With Spring Cleaning well underway in many homes, now’s the time many homemakers wonder how to steam clean carpeting to reduce household dust and odors, remove 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.
How To Steam Clean Carpeting
Vacuum first! 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 next. Yes, the carpet 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 cleaned your carpet only to find the stains returning a few days later. Why? Because the cleaning process forced the grime into the carpet pad and later the carpet fibers wicked it out of the pad and back to the 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.
Prepare the room: If you can 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 furniture. 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.
Use the machine properly. Most carpet steam cleaners are designed to lay down water when you’re pushing the machine forward then extract it while you pull it back. 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 and 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.
My two-step process: If you are concerned about your machine’s warranty then, by all means, use the products recommended by the manufacturer. I’ve had great success using the following two-step method and it’s never caused a problem with my machine.
Step One: For the first step, 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.
Step Two: On the second go-through, I use a 50-50 mix of white vinegar and almost boiling water which has the effect of neutralizing the soap while extracting it along with any remaining grime.
How often? At a minimum, you need to steam clean your carpeting once a year. If you have pets, suffer from allergies, or wear shoes indoors then you’ll want to steam clean or shampoo your carpet more often — in late Spring and late Autumn are good times since it’s typically warm enough to open the windows to speed the drying process. Between steam cleanings or shampooing it’s important that you vacuum your carpets at least once a week, including around the base of the walls, and more often in high-traffic areas.
Equipment I Use For This: