Rug Odors and Off Colors

Lower quality, smellier area rugs have flooded the market in recent years. The latex back coating or adhesive in these rugs is a common source of the pervasive foul odor they often have. There is no amount of professional cleaning or deodorization that will get rid of this foul odor, which is unfortunately built-in. This is not how a new rug should smell, and it is not typical of an old rug that has been well cared for. The smell can range from barely noticeable to overpowering. These rugs often have a smell similar to diesel fuel or burnt oil due to the latex used in their construction.

These rugs may have a foul odor even in the retail store, but they will be much more pronounced in the closed quarters of your home. These rugs are often sold by mass-market importers and have a defect in the weaving or dyeing that makes them smell bad. This unpleasant odor is common in hand-tufted area rugs. Pile fibers are frequently wool, but other materials like acrylic, cotton, olefin, and others are possible as well.

The construction involves inserting the pile through the primary backing and then applying an adhesive made from latex to the backing fabric’s reverse side to keep the pile yarns from shifting. The secondary backing fabric is adhered to the rug using the same latex adhesive. When you turn the rug over, you’ll see the secondary backing fabric—typically a coarse cotton duck fabric that’s been dyed green, blue, or another color. We attribute the unpleasant odor to the manufacturing process’s use of defective, low-quality latex adhesive. Diesel oil odors could have been absorbed into the latex during shipping from India, or those odors could have been added to mask other issues.

Wet cleaning is commonly used to remove stains and soiling from carpets, as well as to neutralize unpleasant odors. A nasty latex smell may be present during or after the routine wet cleaning or in-plant cleaning of rugs. This is due to the latex adhesive in the carpet degrading and off-gassing odorous components over time, not the cleaning. After decades of trying, the cleaning industry has concluded that this smell simply cannot be eradicated. Area rugs made in India or other low-quality Asian countries often have issues with discolorations and dye transfer that only serve to highlight their inherent flaws.

Poorly dyed cotton scrim or canvas backing on these rugs can “crock,” or transfer its green, blue, or another offensive color, onto the carpet or rug underneath. During wet cleaning, fugitive dye markers used to stencil the pattern for hand tufting can bleed up to the surface of the rug pile. It’s possible for cotton hooked rugs to lose color when washed and dyed due to cellulosic browning. As an added downside, cleaning can sometimes bring out bleed-through in darker hues. A well-made oriental or area rug will never experience any of these unsavory occurrences.

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