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How to Shampoo Your Carpet

Whether you want to do it yourself or hire a professional cleaning service, giving your carpet a deep clean with shampoo helps keep it in the best possible condition.

Author Icon Written by Brenda Woods Updated 03/27/2024

In This Guide: Materials and Tools | Routine Carpet Cleaning | When to Shampoo | Tips to Keep Carpets Clean | Hiring a Professional | Conclusion | FAQs

Even if you vacuum regularly, dirt, grime, and stains can sink into carpet fibers deeper than a regular vacuum can reach. Thus, it’s a good idea to shampoo your carpet once or twice a year, especially if you have pets in the home. Carpet shampooing can be accomplished by hand or steam cleaning using heat, water, and detergent to loosen and remove tough stains, spills, and odors.

The fastest and most economical way to clean your carpet is to rent a steam cleaner from a hardware store. You might even consider buying one—if you have pets, you’ll likely recoup your investment quickly. You can also take some steps to do a deeper DIY clean with a regular vacuum. However, professional carpet cleaning companies can take care of everything in a few hours, including the labor of moving furniture. We’ll take a look at all these options and walk you through the process of giving your carpet a deep clean.

Materials and Tools

Here’s what you’ll need to shampoo a carpet:
Vacuum cleaner
Cleaning solution
Carpet cleaning machine
Pretreatment stain remover
Clean white cloth
Oscillating or box fan
Optional: baking soda, salt, and scrub brush
Optional: white vinegar, spray bottle, and microfiber cloth

Steps to follow

To clean your carpets, it’s usually a good idea to go room by room. Follow the steps in the dropdown sections below to get your carpets looking good as new:

Though there are probably a few large, heavy pieces that you’ll just need to work around, you should move as much of the furniture out of the room as possible. If you’re using a steam cleaner, you’ll want to protect the legs of any remaining furniture with aluminum foil or plastic wrap. If you can get a wood block under each leg, that will also work.

Then, vacuum to pull up loose dirt, dust balls, and pet hair. While this might seem unnecessary, keep in mind that dust bunnies and pet hair, in particular, can clog the intake of a steam cleaner. It’s better to take the time to thoroughly vacuum this debris up dry than to dig a wet, smelly clog out of the machine later. As you go, you might want to mark any spots you see that need extra attention in the next step.

Although pet stains and spills are best cleaned up as soon as possible, sometimes you can’t get to them before they set in. After you vacuum, pretreat these spots with carpet-stain remover or a mixture of one part white vinegar to three parts cold water.

If you’ve never used this particular remover or solution on your carpet before, make sure you spot test it for colorfastness. Pick an out-of-the-way spot, like one that’s usually hidden by furniture. Apply a small amount of the solution, wait a few minutes, and then dab it with a white cloth or paper towel. If you see any dyes or color bleeding, don’t apply the solution to the rest of the carpet.

Read the directions on any pretreater you use carefully. Some are meant to be blotted up with a clean cloth while still damp, and others are meant to be vacuumed up or removed by the shampoo machine. Note that spot cleaning for certain carpet stains may require other cleansers or methods, including dish soap, ammonia, or rubbing alcohol.

Although using carpet shampoo and a steam cleaner takes less time and effort, you can also deep-clean carpet with a vacuum, household cleaners, and some elbow grease.

Using a Vacuum

You have a few options for doing a deep clean without special machinery. These methods are usually best accomplished by working a small patch of carpet at a time, perhaps a 3’x3’ square. There are dry, foaming, and wet shampoos you can buy or make your own with common household materials.

One method that’s particularly good for combatting odors is to combine equal parts baking soda and salt and sprinkle this over the carpet. Then fill a spray bottle with cold water and mist the carpet until it is damp but not soaked. Next, take a scrub brush and work the damp powder into the carpet pile, first in one direction, then at a 90-degree angle. Scoop up any extra powder, let the carpet dry, and vacuum up the remaining powder.

If you have access to a steam machine other than a carpet cleaner—for example, a clothes steamer or steam mop—you can use the same baking-soda-and-salt method. However, you’ll use the steamer instead of the spray bottle to dampen the powder. Continue with the scrub brush after that.

You can also use the vinegar-and-water solution in a spray bottle and mist the carpet. Again, check for colorfastness first, then dampen a square at a time with the solution. Allow it to sit for about five minutes, then blot the excess water and vinegar with a microfiber cloth, rinsing the cloth frequently in clean water.

You can use these methods on area rugs, too, but move them to a tiled surface or protect the floor underneath from moisture damage.

Using a Carpet Shampooer

First, always read the directions before using a carpet cleaning machine. You’re likely to have multiple options in water temperature, amount and concentration of soap, power levels, and other settings. Some are designed to be pushed back and forth like vacuums, but others will only work when you drag them backward. Also, if your carpet is made of natural fibers like wool, you may need to use only cold water to prevent shrinkage. Make sure you know how to empty the collection tank before you fill anything.

Your next step will be to fill the water tank in general. It may be removable or fixed, but do not fill it beyond the max water level line. There will be a separate tank for carpet shampoo or cleaner, and make sure to use a solution compatible with the cleaning machine. Note that the hot water and steam will do the bulk of the work when it comes to cleaning, so it’s better to use too little shampoo than too much.

Now you’re ready to start cleaning the carpet. It’s usually good to start in one corner and clean in parallel lines, getting as close to the wall as possible. This will ensure that you don’t miss spots and that steamers that are meant to be pulled only in one direction will work properly. Remember to go slowly—the machine injects steam and soap into the carpet and vacuums it up again, which takes time. One step per second may feel like a long time, but you need to give the machine time to work.

