How To Steam Clean Carpeting Naturally

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Use this easy method to deep clean your carpeting and rugs with a homemade cleaning solution that removes stains, odors, and allergens.

Woman using a machine to shampoo and steam clean her living room carpet shag rug

While you could certainly hire a pro to deep clean your carpets, it’s not a difficult task to do yourself. Once you’ve vacuumed and prepared your room, you’ll find the process of steam cleaning your carpet goes fast. Plus, the results are so impressive that it’s a very rewarding chore!

What Does it Mean to Steam Clean Carpet?

The term “carpet steam cleaning” is misleading. Steam happens when water reaches around 202°F / 100°C, a temperature that’s hot enough to melt the adhesive that keeps your carpet fibers attached to the backing. That temperature can also damage the adhesives in subflooring.

So, although homeowners call it “steam cleaning,” professionals refer to it as the hot water extraction method to distinguish it from the dry chemical compounds used by some carpet cleaning services. Best of all, it’s a method you can replicate at home with the following steps.

Steps to Steam Clean or Shampoo Your Carpet

As far as equipment, you can rent a carpet cleaning machine at your local hardware store or even the supermarket. For those with a lot of carpeting, buying a machine is an excellent investment since it will help you keep your carpets looking new and smelling fresh. (Here’s the one I use.)

Step 1. Clear the Floor

Pick up toys, cushions, and everything else everything from the floor. Move small furnishings to another room. To protect the legs of sofas or tables you can’t move, slide a square of aluminum foil beneath them.

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Step 2. Dust and Vacuum Thoroughly

Carpet cleaners get clogged if there is too much debris or pet hair on the floor. So, before you begin, be sure to dust your baseboards since the process of shampooing your carpet can knock dust from them onto the floor. Once that’s done, vacuum your floors properly, getting around the base of walls and any furniture you don’t plan to move.

Step 3. Pre-Treat Stains

Heat can make some stains harder to remove, especially pet stains. They’ll look gone right after you’ve finished, but they’ll reappear a few days later. Why do carpet stains return after shampooing? Because the steam cleaner forced the grime deeper into the carpet pad, but as the carpet dried, its fibers wicked the stain back to the surface. So, before you steam clean your carpeting, remove carpet stains. If you have dark edges on your carpets where they meet the wall, you’ll want to pretreat those areas, too.

Step 4. Fill the Carpet Cleaner’s Water Tank

Add very hot (but not boiling) water to the machine’s cleaning tank, stopping just short of the tank capacity fill line. Then add one tablespoon of castile soap for every quart of water (1/4 cup for every gallon) used. If your machine is under warranty, you should follow the manufacturer’s instructions on what to use instead.

Step 5. Work Slowly, Wall to Wall

Most carpet steam cleaners release the cleaning solution as you push forward and extract it as you pull it back. So, push the machine forward slowly so its brushes can “scrub” the carpet as it lays down the carpet cleaning solution. Then pull the cleaner back slowly to remove as much water as possible. Too much moisture left behind will lead to mold and mildew, along with their odors. Empty the dirty water tank as needed, and refill the cleaning solution when it starts to cool. Dump the dirty water tank as needed.

Step 6. Rinse with Vinegar

Empty the clean water tank for the second go-through and refill it with a 50-50 mix of distilled white vinegar and very hot water. (Do not use apple cider vinegar, which contains pectins that may attract household pests.) In addition to neutralizing and removing the soap, vinegar’s acetic acid helps kill lingering allergens and will dissolve more oil, dirt, and grime while deodorizing your carpet. You do not need to rinse it again after this step, and doing so may oversaturate your carpet.

Step 7. Let it Dry

If it’s warm enough, open your home’s windows to speed up drying. You can also run fans to help your carpet dry faster. Even with good air circulation, you should wait 8-12 hours after steam cleaning your carpet to put furniture back in place. Just because the rug feels dry when you touch it does not mean the pad below has finished drying. Be patient and give it most of a day for the sake of your carpet and your furnishings.

Frequently Asked Questions about Steam Cleaning Carpets

Below are some of the most common questions I receive about steam cleaning carpets yourself. If you have a question not covered in the article or the FAQs, please leave it in the comments.

How Often Should You Deep Clean Carpet?

At a minimum, you should steam clean your carpeting once a year. Late Spring is a good time since the weather is usually warm enough to open windows to speed the drying process. In homes with pets or kids, it may be tempting to shampoo even more often, but doing so can shorten the lifespan of your carpet. A better approach is spot-treating small messes when they happen and steam cleaning your carpets twice a year.

Why Use Castile Soap to Clean Your Carpet?

Castile soap is oil-based, and those darker places in high traffic areas on your carpet are also oil-based, usually from city grime from the bottom of your shoes. Chemically, “like dissolves like,” making this carpet cleaning solution excellent at powering through stains. Castile soap is also excellent at cleaning other things in your home, too, so it’s worth the purchase.

How Do I Know This Is Safe for My Carpet?

