Knowing how to clean a sheepskin rug is something of an art. Because sheepskin is first and foremost a natural product, and therefore it is a bit of a diva when it comes to cleaning.
These gorgeous rugs are almost impossible to deep clean without damaging the skin backing, because cleaning a sheepskin rug is a little like cleaning leather and wool at the same time – both tricky materials to clean on their own... So we wouldn't usually recommend to wash a sheepskin rug at all, but rather tend to spot stains and keep it generally clean.
- Learn how to clean a rug made of cotton, jute or wool in our guide.
We all have one after all – from IKEA or not – so whether yours greets your toes first thing in the morning or if you stare at it longingly over dinner as it's draped over the side of a rustic indoor bench – very nice – it deserves a little special treatment.
We'll say outright that if your sheepskin is older than a decade, then we advise against anything other than spot cleaning or a gentle steam clean (more on that below). If you try washing an old sheepskin rug, there's a high chance it'll disintegrate in the washing machine also so take care.
We spoke with Daniel Prendergast from The Rug Seller for further expertise on cleaning Sheepskin rugs successfully. 'Sheepskin rugs can last a very long time if properly cared for. Always take the time to read the cleaning instructions that come with your sheepskin rug as each product can differ. Most of the time, and for general weekly up-keep, you can remove dust and loose particles easily by using a wire brush to rake up the wool pile a bit'
How to remove stains from a sheepskin rug
First of all, it depends on what type of stain you've got. General organic stains like mud and non acidic foods are fairly easy to remove, and it's easier to do so once the stain is dry. Acidic stains, on the other hand (e.g. wine, vomit, tomato sauce) will be more difficult to remove because they can penetrate the wool quite quickly, effectively dyeing it.
Regardless of the type of stain you're working with, you'll need to use a specialist wool shampoo. Never use all-purpose detergent or anything containing bleach, as it'll do more harm than good. Take a little of the wool shampoo and gently blot it onto the stain; let sit for 10-20 minutes, then gradually remove with a color fast damp cloth. You may not be able to get rid of the stain completely, but you will be able to diminish its appearance.
Martha Stewart alongside Arash Yaraghi, owner of Safavieh advise, 'To spot-treat a stain on sheepskin, Yaraghi suggests dampening the area with a clean, wet cloth, and sprinkling it liberally with cornstarch. The fine powder helps absorb and lift oil, grease, and dirt. Once it dries, vacuum up the remaining starch.'
Do not use biological washing powders, soap based powders, soap flakes or conditioners or any detergent containing enzymes.
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How to wash a sheepskin rug in the washing machine
As mentioned, washing a sheepskin rug is always a risk because the skin itself may come out rigid; once this has happened, there's not a lot you can do to make it soft like before, so you'll have to accept that risk before putting the sheepskin into the washing machine.
Also, washing a sheepskin rug only makes sense if you want to give the rug a general refresh and if it's free from stains; because sheepskin may only be washed in cold water (warm water will damage the skin backing), machine washing is unlikely to get rid of stains, so only do it if your rug is stain-free but could do with freshening up.
Select the woollens cycle on your washing machine and add just one tsp of non-bio detergent along with a wool shampoo. Then select the slowest spin your washing machine can do to prevent wrinkling and damage, and dry the sheepskin flat, out of direct sunlight. Never tumble dry sheepskin.
According to Prendergast, 'Depending on the size and type of your sheepskin rug, they can often be machine washed. If you do machine wash your rug make sure you use the Cool Wool setting and use a non-enzyme shampoo. The sheepskin shampoo should be specially manufactured for use with sheepskin products. You can again fluff up the rug with a gentle brush. They can be taken to be professionally cleaned or to the dry cleaners if required.'
- Find the best washing machine for the job in our guide.
How to wash a sheepskin rug in the bathtub
If you absolutely want to wash your sheepskin rug but if it's too large for the washer, you can use the tub. Wash it gently by hand in lukewarm water and a small amount of specialist wool shampoo. Some recommend adding a little glycerine to the water also to help keep the leather backing soft.
How to clean a sheepskin rug with steam
This alternative to washing is much gentler on the sheepskin, and, in our experience, will give you similar refreshing results to washing. If you have one of the best steam cleaners or mops with a nozzle attachment to hand, this can drive out a lot of the dust and dirt by just steaming your rug for five to 10 minutes. Steam in the direction of the wool growth, and you'll notice a de-knotting effect, too.
Sheepskin rug maintenance
The better you maintain your sheepskin rug, the less cleaning it will need – prevention is really better than cure here!
Think decorative in function: First of all, although they call them 'sheepskin rugs', sheepskins aren't really suitable for high-traffic areas on floors; you're best off using yours as a throw or decoration in your living room or bedroom; if you like the look of sheepskins on a wooden floor, use faux ones.
Regular brushing: Sheepskin also benefits from regular brushing with a specialist sheepskin brush and shaking to remove stuck dust – but be gentle; it may sound odd, but brush it in the same way you would a pet – without being too harsh or pulling at the hair. If you brush too hard, your rug will thin over time.
Keep it out of the sun: Sheepskins are best positioned out of direct sunlight, which is the main cause of yellowing over time; this is an oxidisation process in the wool and can't be reversed with cleaning.
Keep it dry: Sheepskin will not tolerate damp conditions either, so keep yours out of cold damp rooms as the floors will be a breeding ground for black mould. Too much damp will make the sides curl up so if yours are damp, air them out in indirect sunlight.
Don't over wash: The natural lanolin and wool fibres of the rug, in essence mean that you shouldn't need to wash yours so frequently. Be mindful that you don't overdo it.
Sheepskin rug cleaning essentials
Fluffy AF 👌