08 May 2012

Getting Rid Of Mildew In A Natural Fiber Rug

Writing this post sucks. I'm seriously bummed. A week or so ago we started noticing a gross smell in our living room that we realized was coming from the rug. It's a jute rug and has never had any kind of odor before, but was suddenly smelling NASTY. I did some research online and found out that what we were smelling was the beginnings of mildew. Because natural fiber rugs are made from plants, they can't handle humidity because damp, moist air causes them to mold. You would think that we would have had this problem back in Florida where the air is like a sauna, but our home in Florida had air conditioning, so in the house the air was always very dry. Here in Minnesota, although the outside air is much drier than Florida's, we don't have air conditioning and the last couple weeks have been warm and very rainy. Tons of rain + warmer air + open windows= a super humid house that's taking a rapid toll on my rug.

Further research online taught me that cleaning natural fiber rugs is tricky business because you can't get them very wet- moisture causes the fibers to start breaking down and can make the edges curl up or get wavy, and the rug overall to loose strength. {Not to mention the icky problem that we were now having- mildew!} This means no steam cleaning or soaking it down with cleaning solutions- what ever you use to kill the mold has to be misted lightly over the top of the rug so that you're only wetting the top fibers- not all the way through.

My first line of defense was to tackle the smell that was killing us slowly...I sprinkled almost an entire box of baking soda all over the rug and let it sit over night. In the morning we came downstairs and the smell was gone.

That had only masked the problem though, so now it was time to try to kill off the actual cause of the smell. We moved all the furniture off the rug and I vacuumed it about 15 times (including the floor under it) to get rid of all the baking soda. Next I filled a spray bottle with white vinegar (which kills most forms of mold and mildew) and sprayed it all over the top of the rug. Luckily it's not at the point yet where we can actually see anything growing anywhere so there wasn't a specific spot I needed to focus on- I just sprayed the whole thing. I let it sit for maybe half an hour, then since it's so important that these rugs stay dry, I got out my hair dryer and an extension cord and blow dried the whole rug.

{If you're wondering about the light spots in the center of the rug, they are just bleached out from using Resolve on them. Another natural fiber rug lesson- don't clean up spills with harsh chemicals.}

All the websites I checked out to learn how to clean this thing said that it's really good at this point to let the rug dry out for several hours outside in the sun. But that isn't an option for our rug- it's huge and super heavy so it's not like we can take it out and lay it over a lawn chair. Plus our yard is so full of trees that we'd have to go spread it out in the middle of the street and let people drive over it in order for it to get any sun, so my hair dryer was my next best drying option. 

My husband pointed out that we not only have lots of moisture coming in from the open windows but it's also coming up from the floor- our basement has been extra humid lately and since our floors are wood and wood traps moisture, our rug might as well be sitting in a puddle. So to try to keep it dry and discourage any more mildew, my last line of defense was to cover the floor under the rug with dryer sheets. 

Whenever we walk in the house now it's like we're being hit in the face with a box of bounty. But the mildew smell is gone...for now. 

It's raining again as I'm typing this.

Has anyone else had this problem? After everything I've read about this, I realize that an older home with no air conditioning is not a practical place to have this type of rug, but I really really don't want to get rid of it. {I also really really don't want to go through all of the above every time it rains though.} 

Unfortunately, this is probably a post that I should end with to be continued....

*Update: Right after posting this, I was tipped off that it's not a good idea to have dryer sheets on top of a hardwood floor because they can ruin the finish. So we removed all the dryer sheets from under the rug. If you don't have a hardwood floor though, the dryer sheets really help to keep things fresh. Luckily things have been totally fresh in here and the icky odor is gone! 

Here's a bit of brighter news though! Don't forget that I'm hosting an online Thirty One party, so for anyone interested in getting some organizing gear for your home you can check out this post for the details. 


  1. OMG. Your determination is incredible! If I realized a smell was coming from my rug, I would've pitched it immediately. Moments like this is where my laziness shines and your discipline is envied. Here's to your fresh & bouncy rug!

  2. Good gracious girl, that sucks. You are tackling it like a champ though. Hope this does the trick! Fingers crossed!!

  3. Anonymous08 May, 2012

    Be careful using the dryer sheets. They will ruin finish on wood. I have had that happen to me before. -Heather Dicks

    1. Oh my gosh Heather, THANK YOU for letting me know! That would have sucked!!! I'm sure our landlords would not have been happy with us if they ended up with a bunch of rectangular marks all over the floor! We're going to get rid of the dryer sheets!

  4. I'm having the same odour problem with my Jute Rug and I'm most definitely going to try your line of attack. Thank you. :)

  5. If you’re in doubt of any unpleasant growth in your house, you should simply assume there is a problem whenever you see mold or smell mold odors. Testing should never take the place of visual inspection (which is recommended) and it should never use up resources that are needed to correct moisture problems and remove visible growth.
    People used to think that molds were harmless but it isn’t. The fact is, some molds produce a toxin called aflatoxin (toxic and among the most carcinogenic substances known) that causes illness and death in people.
    Sometimes, mold growth is hidden and difficult or hard to locate and find. In such cases, carefully conducted sampling and visual inspection may help determine the location of contamination. However, mold testing is rarely useful for trying to answer questions or inquiries about health concerns. For more information, see mold testing services

  6. It’s a good thing that you’re trying to get rid of the mold on that rug. As you know, molds are also cause of asthmatic complications and we really don’t want our children sitting or playing on something that might make them sick. Humidity is really the problem here and if we could solve that, we can prevent mold growth on that rug, and on your basement as well.

    Barry Chavez