How to Clean Carpet

Red vacuum cleaning tan carpet

The Spruce / Sarah Lee

Overview
  • Working Time: 20 mins - 1 hr
  • Total Time: 20 mins - 8 hrs, 20 mins
  • Skill Level: Beginner

Carpet takes lots of abuse from shoes, spills, and pets. But it adds such warmth and comfort underfoot that we are willing to put in the effort to keep it clean. Frequent vacuuming and periodic deeper cleanings can extend the life of any carpet, wall-to-wall and rugs alike. We'll share the basic steps to clean carpet and offer a few tips and tricks that can help make the chore easier and keep carpet clean for longer.

How Often to Clean Carpet

Whether you have wall-to-wall carpeting or area rugs, vacuuming at least once per week is a must—more frequently if you have pets or kids. Spills and stains should be treated as quickly as possible. Consider hiring a professional carpet cleaning company or doing a deeper clean yourself at least twice per year.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Vacuum
  • Spray bottle
  • Microfiber cloth
  • Bucket
  • Oscillating fan
  • Scrub brush with stiff nylon bristles
  • Old towels or rags
  • Clothes steamer
  • Steam mop

Materials

  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Baking soda
  • Table salt

Instructions

Materials and tools to clean a carpet

The Spruce / Sarah Lee

How to Do a Routine Carpet Cleaning

  1. Get Rid of Dust and Dirt

    Allowing dust and soil particles to remain on carpet fibers is what causes them to look dull and retain odors, and it eventually wears out the carpet backing and fibers. Using a vacuum with strong suction—and using it often—is the best way to clean carpet. However, if you don't have a vacuum, there are other ways to clean carpet, like an old-fashioned broom or carpet sweeper.

    A few tips for your routine cleaning:

    • For the most thorough vacuum job, take the time to move furniture and any other items from the carpet.
    • Set the vacuum to the proper height for your type of carpet to get the strongest suction.
    • Vacuum slowly and go over high-traffic areas several times for the best results.
    • Use a lint roller for quick clean-up of crumbs.
    • Run a rubber-edged squeegee over the carpet to collect pet hair.
    • Freshen and brighten carpet with a liberal sprinkling of baking soda every month. Let it sit for an hour or more to absorb oily stains and odors and then vacuum it away.
    Vacuum machine's suction hose passing over tan carpet to get rid of dust and dirt

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

  2. Spot-Clean Stains

    The best time to treat a carpet stain is as quickly as possible. For liquid spills, immediately blot away the moisture with paper towels or a white cloth. Never use a cloth or napkin that might not be colorfast.

    For more solid mud stains or dropped food, use the edge of a credit card or a dull knife to lift away the solids. NEVER rub a stain with solids, because it will push it deeper into the fibers. After the initial clean-up, follow the recommendations on a stain removal chart to remove specific types of stain.

    Here's a quick reference list of the five most frequent and difficult to remove carpet stains:

    1. Pet accidents
    2. Red wine
    3. Coffee
    4. Ink
    5. Nail polish
    Liquid spill over tan carpet blotted with paper towel

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

Ways to Deep Clean Carpet

Eventually, carpet will need to be deep cleaned to remove heavy soil, restore the buoyancy of the fibers, and brighten the color. Most professional carpet cleaning services use a combination of detergents and steam to deep clean carpet and recommend cleaning at least once per year. Or, you can rent a heavy-duty steam cleaner and use the recommended carpet shampoo. Using a professional cleaning service or renting a machine is particularly efficient if you have wall-to-wall carpeting throughout the home, but that can be costly.

For do-it-yourselfers, there are smaller carpet cleaners that can be used with liquid carpet shampoo or dry shampoo products. You can also deep clean area carpets and even wall-to-wall carpeting with some simple products and tools you probably have in your pantry.

Clean With Distilled White Vinegar

  1. Vacuum and Treat Visible Stains

    Always begin any cleaning process by vacuuming the carpet to remove loose soil, dust, dirt, and debris. If you skip this step, you may just be pushing soil around or driving it deeper into the fibers. Removing some stains like oil, tar, and pet accidents will require special treatment. Consult a stain removal chart for the proper cleaners to remove those stains.

