How to repair and maintain carpets

You can make sure your carpets have a long life by careful and thorough maintenance. Repairing them before it is too late will always save you a lot of trouble and expense.

A carpet usually covers such a wide area of a room that it is painfully obvious when any part of it becomes damaged, stained or worn. But this everyday, minor damage need not be the disaster you might at first imagine. Most of it can, with care and patience, be repaired to a highly professional standard. Repairing carpets is a fast dying art and there are very few professional craftsmen who will undertake such a job as re-tufting a carpet. So if you have good carpets, you are even more duty bound to repair them yourself—or buy new ones.


Tufts clawed out by pets, burned out by cigarettes or torn out by carelessly-used knee kickers when laying are among the most common forms of surface damage to a carpet.

To make a repair, your first requirement is some matching pile yarn. If the carpet is still in production, you can get this through the retailer from the manufacturers, who will need to know the range name and pattern number—sometimes a small cutting of waste suffices to verify the colours. Most manufacturers are very helpful about supplying matching yarn and often do so free of charge.

If you cannot obtain the correct match, something fairly close is usually available in a knitting wool of a similar gauge. The only equipment needed for re-tufting is a medium-sized pair of very sharp scissors and a half-round needle with a diameter of about 50mm.

Start by isolating the damaged tufts and snip them off leveh with the backing, taking care not to cut the backing in the process.

Now thread the needle with about 450mm of the yarn and simply sew it from the surface, in and out of the weft backing. This forms a simple U-shaped tuft of the same proportions as the previous one, except that it should be cut off about 25mm above the surrounding unworn pile.

Continue in this way until the whole patch is filled in. With a patterned carpet, different coloured yarns should be used and the tufts correctly located in accordance with the design. Having sewn in all the tufts, smooth them out in the direction of the pile and snip them off level with the rest of the pile.

Complete repairs

If damage to a carpet extends below the level of the pile into the backing structure, a new piece of carpet has to be set in. For this you need a sharp handyman’s trimming knife with a few heavy-duty blades, a thin, metal straightedge and a curved needle. The method of repair varies for each type of carpet.

Axminsters and Wiltons: Mark out the extremities of the damage with pins, pushing them right through the backing. With the carpet folded over, the pins enable you to locate the area of damage from the reverse side.

Use your handyman’s knife to cut out the damaged portion in a square or rectangular shape, following the line of the weave. The cut must be deep enough to cut and separate the backing without damaging the overhanging pile, which will be needed later to cover the join.

Next place the damaged cut-out on the replacement piece, with the pattern matching, and mark the position with pins pushed right through. Turn it over and cut out the piece required for the repair, following the weave and cutting only just through the backing as before.

Before securing the new piece of carpet in position, seal all raw edges with a proprietary latex compound and allow this to dry. Then place the new piece of carpet into the prepared cut-out, making sure it is the right way round, with the pattern matching and pile direction corresponding.

The edges must be sewn firmly together on the backing section with an over and over stitch using the curved needle and a stout thread. Most carpet suppliers sell carpet thread specially for this purpose.

Finally, apply a 35mm wide coat of latex compound to the back of the seam and cover this with a fabric tape. Apply gentle pressure on the area and allow it to dry.

Tufted carpets with non – foam backing: The repair method for these is similar to that for Axminsters and Wiltons except that there is no weave structure to follow when cutting out the damaged and replacement sections. Some tufted carpets appear to have a weave structure but this is only a layer of woven material which is stuck on the back and should be disregarded.

The best way to repair this type of carpet is to cut a generous amount of replacement piece into a square or rectangle and place it directly over the worn section. This becomes a template around which you cut into the carpet with the handyman’s knife angled inwards. Foam-backed carpets: These are just tufted carpets with a foam backing and can be repaired as above—but do not use sewing or fabric tape. Instead, having cut out the replacement piece and placed it in the squared-off damaged area, bond the edges of the foam together with a fine bead of impact adhesive. Then complete the joints with a 50mm-wide self-adhesive carpet tape and allow this to set for about two hours before turning the carpet back into position.

