How to Clean Carpet (Best Methods & Homemade Solutions)

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Categories Carpet Care
Learn how to clean your carpets, without losing your mind.

Cleaning carpets can seem like an insurmountable task. What method and solution should you use? How often should you do it? All of these and more are all viable factors to think about.

You could hire someone, of course, but that’s not always necessary. Instead, you can learn the various ways to go about it. Then you can safely choose which one suits you and your carpet the best.

With some tips up your sleeve, you’ll be a carpet-cleaning master in no time. Jump right in with our how-to guide and feel confident as a result.


Why It’s Essential to Clean Carpets

Carpets have the ability to make a home warm and welcoming. Over time, though, they can see their fair share of grime.

If you have pets and kids, they may get dirtier quicker. This is also the case if you wear shoes while walking on the carpet.

When you have a carpeted home, keeping it dust and stain-free is crucial not only for cleanliness but for its longevity as well. Many carpet manufacturers will list in their warranty how often you should clean it for this reason. Otherwise, you could risk losing it should anything go wrong.

Furthermore, if you or anyone in your family suffers from allergies, clean carpets need to be a priority (1). Microscopic bits including pollen, animal dander, insect parts and more could be lurking about in your flooring. These can come from the air around and are also brought inside on your body and shoes.

The Pile Matters

While both low-pile and high-pile carpets can harbor allergens, the latter are more prone to this as the threads are long and loose — making a perfect home for little creatures.

How Often Should I Clean My Carpets?

There are a few factors that help determine how often you should clean your carpets. Most manufacturers will say they need a professional clean at least once per year, but this doesn’t account for general upkeep.

Got High Foot Traffic and Furry Friends?

You may opt for a deeper clean more like three to four times per year, depending on the state of the carpets.

This also means you should be vacuuming at least two to four times per week to keep the dander, hair, and grime from taking over your floors.

For smaller families and homes without pets, vacuuming once per week is usually sufficient. You can pair this with other spot cleans which we delve into later.

Best Methods for Cleaning Carpets

There are a variety of methods for cleaning your carpets. You can try quick treatments like spot cleaning and vacuuming or more in-depth routines, including steam mops.

We’ve created our step-by-step guide with you in mind, so take your pick and see what works best for your home and family.

How to Clean Carpets With a Vacuum

Vacuuming is a task that most are familiar with. Generally, it’s a suitable method for your average, everyday home. These devices use electric motors to generate a sucking action to help you pick up bits and pieces on the floor (2).

Carpet owners should have a vacuum at home because it’s your go-to weekly cleaning tool. As mentioned above, depending on traffic and live-in furry friends, you’ll vacuum between one and four times per week.

  • Do a brief pickup around the floor: Remove any objects off the floor including toys. Push electrical cords out of the way.Don’t forget to look under furniture for small items such as loose coins.
  • Put pets away: Most animals, especially dogs, despise the vacuum cleaner unless they’re used to it (3). The sounds are just too intense for their overly-sensitive ears. In this case, put them away to protect them from this.
  • Dust first: By all means, make sure to dust your blinds, windows, baseboards and furniture before vacuuming. The vacuum will pick up these particles and you’ll be glad you followed protocol. Otherwise, it’s a waste of time.
  • Use a nozzle: Your vacuum probably comes with a nozzle attachment and this is where you’ll begin. It helps you reach difficult places like nooks and crevices. Go ahead and knock out the edges of the room including baseboards.
  • Take advantage of an extension tube: If you have one of these, it makes cleaning under furniture much easier. It’s definitely an area you don’t want to forget.
  • Vacuum in both directions. It may seem unnecessary but vacuuming the entire open space both vertically and horizontally is useful. This ensures you don’t miss any twisted fibers or stuck animal dander.
PROS:
  • Can be a budget-friendly option.
  • Familiarity for most.
  • Best for picking up loose debris.
CONS:
  • Heavy and cumbersome to tote around.
  • Won’t get stains or deeply embedded creatures.

Cleaning Carpets With a Steam Mop

If you’re not familiar with steam mops, these handy devices take your cleaning game up a notch. They release high-temperature water vapor that has the power to offer a very hygienic clean.

Do you have a particularly busy house? Perhaps your dog seems to attract all the fleas (4)? A steam mop can help with all of the above.

