How to Do a Routine Carpet Cleaning
To clean your carpets, it’s usually a good idea to go room by room.
Prepare the room.
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.
Deep-clean the carpet.
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.
Let the carpet dry.
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.