Why do rugs smell bad?

Why do rugs smell bad?

If something smells, it might be right under your nose—on the floor! Here are 3 reasons why your rug might smell, plus tips on how to clean a smelly rug.


Your nose can detect about a trillion different scents–and not all of them are fun to smell. As much as we would like to avoid bad smells, they do happen around the house. It’s easy to blame a stinky sock or a load of dishes in the sink, but sometimes foul smells come from right under your feet.

Here are a few common causes of rug odor, plus advice on how to combat the funk.


No matter how cute and cuddly your pet is, they can be one of the big reasons why your rug smells bad. For starters, their hair can carry odor. Too much shedding or rolling around on your rug and it’s bound to put up a stink.

Pets are also prone to accidents. Pet urine and vomit can throw a rug’s aroma out of whack. They easily seep into fibers, and the bacteria can linger after cleaning, causing more smelly issues. Even if you have a rug that is pet friendly, it’s good to check this common cause of rug smell.


No matter how hard you try, your rugs will get damp from time to time. Left wet for too long, you’ll have a smelly situation on your hands. Prolonged exposure to moisture can give rugs a musty smell caused by mold or mildew. Even if you have a spotless home, a rug that is not kept in a dry place will be susceptible to an unpleasant musk. 


If you’ve ever been to a bonfire, you know that smoke loves to soak into fabric. If your rug has been in a house with someone who smokes cigarettes, that smell has likely been absorbed into its fibers. The same goes for a rug that has been in a house fire or other smokey situations. No matter the source, smoke is a sure fire way to make a rug smell pretty bad. 

Fresh as a Daisy

While rug smells are annoying, you don’t have to let them stink up the place. Here are some ways to clean a smelly rug.

  1. Vacuum. Before you do anything, give your rug a good vacuum. Ensure it is free of debris that could be causing the odor, especially where pets are concerned.
  2. Fresh air. Get your rug outside! Time in the sun can dry out the rug, while UV rays combat bacteria and mildew. Exposing the rug to open air can also help clear out bad smells. You can place your rug on a tarp or hang it over a fence to let it catch the breeze. Just be sure to flip it after a couple hours to expose both sides.
  3. Charcoal. It’s not just for barbeques. Charcoal is also known for its power to absorb odor. Place additive-free charcoal briquettes in pantyhose and then arrange them on your rug. Next, roll up the rug, wrap it in a plastic bag, and let the charcoal do its work.
  4. Kitty Litter. Another option for absorbing odor is cat litter. Makes sense, right? Kitty litter, which is made of natural clay, is already used for trapping odors in the litter box. Try sprinkling an unscented version over your rug. Let that sit for a couple days to give it enough time to reduce the smell.
  5. Cleaning Solutions. There are both natural and chemical treatments you can use to clean your rug. You can sprinkle a stinky rug with baking soda or dilute white vinegar with water to spray on the problem areas. You can also get a power carpet cleaner to freshen up your rug, using a carpet shampoo as your cleaning solution. Just be sure to check that your rug material is compatible with a power carpet cleaner before you start cleaning.
  6. Laundry. If your rug is machine washable, there is no reason not to try throwing it in the wash. Be sure to follow any directions given on washing your rug and have an open, ventilated place for it to dry.

Walking On (Fresh) Air

No matter the type of rug you own, now you have a better idea of why your rug might smell bad and how to fix the stinky problem. Want to start with something fresh under your feet? Check out our huge selection of custom rugs.


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