How to Disinfect a Carpet

Room with leather chairs and a rug

Josh Hemsley / Unsplash

Overview
  • Working Time: 2 hrs
  • Total Time: 24 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner

Whether you have wall-to-wall carpeting, large area rugs, or small throw rugs, they are subjected to lots of dirt, grime, allergens, and bacteria every day. We and our pets bring contaminants into our homes on our shoes and feet, and add in bodily fluids from sneezes and coughs that settle on surfaces and carpets can be teeming with bacteria.

When you are ready to clean your carpets it is important to note that there are distinct differences in cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting surfaces in homes, schools, and public places. These definitions are set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to define the level of microbial contamination left on a surface after treatment. Once a surface has been disinfected, it remains so only until it is touched by contaminants again. Soft surfaces, like carpets, are difficult to disinfect due to their size, construction, and uneven surfaces. However, you can greatly reduce the level of bacterial contamination.

How Often to Clean a Carpet

Carpets should be vacuum several times weekly to remove loose soil (daily if you have a crawling baby or toddler). Deep cleaning should be done at least twice per year, seasonally is better. If someone in the home has been ill with a communicable disease or has a compromised immune system, more frequent deep cleaning is recommended.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Vacuum
  • Spray bottle
  • Steam cleaner
  • Circulating fan (optional)

Materials

  • Cleaning strength distilled white vinegar
  • EPA-approved sanitizer or disinfectant

Instructions

How to Disinfect Washable Carpets

Small carpets that can be tossed in the washer can be disinfected easily.

  1. Remove Loose Debris

    Take the carpet outside and give it a good shake or vacuum well to remove loose debris.

  2. Select the Washer Settings

    A front-loading washer or a top-load model without a center agitator will accommodate a large carpet better than a standard top load washer. It may be worth your time to head to a laundromat that has larger washers. Choose the hottest water recommended for the carpet on the care label.

  3. Add Detergent and Laundry Sanitizer

    A heavy-duty laundry detergent contains enough enzymes to cut through grime. Add a laundry disinfectant like Lysol Laundry Sanitizer, pine oil, or chlorine bleach following product directions.

  4. Dry the Carpet

    If the carpet is 100% cotton and does not have a rubber backing, tumble dry on high heat. If the carpet cannot withstand high heat, allow the carpet to air dry.

How to Clean and Sanitize Carpet

  1. Clear Furniture Off the Carpet

    Before beginning a deep cleaning of carpet, move as much furniture as possible out of the area. If the furniture cannot be moved, place small pieces of plastic under each leg to prevent rust or wood varnish stains from happening to the damp carpet.

  2. Vacuum to Remove Loose Soil

    Before deep cleaning and attempting to sanitize a large carpet or wall-to-wall carpeting, vacuum away as much loose soil, dust, and allergens as possible.

  3. Select a Cleaning Solution

    Most carpet cleaners contain enzymes and surfactants to break apart stains and soil and help lift them to the surface to be wiped away. These products do not sanitize or disinfect.

    To sanitize a carpet, look for a cleaner that contains a disinfectant approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Every approved disinfectant has a registration number that is listed in the product ingredients. The EPA currently recommends only quaternary ammonium for porous (fiber) surfaces.

    Tip

    Many sites recommend sanitizing carpet by spraying it with distilled white vinegar. Vinegar is not an EPA-recommended disinfectant. The acetic acid in vinegar does break apart soil and has some disinfectant qualities by changing the structure of germ cells. However, it is much more effective on hard nonporous surfaces than carpet fibers.

    While it will help reduce the number of bacteria on the carpet if used along with the high heat of a steam cleaner, it will not leave your carpet sanitized or disinfected.

    If you choose to use vinegar, select Cleaning Strength White Distilled Vinegar that contains six percent acetic acid rather than another lower acid vinegar.

    Before using any cleaning product on carpet, test it on the fibers in an inconspicuous spot to make sure it does not cause discoloration. Spray the solution on the fibers. Let it sit for five minutes and then blot with a clean white cloth. If there is color transfer, do not use the product on your carpet.

  4. Use a Steam Cleaner

    Following the manufacturer's directions for the steam cleaner and the mixing instructions for the cleaning solution, steam clean the carpet.

    If cleaning an area rug located on hardwood floors, protect the wood floors with plastic sheeting to prevent water damage.

  5. Air-Dry the Carpet

    Allow the carpet to air-dry for at least eight hours, overnight is better.

    Tip

    If you cannot keep everyone off of the carpet until it is fully dry, place heavy towels down on the carpet in high traffic areas. Remove them at bedtime so the carpet can have time to dry.

Tips to Keep Your Carpet Clean Longer

  • Place washable mats outside and inside entry areas to catch excess soil and bacteria.
  • Remove shoes worn outside before walking on carpet.
  • Vacuum several times weekly to capture soil, allergens, and bacteria.
  • Bathe pets frequently and keep them outside as much as possible.