Dry Carpet Cleaning Vs. Steam Cleaning

It’s a clash of the carpet cleaners. Which is better?

Carpets are a beautiful and functional addition to your home, but their maintenance can be tricky. How are you cleaning yours to best preserve them? Dry cleaning and steam cleaning both have pros and cons that you need to be aware of.

We’re pitting the two against each other to help you figure out which method is right for you. There’s much to consider in this battle of dry carpet cleaning vs steam cleaning. Our quick and easy comparison will show you how you can keep your carpets in perfect condition.

Carpet Cleaning Explained

Before you can determine which of these two methods is better for your carpets, you have to know what they entail. Do you think that dry cleaning and steam cleaning are self-explanatory? If so, you’ll be surprised to learn that their names are misleading.

What Is Dry Carpet Cleaning?

There are various ways to dry clean a carpet, and some of them use actually use moisture. The difference between this and steam cleaning is that it’s only small amounts of water used to supplement or remove dry chemicals. These are some of the popular carpet dry cleaning methods:

  • Dry foam: Shampoo is applied to your carpet and then left to dry out. Once the shampoo has had enough time to work through your carpet fibers, you vacuum up the dry residue it leaves behind. A standard vacuum will do, making this the standard method of choice.
  • Bonnet pads: Initially, this is the same as the dry foam method, but it adds a special pad — a bonnet — to your cleaning machine. As you run your machine over your carpet, the damp bonnet lifts and absorbs dirt and shampoo residue (1). The bonnet pads are reusable, so they’re a once-off cost.
  • Oscillating pads: In this method, you spray a balanced pH solution onto the carpet and leave it to work until it dries. It reacts with the carpet fibers to agitate and loosen dirt. An oscillating machine is then used to deep clean the carpet.
  • Dry compounds: Here, a biodegradable compound is spread over the carpet and left to absorb dirt. You then use a standard vacuum cleaner to clean this compound, and the dirt it’s collected, from your floor.

What Is Steam Cleaning?

Many people assume that steam cleaning is a chemical-free method, but it’s not. It’s a misunderstanding that the steam is what works. In reality, the steam is just a byproduct of the warm water that penetrates your carpets.

  • Truck mount: Chemical carpet cleaner is added to pressurized hot water and then applied to your carpet with a machine. The machine — similar to a vacuum — also sucks up excess moisture and chemicals as it works. This is typically used for deep cleaning.
  • Portable extraction: This method is almost the same as the truck mount, only it’s industrial. It’s intended for wider surface areas and is typically a heavy-duty carpet cleaning solution.

How Often Should You Clean Your Carpets?

The rule of thumb is that you should have your carpets cleaned at least once a year. But if they’re heavily stained, gather a lot of dust from pet hair, and experience high foot traffic, you should clean them more frequently.

Dirt can destroy carpet fibers, so the more you clean them, the longer your carpets will last.

Dry Carpet Cleaning Features

If you’re still unsure whether dry carpet cleaning is for you, there are a few more things to note. Here are some aspects of dry carpet cleaning to take into account:

  • Quick: Dry cleaning is much quicker than steam cleaning. Even when a bit of moisture is required, your carpet will dry faster because it won’t be soaked. In dry cleaning, your carpet will be ready to walk on within an hour or so after cleaning.
  • Affordable: Carpet shampoos and compounds won’t cost you too much money. They’ll last if you use them sparingly, and bonnet pads can be laundered and reused. And if you need to hire a machine in order to assist with the cleaning, expect to pay around $30/hour (2).
  • Range of choices: You have a choice in how to dry clean your carpets. If you can’t afford or access specialized machinery, your standard vacuum will do. There’s no need to call in the professionals or hire equipment, which saves you even more money.
  • Highly effective: Dry carpet cleaning is also more effective at stain removal because it uses specifically designed chemicals.
  • Chemical exposure: The biggest drawback to dry cleaning, however, is that you will be more exposed to chemicals. Plus, if you have shag carpets, dry shampoo residue might get stuck in your carpet fibers, and chemicals will remain in your carpet.


  • Faster than steam cleaning.
  • More choice in methods.
  • No equipment or personnel needed.
  • Saves you money.
  • Effective stain removal


  • Prolonged exposure to chemicals.
  • May leave residue behind.

Steam Cleaning Simplified

Steam cleaning has fewer advantages, but to some, its greatest strength outweighs dry-cleaning in every way:

  • More effective: Many people prefer steam cleaning because it deep cleans your carpets more effectively than dry cleaning does.
  • Less effort: It could be less effort for you too. Since you need specialized machinery to do the job, professionals can do it for you. This way, you’ll know that your carpet is cleaned efficiently and you won’t have to lift a finger.
  • Expensive: All of this comes at a frustrating price, though. Steam cleaning soaks your carpets, and it could take days to dry properly. Also, hiring a cleaning team or machine may cost a pretty penny. Costs depend on the size of the house and the depth of the problem. Expect to pay anything from $175 to $600 for an entire house clean room (3). So not everyone can afford steam cleaning.


  • Deep cleans carpets.
  • More convenient.
  • Less exposure to harmful chemicals.
  • No residue left behind.


  • Carpets can take days to dry.
  • Costs more than dry cleaning.
  • Professional service might be required.

Which Method Should You Use?

This depends. Technically, you can use both steam and dry cleaning on all types of carpets. Regardless, it’s better to check the labels first to see what the manufacturers recommend and to avoid damaging your floors.

How you clean your carpets is mostly a matter of preference. If your carpet can handle either one, you’re at full liberty to pick the method that is most convenient to you. Another option is to use both — when and if you can — to get the best of both worlds.

Quick Tip

Arrange your carpet cleaning for when you can get out of the house. This applies to both dry and steam cleaning. In the former, you won’t inhale chemicals while you wait, and in the latter, you won’t step on wet floors.
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Which One Wins?

Dry cleaning is better if you’re looking to remove stains, or if wet carpets will be too much hassle in your home. It’s the budget choice, and it saves time.

However, you should choose steam cleaning if you have thick carpets that need deep cleaning. We also recommend steam cleaning if you have allergies or sensitivities to chemical cleaners. Still, this might not suit you if your entire home is carpeted, or if wet floors will get in the way of daily life.

Ultimately, steam cleaning may be the more powerful of the two, but dry cleaning is just so much easier. What do you think about dry carpet cleaning vs. steam cleaning? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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About the Author

Amy Anthony

Amy is a stay-at-home-mom, seasoned writer, and a home cleaning and organization aficionado. Amy enjoys having an absolutely spotless home and has worked hard to develop strategies to keep it that way, despite having 2 kids and 3 dogs!