After a busy summer, many homeowners wonder how to steam clean carpeting to reduce dust or remove stains and odors before the holidays bring company and guests to their homes. While you could certainly hire a pro to clean your carpets, it’s not a difficult task to do yourself. Once you’ve properly vacuumed and prepared your room, you’ll find the actual carpet cleaning goes rather fast. Plus, the results are so impressive that it’s a very rewarding chore!
First, though, let’s talk about the difference between a DIY job and hiring the professionals.
What does it mean to steam clean carpeting?
The phrase “steam cleaning” distinguishes a water-based method of cleaning carpets from dry chemical compound methods used by some professional companies. It’s not the steam that cleans the carpet, though: it’s the detergents applied with the machine which the steam (or hot water) activates. This is true when you rent or buy a machine, or when you hire professional steam cleaners to do it for you. Even dry chemical cleaning companies use a small amount of water!
Steam cleaning — or carpet shampooing — does not require professional equipment. It also does not have the toxic risks associated with dry chemical carpet cleaning. However, since water is involved, it does take longer before your carpets are ready to be walked on. For most people, the wait is worth the worries saved.
How To Steam Clean Carpeting
Vacuum before steam cleaning
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 thoroughly before steam cleaning. That doesn’t mean your usual quick back-and-forth over the carpet, either.
Knowing how to vacuum properly is the first step to getting your carpet truly clean. To do this, 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 onto your freshly-vacuumed carpet.
4. Use your crevice attachment around the base of the walls and any remaining furniture.
7. Vacuum carpeting in two directions, first slowly in one direction then again from a 90-degree angle. Although this seems like overkill, carpet fibers are twisted, so vacuuming from different directions ensures each “side” of the fiber gets cleaned.
Treat Stains BEFORE Steam Cleaning
While the carpet cleaning machine will remove quite a bit of grime and dust, the heat involved can also make stains harder 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 then the carpet fibers wicked it out of the pad and back to the surface. Here’s how to remove carpet stains to keep them from coming back. It’s the same method I used to get dried paint out of carpeting in my home.
Prepare the room before steam cleaning
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 a 2-Step Carpet Cleaning Process
If you are concerned about your machine’s warranty then, by all means, use the manufacturer’s recommended products. But note that these products are highly perfumed, something that can irritate allergies and asthma. I’ve also found they don’t clean any better than using a homemade solution while costing much, much more.
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. Castile soap is oil-based. Those darker places in high traffic areas on your carpet are also oil-based, usually from city grime from the bottom of your shoes. Castile soap is ideal to tackle these areas because “like dissolves like”, which means Castile soap is excellent at powering through many carpet stains all on its own. Nevertheless, it is soap, so it needs to be rinsed out of the carpet to finish the cleaning. That’s where the second step comes in.
Step Two: On the second go-through, I use a 50-50 mix of white vinegar and almost boiling water. In addition to neutralizing and removing the soap, vinegar has stain-fighting properties. This second pass-through will lift away more dirt and grime while also deodorizing your carpet. It is not necessary to follow it with a clean water rinse.
Operate the Steam Cleaner 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. If you can’t open the windows, then run fans to help your carpets dry before mildew can set in.
How Often To Steam Clean Carpet?
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 your carpet more often. Late Spring and Autumn are good times to steam clean carpeting since the weather is typically warm enough that you can open windows to speed the drying process.
NOTE: This entry was originally published on March 20, 2013. It has been completely revised and updated for clarity and accuracy.