Should a rug be vacuumed before cleaning with a steam carpet cleaner or washer? Isn't vacuuming first a waste of time? Since those machines have suction power to pull back the dirty water, can they not handle all that along with the cleaning?
In short: Yes, always vacuum first! The carpet should be vacuumed thoroughly with a regular household vacuum cleaner, before starting to clean it with a steam carpet washer or cleaner. This will remove loose dirt particles as well as any gravel/sand that has been tracked into the home.
It will also fluff the carpet fibers, loosening deep down dirt from within. This will make the overall carpet washing task more effective since it will be able to clean deeper. If your steam carpet cleaner has only one tank, it will also reduce the amount of times you have to change the (dirty) water in the tank, during the carpet cleaning.
While vacuuming, you may also notice small items that could impair a carpet cleaner if allowed to be picked up during the cleaning, such as elastics, hair accessories, small toys and other things that could block the hose and cause some down time. It doesn't matter either, which type of carpet cleaner you are using, vacuuming prior to cleaning is more effective.
There are basically two types of carpet (steam) cleaners, also known as carpet washers, and handheld carpet spot cleaners. If you skip the vacuuming process and allow accummulated dirt and grime to be cleaned, you may also be smearing some along the cleaning path as you work, adding to your overall carpet washing task.
Cleaning a carpet with dirty water is like washing the floor with a dirty mop and grimy water. It doesn't deliver very good results. If you're renting a carpet washer, keeping to a certain timetable will be crucial to keep down rental costs. So completing those other tasks beforehand is highly advised.
For that reason, you should vacuum your carpet before picking up the rug cleaner. Also take time to declutter that area, remove small furniture items and prep that room completely, before starting to use the rug cleaner.
Reading the instructions and the machine manual is also strongly recommended before you start cleaning. You'll want to use that machine while the water is still hot in the tank, so being focussed means you'll finish more quickly. Note that some machines do have onboard water heating features.
After cleaning and the rug has dried completely, (some machines are better at extracting most of the cleaning water), you will need to vacuum again. This helps to remove grit and sand that was brought up to the surface, but didn't get removed by the machine. It will also fluff the fibers, making your carpet look nicer.
Whether to buy your own carpet washer or renting one can be a hard decision. But if you have the storage space and more than one carpet, you will quickly save money over rental costs. You'll also probably do a more thorough cleaning job, since you can schedule it at your pace. Splitting up the tasks in more manageable segments, can be more time efficient and can better fit into your busy lifestyle too.
- Read my reasons for buying your own carpet steam/washer cleaner
Another option for cleaning carpets is to contract that job to experienced cleaners who use their own machines. You'll find that they often skip vacuuming before and after. Since time is money and their task is cleaning the rug, the rest is left to you. Prepping the room and vacuuming again after the carpet cleaning is also left to you. Always use the carpet cleaning machine's recommended rug shampoo or detergent and follow instructions for best results.