Jute is a plant fiber that we used to only see in a small number of older American hand hooked rugs…
…and some more contemporary European latch hook, embroidery, and needlepoint rugs.
But lately jute has become the cheap and plentiful fiber of choice for many rugs we see coming out of India (the world’s #1 jute grower) and other countries. If you go into any of the more popular home furnishing stores today, from Pottery Barn to Restoration Hardware to Crate & Barrel, you are going to find rugs with jute in them as face fibers or as the backing material.
The pluses are that it’s cheap, it’s quick to grow, and it’s environmentally friendly because it’s biodegradable.
The minuses (you just KNEW there would be minuses!) are that it is an extremely difficult fiber to handle if you do not know anything about it beforehand, and problems are very tough to correct.
Here are the three major challenges with jute.
Jute Browns & Yellows Like No Other Fiber Out There.
If you are a professional carpet cleaner who has ever had to tackle installed wall-to-wall wool carpet, which happened to be woven on a JUTE backing, then you know how absolutely dangerous this situation can be.
Get that jute even a little too wet, and the white wool can turn shades of coffee brown.
Jute gets brown and yellow when it’s wet. It releases oils that brown. So, when the way to get rugs clean is to WASH them, this can create a technical nightmare.
Something as heavily soiled as this rayon and jute rug needs to be washed to clean thoroughly, but both fibers like to yellow when wet, so what is a cleaner to do?
Jute Holds Odor Like No Other Fiber Out There.
Jute is super absorbent, and can hold on to odor causing contaminants like pet urine even throughout multiple washings.
Rug labels tend to only list what the face fibers of a rug are. So a hand woven rug may say “100% wool” even though the warps and wefts of the foundation are all usually cotton.
With synthetic rugs, you will see “100% polypropylene” (or acrylic, nylon, polyester) – but most have heavy jute weft threads in their foundation. This makes removing odors like pet urine from these rugs very difficult because you have to try to remove the source of the problem, and it is often absorbed into the middle of these innermost fibers.
If there are pets in the home that are not trained, jute would not be a good choice… unless you just plan to get cheap rugs on the floor that are jute, and just buy new ones when they get badly contaminated.
Jute Will Rot And Get Brittle Like No Other Fiber Out There.
Jute will dry rot faster than other fibers.
Unfortunately rug cleaners discover this fact when they are inspecting rugs with some age to them that have been woven on jute. Over time it just disintegrates, and these sometimes very wonderfully woven textiles just fall apart.
Sometimes spills will make the jute rot quicker in specific areas:
When the jute throughout a piece has become brittle with rot or age, there is nothing that can be done to salvage it. It’s as if your skeleton began to crumble apart, you cannot support something with no strength left in it.
If you do not catch this deterioration BEFORE the cleaning process begins, you could literally have the rug fall apart on you unexpectedly.
Tips On Cleaning Jute Rugs
BROWNING/YELLOWING: If the rug looks like it already shows signs of a cellulose browning problem, you may opt to only surface clean the rug to expose the jute backing to as little moisture as possible.
You could also clean with a dry compound or low-moisture bonnet cleaning method.*
(* – I personally am not a fan of dry compound or of encapsulation cleaning of rugs, because I do not feel they truly “clean” the rugs. I would rather see someone surface clean with an upholstery tool to try to clean the rug without getting the backing very wet instead of these other choices. That said, when the rug has a serious browning problem and moderate soiling, your dry compound or encap methods may be the only viable option.)
If you fully wash a rug with jute because it needs a thorough cleaning, then having an acid rinse can help lessen some of that cellulose browning.
Also, sometimes if you dry the rug flat and face down (fuzzy side down) on a CLEAN surface, and put some high speed air movers on it to dry, you can often make the wicking of the browning problem move to the back side of the rug instead of up on the front side of the rug.
ODOR REMOVAL: If the odor is strong in a rug with a jute fiber foundation, and the rug is polypropylene, then you can use some of the new oxidizers on the market to remove the odor, such as OSR or Oxcelerate. (Be VERY careful to NOT use this on wool rugs – only synthetic, and of course test first.)
BRITTLE FIBERS: Unfortunately, when the jute foundation fibers are splitting and crumbling away, there is not much you can do.
With smaller decorative hooked and needlepoint rugs woven on jute, especially the older ones, it may be time to prepare them for hanging in order to keep the foot traffic from tearing the rug apart completely. You have to see how much strength is left in the jute fibers to allow it to be hung because the weight of itself may be too much for even that.
With jute, the main protection again getting caught having to pay to replace a rug is to be obsessive compulsive about your pre-wash inspection process.
Look for jute, and when you find it, go over those 3 major concerns: browning, odor, and brittleness. Discuss the options with the owner BEFORE the cleaning, and don’t be afraid to turn away a job if it looks like it could end up becoming a rug disaster.
Hope these tips and warnings help you.
Happy Rug Cleaning!
P.S. If you are looking for rug training, as of 4/12 there are a handful of spots left in my upcoming Rug Secrets “Get Started” course. You can find the details at Rug Secrets Course.