How to Clean Carpet for Floors That Look Like New

Don't let stains and daily traffic take their toll.

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. Still, 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 carpets or kids or pets, consider deep-cleaning them two or three times a year.

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

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

Before Getting Started: Test Carpet for Colorfastness

Before you begin cleaning carpets, the first step is to test colorfastness. Colorfast carpet won't bleed, fade, or change when cleaning it or removing stains. The colorfastness will help you choose the best carpet cleaning method, products, or machines. 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, 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

Protecting your furniture, carpet padding, and subfloor when cleaning carpets is essential. Grab a partner to help you remove furniture from the room where the carpet is being cleaned.

What You Need

  • Vacuum cleaner
  • Clean cloth
  • Carpet stain remover (optional)

Step 1: Vacuum Carpet

Carpet works like an 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 suggests skipping a weekly whole-home vacuum. Instead, vacuum 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," Christian 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 that the carpet steamer can get to the deep-down debris more readily.

Step 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. Many carpet stain removers and treatments can be found in your kitchen or other things you already have on hand.

remodeled basement crafting room
Marty Baldwin

How to Clean Carpet Using the Water Extraction Method

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

What You Need

  • Vacuum
  • Carpet cleaning machine
  • Carpet cleaning solution
  • Vinegar (optional)
  • Water
  • Fans (optional)

Step 1: Vacuum Carpet

Vacuum your carpet as recommended above.

Step 2: Clean with Carpet Cleaning Machine

Mix the carpet cleaning solution as recommended. 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.)

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 slowly and taking the time to extract all the moisture thoroughly.

Step 3: Dry Carpet

Ventilate the area to dry the carpet or use fans to speed dry time.

Caution: Don't get carpets overly wet when using a steam cleaner. Overwetting can damage the carpet backing and underlay, 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. The process is to spread a dry absorbent compound over the carpet, 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
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.

In addition, Thomas says she often sees vacuums that have stopped working due to a lack of care. So 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 find the best carpet cleaner to regain that like-new look. One of the best solutions is to have your carpet professionally cleaned once or twice a year. Hire a reputable professional carpet cleaner to do this time-intensive and tedious job. Also, remember that neglecting to have your carpets regularly cleaned by a certified pro may void any warranty.

When you hire professionals, your options are steam carpet cleaning and dry extraction carpet cleaning. Either method (when handled by a qualified carpet cleaning professional) will do wonders for dirty carpets. Professionals have more powerful carpet cleaning equipment than you're likely to buy or rent, and they also typically have far more experience with removing 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 occasionally might need a DIY carpet cleaning. Rental machines are available at big-box retailers and home stores. In addition, you'll find many carpet steam cleaners to purchase 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, making carpets look even dirtier. This is why following all instructions for mixing the cleaning solution, rinsing, and drying is essential.

You may have light-colored carpets and a house full of kids or pets. In that case, 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 compared to hiring professional carpet cleaners several times a year. Remember, though, that the unit you buy might not have the carpet cleaning power that professional models do.

Consider renting a professional-quality steam cleaner from a grocery store or rental center for more power. However, remember that rentals can quickly add up with rental fees and the cost of carpet cleaning solutions (shampoo, defoamer, spot removers, odor removers, and more). 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 odors. Lightly shake baking soda 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. Your carpets will stay in tip-top shape by keeping up on your vacuuming, knowing how to remove stains, and what to do when you need a deep carpet clean.

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