Pay attention to the water levels in the various tanks and empty the collection tank when it fills up. The dirty water will be dark and may have a foul odor, so empty it in a utility sink, toilet, or outdoor drain. You may have to empty the collection tank and refill the water tank several times, especially in high-traffic areas. Keep going until the water in the collection tank is clear or almost clear. You may want to do one pass with shampoo and the rest using only steam to make sure you remove any soap residue.

Unless you’ve used a dry shampoo, you need to let the carpet dry completely before allowing any foot traffic. Drying time will depend on room size, carpet thickness, and the overall humidity of the room. Expect six to eight hours of drying time.

Leave the furniture out of the room overnight if possible. If you put the furniture back too soon and trap moisture in the carpet, this can cause mildew growth. A large oscillating or box fan can help speed up the process, as can opening windows and doors.

Finally, if you’ve used a steam cleaner, empty all tanks and rinse out the collection tank. Especially if you own the cleaner, don’t let it sit around with dirty water in the tank—the machine itself may take on odors and inadvertently spread them the next time you use it. Leave removable tanks out of the machine long enough to dry completely when possible.

When to Shampoo a Carpet

In a perfect world, you would vacuum at least once a week and deep-clean your carpets at least twice a year. If you let time get away from you, you may want to schedule a professional carpet cleaning soon if you see any of the following signs:

  • Noticeable stains or discoloration
  • Persistent musty smells or pet odors
  • Large spills or flooding
  • Any pest problem, including fleas or carpet beetles
  • A worsening in allergy symptoms

Tips to Keep Carpets Clean Longer

Moving furniture, in particular, can be a pain. You can take longer between deep cleans if you spot-clean any spills or stains as soon as they happen. Here are some more cleaning tips and tricks to protect your carpets and go longer between deep cleans:

  • Vacuum at least once a week, more often if you have pets or tend to track in dirt.
  • Change your vacuum bag and filters as recommended so that your vacuum works at its highest efficiency.
  • Use an air purifier with an HVAC filter to trap dust before it hits the ground.
  • If you have pets that shed, brush them frequently (outside, when possible) to reduce the number of loose hairs on the carpet.
  • Treat stains as soon as they happen. In general, blot instead of scrub, and work from the outside-in to avoid spreading the stain or spill. Spray on an appropriate cleaner, rinse with a spray of warm water, and then blot dry.
  • For most food and alcohol spills, mix one-quarter teaspoon of non-bleach detergent with 32 ounces of water.
  • For coffee, red wine, blood, and other tougher stains, mix one tablespoon of ammonia with one cup of water. However, don’t use this solution on wool or wool-blend carpets.
  • On solution-dyed carpets only, you can mix one part chlorine bleach with five parts water. However, this will damage other types of carpets.
  • For wax, fat, or oil, place a paper towel over the stain and iron it using the iron on a warm (but not hot) setting.
  • Put doormats or machine-washable area rugs at all entrances to reduce the amount of dirt and soil brought indoors.
  • Remove your shoes upon entering your home.
  • Know what type of carpet you have and how best to clean it.

Hiring a Carpet Cleaning Professional

Professionals will have commercial-grade equipment that will do the most thorough job for heavy-duty cleaning. Prices will vary based on the size of your home and the cost of living in your area, but most services charge per room, and there may be a set minimum cost. Most of the time, carpet cleaning prices will range from $100 to $500. Professionals also have insurance coverage in case your carpets are damaged.

Renting a carpet cleaning machine will be less expensive than hiring a professional cleaning service, but you’ll still have to pay about $30–$80 a day. You’ll also need to buy the shampoo, which usually costs about $20 for a large bottle.

The purchase prices of these machines vary greatly. You can get a lightweight model on Amazon for as low as $99, but the best carpet cleaners for home use are typically in the $200–$300 range. Bissell is a trusted brand name for steam cleaners, as is Rug Doctor. There are also spot cleaners that can deep clean small patches of carpet. Buying the machine can pay for itself in as little as three to four uses. However, these machines require cleaning and maintenance. Even if you do a good job yourself, you may want to hire a professional service every few years to do a deep clean.

Our Recommendation

If you don’t have pets or problems with pests or allergies, you’re probably fine doing DIY carpet cleaning. However, if you have any of these, or if you have mobility issues or cannot move your furniture yourself, hiring a professional carpet cleaner is likely the better option. At the very least, paying for a professional clean once every few years can help keep your carpets looking and smelling their best.

FAQs About How to Shampoo Carpet

Are you supposed to rinse the carpet after shampooing?

That depends on the kind of detergent you use. There are some dry shampoos that you can vacuum up, like the baking-soda-and-salt method. However, most cleaning solutions that you’d use with a carpet steamer machine are meant to be rinsed. Fortunately, the machine will do that for you, so go over any areas on which you’ve used soap again using only water.

How can I shampoo my carpet without a machine?

Foaming and dry shampoos can be removed with a regular vacuum. You can also use the baking soda or vinegar-and-water methods described above. They require a bit more effort and some scrubbing, but you won’t need to rent a machine. However, an actual steam cleaner will be more effective, particularly on old or deep stains.

What is the best carpet shampoo?

Many manufacturers that make carpet-cleaning machines also make detergent solutions to use with them. If you rent or buy a machine, the “best” shampoo will be one that’s designed to work with that machine. However, OxiClean and Zep tend to receive good reviews, and Nature’s Miracle is especially good for pet stains and odors.

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