With Spring Cleaning well underway in many homes (but not mine, yet), now’s the time many homemakers wonder how to steam clean carpeting to reduce household dust and odors, remove carpet stains, and get their floor deep-down clean. Obviously, you can go the more-expensive route and hire professional carpet cleaners, but once you know how to steam clean carpeting it’s easy to achieve professional results on your own.
The most important step? Understanding that these are actually three distinct steps, and while doing all three may seem like overkill, the combination lets our home gear accomplish just as good a job as the expensive, powerful commercial equipment.
Vacuum Before Steam Cleaning Carpeting
Carpet steamers (also known as carpet shampooers) aren’t vacuums. They’re specifically designed to wash and at least partially dry carpets, extracting grime as they go. If you want them to get the ground-in dirt out of your carpet, you must vacuum it thoroughly before steam cleaning it. That doesn’t mean your usual quick back-and-forth over the carpet, either. To thoroughly vacuum your carpet, you need to follow a few extra steps.
- Pick up all toys, books and other items on the floor.
- Remove your furniture or, at the very least, pick up smaller pieces (floor lamps, ottomans, etc.) and take them to another room.
- Dust your baseboards so you’re not just knocking stuff off of them and back on to your freshly-vacuumed carpet.
- Using your crevice attachment, go around the base of the walls, fireplace hearth, and all of the edges of the carpeting.
- If you weren’t able to remove all of your furniture, use the crevice attachment to go around the base of heavier, immobile items (e.g., a piano).
- Switch to the flooring attachment (it’s a flat one, usually with small rollers on the bottom) and vacuum beneath heavier furniture, like a raised sofa or armchair.
- Using the standard vacuum set-up, vacuum your carpeting slowly in one direction using a back-and-forth motion. When you’ve completed the entire room, vacuum it again from a 90-degree angle. Although this seems like overkill, it’s not, since carpet fibers are actually twisted so vacuuming from different directions ensures each “side” of the fiber gets cleaned.
Treat Stains Before Steam Cleaning Carpeting
Yes, the carpet steam cleaning machine will remove quite a bit of grime and dust from your flooring. But the heat involved can also set stains, making them even more difficult to remove. You’ve probably experienced this yourself, having steam cleaned carpeting only to find the stains returning a few days later. Why? Because the steam cleaning process forced the grime into the carpet pad while you were cleaning, and later the carpet fiber wicked it out of the pad and back to the carpet surface.
I’ve been through that same frustration myself, so here’s my tutorial about how to remove carpet stains. For even scarier stains, see my guide on how to remove dried paint and other set-in stains from carpet.
How To Steam Clean Carpeting
If you were able to remove all of the furniture from the room, great. If not, you’ll want to cut squares of wax paper or aluminum foil and slide them beneath the edges or feet of any furniture remaining in the room. This will protect your furniture and keep it from absorbing any moisture in the carpet left behind after steam cleaning. Leave them in place until the carpet is thoroughly dry, usually about a day.
It’s always a good idea to spot-test any cleaning product you plan to use on your carpet. I recommend testing in a closet or other out-of-the-way location. This way you don’t risk damaging or fading your carpet with a product that’s not right for it.
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As far as cleaning solutions to use, most steam cleaner manufacturers recommend using their specially-formulated products. Personally, I use a two-step process that, yes, means I steam clean the room twice back-to-back, but it does a wonderful job getting my dingy carpets closer to off-white than beige.
Whether you use a one- or two-step process, it’s important to realize that most carpet steam cleaners are designed to lay down water when you’re pushing the machine forward, and extract it while you pull it back toward you. Be sure to pull the machine VERY slowly so you can extract as much water as possible. Too much water left behind will cause your carpet padding to get soaked, which can lead to mold, mildew and horrible odors. For this reason it’s also best to steam clean carpeting when the weather is warm enough to open the windows, since that will speed up drying considerably.
How To Steam Clean Carpeting: Non-Toxic Method
If you’re going to use the two-step method, try to extend the time between steps as long as you can (provided you can keep people out of the room that entire time), and consider running a fan in the room to speed up drying.
For my first go-through, I use 1 tablespoon of Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap for every quart of almost (but not) boiling water while filling my machine’s tank. This stuff is amazing in its ability to power through grime, and I’m always amazed at just what a difference that first pass-through makes to my carpet. But Dr. Bronner’s is soap, and leaving soap on carpeting can attract even more grime, which is why I do a second pass-through.
On the second go-through, I use a 50-50 mix of white vinegar — anyone surprised? — and almost boiling water, plus 20 drops of lavender essential oil and 10 drops of tangerine, lemon or grapefruit essential oil, for fragrance. (Although I love to clean other things with it, I do not recommend using DIY citrus-infused vinegar for this purpose, since the vinegar usually takes on an orange tinge that I don’t want on my carpets.)
As for why I don’t mix the two steps, using a homemade carpet shampoo recipe that combines castile soap and vinegar, it’s because I want the vinegar to act as a rinse-agent, lifting away any remaining soap, and I don’t feel confident that would happen if it were all combined. But, hey, make your own choice on that. I’m very pleased with how my two-step process works on my nearly 20-year-old carpet, so I’ll be sticking with it… at least until we can afford to rip the stuff out and put down the hardwood flooring I’ve dreamed about for years.
Equipment I Use For This: