How to Clean Carpet

Carpet has many merits and advantages as a flooring material, but spills can leave stains and daily traffic takes its toll. Learn how to clean carpet with methods for vacuuming, deep cleaning, and stain removal to help your carpets look better and last longer.


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Carpets warm a home by adding color, pattern, and texture. Regular vacuuming provides the first line of defense against dirt and grit that damages carpet fibers. But carpets also need regular cleaning to keep them looking their best. Plan to thoroughly clean your carpets every 12 to 18 months, more often in high-traffic areas. If you have light-color carpet and/or kids or pets, clean your carpets two or three times a year. Always follow the carpet manufacturer's cleaning guidelines.

Testing for Colorfastness

Colorfast carpet will not bleed, fade, or change when you are cleaning it or removing stains. Whether or not it is colorfast may change the cleaning method or products you choose. Here's how to pretest your carpet to find out if it is colorfast.

  • First find a carpet scrap or an inconspicuous spot, such as carpet inside a closet. Vacuum the carpet.
  • Dampen a cloth with the cleaner or stain remover you want to use.
  • Lay the cloth on the carpet for an hour, and then blot the damp area with a dry white cloth.
  • If the cloth is stained with carpet dyes, test another cleaning product until you find one that does not make the carpet sample bleed.

Carpet Cleaning Steps

Always protect your furniture, carpet padding, and subfloor when cleaning carpets. Grab a partner to help you remove furniture from the room where the carpet is being cleaned. Thoroughly vacuum the carpet. Use a rental cleaner -- if recommended by the carpet manufacturer -- or have it professionally cleaned. If you choose a wet extraction method (see below), make sure the carpet dries completely within 24 hours to prevent mold or mildew growth in the carpet or padding and to stop moisture from damaging the floor underneath.

Owning a Carpet Cleaning System

If you have light-color carpets and/or a house full of kids or pets, you might want to buy your own professional-style model designed for home use. Home cleaners can save you money over the long haul when compared with hiring a pro several times a year. Keep in mind, though, that the unit you buy may not have the cleaning power that professional models do.

Water Extraction Method

Most home carpet cleaning systems are waterextraction units that are also known as steam cleaners. They work by injecting a solution into the carpet pile, then pulling the dirty solution back into the machine. To avoid the hassle of dragging a hose around the house, opt for a model that does not require a clean-water hookup. Also, choose the most powerful machine you can afford to ease the burden of water extraction.

Caution: When using a steam cleaner, do not get the carpets overly wet. Overwetting can damage the carpet backing and underlayment, causing shrinkage, discoloration, and odor.

Dry Extraction Method

Other home cleaning systems use a dry extraction method. First you spread a dry absorbent compound over the carpet being cleaned, then you vacuum it with the cleaning machine. Although they usually work better than steam cleaners, dry machines and chemicals are more expensive than steamers and wet extraction solutions.

Renting a Carpet Cleaner

You may want to rent a professional-quality steam cleaner from a grocery store or rental center because of the additional power. With rental fees and the price of cleaning solutions (shampoo, defoamer, spot removers, odor removers, and more), a rental machine can quickly strain your household budget. But it may be a better value if your carpets don't show dirt, your kids are grown, or you don't own four-legged pets.

Hiring a Cleaning Pro

When you hire professionals, you'll get to choose between steam cleaning and dry extraction cleaning. Each method -- if handled by a qualified pro -- will do wonders for dirty carpets. Not only do professionals have far more powerful equipment than you're likely to buy or rent, they have far more experience removing stains. Prices may vary widely for essentially the same service, so shop carefully.

More: How to Clean Area Rugs

Carpet Cleaning Tricks

Treating Carpet Stains

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Learn how to treat a variety of carpet stains with our Stain Fixes tool.

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