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How to Steam Clean Carpet: Ultimate Guide

The only way you should be steam cleaning carpet.

Are you curious about how to get your carpets cleaner without calling in the professionals? Do you have adorable kids and pets that unfortunately seem to drag in all the dirt?

Steam cleaning might be your solution. It takes vacuuming up a notch by providing a hygienic deep clean that has the potential to weed out dust, fleas, and more. Steam cleaning can even sanitize your carpets.

Will steam cleaning work for you and your family? What’s the best way to do it? Our go-to guide for how to steam clean your carpet will help you out.

Key Takeaways

  • Steam cleaning provides a deep clean for carpets, removing dirt, allergens, and germs without leaving soapy residue.
  • Prepare the area by clearing, dusting, and vacuuming before steam cleaning for best results.
  • Steam cleaners are easy to use, eco-friendly, and can save money compared to professional cleaning services.
  • After steam cleaning, allow carpets to dry for 6-24 hours and ensure proper ventilation to speed up the drying process.

How Does a Steam Cleaner Work?

Most steam cleaners look similar to a vacuum in that they come with a canister or attached to a stick, accompanied by a hose and nozzle. They’re not made for suctioning up any loose bits of debris, though.

Instead, the motor uses pressure to force high-temperature water vapors into your carpet. The machine then sucks it back out, along with everything else stuck in there. This makes it suitable for hitting deeply-ingrained stains, along with lingering allergens that vacuuming doesn’t have the power to handle.

Because of this machine’s capabilities, the method is often used to clean places that require a highly-sterilized environment, such as hospitals (1).

Word Of Caution

Always check with your carpet manufacturer before going on a cleaning rampage with a steam cleaner. Not all carpets are made for steam cleaning, and the company should be able to determine whether yours is.
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Benefits of Steam Cleaning

You may be surprised at the number of benefits associated with steam cleaning your carpets. This includes, but isn’t limited to, the following:

  • No soapy residue: Some of the best carpet steam cleaners use water only, while others include the option of adding detergent. Either way, because of the way the machine functions, no sticky or soapy residue is left in your carpets.
  • High heat kills germs: Think about all the gunk you track in from the outside world. Furthermore, mold, mildew, and dust, among others, can quickly gather in your carpets without you even knowing. Steam cleaning can wipe out a lot of this — much of which you’d have a hard time getting rid of otherwise (2).
  • Eco-friendly cleaning method: Since many steam cleaners only rely on water to get the job done, you don’t have to worry about harsh chemicals. For those with kids and pets, this is a major bonus. By cleaning your carpets, your air may see an increase in quality as well — two birds with one stone.
  • Easy to use: Aside from filling up the tank and a few other small tasks, steam cleaning isn’t complicated. You maneuver it like a vacuum cleaner, which many already know. On top of that, some steam cleaners are even small and lightweight.
  • Budget-friendly deep clean: Cleaning supplies and professional jobs add up where your wallet is concerned. Steam cleaning, though, provides you with a high-quality service at a low cost, and that’s something to appreciate. This allows you to do it as often as you’d like, so long as your carpets can handle it.
  • Reach difficult places: Imagine all that’s building up in your home’s small nooks and crannies. The steam can propel itself into these crevices. Many devices also come with attachments to help with this scenario.
  • Handle difficult stains: For things like wax, food stains, dog urine, and more, steam cleaning is a viable alternative to outsourcing it to professionals. You may be able to knock some of these out with pure water vapor.
  • Allergy-friendly: Having allergies can take a toll, especially with the changing of seasons. Because steam cleaning can kill a bunch of these pests, allergy sufferers may find relief (3).

How to Steam Clean Carpet

It’s quite a simple task; let’s break it down.

  • Time: Around 20 minutes per room (plus drying time)
  • Difficulty: Easy

Schedule Ahead Of Time

This important tip is necessary to ensure you’ll be able to clean without distractions and have enough time for the area to dry. Put the pets away and make sure your little ones know that playtime isn’t allowed in the area.


Like many things in life, your cleaning job will only be as good as you are prepared. It might be tempting to avoid these steps, but believe us, you’ll be wishing you didn’t. After all, it’s only a few more minutes of your time:

  1. Clear and clean the space: This helps you determine a clear cleaning path and what spots need more attention. Without loads of furniture and clutter, you’ll have an easier time with the job.
  2. Protect your furniture: Of course, not all furniture is easily movable, especially when working on your own. To protect it from the steam, place plastic or wax paper under the legs. This will absorb any excess moisture and keep wooden legs from damage.
  3. Dust thoroughly: Steam cleaning is for the deeply-rooted stuff, not the dust along baseboards and walls. So manage this beforehand to avoid knocking any down during the process onto your freshly-cleaned carpets. That’d be a waste!
  4. Vacuum the area: It’s an important step in the preparation process to ensure any debris, hair, and coins, among other things, are out of sight. Your space will be better prepped, but it’ll prevent you from having to stop in the process and pick up any unnoticed items from before.
  5. Use your attachments: Most vacuums come with attachments, so take advantage of them. Get into the corners and crannies to ensure you’ve cleared up as much as possible.
  6. Treat the rough patches: Are there certain stains you’re looking to conquer? Jumpstart the process and prepare them too. Use your go-to stain remover or carpet cleaner on the area. Gently dab it and leave it as is.

Don’t Skimp On Vacuuming

Not only does it make things cleaner, but vacuuming ruffles up the carpet fibers too. This means the fibers will loosen up and be better able to take in the steam when it’s cleaning time.