No matter what carpet cleaning method you use, it’s best to do a spot test first. Spot tests should be done in an inconspicuous area, like a closet or other location that’s out of the way. To spot test a cleaning product, apply a small amount to the surface, wait 5 minutes, then blot with an undyed damp rag. Blot again with a fresh dry cloth. Check both rags to ensure the color is not transferring, then wait until the area is completely dry and inspect it. Do not use that product or method if you notice any color transfer on the rags, if the place you’ve tested has faded, or if you see other signs of damage.

Can I Use This on Upholstery?

You may be able to use this method on some upholstery fabrics. First, check the fabric label to see if there is a W code, which means the fabric is washable. Then do a spot test using both cleaning steps as described. Finally, use a carpet cleaner with a nozzle or attachment specifically for upholstery and couches. Alternatively, you may want to clean sofa stains by hand.

Can I Use This Method on Area Rugs?

This method works on most area rugs, but you should always do a spot test first. Also, it’s best to steam clean area rugs outside on a patio or driveway and let them air-dry outside out of direct sunlight. This will help them dry without trapping moisture beneath them that can damage your floor.

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  1. 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

  2. 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?

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Yes, my machine has one dispenser that hot water and soap go into. You should always follow your machine’s instructions.

    2. Thanks for a great, well-written article! I didn’t have any trouble at all understand your directions and I totally plan on steam-cleaning my carpets today using all of your advice. Thanks!!!!!!!!!!! 🙂

    3. DO you think it is ok to FILL cleaner part with the Dr Bronners soap?? Won’t get carpet too soapy?? I also have a Bissell.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      You’re welcome!

  3. 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!

    1. 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?

  4. Bernadette Morgan says:

    Very helpful post! I’m almost done with my fall cleaning and home and needed good advice on how to clean my carpets. Tips in this post are nice and quite useful. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Nettie Hubbard says:

    Amazing tips! For me as a mother it’s very important to know more cleaning ways. Thank you for sharing how to maintain the carpets!

  6. Any tips on how to get those black filtration lines to disappear from the perimeters of wall to wall carpets? I just moved into a house where the rugs are in pretty good condition except for those grimy black lines. It’s hard to get carpet cleaners close enough to the baseboards to get that area clean.

  7. Wow, your post on steam cleaning the carpets really touches all the important parts. I am a professional cleaner and operate the heavy professional carpet steam cleaners each day. The process you describe will work perfectly for every household and I recommend to do it once or even twice a year – during the spring cleaning and before the winter. Deep cleaning the carpets before the colder months will minimize the dirt build-up after and it will be a lot faster and easier to clean them the next spring. I also use a finishing product called Scotchgard which protects carpets from future stains.

  8. I have a runner in my foyer that’s made of wall to wall carpet. Steam cleaned it as my dogs tend to soil it. It still smells like urine which is disgusting. Thinking of steam cleaning the backing hoping it would eliminate the odors. Is it possible to do that without damaging the carpet?

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Steaming the back of the runner could, indeed, ruin it. The backing is typically where carpet fibers are glued into place; the high heat of the steam can ruin this glue. Try these methods for cleaning pet stains instead.

  9. Your information was so very helpful. Your posts answered all my questions: the black lines near the baseboard; what if my carpet really doesn’t get clean the first time – when should I go over it again; and can I use a cleaning rinse with vinegar:). Thanks so much!

  10. I just finished cleaning my carpets and I wish I had found you sooner! Great tips! They will be put to good use next time. The vinegar and water is genius. I bet it cleans out the machine and keeps it working longer, too. Can’t wait to read more of your blogs! From one house wife to another, thanks for your advice!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Thanks, Tricia! I love how the vinegar-water mix really lifts away stains and kills odors without leaving behind a residue that attracts more dirt. Just be sure to use the right proportion or you could damage your machine.

  11. Long story is, I moved into a new apartment, in new city with carpeting, My pet Boston Terrier is still adjusting to the new environment, and has been urinating in the apartment. There are no visible, pet stains, as I have tried to clean up the “deposits” after coming home from work. Bought UV flashlight to find the missed invisible but odiferous deposits and ending up finding all types of old stains in carpet that had to have come from previous tenant(s) and what has to be a cleaning trail of spots from previous steam clean. Goal = to clean carpet to remove smell that I can detect, and want to clean it to a level my dog cannot detect. My planned MO is:
    1. Vacuum thoroughly (after covering furniture legs with foil
    2. Pre treat bright uv areas with ???
    – Dawn & water mix.
    – Dawn, borax, H2Peroxide & water mix?
    – Or Iron method with 1:3 Vinegar Water?
    – Prefer not to use ammonia (not pet friendly).
    3. Finish with 2 step general steam carpet clean method?
    – Should I top damp carpet after steaming with Baking soda to further neutralize
    4. Vacuum after allowing to dry overnight

    I am at my wit’s end with the smell, and am tempted to just pour essential oils all over. I feel I am making things complicated, and looking for the most thorough but simplified method based on your experience.


  12. We live in a rental home, carpets were in pretty bad shape to begin with. I have a Kirby with shampoo option which I have used, but not much success. Looking at buying a cleaner but not wanting to spend a ton. Do you think I should go over the carpet several times, or do it once & wait until it is completely dry and try again later?

