Carpet has many merits 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 that will help your carpets look better and last longer.
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Carpets warm a home by adding color, pattern, and texture. However, keeping your carpets looking fresh requires a different cleaning method than an area rug or hardwood floors, for example. Frequent 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 deep-clean your carpet every 12-18 months (or more often in high-traffic areas). If you have light-colored carpet or kids or pets, consider deep-cleaning carpets two or three times a year.

Refer to the carpet manufacturer's guidelines before cleaning carpet. Then use our instructions below for the best carpet cleaning tips. We'll show you how to clean carpet with various methods such as water extraction, dry extraction, rental carpet cleaners, and more.

overhead shot of a vacuum cleaner cleaning a red handwoven carpet with carpet cleaning powder
Credit: Svetlana Zayats / EyeEm / Getty Images

How to Test Carpet for Colorfastness

Before you begin cleaning carpets, the first step is to test colorfastness. Colorfast carpet will not bleed, fade, or change when you are cleaning it or removing stains. The colorfastness will help you decide the best carpet cleaning method, products, or machines to use. Follow these steps to pretest your carpet to find out if it is colorfast.

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

How to Clean Carpet

It's important to 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.

1. Vacuum Carpet

Carpet functions like a giant air filter, collecting our home's dirt and dust. This residue acts like fine sandpaper, wearing down carpet fibers over time, says Derek Christian, owner of My Maid Service and an IICRC-certified carpet-cleaning technician. Christian gives the go-ahead for skipping a weekly whole-home vacuum in favor of vacuuming high-traffic areas once a week or more. "

By just quickly vacuuming the high-soil areas in the entries and toward the front of your home, you can add years to the life of your carpet," he says.

While vacuuming, take your time and use overlapping strokes. "We train our people to count slowly to three during each forward and backward stroke, to make sure they give the vacuum time to do its work," Christian says. Before you start with a carpet cleaner, vacuum carpets well. A good vacuuming will pick up dust, dirt, and particles, so the carpet steamer can get to the deep-down debris more readily.

2. Treat Carpet Stains

Take care of stains as soon as they happen, if possible. Most carpets today are made to resist liquid penetration for a time, so if you simply blot (don't rub!) it dry with a clean cloth right away, the stain might not have a chance to set. Treat any set-in stains or heavily soiled areas with the appropriate carpet stain removal technique for the type of stain. Many carpet stain removers and treatments can be found in your kitchen or amongst things you already have on hand.

3. Use a Carpet-Cleaning Machine

For deep cleaning, use a rental carpet cleaning machine (if recommended by the carpet manufacturer) or hire a professional carpet cleaning crew to help; they'll help you choose the best carpet cleaning solution for your home. 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.

remodeled basement crafting room
Credit: Marty Baldwin

How to Clean Carpet Using the Water Extraction Method

Most home carpet cleaning systems are water extraction units, which are also known as steam cleaners. They work to wash carpet 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 carpet cleaning machine you can afford to ease the burden of water extraction.

After vacuuming, mix the carpet cleaning solution as recommended, not over- or under-diluting. Start opposite the doorway so you don't have to walk over your freshly cleaned carpet. Be sure not to get the carpet too wet and extract as much water as possible. (This can take some time, so work patiently and thoroughly.) Ventilate the area or use fans to speed dry time.

You can also use vinegar after cleaning to help remove any residue left behind by the cleaning process. Rinse the carpet with 1/2-cup vinegar per gallon of water, going slow and being sure to thoroughly extract all the moisture

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.

How to Clean Carpet Using the Dry Extraction Method

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

Organized cleaning supply closet
Credit: Cameron Sadeghpour

How to Choose a Vacuum for Carpets

"Price and beauty are not good indicators of performance when it comes to vacuums. Pick based on functions rather than price tag," says Moxie Girl Household Assistants founder Amanda Thomas. Have shedding pets, for example? Choose a vacuum with a hose and multiple attachments. Stairs? Go light, or find one with a removable stair-cleaning attachment. "I bought my home vacuum five years ago for less than $40. It does what we need it to, so there was no need to pay hundreds," Thomas says.

Thomas says she often sees vacuums that have stopped working due to a lack of care. Empty the canister or bag frequently, check hoses for clogs, and change the filter when it starts to turn gray. "A decent vacuum should last you at least 5-10 years, as long as you maintain it correctly," she says. "Protect your investment, no matter how small!"

Hiring a Carpet Cleaning Professional

You've stayed on top of vacuuming, but the time has come to step it up and seek out the best carpet cleaner for regaining that like-new look. One of the best carpet cleaning solutions is to have your carpet professionally cleaned once or twice a year. Seek out a reputable professional carpet cleaner to do this time-intensive and tedious chore. Keep in mind, too, that neglecting to have your carpets regularly cleaned by a certified pro may void any warranty.

When you hire professionals, you can choose between steam carpet cleaning and dry extraction carpet cleaning. Each method (when handled by a qualified carpet cleaning professional) will do wonders for dirty carpets. Not only do professionals have more powerful carpet cleaning equipment than you're likely to buy or rent, but they also typically have far more experience with how to remove carpet stains. Prices may vary widely for essentially the same service, so shop carefully.

Carpet Cleaning Machines: Owning vs. Renting

While a once- or twice-a-year professional cleaning is recommended, you might find yourself needing a DIY carpet cleaning. Rental machines are available at big-box retailers and home stores, and you'll find many carpet steam cleaners available in the vacuum cleaner aisle. If you take the do-it-yourself approach to carpet cleaning, read the steamer's manual carefully and follow all instructions for using the machine. Sometimes carpet cleaning products can leave dirt-attracting residue, which over time can make carpets look even dirtier. This is why it's important to follow all instructions for mixing the cleaning solution, rinsing, and drying.

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

For additional power, consider renting a professional-quality steam cleaner from a grocery store or rental center. Take note, however, that with rental fees and the price of carpet cleaning solutions (shampoo, defoamer, spot removers, odor removers, and more), rental machine fees can quickly add up. But renting still might be a better value if your carpets don't easily show dirt, your kids are grown, or you don't own four-legged pets.

How to Treat Carpet Odors

In addition to stains, look to your pantry to combat carpet orders. Grab a box of baking soda and lightly shake it onto carpets. Let the baking soda sit on the carpet for 15 minutes, and vacuum to remove the baking soda and the odors it has absorbed. By keeping up on your vacuuming, knowing how to remove stains, and what to do when you're in need of a deep carpet clean, your carpets will stay in tip-top shape.

Comments (2)

Better Homes & Gardens Member
January 18, 2019
Very helpful video. Thanks
Better Homes & Gardens Member
January 8, 2019
Great article!I'd love to know more about the beautiful carpet in the living room!