How to Test for Colorfastness in Oriental Rugs


Whether it is an old Oriental or Persian rug, or a newly made cotton area rug, it is always advisable to test for what is known as “color fastness”. This, as you might guess, is simply a test to determine if the dyes used are going to bleed into other areas if exposed to fluids or cleaning solutions, or to change in some way.

For example, you may have an Oriental rug with a cream background and patterns in red and blue, but the colors might become muddied and mixed when exposed to water. It may be difficult to know which colors failed the color fastness test, and so we are going to look at reliable ways to test this before any disasters strike.

Why Colors Bleed

One of the most upsetting and frustrating things that rug owners experience is for dyes to transfer or “bleed” into other areas. Some call it dye migration, but the result is the same – the colors don’t stay where intended. Why this happens is due to a few issues:

  • The cleaning technique is wrong for the materials, i.e. a rug made of natural fibers like silk is cleaned with a harmful cleanser unsafe for silk.
  • The rug has never before been washed and any excess dyes then rinse away and bleed in other areas
  • The dyes used were not colorfast to begin with or were overexposed to fluid
  • Pets repeatedly mark or stain an area, which can cause chemical changes in the dye and color issues

So, there are many reasons a color fastness issue could emerge, and we suggest you do a test on any new rug to understand the risks.

Steps to Test for Color Fastness

The first thing you’ll want to do is find a small area that is mostly out of sight. Then follow these steps:

  • Dip a clean, white, towel in hot water
  • Press the towel in the chosen area and lift the towel to see if any color has transferred
  • Flip the rug to the backside and repeat
  • If you see color on the towel with a simple water test, you’ll know the rug is not color fast and you will have to determine if a dye stabilizer is available for your rug

A stabilizer is a product (usually best applied by experts) that aims at locking in the color and allowing future cleaning to be done without damage. However, a valuable Oriental or Persian rug may not be a good candidate for chemical treatments of this kind.

Alternative Tests

Another way to test color fastness is to use a pH test on a small area of color in the rug. Also described as a high pH spotter test, it will help you to know the best way to care for a carpet. For example, a carpet with a high pH (i.e. acidic) requires an alkaline cleaner to avoid damage, and to protect the color.

If you own a valuable Oriental or Persian rug, however, it is always best to turn to experts for the most effective, safe and long-lasting care. They know just how to preserve the beauty of the rug, even if it has failed color fastness tests.

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