Experts share their best care tips and dish on how to clean carpet. You'll learn smart vacuuming and carpet steam cleaner tactics, methods for removing carpet stains, and tricks for choosing an affordable vacuum.

By Berit Thorkelson
June 08, 2015

You walk on your carpet every day, and over time it can lose some of its luster. But with proper care, your carpet can look its best for years to come. All you need is a regular cleaning regimen, the right vacuum, and some stain-busting tricks. We'll introduce you to experts who cover all of these carpet cleaning topics and more. You'll learn proven methods for cleaning and maintaining your carpet.

Vacuum Often—Where It Counts

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Carpet functions like a giant air filter, collecting our home's dirt and dust. Those two Ds act 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.

Match Your Vacuum to Your Needs

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"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 and Domestic CEO podcast host 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 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 five to 10 years, as long as you maintain it correctly," she says. "Protect your investment, no matter how small!"

How to Clean Carpet—Beyond Vacuuming

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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.

Carpet Steam Cleaners

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While a once- or twice-a-year professional cleaning is recommended, you may 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.

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. Mix the 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.

Tackling Carpet Stains and Odors

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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 may not have a chance to set.

If blotting alone doesn't work and you opt for a store-bought carpet stain remover, follow the instructions carefully. Test in an inconspicuous area, or on a carpet scrap, to ensure colorfastness. To test for colorfastness, place a little bit of the carpet cleaner or stain remover on a cloth and lay it on the carpet for an hour. Blot the area with a dry white cloth. If dye transfers to the cloth, it's not colorfast and won't be the best carpet stain remover for your floors. (You may want to do this test before an emergency strikes, that way, you'll be stocked and ready to go with the right cleaner when spills happen.)

Keep in mind that different types of stains (red wine, coffee, fat-based stains like oil, etc.) will respond better to stain treatments specifically for that type of carpet stain. Fortunately, you don't need an arsenal of cleaning products. Many carpet stain removers and treatments can be found in your kitchen, or amongst things you already have on hand.

In addition to stains, look to your pantry to combat carpet orders. Grab a box of baking soda and  lightly shake 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.


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