Since steam offers a more in-depth clean than vacuuming, once a week should be sufficient if not a little less. Of course, this also depends on your carpet traffic and circumstances. Here’s our favorite way to steam clean carpets:

  • Vacuum or brush the floor first: This removes any loose debris, so you’re able to steam mop effectively.
  • Place a clean mop head or towel on your steam cleaner: These devices come with a variety of attachment options, from microfiber cloths to mop heads. You can also use your own clip-on towels.
  • Set it to “carpet” and fill up the water tank: Steam mops are suitable for a variety of flooring and yours should have a carpet setting. Tick it and then fill up the water reservoir with distilled or demineralized water. Wait for it to heat up — depending on the machine, this could take up to 10 minutes.
  • Start at the corner farthest from the door: This allows you to clean towards the doorway as you progress, so you don’t have to walk back over freshly-cleaned carpets. Gently work back and forth in straight lines.
  • Take advantage of attachments: Much like a vacuum, steam mops often have attachments. If you need help with hard-to-reach places, see what you have available and make the most of it.
  • Allow the carpet to dry before walking on it: This will take anywhere between four and 10 hours.
PROS:
  • Eco-friendly cleaning method.
  • Some are light in weight.
  • Sanitizes, including killing fleas.
  • Cleans light stains.
CONS:
  • Takes time to dry.
  • Not suitable for all carpets.

Quick Tip

Some carpets such as Berber may be damaged by steam. To check, do a small section first to see how your carpet reacts. Better yet, contact the carpet manufacturer to see if steam cleaning is a viable option.
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How to Clean Carpets by Hand

There will, inevitably, come a time when you’ll want to clean your carpets by hand. This is usually the case when you’ve got a pesky stain or two. Depending on what it is, you may use slightly different approaches (covered below), but there are some general steps.

  • Vacuum first: This ensures all debris and loose ends are out of the way.
  • Fill a bucket with equal parts warm water and vinegar: You can also add a few drops of mild, bleach-free soap.
  • Use a sponge or soft-bristle brush: Dip it into the solution enough to get it moist but not overly wet. Gently scrub in a clockwise motion over the area you’re cleaning. Then use an anticlockwise motion.
  • Use a clean brush to rinse the area: Dip the brush into clean water only and scrub again to lift any remaining suds.
  • Ventilate the area to help it dry: Open the windows and turn on a ceiling fan to help speed up the process.
PROS:
  • Cheap and straightforward.
  • Eco-friendly.
  • Can remove tough stains.
CONS:
  • Labor intensive.

For Area Rugs

You can use the steps directed above, but make sure you do a color test first on a small patch to ensure the colors won’t bleed. Rug shampoos are available to use in place of vinegar or mild detergent.

Using a Carpet Cleaning Machine

You may think steam mops and carpet cleaning machines are the same thing. However, there’s one primary difference. Where the former uses only water, the latter incorporates the use of a tough cleaning agent.

This may depend on personal preference; whether or not you’re okay with harsh chemicals. If you have kids and pets, you may choose to forego this method.

They work by first spraying a solution into the carpet. Then the cleaner mechanism works its way into the pile, cleaning as you push. It’s used professionally for a reason — they’re high-powered and efficient.

Thankfully, though, instead of paying someone to do it for you, these machines are rentable. Most use this method around once per year.

How to Do It:

  • Remove as much furniture as you can: Because this is a deep clean, you might as well remove all you can to cover as much ground as possible.
  • Vacuum: Similar to other methods above, you’ll vacuum beforehand to remove any lingering dust and debris from the area.
  • Pretreat the carpets: This pertains to heavily-stained areas that need extra attention. Lightly spray them with carpet shampoo and let it soak for three to four minutes before using the machine.
  • Fill the cleaner’s tank with hot water: Your machine will have instructions on this, but it’s more or less the same across the board. Fill it to the line designated within the tank. Consult the manual if you have a hard time removing it.
  • Add your cleaning solution the tank: Follow your manufacturer’s advice as to which solutions are acceptable for your carpet. They’re available at your general store. Pour in the designated amount on the package.
  • Set the dial to your intended use: Some machines will have a floor setting and others will offer degrees of cleaning from light to deep. Choose what’s appropriate.
  • Make sure the heat is on: Some machines offer a heat button separate from the “on” button.
  • Get to cleaning: There’s probably a trigger located on the handle that disperses the cleaning solution. You’ll pass the cleaner back and forth over the area as you spray. Don’t go overboard here.
  • Make a dry pass: Once you’ve done that, make a dry pass over that area to suction back up any remaining dirt or water.
  • Work from the far end of the room towards the door: As always, this is key.
PROS:
  • Professional-grade cleaning.
  • Great for deep stains and mold.
  • Doesn’t have to be done often.
CONS:
  • Time and labor-intensive.
  • Uses chemical solutions.

