How to Clean Your Carpet

published Dec 12, 2020
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Living room with floor to floor carpeting, green sofa, plant, with dog sleeping on the sofa
Credit: Cat Meschia

Carpeted spaces come with a lot of advantages, including that they soften a space with warmth and texture. But carpet fibers can also be a pain to take care of, especially if you don’t stay on top of them (or if you have pets, kids, or you’re spill-prone). 

Unlike rugs, carpet isn’t usually removable, which means you’ll have to shift things around to get a thorough clean. And unlike hard floors, you have to be a bit more careful with cleaning products (and work a little harder to ensure you’re actually getting the carpet fibers clean). 

That said, maintenance is the biggest part of keeping carpets clean. And if you keep up with your routine, you can save time when the inevitable time to deep clean arrives. Angela Dixon and Georgia Bell, Grove Guides with Grove Collaborative, suggest vacuuming whenever needed to cut down on surface dust and wandering dust-bunnies. 

Also, clean up any carpet spills as quickly as you’re able. If you have kids or pets, keep a trust stain remover on hand. (The Grove Guides like Grove Collaborative’s Carpet & Upholstery Stain Remover.) A simple carpet refresher like Aunt Fannie’s can keep your carpets smelling fresh. 

Ready to get started? Here’s how to clean your carpet, step by step!

The Most Important Thing to Know Before You Start

Across the board, Bell says the most important thing to remember when you’re cleaning rugs or carpets is to test all new cleaners or shampooers in an inconspicuous area. There’s nothing worse than discoloring or staining your carpet when you’re trying to clean it! If you’re not sure of the best way to clean your carpet safely and effectively, don’t hesitate to reach out to the manufacturer.

How to Clean Your Carpet, Step by Step

If it’s time for a good, thorough carpet deep clean, take a deep breath. It probably won’t be as difficult or time-consuming as you think! The most efficient and thorough way to deep-clean your carpet is a steam cleaner, which you can rent from a local hardware store for a day or a weekend. (Or, if you have kids, pets, or a lot of ground to cover, you might consider investing in one of your own.)

Here’s everything you need to know about how to clean your carpet:

Credit: Cat Meschia

1. Declutter.

Start by removing any clutter and furniture from your carpet so you can cover the entire space.

Credit: Cat Meschia

2. Vacuum.

To effectively clean your carpet, you’ll need to thoroughly vacuum to remove dirt and dust. If you skip this step, you may end up pushing these particles back into the carpet fibers.

Credit: Cat Meschia

3. Pre-treat any stains.

Stained areas on your carpet will need a bit of extra love, so don’t neglect to pre-treat them before cleaning. After testing a stain remover on your carpet, apply it per manufacturer’s instructions, then blot with a towel rather than rubbing it in. 

Credit: Cat Meschia

4. Get your steam cleaner ready.

Add water and pre-measured carpet cleaner to the steamer. 

Credit: Cat Meschia

5. Steam clean the carpet.

Move the steam cleaner from front to back slowly until you cover the entire surface area. When you push the machine forward, it releases water, and when you pull it back, it sucks the water back up. Skipping that step could result in mold or mildew in your carpet.

Credit: Cat Meschia

6. Wait for the carpet to dry.

It’s fine to walk on freshly cleaned carpet, but expect it to remain damp for up to 24 hours. 

7. Dispose of the water from the machine responsibly.

Many places that rent out steam cleaners will take the machine back full to avoid putting the chemicals from your carpet down the drain. Otherwise, call your local water treatment plant to enquire about how to dispose of the waste water.

Can vinegar ruin carpet?

In short, and unfortunately: Yes vinegar can harm your carpet and rugs. “Though the acidity of vinegar is great for cleaning in many cases, carpets are an exception to the rule,” says Bell. “The acidity can be harmful for many sorts of carpets, especially ones made of wool and other more delicate materials.” If your carpet is made of a synthetic fiber, like nylon (most are), Bell and Dixon reccomend using an enzyme-based cleaner specifically for carpet. But if your carpet is an animal-based fiber like wool, enzyme cleaners could do even more damage than vinegar. So stick with a formula designed specifically for wool or your type of carpet fiber. As with any cleaner, always spot test for colorfastness.

Why does my carpet look worse after cleaning?

Carpets can take some time to dry, and damp spots may look discolored for a time, says Dixon. If cleaning has brightened your carpet, sometimes only the set-in stains remain and may look more prominent. Try to tackle these stains with a product like carpet and upholstery stain remover and a good scrub brush that will get down into the pile of the carpet. A shower or tub brush often works well for this job!