HandiWORK: Cleaning a sheepskin rug

Hello, beautiful. If only your cousin would be like you.

I have a beautiful sheepskin rug that sits on one side of my bed, near the window. It still looks as good as the day I bought it at Ikea about two years ago — an amorphous explosion of pillowy, fluffy softness.

I have another sheepskin rug — four sheepskins, actually, stitched together “Ovine Centipede” style* — that sits on the other side of my bed … the high-traffic side. It is in nowhere as good of condition as the smaller one, thanks to the trodding upon, to and fro, several times a day.

Not for lack of trying: I now own a wire brush, the kind that slips over your hand and is designed to be used for dog grooming, which which I regularly attack the rug. Tyra Sanchez has arrived home and walked by me sitting blithely on the floor, brushing manically, stopping only to unpeel the mats of wool that accumulated in the brush tines. So with enough care, the rug looks fluffy … but it still looked dirty, too.

Step 1: The dry cleaners. I found one that specialized in sheepskin car seats, but was worried about whether they’d restore the pile to its original condition, or if I’d pick up a matted, coiled pad of wool. The answer turned out to be “somewhere in between”: Most of the rug was still in good shape, but the center of each quarter had a mashed, squashed appearance that couldn’t be brushed out to match the rest of the rug. And it still wasn’t as shiny-bright as the other rug, which had now become my touchstone for all things rug-appearance-related.

Today, I finally bit the bullet and tried washing it by hand. Have you ever washed a rug by hand? How about four rugs, stitched together? It was a dumb move on my part — while I could wad up the rug and submerge it in a bathtub filled with water and Woolite, manipulating it around to actually wash it, instead of letting it just soak, was a Herculean effort.

The first tubful of water ended up grossly brown, so I drained it and started again, then gave it a halfhearted attempt at wringing dry before running rinse water. I threw in some hair conditioner and drops of tea tree oil to revitalize and freshen, then soaked and mashed away the remaining suds.

The timing could have been better, I realize: In two hours I leave for the airport for my trip to Montana, and the rug is now hanging outside. (Not in the sun, as per instructions I found online!). I wouldn’t necessarily call the current process drying, because the rug is still mostly soaking wet. So maybe leaching is a better word, as gravity pulls the water out to drip onto the ground. (I’m surprised the clothesline is actually still holding intact, as heavy as the rug is.)

In about an hour I’ll go outside and rebrush it to raise the pile, spray some more wool conditioner on it and gauge progress. In the interim, I have to go shower again — my clothes and body smell like soggy sheep’s wool, and no amount of Aveda lotion is producing a suitable olfactory override.

My lesson: Take better care of the rug to start with. Maybe I’ll have to start treating it like the Parker Palm Springs did their flokati rugs, which mysteriously appeared from under the bed only after turndown service. That way the rug won’t be subject to daily indignities, but rather serve as a special treat for bare feet when I crawl into/out of bed.

And if it doesn’t come out of this wash/dry cycle like a champ, maybe it’s time to retire it and look for a new contender.

img_3419Update in 2017: While I was on vacation, my roommate’s cat randomly took a dump on the big rug, and in an attempt to fix things, he … put it in the washer. And the dryer.

So, yeah, I have a new sheepskin rug now.

The old one is still around, though. I put it in the guest bedroom, where the fibers still feel soft, even though it looks like someone gave the rug a bad perm. (See thumbnail at right.) In addition to shrinking the rug’s physical size, the dryer also did a number on the rug’s natural, suede-like backing, which is now a bit crispy to the touch. Nonetheless—a functioning rug it is!

* Note: not actually Ovine Centipede style, since that would be a long line of end to front, end to front, end to front, end to front. Maybe more like Ovine Millipede, since it’s two end-to-fronts, also stitched side by side.

WHAT SAM WORE: 7-17-11
The shirt: University of Alabama T-shirt (again) from Junky Trunk, Mesa.
The shorts: Knee-length cotton jersey shorts from H&M, Scottsdale Quarter.
The shoes: Sneakers by Adidas, from Sports Authority.
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