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One of the greatest benefits of using area rugs to decorate your home is the fact that they can periodically be changed to reflect your mood, tastes or even the season of the year. However, when you invest in good-quality area rugs, it is extremely important to properly store them during the times when you will not be displaying them. If you take the necessary time and precautions, your beautiful floor coverings will last for generations.
Here are some important tips and guidelines from the country's foremost authority on the care and storage of valuable area rugs, The Textile Museum in Washington, D.C.
Finding the Best Storage Location
The best location for the storage of your area rugs would be in a room that is cool, dry and where blinds or curtains can be used to block natural light. Since few of us have the luxury of a spare room that we can devote to storage, and have to make due with closets, cupboards and under beds. While it is possible to adapt many spaces in the house for storage, try to avoid using attics and basements, which are usually without climate control and suffer the largest swings of temperature and relative humidity.
Once you have decided on a location, you should think about the following:
if you live in a climate where humidity is high during some part of the year, make sure that there is some way to circulate the air to avoid mildew problems (even a fan will help); consider using a dehumidifier to bring humidity down to a more moderate level
- If you live in a climate where humidity is low during some part of the year, consider raising the level of humidity slightly with a humidifier.
- Block sunlight from coming in windows with shades or blinds.
- Keep your storage area/room clean because dust and dirt attract rug-eating insects.
- Avoid storing items directly on the floor; carpet beetles like to take up residence between the floor and the back of your rug.
If you have the space, metal shelving is ideal to store your rugs. Pad the shelving with a cushioning material like bubble-wrap so that the edges of the shelves do not make indentations on the rugs.
If you are storing your area rugs on wooden shelves, it is important to provide a buffer between the wood acids and your rugs. There are at least two options:
- Line the drawers or shelves with acid-free tissue or acid-free barrier paper; the paper should be adequate to absorb excess acids for two or three years before it needs to be changed
- Coat the wood with polyurethane varnish and allow it to dry thoroughly; use an additional physical barrier such as bubble-wrap or a layer of cotton sheeting or muslin.
The best way to store rugs is to keep them rolled. If you fold a rug for even a short period of time, creases will form. Additionally, the foundation of the rug will weaken from the pressure being exerted on the folded area. If it is brittle, the foundation can break.
It is best to roll a rug around a support tube. Avoid using polyvinyl chloride tubing – PVC pipe – which can give off damaging chemicals. Again, there are two options:
- Acid-free, archival tubes are the best choice, although expensive; 3" diameter rug tubes are usually the best choice as they are very sturdy.
- A regular cardboard rug tube can be adapted by wrapping the tube with a layer of acid-free tissue; generally it takes several sheets lined up together to cover the length of the tube, so to hold all of the pieces in place and to insure that they last as you roll and unroll your rugs, cover the tissue with a layer of washed cotton sheeting or muslin before rolling the rug around the tube.
Pile in or pile out? The debate goes on. Here are some things to consider:
- What is the condition of the pile? Is it fragile, with loss of knots? Is the pile silk?
- What is the condition of the foundation? Are there numerous splits and breaks? Is it brittle?
The overall condition of the piece should determine the method of rolling. In general, the pile is more vulnerable than the foundation, so it is better to roll with the pile in. If the foundation is weaker than the pile, or if a lining has been sewn on the rug, roll with the foundation in. If a rug is lined, wrinkling will always occur during rolling; it is therefore better to roll with the lining in, thus allowing the lining rather than the rug to wrinkle. In addition, roll in the direction of the pile rather than against the pile to avoid abrading the pile or placing stress on the knots.
It is often difficult to get started rolling and to keep the rug straight on the roller. To assist in getting started, use a leader of washed cotton sheeting or muslin. This can be the same piece rolled around to secure the acid-free tissue. The piece should be the width of the rug you are rolling, and long enough to go completely around the tube once plus about two feet. Roll the fabric onto the roller and lay the rug (face or pile up and with the pile direction moving away from you) on the 2 foot extension. As you roll, the excess fabric will catch the rug and allow you to roll the rug smoothly. Try to keep the roll as straight as possible (with the warps perpendicular to the roller) while rolling. If a rug is especially crooked it may be necessary to add a little "ease" into the roll to keep the warps straight to avoid rolling the rug in a spiral. To add this "ease", move one edge of the roller forward slightly with each turn around the tube, continuing to line up the warps perpendicular to the tube. This will make the roll slightly looser than it would be if you were able to roll the rug straight from top to bottom.
A length of muslin is also a good finish for your rolled rug. Muslin acts as a good dust and light barrier. The fabric should be wide enough to extend beyond the edges of the roll, sufficient either to be tucked into the ends of the tube, or tied down onto the tube to protect the edges of the rolled rug from dust.
If you need to mark the muslin cover to indicate the contents, mark the fabric with a permanent ink marking pen prior to rolling the fabric around the rug. You should plan on washing the covering every few years to remove accumulated dust and dirt.
Many museums wrap rolled textiles in a sheet of clear polyethylene rather than muslin. The advantage of using polyethylene is that it can help protect your rugs from insect infestation if the wrapping is secured with ties and the edges of the polyethylene are securely tucked into the ends of the rolling tube. Polyethylene can also protect rugs from water damage in the event of a leak. In general, mildew should not be a problem for rugs rolled in polyethylene unless a rug gets wet and stays in that condition for any length of time. Polyethylene is also good as a general dust cover draped over a group of rolled pieces since it is inexpensive and could readily be discarded once it is dirty.
Maintenance of Storage Areas
Most moth and carpet beetle infestations appear in stored rugs. The source of the infestation may have occurred earlier when the piece was being used or was hung on the wall, but in the quiet, dark surroundings of storage, the infestation may quickly grow. It is therefore important to have a good housekeeping plan for your storage areas. Wipe off shelving and shelf padding and if necessary clean or replace covers and padding. Vacuum the room thoroughly to eliminate insect-attracting dust. Check baseboards and window sills for dust as well.
Yes, it can be a lot of work to properly store an area rug. But if you have made an investment in the fine art of high-quality area rugs, it is certainly worth it to preserve their beauty and longevity.
If you are in the market for high-quality, handmade area rugs, please begin your search at the nation's leading source for area rugs, Rugs Direct.