Owners of Oriental and area rugs often inquire about the appearance and condition of the rug fringes. The cleaning of these rugs is a complicated and intricate process and a major concern during this process involves the fringes. Rug fringes are prone to inevitable deterioration with normal use. They may begin to pull away, tangle, unravel or rot. This may be due to the fringe fiber content (usually cotton but may be wool or silk) loose or low yarn twist and open or cut ends. These characteristics make rug fringes susceptible to untwisting and texture loss during normal use vacuuming and walking. Since fringes extend out beyond the rug cushion or padding, they are subject to the full impact of foot traffic, abrasion and vacuum brushes.
Many rugs received for cleaning have tangled fringes. Greasy and oily soils can act like an adhesive to hold decaying fringe fibers and yarns together. This condition makes cleaning more difficult, plus the cleaning action removes sticky soils and exposes the weakened fiber. Also, the tangles may not be correctable and may make the fringes more susceptible to breaking during cleaning.
Another cause of fringe deterioration occurs before the rug leaves its country of origin. A procedure called "chemical washing" or "luster washing" is given to most rugs as part of the finishing process. This "wash" consists of controlled use of strong chemicals including chlorine bleach, caustic soda or alkali that give the wool a luster or antique finish. This "wash" weakens fringes even when the rug is new, and the deterioration continues over its lifetime. This preexisting damage is seldom noticed until after the rug is cleaned. Rugs prone to this damage may include those from Pakistan, Romania, India, China, Persia, Iran and others.
Fringes may require special treatments during and after cleaning. Extremely soiled fringes may require more aggressive cleaning in an attempt to get them back to their original condition. A second reason for special fringe cleaning is cellulosic browning of the fringe yarns. Rug fringes are mostly made of cotton, a cellulosic fiber that undergoes natural changes with time and wear. These changes may develop into a tan-brown staining or discoloration. A third reason is change in fringes' color due to water damage and dye migration. This color bleeding occurs as fugitive dyes from the wet rug are absorbed into undyed or whiter colored fringes.
These are various methods used to clean fringes. Each procedure has its advantages and disadvantages. One treatment does not weaken the fringes, but may leave them off-white or slightly discolored. Another, harsher process involves bleaching the fringes, which will whiten them but may result in a change in their strength and texture. The procedures best suited for a particular rug comes from the knowledge and experience of a skilled rug cleaner.
Generally, any fringe treatment, either when new or during professional cleaning, will cause a greater or lesser degree of deterioration over time. Rugs with weakened fringe will continue to deteriorate from normal “wear and tear” and this will be particularly noticeable after each cleaning. Rug fringes look beautiful when new, but they are the Achilles’ heel of most Oriental and specialty rugs. Many professional cleaners can renew your rug's appearance by refringing or replacing the fringes with undamaged yarn.