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. You just need to know how to do it properly, so you remove stains without making them set in permanently. Once you’ve correctly vacuumed and prepared your room, you’ll find the actual cleaning goes fast.
Plus, the results are so impressive that it’s a very rewarding chore!
How to Steam Clean Carpeting
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 which the steam (or hot water) activates. That 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 concerns associated with dry chemical carpet cleaning.
However, since water is involved, it does take longer before your carpets to dry. For most people, the wait is worth the worries saved.
Prepare the Carpet for Cleaning
Carpet steamers (also known as carpet shampooers) aren’t vacuums. They’re specially 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 rug, either.
1. Pick up all toys, books and other items on the floor.
2. Move smaller furnishings to another room. Place aluminum foil squares under the legs of sofas or tables that you’re leaving in the room — the foil protects the legs from moisture. Leave the squares in place until the carpet is completely dry.
3. Dust your baseboards, so you’re not just knocking stuff off of them and back onto your 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 thread gets cleaned. (Here’s more on how to vacuum properly.)
While the carpet cleaning machine will remove a lot 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 come back a few days later.
Why do carpet stains return after shampooing? 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, old pet messes, and even mystery stains out of carpeting in my home.
It’s always a good idea to spot-test any cleaning product you plan to use on your carpet. A good place to do this is in a closet or other location that’s not readily visible.
This way, you don’t risk damaging or fading your entire carpet or making it fade. Such risks aren’t really a concern with most modern carpeting, but if yours is older or has been re-dyed, it’s best to check first.
Use These Two Non-Toxic Cleaners
If you are concerned about your carpet cleaning machine’s warranty, use the manufacturer’s recommended products and follow the directions on the bottle.
I’ve found the bottled carpet shampoos irritate our allergies due to their heavy perfumes, and they don’t seem to clean as well as the DIY carpet shampooing process below.
Step One: For the first step, find out how much water your machine’s tank holds. Fill the tank almost to the top with VERY hot (but not boiling) water and then add one tablespoon of Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap (unscented) for every quart of water used.
Why use Castile soap to clean your carpet? Because it’s 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. Chemically, “like dissolves like,” which makes Castile soap excellent at powering through carpet stains.
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, use 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 also helps power through stains due to its acetic acid. So, this second pass-through will lift away more dirt and grime while also deodorizing your carpet.
No second rinse required. It is not necessary to follow it with a clean water rinse. Doing so may oversaturate your carpet. If you do want to perform a rinse, wait until the carpet has completely dried — about a day — then go over it again with plain water in the tank.
Let it dry. Wait 8-12 hours after cleaning to put furniture back in place. Just because the carpet 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 as well as your furnishings.
Operate the Carpet 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 cleaner VERY slowly so you can remove 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 Should You Steam 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 that you can open windows to speed the drying process. (Here is how often to clean everything in your home.)
If you have pets or suffer from allergies, then you’ll want to steam clean your carpet every four months. Any more often will make your carpet fade and wear out too quickly.