’t seem like a good idea to soak your rug in flammable chemicals. It seems like an even worse idea at a time when most lighting came from open flame. But I suppose burning your house to the ground would definitely get rid of any moths.

A Nifty New Invention

My favorite part of this research definitely has been reading resources from 1920. Why? Aside from a general love of the time period and language, it was fun to read about this hip new thing: vacuum cleaners.

Rug Cleaning

It’s hard to imagine a time without vacuum cleaners, but every old thing was once new.

It’s worth noting that vacuums in this time were not the same as the vacuums of today. They also varied greatly in design. One of my favorites consisted of a giant, stationary machine in the basement. From there, tubes ran all over the house so you could clean in every room.

The big unifying factor of these kooky inventions was the idea of suction. Sweeping or dusting tended just to kick up the dirt and move it somewhere else. Now, it could be efficiently disposed of.

But it’s still pretty gross to clean out the bag.


You would think today’s wisdom has changed a great deal from way back when. However, the more things change, the more they stay the same. It turns out, for all the new techniques we’ve learned through the years, beating a rug is still the best solution for cleaning. We’ve just gotten a bit more efficient.

Professional rug cleaners use machines like this to beat the rug. These ‘badgers’ kick the back of the rug with automated feet, to dislodge the deepest dirt and dust. This is much more effective than vacuuming or sweeping, methods which only pull up the dirt on the surface.

From there, natural cleaning products and water are used to wash and rinse the rug, in an entirely green process.

It’s great to see that traditional wisdom is still being used today, and that sometimes an old dog really doesn’t need new tricks. It’s even greater to see that we can learn and change, updating old methods and abandoning some less savory options. Who knows what the future will bring, to rug cleaning or to life in general?

There are more articles to read in our blog section!

Related Posts