Your sheepskin rug is a luxury item that should give you many years of pleasure, so here are our expert tips to help you clean it, care for it, and love it for longer.

Our lovely customers often ask how to keep their natural sheepskin rug in tip-top condition. It’s wonderful that the love and craftsmanship that goes into our products is appreciated by the people whose home they adorn! 

Of course, very few things last forever, but the fact is, your rug will keep its luxurious looks, its softness and suppleness for many years if it’s properly cared for. 

So here are our expert tips to clean and care for your rug, including advice on spot-washing, hand- or machine-washing, soaps, cleaning products, drying and vacuuming. 

Some general advice

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of washing a sheepskin rug, there are a few things that are useful to know. 

  1. Firstly, sheepskin products need a little bit of TLC because – to be perfectly frank – they can be a bit of a diva! There’s the suede pelt on one side, and the wool on the other…all we’re saying is, either of those can be tricky to care for on its own, but your sheepskin rug combines both in one product! Don’t panic, once you’ve read this, you’ll know just how to pander to its whims.
  2. Secondly, if you’re giving your rug a full wash, it might be best to avoid doing it in the winter, because you’ll get the best results from drying it naturally outdoors, somewhere warm and airy but out of direct sunlight. 
  3. And thirdly, rugs designed for home interiors are usually made from long sheep’s wool; the care and cleaning advice here is suitable for both long and short woolled sheepskins (which are often used for pet or baby sheepskin rugs or pram-liners), but you’ll need specialist advice for alpaca, lama or vicuna wool, etc.

Let’s dive in, then!

Remove dust and loose dirt regularly

Always shake and air your rugs outside regularly – depending how much you like cleaning! Try to do this at least once a year, as part of your spring-cleaning regime, to dislodge loose dust and dirt. After a good shake, suspend it on the washing line or over the fence, and ideally, beat it, too.

Even if you’re planning to follow up by physically washing your rug afterwards, getting rid of as much loose dirt as possible first is a good first step.

Leave your rug out to air for a few hours, weather permitting – Mother Nature is a brilliant deodoriser! 

Removing tangles in the wool

Regular use can cause tangles or matting in your sheepskin rug over time. You can brush straight wool gently with a clean, metal-toothed dog-grooming brush, always following the growth of the wool. Naturally curly wool might go somewhat frizzy with this method, though, so your best bet is to use your fingers to break open the tight curls. 

Can I vacuum my sheepskin rug?

Yes, you certainly can, provided you’re careful. Never use a vacuum floor-head with a rolling brush, or on full suction, as that could damage your rug, potentially pulling the wool from the roots if the rug is old, or fracturing the wool if it has had heavy traffic, or has been attacked by moths. 

Put the vacuum on a lightweight suction setting, and use the full width of the vacuum head to spread the load, or alternatively, use an upholstery attachment.

Spot-washing to remove stains

It’s better to spot-clean stains if you can, rather than fully submerging your sheepskin rug, which can cause it to shrink (if not done correctly).

You’ll need to act fast with stains from acidic substances, for example tomato sauce, red wine, baby poo and vomit, because the colour penetrates the wool really quickly, effectively dying it. 

Spot-clean with a warm, damp cloth (a mild and soft soapy solution is fine), rubbing the stain gently in the direction of the wool. As the mark diminishes, blend the edges of the stain outwards, otherwise you could end up with the clean spot being more noticeable than the stain! 

After that, use a clean damp cloth to wipe away any excess soapy solution. 

If that gentle approach doesn’t remove the stain adequately, you can wet the wool with lukewarm water and wash it like you would hair. Baby shampoo is brilliant (or use any soft soap, without a colour or detergent). As before, the key is to spread the stain, don’t just concentrate on the fouled area, and then rinse well with clear water. Ideally, try to only wet the wool, not the pelt – it’s just much quicker and easier to just dry the wool.

Organic stains such as mud are more easily dealt with. It’s best to let the rug dry thoroughly, and then break up muddy clumps with your fingers. After that, shake out or vacuum as necessary.

Can you put a sheepskin rug in the washing machine?

Yes, you can. Not too often, but YES. Machine washing will remove day-to-day grime and freshen up your rug, but like all-natural products, the more you wash it, the more you will strip out the natural oils – once they’re gone, they can’t be replaced, so it’s a balance between cleaning and maintaining the natural lustre / softness.

Loosen and remove as much grime as possible first, as we described above, then wash the rug like you would your very best wool jumper, on a cool, delicate wool-wash, and the slowest spin possible. 