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Ugh, the Kirby Sentra with the shampoo attachment. Shauna, I have one of those, too, and I’ll be honest: I don’t think it does a very good job of shampooing carpets. Kirbys have brilliant suction when vacuuming, but they just don’t shampoo a carpet as thoroughly as a dedicated carpet shampooer. That’s why, even before my Kirby died (don’t get me started about how they failed to honor their warranty), I bought that carpet shampoo machine listed in this blog post. That said, if you do want to keep using the Kirby, I think you should let the carpet dry between each attempt. Even though Kirbys don’t put out much water (one of the reasons they don’t work as well), too many passes will get your carpet padding and subfloor damp, and that leads to mold and mildew that is almost impossible to get rid of from a carpet.

  13. Hi,

    Thank you for your very helpful article. Could you please clarify for me whether I should be doing step 1 in both directions on the carpet followed by step 2 in both directions? Does one cleaning then consist of 4 passes over the carpet? Finally could I do step 1 on one day and step 2 the next day?

    Thanks again!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Since we don’t want to oversaturate the carpet, step 1 and 2 are only in one direction. (It’s the vacuuming that gets done in both directions.) You can certainly do both step 1 one day and step 2 the next if you like. Best of luck!

  14. If the carpet cleaner uses 12 cups of clean water, how much dirty water should you get back in the return basin? I am concerned my shampooer is not sucking up enough water. I know a certain percent of water will remain in the carpet, but what percent is that? Right now it takes 12 cups to fill and when I dump the dirty water there is only 2 cups. I am worrying that too much water is being left in the carpets and causing damage or mold.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      There’s really no way to answer this, Chris, since every machine is different. It does seem that you should get more than 2 cups of water out after putting down 12 cups. I’d suggest following the manufacturer’s instructions on cleaning your machine. I know when pet hair and carpet fibers clog the intake valves on mine I stop getting as much water out as I should.

  15. Molly Lord-Garrettson says:

    Thank you so much! This worked wonders. I am so pleased to find a Bronner’s solution.

  16. Followed your directions to the letter, and my carpet looks brand new. Thank you.

  17. I have an off-white area rug thar sits on a rubber pad on top of bamboo floors. Just the areas where we sit are dirty. Rather then having to send the whole rug out for cleaning (it’s only a year old), I would like to steam clean only the area that’s dirty. I am concerned, however about soaking through the pad and possibly ruining the wood beneath. Can you make any suggestions on how to clean this area?

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Maybe take it outside to do?

  18. I love your tips! I arrived here after googling a specific question: could I save money by buying a bargain brand spray cleaner then using only your near boiling water tip to clean my carpets as opposed to buying the expensive bissell formula? Or is that inadvisable?

    1. Katie Berry says:

      I don’t use the expensive formula, though I would never recommend adding a spray cleaner to a carpet cleaning machine. Try the instructions in the blog post and I think you’ll be pleased.

  19. Hi there. I’m new to the website and have just become obsessed with reading all these posts on cleaning! I became a mum at a young age – the age of 19 – and both me and my partner never really had much interest in cleaning. In fact, we lacked motivation to clean as much as we should! Now i’m 25 though, I’ve been getting into healthier cleaning habits. However i’m also on a tight budget but have noticed that my carpets are getting duller. Would you recommend getting a steam cleaner? The appeal of steam cleaning my bathroom and hard floor is strong but I really just don’t know what steam cleaner to go for – or even what to look for! Love your reviews and how-to’s – they’ve really motivated AND my partner into loving our home more!

  20. Wow! I have owned my carpet machine for years, but I’ve NEVER gotten results like this. I wish I had taken a before and after.

  21. Ryann Carter says:

    I’m a bit confused. I just bought a carpet cleaner so I’m not super familiar with it. When you say do a second go with vinegar, do you mean empty the tank and go again then? I thought one tank was for the solution to go out, one tank was for the sucked up solution to go in, but I’ve seen several references to filling both tanks. I’m sorry!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Hi Ryann! I understand this may seem confusing with a new carpet cleaner! You’re right: the machines have two tanks. One holds cleaning solution and one holds dirty water suctioned up from the floor. Between step 1 and 2 in this, you empty both tanks. So, after you’ve cleaned the carpet once with the Castile solution, you dump that out and the dirty water, too. Then you refill the tank that holds the cleaner with the vinegar solution, put both tanks back in place, and clean the carpet again.

      But since you
      mentioned that it’s a new machine, check your instruction manual. Using something other than what the manufacturer recommends might void your warranty.

  22. Can I use this on wool carpet?
    Many thanks!!

  23. Yay! I love my bissel but I hate the detergents they make. The smell gives me a headache and they’re so expensive! Excited to try this. During the 50/50 vinegar rinse stage, is the vinegar smell overwhelming? Do you find that it sticks around? Or is it covered up a bit by the smell of bronner’s being rinsed out? I get migraines easily and am very sensitive to strong smells, so it would be nice to know before I try this. Thanks!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      I don’t find it overwhelming, but that’s not to say you won’t. It fades when it’s rinsed and again after the Bronner when it’s rinsed, but if vinegar bothers you then you shouldn’t use this method at all.