Backing Separation and Latex Decay in Area Rugs

A tufted rug is composed of multiple layers or backing materials held together with latex glue. The face yarns are tufted into the topmost or primary backing and held in place with latex glue. One or two backings are applied with latex to give the rug dimensional stability. Over time, these backings can separate from the face of the rug. This commonly occurs with hand-tufted rugs due to age, environment, heavy wear, pets and water damage. Latex is a plant-based product and is the basis for rubber items such as tires and rubber bands. Like most rubber items, the latex in rugs deteriorates with age. It becomes brittle, dry, and crumbly and loses its ability to hold the multiple backings firmly together. The latex mix contains additives that affect its adhesive and aging properties. One additive is a filler that can be compared to gravel in a concrete mixture. Marble dust (a filler) is added to latex as an extender but has no adhesive qualities. Increased use of these extenders reduces the adhesive power of the latex and over time results in the separation of the backings from the rug. The filler looks like sand or powder. When the latex begins to breakdown, it leaves a powdery residue on the floor underneath the rug. More expensive latex compounds will better withstand aging as well as cleaning, but even these will eventually deteriorate. In a few cases, Oriental Rug Cleaning Co. may be able to remove the old latex and re-glue the backings together. However, this is a costly procedure because it is time consuming and requires a great deal of skill. Latex can also off-gas, creating an offensive odor.