Rug washing is NOT like carpet cleaning
Oriental rug cleaning is sometimes associated with carpet steam cleaning, but the methods of cleaning each are completely different. Steam cleaning wall-to-wall carpet in a home or business is a great way to remove soiling from the surface of the carpet, but unfortunately that's all it can do. If it was possible, carpets could be cleaned more thoroughly by rolling them up and washing them in a rug cleaning facility.
The great things about oriental rugs are that they CAN be rolled up and sent out for cleaning.
Is it safe to steam clean an oriental rug?
Steam cleaning an oriental rug is NOT the recommended cleaning process for oriental rugs. Steam cleaning injects hot water into the pile, then immediately extracts the water with a powerful vacuum system. Hot water and high-alkaline detergents used for cleaning synthetic carpet can potentially damage an oriental rug that's made of a natural fiber such or wool or silk. It will not damage the wool yarns, as wool is naturally fire-retardant, but the hot-water pressure can cause dyes to migrate onto other parts of the rug. Furthermore, too much vacuum can cause pile distortion or irregular shape.
Washing an oriental rug should only be performed by a trained and experienced rug cleaner. There are many different factors to be considered prior to washing an oriental rug such as choosing a correct detergent, solutions for dye bleeding, dusting the rug, drying the rug. There is not a 'one-size-fits-all' for cleaning a nice hand-knotted rug like there is in steam cleaning wall-to-wall carpet.