Vacuuming and maintenance

Regular vacuuming is an essential part of carpet maintenance and is the only effective way to remove damaging grit which becomes embedded in the pile. If you leave this grit for a long time rapid deterioration occurs at the base of the pile.

It is worth having your vacuum cleaner regularly serviced, as’ it performs a very important job. Upright vacuum cleaners, for instance, need a new drive belt and brush inserts in the beater about every six to 12 months but this you can do yourself.

Carpets fall into two categories according to the type of vacuum which best suits them. Shag-pile carpets are a special case. Wool carpets: Vacuum cylinder-type cleaners can be used on this type of carpet as and when required at any time during the carpet’s life. However, the upright type of cleaner with revolving beater bar and brushes should not be used on a new wool carpet for about six months. Prior to this, the fibres in the yarn will not have had a chance to interlock sufficiently and may be pulled out.

Upright vacuum cleaners are easier to use and often more efficient but they are a little harsher on the pile than cylinder types and so should not be used more than once a week during the initial period.

Man-made fibre carpets: These can have an upright vacuum cleaner used on them from the day they are laid but limit this if possible to once a week. A cylinder-type vacuum cleaner can be used as often as required without risk of damage. Shag-pile carpets: This type of carpet requires special care as the pile becomes tangled and flat if it is not regularly combed out with a special shag rake. You can buy one of these from any good carpet shop and it takes only a few moments to rake an average room. Shag-pile carpets are not designed for heavy use, but if they are subject to a lot of wear they should be raked every day. For vacuuming, use a suction-only cleaner or a heavy-duty upright with a high pile adjustment.

Lifting crush marks

Crush marks from heavy furniture can sometimes be removed by gentle brushing with a small, stiff brush but if this fails, the controlled application of steam can work wonders.

First vacuum the area to make sure it is quite clean, then cover the crush mark with a wet, white cotton cloth. Set a steam iron to suit the material of the carpet and hold it over the cloth so that it just touches. The resulting steam will then start to lift the pile— an action which you can assist by gently brushing against the pile after each application.

Steam only for a few minutes at a time, checking the effect as you go— oversteaming causes the yarn to untwist. Never allow the iron to be in direct contact with the pile and re-wet the cloth at frequent intervals. Leave the pile sloping in the rig?:*’ direction and allow it to dry. The carpet will soon look new again.

High tufts and loose ends

These are sometimes present in new carpets, but are more likely to be caused by snagging with a sharp object. Never pull out a loose end or tuft standing above the level of the pile: this only causes more damage. Instead, simply snip them off level with the other tufts using a sharp pair of scissors.

Carpet cleaning

Before embarking on cleaning a whole carpet, clear the room of furniture and vacuum away all loose dirt and grit. Two methods of cleaning are easily possible at home: shampooing which can either be done by hand or special machine, and hot water extraction.

Though simple, shampooing is not particularly satisfactory as it tends to leave a sticky residue in the pile which is very difficult to remove. The residue in turn attracts more dirt and the carpet soon becomes dirty again.

By comparison, the hot water extraction method leaves no residue at all. The system works by forcing a jet of partly vapourized hot water into the pile of the carpet via a hand-held nozzle. This will loosen and break down the particles of dirt, which are then drawn out of the pile by a powerful vacuum in another section of the same nozzle.

Hot water extraction machines can be hired by the day from carpet shops. They are fairly simple to use, though overwetting of the carpet must be avoided as it causes shrinkage.

Treatment for spillages

Never start by rubbing the affected area, as this only drives the stain further into the carpet. Deal with the spillage immediately and gently— scoop up as much as possible with a spoon and then mop with white tissues. With fairly fluid stains, remarkable results can be obtained by placing a thick wad of tissues over the affected area, weighted down with, say, a heavy book. During a period of 20 minutes or so, natural capillary action draws much of the stain into the. tissues. For heavy stains, change the wad of tissues several times. When you are dealing with old or stubborn stains it is probably wisest to call in professional assistance.

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