Maintaining Your Oriental Carpet: The Rug Pad
Padding keeps your rugs from slipping, which keeps you safe
Poor quality padding is a breeding ground for moths
Not having padding on a hard floor can destroy your rugs
Today I'm talking about something that a lot of people don't give much consideration to when they purchase a rug - the rug pad. This is a critical part of rug ownership, often overlooked or done on the cheap with destructive consequences. A quality rug, antique or semi-antique, will cost a substantial amount of money and people understandably will resist spending additional dollars when the carpet feels just fine to walk on without a pad. I understand; you’ve just spent several hundred to several thousand dollars, not knowing if you’re getting a good deal. Then the dealer encourages you to buy what seems like a very expensive pad for your new rug. It just doesn’t feel right. But in reality, the more you spend on a rug, the more you need a high quality pad. Let me explain why...
Proper padding for a rug is extremely important for a number of reasons, the first being your own safety. In 40 years I have seen hands, arms and hips, all broken because of padding. Or rather because of bad padding or no padding. If you have a hardwood floor and suddenly you are walking a little faster than normal, the rug can slide under your foot, sending you crashing to the floor. Padding is critical to prevent this slipping and protect yourself.
Another reason padding is important is something most people don’t consider if they don’t know much about rugs - the weight and traffic on the knots of the rug is destructive if it’s in contact with the floor. Knots are looped around the back of the foundation of a rug - if there's no padding, over time the knots of a rug will grind against the hard floor and the knots will start to disintegrate.
What I'm talking about will not happen overnight, but eventually you will run the vacuum over your rug and you will start to have bald areas, because there isn’t anything left of the back loop of the knot.
If you have wall to wall carpet, you also need a rug pad, but for different reasons. Many people think that wall to wall carpet underneath an Oriental rug will act as the pad. But the problem with an oriental rug on top of wall to wall carpet is that as you tread on them, the carpet will start to move. The friction created between the two rugs makes the carpet on top shift, and it can wrinkle or bunch up. A good pad made specifically for this will take care of wrinkling and “walking” 95% of the time.
Many people use a less expensive, waffle weave gripper padding (found at many big box stores) for their rugs, believing the main reason for padding is for its non-slip properties.
It's very important to use good quality solid padding instead. The main reason for this is moths. The open space of the inferior waffle weave matting provides a glorious breeding ground for moths. They love to lay their eggs in the little dark holes, and because it’s underneath the rug, you won’t see them until you notice holes in your rug or moths in your house. In the meantime, the moth larvae will have been eating away at your prized rug.
Solid padding also protects the floor underneath from spills. With this type of pad, the liquid (oftentimes wine) will disperse and be absorbed by the pad. If there are holes in the padding, the liquid will travel downward through to the floor. If you have a child in the house, for example, and he spills something, or if a pet urinates on the carpet and you don’t know about it, with the solid pad, the liquid can be absorbed and there will be little or no damage to the floor underneath. With a gripper-style waffle pad, your floor could be damaged and expensive to repair.
The last reason to have good padding is simply because it’s nice to walk on. These rugs are wonderful on your feet and a good pad will make walking on the rugs even more enjoyable. In Iran, shoes aren't worn inside. I’ve noticed most people in the US wear shoes indoors, which is kind of a shame because if you have these beautiful rugs in your house, you miss a lot by experiencing the luxury of them through your feet.
A good pad isn’t cheap (neither is your rug), and a lot of people probably think “I’ve already spent thousands on a rug, I don’t want to spend another $100!” But really, the more you spend on a rug, the more reason you have to spend a few more dollars on a quality pad that will protect your investment. The pad doesn’t need to be changed every year. Unless you have a pet “accident” and the smell spoils the pad, you can keep it for 15-20 years, so the cost per year calculated over the life of the pad really makes it a bargain compared to what you get back. Purchasing the right pad is the right thing to do for these beautiful pieces and treating them well will pay you back multifold.
Sam Ramazani is an Oriental carpet educator, appraiser, broker, and skilled repair craftsman. With his daughter Sara, he owns Sara's Oriental Rugs in Louisville, KY, providing beautiful handmade rugs, as well as expert rug cleaning and repair.