How To Steam Clean Carpeting

How To Steam Clean Carpeting from HousewifeHowTos.comWith 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.

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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.

  1. Pick up all toys, books and other items on the floor.
  2. Remove your furniture or, at the very least, pick up smaller pieces (floor lamps, ottomans, etc.) and take them to another room.
  3. Dust your baseboards so you’re not just knocking stuff off of them and back on to your freshly-vacuumed carpet.
  4. Using your crevice attachment, go around the base of the walls, fireplace hearth, and all of the edges of the carpeting.
  5. 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).
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

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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.

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:



  1. Katie B. says

    I need to get motivated to do it, too. Until now, the weather’s been cooperating by remaining cold and snowy, so I really didn’t feel like it was time to Spring Clean. But now? It’s sunny and we’re expecting temperatures in the 60s for several days. Guess I can’t put it off much longer. Oh, and thank you for the invite, Julie. I’m already linked up! :)

  2. Camille says

    I have a question regarding the Dr. Bronner cleaner. When I look for that product, all of them have a ‘scent’ such as Almond, Lavender, etc. Are any of those OK or should I continue to look for one without a scent? This my first time to your site, and I’m intrigued and impressed by the natural products you use and the methods (and frankly, the organization) that you recommend. I have had a house cleaner for the past 5 years and she recently left. I’m retired now and have decided to do it myself. I’m a tad rusty to say the least and looking for excellent results in minimal time! lol I AM retired after all! Thanks so much

    • Katie B. says

      Camille, it’s so nice to meet a new reader! I don’t think I’ve ever seen an unscented Dr. Bronner soap in the store, either. I’ve used both the peppermint and the lavender and have never had a problem (aside from a sudden craving for candy canes in the middle of August once). My condolences on your housekeeper’s retirement. You must feel so lost trying to remember it all! If there’s anything I can do to help you get back in the swing of doing it yourself (besides cleaning for you HAHAHA), let me know.

  3. Richard says

    Ummmm… in spite of the four headings that talk about steam cleaning carpeting, this article isn’t about “How To Steam Clean Carpeting”. It’s about how to use a carpet cleaning machine to clean carpet, not a *steam* producing machine.

    It wouldn’t matter, but you have to read an awful lot of text until you get to the bit that says, “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”.


    • Katie Berry says

      My apologies for your frustration, Richard. Most consumer-purchased residential carpet cleaning machines are hot water extraction systems, but are commonly referred to as steam cleaners. Unless you’ve purchased an industrial system, cleaners that actually work by injecting steam into the carpet aren’t as effective as their hot water counterparts, especially if they don’t also extract moisture. (Not to mention, steam is a lovely way of ruining the backing, and eventually the carpet.)

  4. Esther Romero says

    I have a bissel machine where the water and detergent containers are separate, no mixing needed. When you say you use 1 tbls. of Dr. Bonner’s soap for every quart of water, are you mixing them? I’m assuming I would simply fill my detergent container full with either the soap or the vinegar and allow the machine to mix them, as per the operating instructions?

  5. Marsha says

    I am new to your site, and thoroughly enjoying all the advice. I noticed that in this article you recommend the BISSELL PowerLifter PowerBrush Upright Deep Cleaner, 1622
    machine, but an earlier post, it’s a Hoover SteamVac Carpet Cleaner with Clean Surge, F5914900. I am planning to purchase a steam vac, but now I’m confused on which one?

  6. Linda says

    Can I use my Bissell steam cleaner to clean rugs on top of engineered hard wood floors? Love the tip about putting down foil so you don’t have to move big pieces of furniture. Thanks bunches!

    • Katie Berry says

      I really wouldn’t recommend it. Engineered wood is sensitive to moisture, and I’d worry that the Bissel wouldn’t dry the rug enough to prevent warping the floor. Maybe move the rug to a patio to steam clean?

  7. says

    I have a question. Do you use a regular carpet machine or does yours heat the water? I’m thinking of just getting a regular machine and putting hot water into it. It sounds like what you did, correct?

  8. Delores Lyon says

    Thanks for sharing this advice on keeping carpets clean! The last thing I want is a house that has a ton of stains from ineffective cleaning. Do you happen to have any advice when it comes to hiring a carpet cleaner? It would be nice if I had someone do the cleaning for me so that I don’t have to take too much time out of my day to do it myself.

    • Katie Berry says

      My first suggestion would be not to hire blog comment-spamming carpet cleaning companies or janitorial services like the one you work for. If you aren’t smart enough to realize that this is a “no_follow” blog, and that I delete URLs to commercial sites, you certainly aren’t smart enough to be dealing with carpet stains. And that’s saying a lot.

  9. T-Bone says

    I have a hoover and Ive looked everywhere for this answer and cant find it. How many times do you clean your carpet? Ive done mine 6 times in a row making sure I maximize water extractions and let the carpet dry a little between passes. The water in my bucket while its not as dark as it once was is far from tap water clean looking. How do I know if Ive given it enough cleanings?

    • Katie Berry says

      It just depends on how dirty it is, T-Bone. I’m always concerned about soaking the pad and causing mildew, so I usually do one cleaning working the length of the room then another working the width. If it’s still looking dirty a week later I’ll do it again — especially the high-traffic areas. But that way I feel a bit more confident that the pad didn’t get soaked through.

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