Most people who purchase area rugs for their homes want them to last a long time. Yes they are a very economical way to decorate a room and certainly are a lot easier to change than wall color or furniture, but it's not unreasonable to expect them to provide many years or comfort and enjoyment. With proper care, this is more than possible.
A vacuum cleaner is by far your rug's best friend. This type of maintenance alone can add years of life to your rug and help maintain its new appearance for a long, long time. But it must be done regularly - and correctly - for best results.
First of all, keep in mind that your area rug is made of fibers. It is not a solid sheet of material, such as linoleum, nor is it an impervious material such as is used in tiles. Dirt and moisture can work themselves into - and under - the fabric of the rug and can even cause it to separate. This is why it is important to vacuum your rug regularly. How often? That completely depends upon where it is used and how much foot traffic it gets. Near a busy entry way or door, you may need to vacuum several times a week. In a spare guest bedroom, probably once a week is more than enough.
The point is, you don't want dirt to be ground into the fibers of the rug. Frequent once-overs with your vacuum cleaner will prevent this from happening.
On a side note, we've all seen photos or scenes in movies where someone hangs their area rug on a clothesline or over a fence and beats the dust and dirt out of it with a broom or tennis racket. There is absolutely nothing worse for your rug than this! (Well, there actually IS one thing worse, but it involves misbehaved animals who don't know the difference between your rug and the great outdoors - but that's a whole other issue.) Do NOT beat your rug to clean it! First of all, it's not very effective or efficient. You're not going to be able to get all of the dirt out this way. But more importantly, it could ruin the rug. It will most certainly shorten its life. You may cause the threads to loosen and damage the backing to the rug. It might be a great physical workout for you, but it is devastating to the structural integrity of your beautiful floor covering.
There is debate in the world of area-rug care as to whether you should use the beater bar on your vacuum or not when cleaning a rug. At Rugs Direct we are of the strong opinion that sometimes you should and sometimes you shouldn't. If the rug is tightly woven and of heavy materials, then the beater bar is probably necessary to get it clean. Set it for as short a pile height as you can so you don't run the risk of tearing any of the fibers loose. Otherwise, use the standard hard-floor attachment and be sure to anchor the rug (or stand on it) so that it doesn't get pulled up into the vacuum.
If your rug has fringe, make sure you don't inadvertently run the vacuum over the edge. Don't be lazy and think this is OK - especially if you simply push the vacuum away from the center out past the fringe. Some of it is going to get caught and torn eventually. You will ruin your rug. You are also going to have to unwind a bunch of fabric that is wrapped around your vacuum's beater bar. Harder to remove than hair. Don't do it!
It's also a good idea to vacuum the underside of the rug. Yes, I know this is a lot of work, but not all of the dirt is going to be removable from the top surface of the rug. Also dirt that gets underneath the rug can actually cause it to wear unevenly from the bottom up. So maybe not every time you vacuum, but at least once a month, turn the rug over and vacuum the bottom too. Again, this will add years to the life of your area rug.
Lastly, always use a good quality pad in between your rug and the floor. There are some serious safety concerns for doing this, but it will also make caring for the rug much easier. It's almost impossible to completely vacuum a rug that slips and slides as you try to clean it. A pad will keep it in place and insure that your vacuuming does the greatest good. If by some chance the pad gets soiled, many of them can be cleaned by simply tossing them into the washing machine - something you'd never want to do with the actual rug. Rugs Direct sells high quality rug pads in sizes that match all popular area rug sizes. If you didn't buy a pad with your rug, consider adding one now.
So make sure your area rugs and your vacuum cleaner are well acquainted. They will learn to love one another for a lifetime! Good luck.