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 that will help your carpets look better and last longer.

By BH&G Editors
Updated April 09, 2020

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 to 18 months (or more often in high-traffic areas). If you have light-colored carpet or kids or pets, consider a deep clean two or three times a year.

Refer to the carpet manufacturer's guidelines before cleaning your carpets. 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.

neutral bedroom with black bed frame and beaded light
Credit: James Nathan Schroder

How to Test for Colorfastness

Before you begin cleaning carpets, the first step is to test its 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.
facing brown couches in living room with white shelving
Credit: Panichgul Studios, Inc

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.

To begin cleaning, thoroughly vacuum the carpet. Treat any stains or heavily soiled areas the appropriate carpet stain removal technique for the type of stain. Take care to blot, not rub, which can damage carpet fibers. 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.

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.

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.

remodeled basement crafting room
Credit: Marty Baldwin

Carpet Cleaning Machines: Owning vs. Renting

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), a rental machine can quickly strain your household budget. But it may be a better value if your carpets don't easily show dirt, your kids are grown, or you don't own four-legged pets.

Hiring a Carpet Cleaning Professional

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.

Comments (2)

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