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Tea Wash / Luster Wash

If you have arrived at this page, it is dual purpose information intended for education and the use of our Rug Estimator Pro

tea washing is a technique used to make a carpet appear older with a light brown/golden patina.  The image below is a "before and after" photograph of a specific type of herbal wash called a "golden wash".  Believe it or not, the rug on the right started out looking identical in colors to the one on the left.  This particular chemical [Golden] wash eliminates rosey-reds and deepens true reds.  Although most carpets will not show as drastic a color change as this example, however, the concept is the same.  

Original Rug on Left, Golden Wash on Right

How do you tell if your rug is tea washed and not just dirty or old?

"tea washing" typically gives the rug a light brown tint.  dirty rugs have a tendency to take on a grey shade in the pile which is especially visible in the fringe (see bottom of page for details.)  Older rugs may tarnish or oxidize to a golden/ light brown shade, however, any tarnishing seen is primarily due to oxidation which will be most easily deciphered by looking at the reverse side of the rug.  If the reverse of the rug has bolder colors than the front, most likely you are looking at an oxidized semi-antique or antique rug.  If the rug has a slight tarnish on both the front and reverse side of the rug, it is possible it is an older piece.  A fairly good test for this is to take your hand and feel the face of the rug in all directions.  If the wool is slightly dry or feels somewhat delicate or stubborn, the rug may be old.

One fairly good indicator of a tea washed rug is to take a look at the fringe.  The wool of the pile tends to absorb dyes readily, however the cotton fringe does not absorb dyes particularly well.  Often after a rug has been tea-washed, the cotton fringe may need to be augmented with a separate more concentrated "tea" solution which is most often brushed onto the fringe. 

Look for hints of a lack in dye!

As you can see with the green arrows which are closer to the pile of the rug, there is an un-dyed area which remained white.  Also if you take a look at one of the knots bringing the fringe together, you can see how underneath the knot, the fringe still retains its original color.

Why Tea Wash a Rug?

Tea washing rugs became widely popular in the 1990's when importers recognized a growing consumer demand for rugs with an "antique look" at an affordable price.

Are There any Drawbacks to a Tea Washed Rug?

Inferior and inexpensive tea washing is not always colorfast.  If spot cleaning is needed, the pigment may be washed out of the rug when it comes in contact with liquid.  Do note, that tea washing can make almost any rug more appealing, including those with color run, sun fade and even stains.  Be wary of sellers advertising tea washed rugs with an overstated age, as many rugs truly appear older when this technique is applied.  A reputable professional should know the difference!

To determine if your rug is dirty, compare both the front and reverse sides. 

The image below is the front of a used Indian prayer rug.  Note the patina is different than that of a tea washed rug: rather than a golden-brown tone, the rug has a grayish appearance.  Although the rug appears "antiqued," you can tell if it has been tea washed by determining if there is a discrepancy between the colors on the front versus the back.

front of a dirty rug

The image below is the same rug as photographed above.  Note how the overall appearance is significantly brighter with a cleaner color palate.  The whites are whiter and the colors are more true.  There is a discrepancy between the colors which can only mean one of two things: either the rug is dirty or it is oxidized.

Reverse side of a silk rug

To continue with the assessment, verify the rug dirty and not oxidized by taking a closer look at the pile.  Notice how the rug has a matted appearance.  This is primarily due to moderate traffic which has pressed the fibers flat.  If the rug had oxidized tips, they would not have the "caked-up" appearance that this rug exhibits.  These fibers can only be released by first a cleaning, and then [if necessary] a steaming.  Oxidation tends to dry the tips of the fiber giving a grayish look not unlike what is seen below, however in most cases will not be matted.

Dirty Rug Pile

If your rug is significantly lighter on the front than the reverse side, it may be sun-faded. 

For additional information or one on one assistance please refer to our Rug Forum.



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