Use a soft, soap-based detergent (nothing biological because that will strip the natural oils from the sheepskin). Be restrained, as it’s difficult for the rinse programme to do its job properly if you have gone crazy with suds.

We can’t stress enough not to use hot water, as this will make your rug shrink, and cause the leather side to become brittle and hard.

Of course, the cool water cycle of your washing machine won’t shift stubborn stains, so revert to the spot-washing method for those. 

Hand-washing

If you feel your rug needs a full wash, hand-washing is probably the gentlest method; the bath is the ideal place to lay your rug out flat and reach every inch of it.

Use lukewarm water and a small amount of non-biological washing powder. Some people recommend adding a little glycerin to the water to keep the leather pelt soft and supple. Don’t pummel the wool too vigorously – as with the machine method, treat your rug as if it was your favourite wool jumper!

Steam-cleaning

Gentler than getting your rug completely wet, steam-cleaning avoids the risk of the leather side going brittle and stiff as it dries. Five to ten minutes’ steam cleaning with a nozzle attachment, in the direction of the wool growth, lifts dust and dirt, and can also help to lift and detangle the wool fibres if the rug has become a bit matted.

How to dry your sheepskin rug 

Drying after spot-washing

After spot-washing stains, towel-dry the wet areas of wool, and then allow to dry naturally in a warm airy place (away from direct sources of heat or sun).

Provided it is just the wool that is wet, and not the pelt, you can dry with a hairdryer ON COOL – zero heat, I mean it, ZERO HEAT! This obviously rules out tumble dryers, too. If you need to, brush out the wool gently with a metal-tooth dog-grooming brush, as suggested earlier.

Drying after full submersion

If you’ve washed the whole rug, it will hold onto quite a lot of moisture, even after the spin cycle in a washing machine. 

Gently squeeze out as much water by hand as you can, section by section. Don’t wring it or twist it, as this might pull the rug out of shape. When the rug is no longer dripping wet, I always use plenty of towels to wrap it, roll it up like a sausage, and then gently squeeze out / absorb more water into the towels.

Give the rug a good shake and then, ideally, place it somewhere flat, warm and airy, but away from direct sunlight or heat. PLEASE don’t put it on anything hot that will dry it too aggressively. You can place another towel underneath to help soak up more water as it dries.

The pelt will harden and stiffen as it dries; you just need to manipulate the pelt with kneading and twisting. This will soften the fibres and help the skin break open and return to a more tactile feel.

You can use a brush very gently for detangling and fluffing up the wool fibres while the rug is drying. 

How to clean a coloured sheepskin

All Owen Barry sheepskin rugs are colorfast, however overtime light and life will fade the density of the colour and you will notice that on the tips of the wool the colour changes, whereas at the base of the wool strand (where light doesn’t penetrate) it will remain original.

Washing will not immediately affect the colour, however, as instructed above, repeated washing (even with a soft soap solution) will strip away colour as well as natural oils.

General care tips for your sheepskin rug

Regular care should reduce the need for washing too frequently, if at all.

  • If your rug is on the floor, keep it away from very high traffic areas like the hall, or working areas of the kitchen. Not only will it get dirty very quickly in these areas, the wool will quickly get matted or even wear away entirely.
  • Keep your rug away from the damp. The suede side of your sheepskin is a breeding ground for black mould if it’s in contact with a damp floor. If this happens, air it out in indirect sunlight.
  • Keep out of direct sunlight to avoid fading or yellowing – this oxidisation process in the wool can’t be reversed. 
  • A sprinkling of baking soda can reduce odours and freshen your rug. Work a small amount into the wool, then shake or vacuum to remove.
  • Always read care labels, if your rug has one attached. 

All this advice is relevant to sheepskin rugs originating from areas where the feed / grass is plush and generous, i.e., UK, Australia, New Zealand, Europe and the USA.

If the sheep or lamb’s diet becomes sparser, i.e., regions such as Tibet, and some African and South American regions, the wool and pelt is far more tender and prone to rip or break during cleaning.

Also, the tanning process in some cases is not so uniform and “correct” as mainstream tanneries, so if you use the cleaning methods described here on these more fragile skins, bear these points in mind and be much gentler. In particular, don’t let anything remotely hot (especially water) come into contact with the skin.

With the best will in the world, we all grow old eventually, and so will your sheepskin rug, but if you follow our care tips, it will be a very gradual and graceful process. So, love your rug, and look after it, and when it finally needs to be replaced, Owen Barry’s collection of sheepskin rugs offers you the finest quality of British craftsmanship.  

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