Starting a Rug Washing Center? Here’s What You Need to Know

Reference: By Eric Fish

A garden hose and a brush.
According to Tom Monahan, Area Rug Cleaning Co. (Ann Arbor, MI), that’s all you really need to wash a rug.
“But it’s going to be slow and tedious,” he warns. “It’s the difference between women at the river bank washing their clothes with a washboard versus something with automation. You can do it well and you might dedicate your whole life that day to that rug, but how much would you have to charge a square foot for that?Who’s going to pay what you need to charge for that rug?”
Considering that the national average is about $3 per square foot and, with the right equipment, rugs can be effectively washed in a matter of hours, the garden hose and brush method probably isn’t the best route to take if you’re seriously thinking about getting into rug washing.
And who could blame you if you are seriously giving thought to expanding your rug cleaning services or opening up a rug washing center. According to Monahan, there are more rugs on the planet now than there have ever been before. “Let’s go back in history,” he says. “What did people have in their homes? It wasn’t wall-to-wall carpet, it was area rugs. Wall-to-wall carpet wasn’t brought in until the 1950s and 60s and 70s. Before wall-to-wall carpeting, everybody had area rugs. And those that had a little bit of money had a set for spring/summer and then they had a set for fall/winter. They would just change them out. Wall-to-wall carpet came in, area rugs diminished. Then, there was a revival. We’ve been seeing that revival now for the past 10 years.”
So if you’re looking to get serious with rug washing, what do you really need to have on hand and what do you really need to know?

Cleaning vs. Washing

There’s a difference between rug “cleaning” and rug “washing.” Those who say they’re “rug cleaning,” Monahan says, are probably referring to using a cleaning wand to simply top-clean a rug during an in-home cleaning. And there’s nothing wrong with “rug cleaning” per say, as long as the customer is properly informed that while their area rug may look good on the surface, it hasn’t thoroughly been washed.
“(Top cleaning) distorts what rug cleaning could be for that customer,” Monahan says. “So they think to themselves: ‘Why should I pay $3 a square foot?’”
“Rug washing,” conversely, consists of dusting it, washing it, rinsing it, drying it and grooming it – what Monahan refers to as the core fundamentals of the washing cycle. It’s a process, and one that can take anywhere from a few hours to an entire day to wash one rug depending on the type of equipment you have. That brings us to…

Rug Washing Hardware

As we told you in the opening, it’s not unrealistic to be able to effectively wash a rug with nothing more than a brush and a garden hose. But it is unrealistic to think you’ll be operating a profitable rug washing center with this most basic equipment. Here’s a look at some of the equipment available for each step of the washing process:
  • Dusting: So what tools are available for rug dusting? “You can put it on a clothesline and beat it,” Monahan says. But there are also much more effective tools, such as specialty beater-bar vacuum cleaners, air dusting machines and rug dusters. Then there’s the most effective piece of equipment for centers that are washing dozens – perhaps even hundreds – of rugs per day: an automated rug dusting machine.
  • Washing: After dusting comes washing, which is most commonly completed either in a wash pit, a wash tub or a combination of both. At the Area Rug Cleaning Co., Monahan uses a combination of both, first treating up to 15 rugs in a 1,500-gallon complete immersion wash tub (anywhere from 30 minutes to hours, depending on the condition of the rug) that mimics hand washing before putting the finishing touches on each rug individually in the pit.
  • Drying: Following washing and grooming comes drying. You can simply take it to the dry room and place it on a dry pole or lay it flat on a rack, or you can speed up the dry time with a centrifuge, a type of rug wringer that removes most of the water from a wet rug in a matter of minutes.

Training and Education

“Why are you rug washing to begin with?” Monahan asks. “If you’re just going to dabble with it because you’re a hobbyist, OK. But realize what you’re doing. You’re trying to build a company, and you have nothing. You better get yourself some training and you better get yourself some education before you spend $1 (on equipment).”
Monahan, a rug washer since 1977, admits he hasn’t always been washing well. “I’ve become more educated as time went on,” he says.
Today, there’s a plethora of training options available for would-be rug washers as well as those who want to continue their education. Aaron Groseclose and Ellen Amirkhan have held Master Rug Cleaning and rug restoration courses for over 20 years and other rug gurus such as Ruth Travis, Lisa Wagner and Jeff Bishop also hold instructional courses. Such courses allow even experienced washers the chance to learn something new.
“The longer you’re in it, the less you’re learning about fundamental type stuff – you learn little tricks, business aspect-type things,” Monahan says. “Sometimes those little tricks that you learn here and there are worth thousands of dollars.”
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