Dogs and cats bring a lot to a home: joy, love and companionship – but also dirt, hair, dander and stains of the, um, more unpleasant variety. Still, we love them like family, which is why we can often overlook the messier, less convenient parts of having them around. And when it comes to your rugs, there are plenty of things you can do to make the cleanup less of a pain. Here are preventive measures, as well as vacuuming and stain-removal tactics to help.
Choose your rugs wisely
If you’re buying a new rug, think about how easy its material is to clean and maintain – and about the amount of traffic it will endure – before you splurge.
Most pet owners will probably want to steer away from fibers such as wool, viscose and silk, says Ali Hafezi Mashhadi, vice president of Babash Rug Services, a specialty rug restoration company in Los Angeles.
“(Rugs) that tend to be on the more expensive side, ironically, are the ones that are (easier) to stain,” he says. Other natural rug fibers, such as jute and sisal, are also difficult to clean. Jute, for example, can shrink or turn brown when it gets wet.
Kristopher Ayoub, co-owner of Ayoub N&H, a flooring company in the D.C. area, agrees. “Usually, synthetic fibers are going to be the best,” he says, noting that some are more durable than others. Nylon, for example, is typically quite durable, while polyester offers stain resistance with less durability.
Rug pile is also important, especially when it comes to dealing with stains and pet hair. “You can go with a high-pile rug,” Ayoub says. “You’ll just want to consider the fact that it may be more difficult to get pet hair out.”
Think about placement
“If you’ve got pets, think about what your high-traffic areas are,” says Melissa Maker, whose YouTube channel, Clean My Space, has more than 2 million subscribers. A cat owner and cleaning expert based in Toronto, Maker says strategic rug placement is key. “Think about where you’re spending your money as compared to where your pet is spending its time.”
Mashhadi notes that antique rugs are especially vulnerable to damage, so placing those in rooms with less traffic can help extend their life. This is even more important with new pets. In fact, Mashhadi recommends removing all of your nice rugs for the first few months while pets settle in and get trained. “If they make a habit of [peeing indoors], and you have a $10,000 rug, they’re going to keep going there no matter how many times you professionally clean the rug,” he says. “We can get odors out to a point where you and I can’t smell them, but they still can.”
For high-traffic areas, Ayoub recommends sticking with a synthetic low- to medium-pile rug. Although indoor/outdoor rugs are easy to clean, he says they tend to show wear faster in high-traffic areas. “In general, darker colors are better, but if you go too dark, lint and light-colored pet hair may show more.”
Pay attention to paws
“Paws are kind of like shoes,” Maker says. “When your dogs are running around outside, they’re able to track dirt, debris, pollen, dander, fungi, … all of those great things, back into your home.”
Pet booties are the most effective way to keep paws clean on walks, especially during inclement weather, but they’re not the most convenient option, because pets may resist wearing them. Instead, Maker suggests keeping a microfiber towel by your front door and wiping down your pet’s paws after every walk.
Looking for a lower-effort method? Try placing a rug or doormat by your front door to help absorb dirt. “It’d be best to get something that’s easily washable,” Ayoub says.
Don’t underestimate the importance of a great vacuum. “Invest in a high-quality vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter to effectively remove pet hair and dander,” says Muffetta Krueger, founder of Muffetta’s Domestic Assistants in New York, referring to a high-efficiency particulate air filter.
Depending on the type of rugs you have, Ayoub suggests looking for a vacuum with a brush roller or beater bar (a rotating brush that agitates the carpet while you’re vacuuming) to help get pet hair and dirt out of the material. “Some people say that … a beater bar can be too aggressive on certain piles and maybe wear down the carpet,” he says. “(But) unless you’re vacuuming way too much, it’s typically not an issue.”
The frequency with which you need to vacuum depends on factors such as the amount of traffic, hair and dirt each rug is exposed to. For high-traffic areas, Krueger recommends vacuuming at least twice a week. If you have an antique or delicate rug, Mashhadi suggests sweeping it gently with a broom.
Just don’t wait to clean your rugs until they look dirty. “The point (at) which you can visibly see dirt on the surface,” Mashhadi says, “means that the inside – the pile – is full of dust, dirt, whatever you can imagine.” This can also worsen indoor air quality, another reason regular vacuuming is so important.
Be thoughtful about hair removal
Dealing with pet hair embedded in rugs is a constant battle, but choose your tools wisely. Rug rakes are a popular option for digging deep into the pile, but some are too aggressive and can damage your rug over time. “I always recommend testing those things in an area just to see how the rug reacts. You don’t want to have a situation where you start doing it, and it starts pilling,” Ayoub says. “Vacuuming with a beater bar, something that can kind of brush the carpet as you’re vacuuming, that’s going to be the best bet.”
If you noticed your rug shedding when you first bought it, Mashhadi recommends avoiding rug rakes altogether. “If you try to use a rug rake on those kinds of rugs, then these little white knots from the foundation, … they’re going to start springing up all throughout your rug.” This is another argument in favor of performance synthetic rugs for pet owners. “They’re not as nice as wool and whatnot, but you can put them through a lot.”
Groom your pets regularly
If your pets shed, pay attention to how often you brush them. Regular brushing not only helps remove loose hair, but it also prevents pet hair from accumulating throughout your home, says Bethany Hsia, a veterinarian and co-founder of CodaPet.
“The frequency (you need to brush) depends on the type of pet and their specific coat types,” she says, noting that a de-shedding/undercoat brush can help many dog owners, especially if your dog has a long, fluffy coat like a husky’s. Owners of longhair cats may benefit from this type of brush, too.
You can also use special shampoos formulated to reduce excessive shedding. “They often contain moisturizing agents that hydrate the skin and prevent dryness, as well as natural oils that nourish the coat and reduce breakage,” she says. “(But) they should not replace regular brushing as the primary method for managing shedding.”
Spot-clean the right way
There are countless spot-cleaning hacks on social media, but Maker and Mashhadi recommend steering away from fads. “Blot and extract as much of the stain as possible before you apply anything,” Mashhadi says. If the rug is synthetic, you can then use an enzyme cleaner formulated specifically to remove pet stains and odors, such as one from Nature’s Miracle or Rocco & Roxie.
For severe stains – or more delicate rugs – Mashhadi advises calling a professional rug cleaner. But if you’re willing to risk treating those yourself, Ayoub recommends putting a clean rag on top of the stain and setting a weight on top, so it absorbs as much of the liquid as possible. From there, test any stain-removal products in a discreet area. “There are some that can permanently damage the fibers,” he says, which is why his company recommends using only warm water mixed with dish soap, blotting the stain carefully and blotting again with clean water.
Stubborn stains may need to be treated more than once. Both Maker and Krueger also recommend investing in a portable spot cleaner, which will flush the stain with soap and water, rinse it and suction the area dry.
“Those are good if you know how to use them and you don’t oversaturate the carpet,” Ayoub says. “A lot of times, people use too much water or too much cleaning solution, and it either damages the rug or it gets underneath the rug into the (floor) beneath.”