    Vacuum cleaner passing over tan carpet to remove loose soil

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

  2. Mix a Vinegar and Water Solution

    In a spray bottle, mix one part of distilled white vinegar and three parts of cold water. You will need to refill the bottle several times if cleaning a wall-to-wall carpet.

    Warning

    Before beginning the deep-cleaning process, spray the vinegar solution on the carpet in a hidden location to test the colorfastness of the carpet. Do not use the solution if you see any bleeding or change of color.

    Glass spray bottle mixed with distilled white vinegar and water

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

  3. Apply the Solution, Wait, and Blot

    Working in a small 3-feet x 3-feet area, spray the vinegar solution onto the carpet until it's very damp. Do not saturate. Follow a grid so you'll know where you have cleaned. If you are cleaning an area rug, take extra precautions to protect the floor beneath the rug from moisture damage.

    Allow the solution to remain on the carpet for five minutes to begin breaking down the soil. Use a microfiber cloth to blot away the solution and the soil. Have a bucket of clean water ready to rinse the microfiber cloth. Change the water frequently as it becomes soiled.

    Glass spray bottle spraying solution over carpet until its damp

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

  4. Allow the Carpet to Air-Dry

    Open doors and windows to increase the airflow in the room or add oscillating fans to speed drying. Do not allow traffic on the carpet until it is fully dry.

    If you must use the room while the carpet is damp, place plastic sheeting or tarps on the traffic pathways to prevent staining.

    Brass oscillating fan increasing airflow while carpet dries

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

Clean With Baking Soda and Salt

  1. Vacuum and Pretreat Stains

    Vacuum or sweep the carpet to remove loose soil and then follow the recommendations on a stain removal chart to remove visible stains.

  2. Mix Baking Soda and Salt

    In a small bowl or bucket, mix a one-to-one mixture of baking soda and salt. The salt can be table salt or Kosher salt. Fill a spray bottle with cold water.

  3. Sprinkle, Spritz, and Scrub

    Liberally sprinkle the carpet with the baking soda and salt mixture. You may find it easier to work in a grid pattern starting in a corner and working toward an exit.

    After sprinkling, spritz the area with a spray bottle filled with plain water. The carpet should be very damp, but not sopping wet. Use a scrub brush to work the baking soda deeper into the carpet fibers. Go in one direction and then at a 90-degree angle to help lift the soil.

  4. Wipe, Dry, and Vacuum

    After scrubbing, use old towels or rags to wipe away the loosened soil. It is fine to leave a bit of baking soda in the fibers. Allow the carpet to air-dry completely. Use a vacuum to remove any remaining baking soda left in the fibers. The carpet should smell fresher and look brighter.

Clean With Steam

If you have a clothes steamer or steam mop that is usually used on hard-surface floors, they can be used to deep clean carpet, as well.

  1. Vacuum and Pretreat Stains

    Vacuum the carpet to remove loose soil and pretreat stained areas.

  2. Sprinkle With Baking Soda and Salt and Steam

    Follow the same steps for mixing baking soda and salt. Sprinkle the carpet with the mixture and then use steam, instead of cold water, to dampen the mixture.

    If you are using a clothes steamer, hold the steamer head about six to twelve inches from the carpet. Allow the steam to completely dampen the carpet. Use a scrub brush to work the damp mixture into the fibers.

    If you are using a steam mop, use the microfiber mop head or a carpet attachment to go over the baking soda mixture on the carpet. Again, use the scrub brush to clean the area.

  3. Blot, Dry, and Vacuum

    Use old towels or microfiber cloths to absorb the loosened soil. Allow the carpet to dry completely and vacuum to remove any residue remaining in the carpet.

Tips to Keep Carpet Clean Longer

  • Place doormats outside and inside all entrance doors to trap soil.
  • Remove shoes at the door to prevent tracking in dirt.
  • Vacuum several times per week.
  • Treat stains immediately.
  • Change or clean HVAC filters to trap dust particles circulating in the air before they land on the carpet.
  • Keep your vacuum well-maintained and clean so it will function properly.
  • If you have pets, brush and bathe them frequently to protect carpets.