A steam cleaner on a turquiose shag carpet

How To Steam Clean Carpeting Naturally

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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 we often call it “steam cleaning,” it’s not steam: it’s hot water and soap, otherwise known in the trade as the hot water extraction method. Best of all, you can steam clean your carpet naturally and when you’re done it’ll look — and smell — almost new.

Steps to Steam Clean Your Carpet

It’s best to wait for warm, dry weather to steam clean your carpets, so you can open your widows and speed up the drying process. If you must do this during the winter, run your home’s heater but turn off humidifiers until the carpets are completely dry.

Step 1: Clear the floor.

Pick up toys, pet beds, and other items from the floor. Move small furnishings to another room so they’re out of your way and don’t get wet. To protect the legs of sofas or tables you can’t move, slide a square of aluminum foil beneath their legs.

Step 2: Dust and vacuum thoroughly.

Carpet cleaners can get clogged if there is too much debris or pet hair on the floor. So, clean the baseboards and vacuum around the base of walls then wall to wall.

Step 3: Pretreat stains.

Hot water can set stains and drive them into the pad. Then they’ll reappear days later through a process known as wicking. So, grab a white rag and treat any stains you find..

  • Pet urine stains: Blot with equal parts water and white vinegar.
  • Grease and oil stains: Rub in some baking soda and wait a few minutes, then wipe the area with soapy water. Blot.
  • Ink stains: Blot with rubbing alcohol.

Step 4: Mix a DIY carpet-cleaning solution.

Fill the machine’s cleaning tank just shy of the fill line with hot (but not boiling) water. Now, add one tablespoon of Castile soap for every quart of water you used, or 1/4 cup for every gallon.

Step 5: Work slowly, wall to wall.

Push the machine forward slowly so its brushes can “scrub” the carpet as it lays down the carpet cleaning solution. Then drag the cleaner back even more slowly to remove as much water as possible.

Work in overlapping strokes, going wall to wall. Empty the dirty water tank as needed, and refill the cleaning solution before it cools.

Step 6: Mix a rinsing solution.

Now, rinse out that dirty tank and refill the clean one with a 50-50 mix of distilled white vinegar and very hot water. Then go over the carpet wall to wall again, but this time you don’t need to rinse.

This step leverages vinegar’s acetic acid to neutralize the soap residue while also dissolving oil, dirt, and grime. It even helps kill lingering allergens and deodorize your carpet.

Step 7: Let it dry.

To dry your carpets faster, you can open your windows if it’s warm outside. Running fans can also help.

But even with good air circulation, wait for 8 to 12 hours before putting furniture back in place. Just because the carpet feels dry to the touch does not mean that the pad underneath has dried completely.

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are the questions I’m most often asked about this task. If you have one that I haven’t addressed, please leave it in the comments. Your question may be helpful to others!

How often should you steam clean carpets?

For most homes, once a year is good. Steam cleaning carpets too often can wear them out quickly. A better approach is to spot-treat carpet stains as they occur and aim to steam clean your carpets twice a year.

Can I steam clean all types of carpets?

Steam cleaning is a safe and effective way to clean most types of synthetic carpets. It’s not a good choice for wool because the fibers are delicate when they’re wet.

Is this safe on vintage or wool carpets?

You should always contact professionals for help cleaning vintage items. It’s smart to do it with wool carpets, too, because heat and carpet cleaning machines can harm their fibers.

Can I steam clean area rugs?

Yes, but spot check first. If you’re good to go after that, it’s best to do it outside so it doesn’t trap moisture under the area rug. If you must do it indoors, protect the floor beneath it with blankets and remove them as soon as you’re done.

Is Castile soap good to use on carpets?

Castile soap is oil-based. This makes it perfect for getting rid of oil-based stains in high-traffic areas of your carpet, which are often caused by city grime from shoes. The principle of “like dissolves like” means that Castile soap is effective at breaking down these types of stains.

Can I use this on upholstery?

You can 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 the steps as described. Finally, use a carpet cleaner with a nozzle or attachment specifically for upholstery and couches, or just clean sofa stains by hand.

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