How to Clean Carpet

A person shampooing white carpet.

In general, I’m a fan of carpet. It’s soft and warm underfoot, it keeps would-be dust bunnies trapped in one place instead of floating freestyle onto your furniture, and you hardly ever get mysterious dirt granules stuck to your bare feet while walking on carpet. The problem with carpet, though, and it’s a big one, is that it always ends up filthy because you can’t just wipe away grubby footprints and cat hairballs and spilled juice. Carpet cleaning seems to always turn into a full-fledged ordeal involving a noisy machine and mysterious soap that leaves behind a filmy residue: the carpet extractor.

Well, I’ll make a deal with you: I can’t get you out of using a carpet extractor, but I can help you eliminate the soap. The best way to clean carpet is to skip putting the shampoo into the carpet shampooer and fill it with plain old water instead. Cleaning with water will not only get your carpet clean, but will also keep it cleaner longer. When you use soap to clean carpet, you fall victim to soap’s double-edged sword: it works because dirt molecules bind to soap molecules. That’s great news when you’re trying to remove dirt from the carpet, but soap molecules stay in the carpet long after you’re done cleaning, and they continue to trap dirt right where you don’t want it. So try skipping the soap. The following steps show you how.

Steps to Cleaning Carpets

  1. Moving furniture off carpetStart by clearing off the carpet you need to clean by moving furniture and anything else on the floor into another room. It’s best to expose as much of the carpet as possible so it gets a thorough cleaning, but if the couch has been in the same spot since you moved in, it can probably stay. Remember to protect your back by getting someone to help you move the heavy stuff, as you can see I did.
  2. vacuuming carpetBefore you begin cleaning with water, run a vacuum cleaner over the carpet to pick up loose dirt, hair, and larger bits of debris. These things can clog a carpet cleaner, and when they get clogged, carpet extractors sometimes spit as much dirty water out as they suck up—if they don’t just stop working entirely.
  3. filling tank of carpet extractorYou’ll need hot water for this method of carpet cleaning to live up to its full potential. That means you should fill the water tank in the carpet extractor with the hottest water you can possibly get out of your tap. Some carpet cleaners even have a heat setting; if the one you’re using does, then by all means, turn it on.
  4. running carpet extractorNow that the water tank is full and the detergent tank is still empty, begin cleaning the carpet according to the instructions specific to your carpet extractor. Clean in a methodical pattern to ensure that you won’t miss any spots, and plan ahead so you don’t clean yourself into a corner. Also, remember that if you move the extractor slowly across the carpet, it can shoot water deeper beneath the carpet fibers and has more time to pull the dirty water back out. The slower, the better.
  5. dumping and refilling extractorWhile cleaning, pay close attention to the water level in the tank. Whenever it becomes empty, carefully dump out the dirty water that’s collected in the reservoir and refill the water tank with clean hot water. Continue this until you’ve run the carpet cleaner at least once over the entire area of carpet.
  6. clean carpetThe hard part is finally done, and all that’s left is to wait for the carpet to dry. Set up a fan or two, open the windows if it’s a nice day, and sit back with a movie and a bowl of popcorn. When the entire carpet is dry to the touch, put all of the things you moved out of the room back in their places on the floor. Now that your carpet is clean, help keep it clean by leaving your shoes at the door and vacuuming on a regular basis.

Professional Carpet Cleaning

The advantage of hiring a professional to clean your carpet is, of course, that you don’t have to do it yourself. However, there are potential drawbacks to using professional carpet cleaners, so make sure you do some research before handing over your money. First, some carpet cleaning companies staff people who dislike their jobs (Can you blame them?) and don’t really care if the carpet gets clean (It’s not in their living room.), so they might not do an acceptable job. Check up on several companies’ histories and try to get reliable word-of-mouth recommendations before settling on one. Another cause for concern is that, once you hire them, you have no control over what kind of chemicals a professional carpet cleaner uses. Carpet cleaning solution can contain materials hazardous to both people and the environment, so look for carpet cleaning services that specialize in steam cleaning or hot water extraction (both versions of what I described in the do-it-yourself section above), or those who only use detergents specially formulated for environmental friendliness. Double check to make sure they’re insured as well…nothing will ruin your day like a ruined carpet caused by uninsured workers.

Natural Carpet Cleaners

White vinegar is a natural disinfectant, and using it in place of detergent in your carpet extractor will leave you with cleaner carpet than water alone. Of course, there’s that smell to contend with, so open the windows and maybe burn a scented candle. The odor should dissipate once the carpet is dry.

Earth Friendly Products Carpet Shampoo is a concentrated formula of natural, non-toxic ingredients for use in carpet cleaning machines. Among those ingredients are bergamot and sage, which guarantees that your carpet will look clean and also smell fantastic.

Simple Green Carpet Cleaner boasts a non-toxic, biodegradable, and versatile formula. It’s available in a spray bottle and a gallon jug, so it can easily be used alone to treat spots and stains or in a carpet extractor to clean a whole floor. You can order a jug of Simple Green from Amazon.