Time to Clean

Now that your space is prepped, it’s time to move on to the steam cleaner itself:

  1. Fill up the water reservoir: Consult the manual to determine whether regular tap water or distilled water is best here. While the former won’t necessarily damage anything, some companies may recommend the latter. Use hot water to jumpstart the heating process a machine will handle later.
  2. Add your soap (if necessary): If you’re using a cleaning product, now would be the time to add that. Check the label for instructions and follow your machine’s set-up. Some may have a separate tank for this, while others will have you add it directly to the water tank.
  3. Try an alternative solution: Do you want the benefit of a solution without the harsh chemicals? Some recommend adding vinegar at a 50/50 ratio with the water. This budget-friendly household item has multiple uses for cleaning and is well-known for being effective (4).
  4. Turn on your machine and let it heat up: Some steam cleaners will heat automatically, and others may take up to 10 minutes before use. Follow the instructions in your manual and get ready for the task at hand.
  5. Plan your route accordingly: Depending on where you’re going to clean, you need to have an escape plan that doesn’t involve walking over your cleaned floors. If you have a large space and multiple rooms to hit, this will take more forethought, but it’s worth it.
  6. Start in the corners of each room: Much like you would when sweeping or mopping, you want to start in the corner of the room, furthest from the door. This enables you to avoid what we just covered in step five.
  7. Clean as directed: Some steam cleaners may have specific directions regarding modes of use and ways to handle the machine. Check for different flooring options and other appropriate settings. Generally speaking, you’re going to take a standard back-and-forth approach.
  8. Avoid short strokes: Aim for long strokes, versus short static ones. You’ll see where you’re going and where you need to cover next. Overlap your lines to ensure you’re hitting everything.
  9. Take advantage of attachments: Like vacuums, steam cleaners often come with multiple attachments. Use them! They’ll help you tackle hard-to-reach stains or places you may not have cleaned since God knows when.
  10. Move slowly: The last thing you want is a rushed job with little-to-no impact. Steam cleaners are effective, but you need to handle them with care. Move slowly and methodically, so there’s time for it to disperse, work and suck everything back out again.
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Drying Time

The biggest part of the job is over, and now it’s time for the carpets to dry:

  1. Time to ventilate: To help this process along, go ahead and open any windows or turn on a ceiling fan. This will give a chance for air to circulate, helping the carpets dry quicker.
  2. Wait for six to 24 hours: It’s not a small time frame, we know, but this all depends on your carpet. We recommend doing this task in the evening, so you at least have the nighttime to wait it out.
  3. Notify the household: If you live in a busy house or are steam cleaning someone else’s, it’s critical that no one walks on the floors. Can’t reach them by telephone or in-person? Put a noticeable sign up. You’re better safe than sorry here.

Do a Check-Up

Remember all those pesky stains and dirty areas you wanted to banish with the steam cleaner? Once the floors are completely dry, we recommend having a good look over.

Take stock of how well the stains lifted and whether the carpet looks better. If you notice some places that need more care, hit them again with some spot cleaning instead of waiting for your following steam clean session.

Proceed With Care

Steam may seem harmless when, in fact, it can be dangerous, leading to scalding burns on your skin (5). Or even worse, it could harm your furry loved ones and children.

To avoid an unfortunate and quite a painful event:

  • Consider protective wear: It might sound excessive, but eyewear, long pants, and a shirt, along with socks, could shield you from unexpected steam burns.
  • Make sure pets and kids are away: We’ve already said it, but we’ll state it again.


Is Steam Cleaning Carpet Better Than Shampooing?

Steam cleaning a carpet is better than shampooing because the steam gets deep into the carpet fibers, and only uses water instead of chemicals. This is better for you, your family, and the environment.

Where Does the Dirt Go When You Steam Clean?

The dirt falls away from the fibers when you steam clean and gets vacuumed out later. Some steam cleaners have suction capabilities that collect the dirty water in a reservoir for disposal later.

How Often Should a Carpet be Steam Cleaned?

You should steam clean your carpets every 12 to 18 months, but it depends on how dirty your carpets get and the level of footfall. Also, you may need to perform a deep clean more frequently if you have pets and kids.

How Long Does It Take to Steam Clean a Carpet?

The time it takes to steam clean a carpet depends on the size and type of carpet. On average, It takes 10 minutes to perform a steam clean in a standard 12 ft x 12 ft room.

What Can You Add to a Steam Cleaner?

You can add vinegar to your steam cleaner to disinfect the inside of your steamer and to kill bacteria clinging to your floor surfaces. Vinegar is 100 percent natural, safe to use, and kind to the environment.

Steam Clean Away

Steam cleaning your carpets is much easier than it looks. With a little forethought and know-how, you’ll be mastering this skill and your carpets too. Not only will your flooring look better, but it may help it last longer as well.

Remember to stay organized and on task, making nice clean lines as you go. Give your carpets ample time to dry and help them out with a bit of airflow action.

Don’t forget about safety — both for yourself while cleaning and also for your pets and children. The last thing you want is for someone to get hurt.

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About the Author

Amy Anthony

Amy Anthony is a cleaning expert, author, and contributing writer for Oh So Spotless, a leading online resource for all things related to cleaning, organizing, and maintaining a spotless home. With over 15 years of experience in the cleaning industry, Amy has gained extensive knowledge and expertise that have made her a trusted authority on best practices, efficient techniques, and innovative cleaning solutions.