Quick Tip

You may need to refill your tank in the process, depending on its size. Have a game plan in mind ahead of time, so you’re not walking on freshly-cleaned carpets to reach your faucet.

Homemade Cleaning Solutions

Some prefer to pass on store-bought solutions and would rather make their own at home. If you’re such a DIY aficionado, we haven’t left you behind.

Here we help you out with a few quick-and-easy recipe ideas:

Vinegar-Based Solution

Mix these in a small spray bottle and ensure the salt dissolves. To use this, you’ll follow the instructions above under how to clean carpets by hand.

  • 1 cup of white vinegar.
  • Essential oils such as lavender or tea tree, 15 drops.
  • 2 cups of water.
  • 2 teaspoons salt.
PROS:
  • Gentle solution, safe for kids and pets.
  • Budget friendly.
CONS:
  • Not for impossible stains.

Powdered Cleaner

Here we incorporate a cleaner to use for rough stains or greasy areas. Use this cleaner by following the how to clean carpets by hand section, foregoing the liquid instructions.

  • 1 cup of baking soda.
  • 1 cup Borax.
  • 1 tablespoon of crushed dried herbs for fragrance.
PROS:
  • Best for harsh accidents.
  • Strong and reliable.
CONS:
  • May not be suitable for all carpets.

Two-Ingredient Solution

This is one of the easiest carpet cleaners you can make. Use a rag or paper towel to blot as much of the stain as you can. Allow the solution to sit for 10 minutes before cleaning.

  • 1 teaspoon dish soap.
  • 1 cup of warm water.
PROS:
  • Simple to make.
  • Easy-to-find ingredients.
CONS:
  • Deep stains may not budge here.

How to Clean Carpet on Stairs

Cleaning the stairs can be tricky — especially when it comes to using a machine.

We recommend incorporating both by-hand solutions and the use of a handheld vacuum.

  • Remove any debris: Bits and pieces of gunk and debris are easily caught in the corners of staircases. Use a stiff-bristle brush or vacuum attachment to remove as much as possible.
  • Work from the top down: This ensures you won’t be walking over the area you just cleaned. Handheld vacuums are easiest to maneuver here. Top-heavy stick vacuums can be dangerous. If that’s all you have, ask for help from those around.
  • Shampoo if necessary: If your stairs look extra pitiful, you can make your way back up to the top stair and use one of the cleaning solutions mentioned in this article. Pay attention to each step to make sure you don’t miss any bits.
  • Give them time to dry: Use towels to lift any extra water remaining on the stairs. If you have a portable fan, aim it towards the staircase to add airflow. Leave them to dry overnight.
  • One last vacuum: Give a final vacuum the next day to remove anything remaining on the stairs.

How to Remove Odors From Carpet

Unfortunately, basic cleaning doesn’t always remove odors from your carpet.

Happily, though, there are ways to deodorize your flooring and we got your back on this one too:

Use Baking Soda

That’s right. Baking soda doesn’t only clean but can deodorize as well. Plus, it’s a cheap, safe and effective method — what’s not to like?

If your carpets are mildly stinky, this method should do the trick (5). Is it more than a minor smell? Skip on down to the deep-clean option.

