Most rugs today are woven on cotton or wool foundations. Wool yarns have cuticles that break off from compacted dust and grit over time and begin to look dull. Cotton on the other hand, has no place to hide soil, so it gets embedded and ground into the strands.
I liken cleaning cotton fringe tassels to trying to clean heavily soiled shoelaces. There is no way to just magically make the soil disappear. If a rug begins with super white fringe when it’s new, this usually means that fringe was strongly bleached white before it went to market for sale.
This whitening process makes the fringe look great at that time, but it comes at a cost. Bleaches and oxidizers chemically damage the cotton fibers to create that “white” look, and it weakens them. Even the fumes from floor cleaning solutions that contain bleach can weaken and dissolve cotton fringes.
That damage may be slight, or may be severe, based on the strength of the solution – and whether there was already pre-existing damage that this is deteriorating even further.
When you have cotton fringes that easily break off when you tug a strand, this is a big warning sign of past chemical use.
If tassels are tearing away when they are walked on, this is also a sign of either severely worn fringe, chemically damaged fringe, or overly aggressive vacuuming of the fringe.
The challenge for rug cleaners when they are given fringe in this condition is it cannot be safely cleaned without some fiber loss. Even with a gentle cleaning by hand, fibers are going to break off over time. So it is important you select an experienced, professional rug cleaner to minimize any damage and extend the life of your rug.
–Written by, Tim Petzold, Owner and Founder of Aegis Fine Rug Cleaning