Have you ever wondered how we clean a sheepskin rug or other animal hide product? This is not entry level carpet cleaning stuff – Mother Nature’s Cleaning has been cleaning sheepskin rugs, cowhide rugs, leather rugs, flokati rugs and all sorts of animal products in Marin County since 2009. We have even cleaned a horsehair mattress. There isn’t a one stop solution for every animal hair nor hide, but they all need to be treated carefully with low moisture and special handling. All of the rugs I mentioned before can be constructed a little bit differently, so it’s important to identify what you are dealing with before you begin the cleaning.

An example of how important this is: A few years ago, one of my mid-level rug technicians mis-identified an animal rug. The top of the rug looked like a flokati but the bottom of the rug was covered in fabric, similar to how they cover tufted rugs to hide any mess from the construction.  Assuming it was a Flokati, the technician proceeded with a gentle full immersion wash.

When he pulled the rug out of the drying room and laid it out, the top had shrunk, but the fabric backing did not. He couldn’t figure out what happened, but I immediately spotted it when I walked in. Flokati rugs don’t have fabric backings because there is nothing to hide.

The rug never laid flat again because it was not a Flokati, it was a sheepskin made from smaller sheepskin rugs stitched together. That is why they hid the back. The washing and drying process removed moisture from the hide, making the rug misshapen and slightly smaller.

Why do I share my horror stories with you all? Even the best cleaners get stumped we still come across unusual products which we struggle with how to clean. We generally err on the safe side and we don’t have many mistakes, but when we do, we acknowledge that these are the ways that you learn the best. Failure always leads to improvement and any cleaner who says they never ruin rugs is lying. In the example above, it cost us about $3,000 to replace that rug, and we learned a valuable lesson in identification. You can bet that we have never, nor will we ever make that mistake again!

So what is the difference between a Flokati rug and a sheepskin rug? They look very similar from the front. They are both made of wool harvested from the sheep, and made into a rug. The difference is that the Flokati rug is constructed from wool that has been sheared from the sheep and spun into a loose yarn, whereas the sheepskin wool was taken still attached to the hide. For those animal lovers out there, the Flokati is the choice if you are looking for a vegan option. No animals are harmed. The Flokati lacks the softness and sheen of the sheepskin because it doesn’t have to be turned to a yarn and woven.

How To Clean a Flokati Rug:

Technically, if you had a small enough Flokati, you could just toss it in the washing machine like you would a wool sweater.

We clean a Flokati rug with full immersion washing. Of course it is wool so we don’t want to use hot water, but otherwise they can withstand a pretty thorough and aggressive cleaning.  They gain about 1000x their weight when you wash them so handling them wet can be tricky, but at Mother Nature’s Cleaning we are experts in this, and we know exactly how to handle them without damaging them. Learn how you can clean them at home later on in this post.

And the next question to answer – How to Clean a Sheepskin Rug:

I recently read a blog post by an interior designer who said to soak the rug using human hair conditioner. This is absolutely not the right way to wash a sheepskin. The sheepskin is more like your leather jacket. Leather and water don’t mix well. if you get a sheepskin rug too wet, the back will harden like a potato chip.

Authentic Sheepskin Rug Front and Back

We’ve talked about different types of leather in previous posts and a sheepskin rug is considered an unfinished leather. It has been tanned to preserve the hide, but it has not been treated with a dye or pigment, nor does it have a protective coating on it.

I can’t really give away all of our trade secrets here, but what I can tell you is that we use a combination of dry cleaning and an upholstery method to make sure that the back of the rug is cleaned thoroughly without moisture, but the front of the rug (the hair) does get a good moisture cleaning. The wool naturally absorbs moisture, so we do this very carefully.  The method is labor-intensive, and once we finish with the sheepskin, it must be brushed thoroughly with wire bristle brush to bring back the fluffy softness of its original state. At home your best bet is to follow the tips below.

Natural wool yellows (oxidizes) over time. You can distinctly tell the difference between a newer sheepskin, and one that has some age by the yellowing of the fibers. This is not something that is reversed by cleaning. Once the fibers start to yellow, this color change is permanent. It’s not unattractive, but if you are cleaning a sheepskin or flokati rug, you should not expect it to be returned to its original brilliant ivory color.  It does however come back looking vibrant, soft, and fluffy.  If you are looking for a rug that is long lasting and very pleasant on your feet, a sheepskin is a great choice. Overtime the Flokati rugs will become matted and dingy and won’t come out very vibrant when cleaned.

At Mother Nature’s Cleaning, we have cleaned sheepskin ottomans, actual sheep-shaped sheepskin furniture, rugs, and flokatis of all sizes.

Steps to Maintaining Your Sheepskin or Flokati Rug at Home :

  1. First, remove the dry soil, either shaking your rug or, if it is too large, vacuum thoroughly without the beater attachment. The hand tool works well for this although it will take some time to get across the whole entire rug
  2. Make sure that you do not use excessive water when cleaning your rug .
  3. Use a white towel and a small amount of very diluted laundry detergent.  And by diluted, I’m talking about a teaspoon to a gallon of water.
  4. Dip the center of the rag into the diluted solution, and then ring it out completely. You do not want the rug to get wet.
  5. Use the towel to wipe down the front of your rug . Use a fresh towel every time your towel looks dirty
  6. Do not clean the back of your rug except with a dry clean towel.
  7. If you have spots on the road that are yellow or have light stains, you can use hydrogen peroxide. 3% peroxide. Use about a quarter cup diluted to 2 cups.  Spray it evenly on the rug and leave it out in the sun.
  8. Once it has lightened the stain, take a damp towel and wipe off the residue. Thorough rinsing is the key to any successful cleaning.

So there you have it – how a professional cleaning can help keep your animal hide and hair rugs vibrant and long-lasting as well as some tips to maintain them yourself. Call Mother Nature’s Cleaning in San Rafael for all of your natural rug needs.

Happy Cleaning!