Yes, You Can (And Should) Wash Bathroom Rugs—Here's How

A small bathroom with a striking sage green accent wall, a clawfoot tub, and a red rug

Ashley Montgomery Design

Picture this: you’ve enjoyed a long, relaxing shower, then step onto a plush bath mat, a welcome landing spot to spare your wet feet from your bathroom’s cold floors. Sounds nice, right? We hate to ruin such a zen image, but there’s something you should know: underneath your feet likely lies microscopic little critters from your rug being exposed to near-constant moist conditions. 

Yuck, we know. That’s why we tapped Dr. Greg Van Buskirk, Sensitive Home’s Co-Founder and Chief Science Officer, to help us break down how (and how often) to wash our bathroom rugs. 

“Warmth, moisture, and relatively low-light make for a near-ideal condition as a breeding ground for mold and bacteria,” Van Buskirk says.

Even if the rug dries between uses, he says, both mold and bacteria can go dormant until revived by more moisture. “They never really go away until washed,” he explains. 

Meet the Expert

Dr. Greg Van Buskirk is the Co-Founder and Chief Science Officer of Sensitive Home, a natural cleaning products line. He focuses on creating new, better formulas that clean well while eliminating known irritants, harsh chemicals, and toxic residues.  

So yes, you can wash your bathroom rug, and you definitely should wash your bathroom rugs. Read on to find out how often and how exactly to clean it. 

How to wash a bathroom rug

Grace Laird for CW Interiors

How Often Should You Clean Your Bathroom Rug?

How frequently you should wash your bathroom rug depends on how often the rug is exposed to post-shower or -bathing moisture. A rug used in a guest powder room will not need to be washed as often as the one your family members bathe in multiple times a day.

“As a general rule, washing your rug every two to four weeks will probably be suitable,” Van Buskirk says. 

There are a few caveats to that rule, though. If there are multiple showers taken a day and perhaps some splashing bathing children, up the frequency. Less time to dry = more time for mold and mildew to set in. If your bathroom has poor ventilation, up the frequency even more, as a more humid environment can be more prone to mildew. 

The kind of washing your rug can handle will also determine how often to wash it. "If you can wash your rug in hot water with bleach and use a hot dryer, you will essentially be able to eliminate all the bacteria and mold from your rugs—and you will not have to wash them as often," Van Buskirk notes.

Alternatively, if you can only hand-wash your rugs in a gentle detergent and need to drip-dry, you will remove about 90 percent of the bacteria and mold.

“Not bad, but you will need to wash more often to keep the bugs at bay,” Van Buskirk says.

How to wash a bathroom rug

Brian Bieder for Maggie Griffin Design

Things You'll Need:

  • Liquid laundry detergent
  • Sink/bathtub or washing machine
  • Line dry option or drying machine

Step 1: Check the Care Label

Following the care instructions—which, hopefully, are still attached to your rug—allows you to completely wash out the bacteria and mold while keeping your rug in the best shape possible. The instructions will tell you whether you can machine wash your rug, what water temperature to use, whether you can use bleach (and what kind), and how to dry it.

Not sure what all those symbols on the label mean? Here is a cheat sheet.

Step 2: Wash Away Mold and Mildew

If hand washing your rug, follow these general guidelines. While tedious, hand washing allows for a longer soak, which can lead to more complete elimination of bacteria and mold, especially if you need to use cooler water and drying conditions. 

  • First, fill your sink or bathtub with up to five gallons of warm water, then add a dose of your detergent—a full load’s worth. Your rug will need it.
  • Use your hand to completely disperse the detergent, and add the rug.
  • Agitate the rug in the wash water for about 30 seconds, then walk away.
  • After a couple hours, agitate the rug in the water a bit more, then lift it out of the water and drain.
  • Rinse the rug until the water is no longer dirty and/or foaming, then squeeze out as much water as you can.
  • Hang it to dry, and if possible, line-dry it outside, since sunlight is an effective, natural way to kill any residual bugs.

If you're machine washing your rug, follow these general rules.

  • Use warm or cold water, a gentle wash cycle, and (if your machine has one) a soaking cycle.
  • Then, rinse in cold water with a gentle spin cycle. “This gentle treatment will help it hold its shape, minimize shrinkage, and reduce wear-and-tear on the backing,” Van Buskirk says.
How to wash a bathroom rug

Andrea Calo for Liz MacPhail Interiors

Step 3: Choose Your Drying Method

While hang-drying will extend the lifetime of your rug, if your rug’s care instructions say you can use a dryer, do that, according to Van Buskirk. “Heating helps kill more bacteria and molds than line drying," he says.

If your care label warns against machine drying and you are able to line-dry your laundry, opt for that since sunlight is a gentle-yet-effective disinfectant.