How to Avoid FIVE Dangerous Rug Cleaning RIP-OFFS

Protect yourself from being ripped off by Unscrupulous Carpet & Rug Cleaners

How to Avoid Five Dangerous Rug Cleaning Rip-Offs could save your Rugs & your Money


RIP-OFF #1: “Rug Cleaning Expert” Claim

When you are in search of someone to clean your rugs, you are in search of an “expert.” Though there are usually more than 1,000 wall-to-wall carpet cleaners in any good size city … the number of rug specialists in any good size city can be counted on one hand (or maybe only 1 or 2 fingers). Yet, many of these hundreds of wall-to-wall cleaners stick “oriental rug cleaning expert” in their ads. If you are randomly choosing a cleaner from the phone book for your rugs, you must follow up to make certain that this particular company actually is trained in cleaning oriental and area rugs.

Just because wall-to-wall carpet is “fuzzy,” and so is a rug, does not mean that they are the same and can be cleaned the same way. Rug cleaning is a dying craft, and less than 1% of the wall-to-wall carpet cleaning industry has had any formal hands-on training on how to properly clean oriental and area rugs. Just because they have “RUG EXPERT” in their ad … does not mean that they are … and does not mean that they will not ruin your rug trying to guess how to clean it correctly. Don’t let YOUR rug become their “learning experience!”

RIP-OFF #2: Uninsured Cleaners

Most Cleaning Companies do NOT have care, custody, and control insurance coverage. This is known also as “workmanship” coverage, as it covers any damage that occurs during the work being performed. In other words, if a rug bleeds, warps, unravels, discolors, shrinks or fades during the cleaning process by most companies – it is not covered by their insurance. And considering that most of these companies are surviving from invoice to invoice, you will be out not only your favorite rug, but also will have to struggle trying to collect any money to replace it … if it’s even possible to replace it.

It is absolutely vital that you ask a Cleaning Company if they carry this type of coverage if you have a rug that has any significant value to it. If the company owner is not sure, then move to the next company – because an owner always knows when they have that additional coverage above and beyond their typical commercial liability coverage. Request a Certificate of Proof of Coverage if you are nervous about the situation (this should be faxed to you from the Insurance Company within a few days).

RIP-OFF #3: Bait and Switch “Hand Wash”

Many Cleaning Companies and Rug Galleries advertise that they “hand wash” rugs … even though they don’t hand wash a single piece. In fact, many rugs that come in for a full-immersion hand wet wash (the recommended method) to these establishments actually end up being steam cleaned using wall-to-wall carpet cleaning equipment and chemicals. Why? For two reasons: 1) they do not know how to properly wet wash rugs, and 2) they can steam clean a rug much quicker and much cheaper … so they make more money when they charge you the “hand wash” price.

If you are having a wall-to-wall carpet cleaner wash your rugs, then odds are it will be steam cleaned. If a rug gallery does not have a cleaning facility on-site, then they are subcontracting their work to someone else … so just make sure it’s a rug specialist doing the work. And if they claim that their own mother will wash your large living room with her own hands, ask to see the facility where this will take place. (By the way, even a strong mom can’t move a wet 8×10 rug … I love hearing these stories that some of these galleries spin!)

The point is, just because they tell you it will be hand washed does not mean that they will not instead aggressively steam clean it and pocket the big difference in labor costs.

RIP-OFF #4: Wash Price Based on “Appraised” Value

This is the biggest rip-off in our industry, and is luckily only employed by a few unethical rug gallery owners in various cities. A rug specialist, who has the proper training and experience, has NO REASON AT ALL to charge anything beyond a set square foot charge for his or her work. But some rug gallery owners charge a PERCENTAGE of the value of a rug to clean it. The scam is that they build up the value of the piece to you first, by saying it’s a wonderful piece and worth tens of thousands of dollars, and that it will only be 10% of the value of the rug to clean it through them. Then they subcontract the cleaning to someone who charges a set square foot fee (many times a wall-to-wall carpet cleaner) and pocket the difference.

If a rug is worth a thousand, ten thousand, or a hundred thousand dollars, it will essentially go through the same proper cleaning process by a rug specialist, and the only cost variance should be because of size differences or additional services and NOT value differences. When you are asked to pay a percentage, you need to ask why that’s necessary … and then take your work someplace else.

This type of scam gives the rug selling business a bad reputation which can hurt some of the really good, ethical rug gallery owners that do exist in every city.

RIP-OFF #5: Rugs Gone “Missing”

People who own rugs that have been passed down in their families do not always know what they have, or what value they may have on the rug market. Though not all antique rugs are collectibles that would command top bid at auctions … some are, and the owners may not know that. And when an unknowledgeable rug owner interacts with a knowledgeable rug trader offering cleaning services … the situation can end up taking advantage of this lack of rug education.

When a rug cleaner tells you that a rug is not worth investing in cleaning, and then offers to give you some money to “take it off your hands” … be wary. If he is very knowledgeable about current rug market values, and he is interested in buying your rug, chances are he will not be up front about the true value of your piece. In the worse case scenarios, I have heard stories of rugs worth tens of thousands that have been purchased for a few hundred dollars – because the purchaser convinced the current rug owner that it was not a valuable piece.

Even if you decide to not sell your rug, and to just have the person who made the offer to you clean it, be safe and take a picture of the rug before you release it. Stories of rugs that have been stolen or have gone “missing” are not uncommon, and so you want documentation of what you truly owned. And also verify that they have insurance.

Reprinted with permission from Lisa Wagner-Lisa served 10 years on the board of the Carpet and Fabricare Institute, and served on the boards of both the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning, and Restoration Certification, and the National Institute of Rug Cleaners Textile Council. She is the rug care columnist for the largest trade publication for the cleaning industry and instructs on the proper care of rugs from regular cleaning and repair, to handling rugs involved in floods, fires, and other disasters. 



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