How to Clean Carpet: Methods, Costs and Tips

Keep your carpet looking fresh by vacuuming, removing stains, steam cleaning or hiring pros.

Roberta PescowNov 24, 2020
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Clean carpets make any home more attractive, and it often takes a multifaceted approach to get the job done right. This guide for how to clean carpet will help you find ways to freshen underfoot, whatever your budget.

Vacuum

  • Cost: $0 if you already own a vacuum; $50-$700 for a new vacuum; $10-$50 for dry carpet cleaning product (optional).

  • Pros: Quick affordable results; removes loose dirt effectively without wetting the carpet.

  • Cons: Doesn’t remove embedded dirt, grime or stains.

The first step in carpet cleaning is always a thorough vacuuming. Regular vacuuming extends your carpet’s life by lifting away loose dirt before it can get ground into carpet fibers or backing to cause damaging wear.

Odds are you already own a vacuum, but if you need a new one, consider a bagless model to reduce waste and deliver savings over time. Bagless vacuums have a reusable waste container, which means you’ll never have to buy bags or be caught without one when you need it most. While you can spend hundreds of dollars on a fancy high-end vacuum, there are plenty of effective models under $100.

Before vacuuming, prep the area by getting movable furniture and cords out of the way. Vacuuming the same area of carpet from different angles can help you pick up more dirt.

You may also want to apply a dry carpet cleaning product — that is, a deodorizing and stain-treating powder you sprinkle on and vacuum up — for an extra cleaning boost.

Treat stains

  • Cost: $0 for items you have at home that can remove stains, such as club soda or dish soap; about $4-$50 for a bottle of stain-removal spray.

  • Pros: Can remove even old stains inexpensively, giving carpets a more even appearance.

  • Cons: May take multiple treatments to remove stains; carpets that aren't colorfast could bleed and fade after treatment; products may use harsh chemicals.

If you’re dealing with stubborn stains, vacuuming alone won’t be sufficient, and a spot treatment should be your next step. Stain-remover sprays for carpeting are affordable and easy to use, although you may have to apply them multiple times before stains fully disappear. If you’re uncomfortable with stain removers that contain potentially dangerous chemicals, you may want to look through your cabinets and try one of these alternatives instead:

  • Club soda.

  • Hydrogen peroxide.

  • Shaving cream.

  • Dish soap.

  • White vinegar.

To avoid making carpets look even worse, always test for colorfastness before using any stain-removing treatment or spray. To test, apply the product to a hidden area (such as inside a closet), wait an hour and then blot with a dry white cloth. If any color shows on the cloth, don’t use that product on your carpet.

When you’re ready to start removing stains, follow the manufacturer’s instructions and work from the outer edges of the stain inward.

Do-it-yourself steam clean

  • Cost: About $30 to rent a steam cleaner for a day; about $80-$700 to purchase a machine; about $14-$25 for carpet detergent.

  • Pros: Removes deeply embedded dirt from carpet; can also be used on upholstery; very inexpensive to rent a machine.

  • Cons: Usually not as powerful as professional cleaning; machines are heavy and noisy; carpet takes up to 24 hours to dry.

If your carpet still doesn’t look clean after vacuuming and spot treatment, consider steam cleaning your carpet yourself. Also known as the water-extraction method, home carpet steam cleaners shoot a mixture of hot water and detergent deep into carpets using rotating brushes to loosen embedded dirt. They then suction dirt and dirty water back into the machine.

Renting a steam cleaner for the day is a great way to keep your costs down. However, if you plan to steam clean regularly, purchasing your own machine pays for itself over time.

Whether you're renting or buying, look for a model that has its own clean water tank so you don’t have to hook it up to a sink. To deep clean, fill the machine with water and detergent per the manufacturer’s instructions and then use forward and backward motions. To avoid damaging your carpet, try not to get it too wet, and allow it to dry completely before using.

Bring in the pros

Cost: Usually between $80 and about $300, according to the service marketplace Thumbtack. This amount could vary depending on the number of rooms, square footage and whether stairs are being cleaned.

Pros: Often more powerful cleaning than DIY with no physical labor required.

Cons: More expensive than renting a machine; higher rates for certain conditions.

If the thought of DIY cleaning is overwhelming — or if you’re not satisfied with the results of your efforts — it may be time for a professional cleaning. You’ve got two basic options to consider: steam cleaning and dry extraction.

Steam cleaning works with hot water, steam and brushes; professionals often use commercial-grade steam cleaners that are more powerful and expensive than machines designed for home use. Dry extracting involves spraying a low-moisture chemical solution on carpets to absorb and crystalize dirt before a strong vacuuming. Each method has its own unique strengths and drawbacks.

Steam cleaning

Dry extraction

Pros

  • Effectively removes dirt, grime and odors.

  • May kill bacteria and mold.

  • Doesn’t typically use harsh chemicals.

  • Effectively removes dirt, grime and odors.

  • May prevent future staining.

  • Carpet is usually dry within an hour.

Cons

  • Carpet takes many hours to dry.

  • Sometimes a second treatment is necessary for embedded dirt.

  • Frequent steam cleaning can wear out carpet.

  • Doesn’t disinfect carpet.

  • May leave chemical residues that are problematic for children, pets and those with allergies.

  • Chemical residue buildup can prematurely age carpet.

Prices for both professional steam cleaning and dry extraction are fairly comparable, but they can vary widely based on your location and how much work needs to be done.