  • Vacuum your carpet: Much like you would before you shampoo or steam it.
  • Alert the family: Let them know you’ll be deodorizing the carpets and they’ll be out of order for a while.
  • Gently sprinkle the baking soda over the area you’re treating: You want to completely cover the carpeted portion, so be generous as you pour.
  • Use a dry brush or sponge to scrub it: Work in a clockwise, then anticlockwise motion to scrub the baking soda into the carpet. If you have a thick, high pile version, you’ll want to make sure you get into those nooks and crannies.
  • Allow it to sit overnight or for up to 24 hours: This gives the baking soda time to do its job. The longer it sits, the more effective it will be.
  • Vacuum it up: After this period has passed, vacuum the baking soda and see how the carpets turned out. If the odor is gone, great job! If not, you may need to take extra measures such as using a carpet cleaning machine.

Use a Deep Treatment

If your carpets are on the super stinky side, you may want to shampoo before trying the baking soda treatment. Doing this may mean the latter will work better for you.

  • Use gloves and gather up the following: 2 tablespoons hydrogen peroxide. 0.25 cups of baking soda. 1 teaspoon liquid soap. 1 quart water.
  • Mix them well in a large container: Once mixed, add the solution into an empty spray bottle with the nozzle open.
  • Test a patch: You want to make sure your carpet can handle the peroxide.
  • Spray the area you’re treating: You don’t want to saturate your carpets, but you do want to cover them.
  • Allow them to rest for 24 hours: Make sure your kids and furry friends don’t have access to this area during this time. Keep it well ventilated.
  • Use a towel to remove the remaining liquid: Ensure that any excess moisture isn’t remaining the next day.

Use a Steam Mop or Carpet Cleaning Machine

Because of the advanced cleaning mechanisms offered by these machines, they can come in handy when removing odors. You may combine either with the baking soda method listed above, so long as you vacuum it up first.

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Best Ways to Remove Carpet Stains

Now and then you’re bound to come across stains that just won’t budge.

A few helpful tips for specific stains include the following:

  • Oil and grease: Add your chosen carpet cleaner to a dry rag and dab multiple times. Rinse by blotting with a clean rag soaked in lukewarm water.
  • Food stains: Use the dab or blot method, lightly pushing down repeatedly with a wet rag dipped in vinegar. Avoid scrubbing as this could push it further into the carpet. Wait around 15 minutes before rinsing clean.
  • Pet urine: For this, it’s a two-part job. First, dab with a carpet cleaning solution and wait 15 minutes. Dab again with vinegar, wait for about an hour and then gently rinse and dry the area.
  • Chewing gum/wax: Fill a plastic bag with ice and rub the area until the stain solidifies. Break it up with a sharp object and remove/vacuum remaining bits.
  • Ink: Following the blotting method from the “oil and grease” point above. It may take multiple attempts. If you see the stain lightening with time, it’s working.

Carpet Maintenance Tips

We have some additional expert points to help your carpets remain in tip-top shape.

These tips will also prevent you from working too hard on keeping your carpets that way.

  • Leave your shoes at the door: It may seem obvious, but many still wear their shoes on carpets. This is a surefire way to make them dirty in no time.
  • Act swiftly: When stains appear, try your best to avoid distractions and procrastination. You might forget. The longer it sits, the worse it becomes.
  • Make vacuuming a habit: By doing this, you become very familiar with your carpet and will notice spots that require further attention. This also helps to keep debris from digging down deep overtime.
  • Hire someone to help: Are you overworked or are your carpets in terrible shape? We all need help sometimes and hiring a professional could benefit you.
  • Protect high-traffic areas: Hallways and living rooms are just two examples of areas that are prone to heavy use. If you must have carpet here, consider a runner or a rug on top to help protect what’s beneath.
  • Install other protective features: These include chair mats or rugs under chairs to keep the legs from digging into the carpet. You can also install plastic protectors under the table and couch legs.
  • Have an emergency kit ready: This is especially useful if you have kids or pets! If there are certain carpet accidents that happen on the regular, save yourself the hassle and keep a kit on standby. Place whatever you need inside so it’s ready to grab-and-go.

Spick and Span

We hope our how-to guide on cleaning your carpets was useful and informative.

As you can see, there are many methods and solutions for this dilemma. It all depends on the traffic in your home and what your carpets require.

Furthermore, you don’t want to beat yourself up over the task either. Take advantage of the supplies you have at home and keep an emergency kit ready. When you just can’t handle it alone, a professional will be your best bet.

Finally, keep in mind any allergies or pet issues and adjust your cleaning routine accordingly.

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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!
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