How to Clean a Shag Rug

Fluffy shag calls for regular maintenance to keep it looking its best.

living room with shag rug with tassels
Photo: Carson Downing
Project Overview
  • Total Time: 30 minutes
  • Skill Level: Beginner

Shag rugs, with their dramatically long pile, are statement pieces that bring style and comfort to any room. But shag's deep pile is also prone to catching and concealing dirt, crumbs, hair, and other small items, like tiny children's toys.

Because a shag rug draws the eye, it's important to keep it looking its best to avoid a dingy appearance. Regular care, including shaking and vacuuming, will help keep a shag carpet looking its shaggy best. This guide covers best practices for routine care, as well as guidance on stain removal and deep-cleaning shag rugs.

The Basics of Caring for a Shag Rug

Because of a shag rug's long pile, regular maintenance—daily if possible, weekly at a minimum—is crucial to keeping it looking its best and ensuring it remains in good condition for many years to come.

Vacuuming is the primary way to clean a shag rug. Vacuum regularly to keep it looking its best. If size permits, a shag rug can also be shaken out to remove hair, crumbs, and dirt lodged in its fibers. Shaking will also fluff up the long pile.

Over time, a shag rug may develop matted or tangled sections. To treat matting, brush out the fibers of the rug using a carpet rake to lift the fibers and remove tangles. A horsehair upholstery brush can also help untangle knots or revive matted shag. Deeply matted shag can be refreshed using steam; place a damp towel over the matted section and run an iron over it, or use a handheld steamer to apply moist heat to the fibers, which can then be brushed to straighten.  

When stains happen on a shag rug, use a stain removal technique known as spot treating to eliminate them.

Finally, from time to time, a shag rug may require an all-over deep cleaning that involves using a dry carpet cleaning solution. Do not use a carpet cleaning machine to deep clean shag, as the suction is too powerful for use on long fibers and can result in irreversible damage, including bald spots.

living room with black and white lined rug
Laurey Glenn

Tips for Vacuuming a Shag Rug

Vacuuming is the method used for regular cleaning of a shag rug. Routine vacuuming will remove dirt, hair, and invisible soils like pollen and dander, and keep the rug looking new. Shag rugs should be vacuumed at least once a week, and high-traffic areas should be vacuumed daily.

However, when vacuuming shag, it is essential to only use the suction function on the vacuum; attachments for carpeting with a beater or revolving bar should not be used on shag, as it can cause the fibers to tangle. If your vacuum does not have a head without a beater brush, use the nozzle or upholstery attachment to safely vacuum shag. If your upright vacuum cannot be adjusted to disengage the beater bar, use a carpet rake or invest in a handheld vacuum for daily maintenance.

When vacuuming shag, work in a grid, overlapping sections to ensure the fibers are spotless, making slow gentle passes to avoid tangling the strands. 

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

Tools for Removing Stains

  • Carpet rake or upholstery brush

Tools for Deep Cleaning

  • Soft-bristle carpet and upholstery brush
  • Vacuum


Supplies for Removing Stains

  • Mild detergent
  • Paper towels
  • Light-colored cloth
  • Toothbrush
  • Butter knife or spoon (optional)

Supplies for Deep Cleaning

  • Dry carpet shampoo granules


How to Remove Stains from a Shag Rug

When stains occur on a shag rug, it is best to treat them straight away. The best way to do this is with a method called spot treating; unlike deep cleaning, spot treating addresses a specific stain in a specific place.

  1. Blot Spills and/or Remove Solids

    Begin by blotting up as much liquid as possible using paper towels or rags. If the spill is solid or contains solids, pick the solids up and dispose of them, using paper towels if necessary. If solids have dried, use the edge of a butter knife or spoon to gently scrape them from the rug's fibers.

  2. Apply Detergent

    Using a damp, light-colored cloth, dab a small amount of mild detergent, like dish soap or liquid laundry detergent, onto the stain. Gently dab at the stain until it's gone, taking care not to scrub, as friction can cause the shag's long pile to become tangled and matted. A toothbrush can also be an effective tool in eliminating stains from hard-to-reach long shag pile.

  3. Rinse the Area

    Once the stain has been successfully removed, gently dab the area with a cloth dipped in clean water to remove residual detergent. Allow the rug to dry. If needed, use a carpet rake or horsehair upholstery brush to brush out and fluff up the rug's fibers.

How to Deep Clean a Shag Rug

Shag rugs, because of their long pile, should not be deep cleaned at home; excess water can damage the fibers, and the process itself will be messy, tedious work. Instead of a carpet cleaning machine, use dry carpet shampoo granules to deep clean a shag rug. Some small shag rugs can be safely machine washed; check the care tag to determine if your rug is machine washable.

Never use a carpet and upholstery cleaning machine on shag, as the long fibers can get stuck or damaged by the suction.

  1. Consult Manufacturer's Instructions

    To deep clean with dry carpet shampoo granules, start by reading the manufacturer's instructions to confirm that the product is safe to use on the type of shag you have. This will provide guidance on how much of the product to use and how long to leave the shampoo on the rug (usually one hour). 

  2. Apply Dry Carpet Shampoo

    Apply the appropriate amount of dry carpet shampoo granules to the shag; a light dusting is adequate, though a heavier hand can be used on stained or heavily soiled areas. Then, use a soft-bristle brush to work the granules into the shag's fibers. 

  3. Let Sit Before Vacuuming

    Allow the dry carpet shampoo crystals to work, undisturbed, for the recommended amount of time. Then, vacuum both sides of the rug to remove all of the dry shampoo residue. If the rug is small enough, you can also take it outside and shake and/or beat the dry shampoo out of the shag.

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