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How to Clean a Carpet, According to the Pros

living room carpet

Cathie Hong Interiors

It happens: drinks get spilled, pets have accidents, shoes track in dirt, and over time, our once-pristine carpets get downright dirty. It’s inevitable—and also one of the reasons why fewer homes opt for wall-to-wall carpeting nowadays. But if you love the feeling of lush, velvetiness on your feet, there’s no beating plush carpet—even a large area rug won’t do. However, while an area rug can be thrown in the wash or beaten outside, cleaning a carpet that you can't move or pick up can be a bit more tricky. 

If you’re looking to deep clean your carpet (be it because of a stain or just general wear and tear) have no fear. There are ways to keep your fabric flooring looking brand-new without needing to call a pricey professional company. 

Ahead, find out how to clean your carpet the right way. 

How Often Should You Clean Your Carpet?

"Carpet is a material that requires constant cleaning and maintenance," says Alex Varela, general manager of Dallas Maids, a house cleaning service in Texas. Think about it: particularly in high-traffic areas, the material absorbs a lot of dust, dirt, and bacteria. With that in mind, Varela says her main advice is not to wait until it's too late to clean your carpet. A good rule of thumb is to vacuum your carpets regularly (especially if you have kids/pets or are sensitive to allergens), do a deep cleaning every six to 12 months, and spot clean as necessary in between.

Meet the Expert

  • Alex Varela is the general manager of Dallas Maids, a house cleaning service in Texas.
  • Carlos Garcia is a cleaning expert and founder of London-based cleaning company, Total Clean.

"Plus, if you want to validate your carpet guarantee, you’ll need to perform deep cleans every 12 to 18 months—though these will likely need to be done by a professional cleaning company," points out Varela.

Things You'll Need:

  • Vacuum
  • Spray bottle
  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Baking soda
  • Soft bristle brush
  • Towel

How to Clean a Carpet

dark carpet in bedroom

Cathie Hong Interiors

Step 1: Deodorize with Baking Soda

To start cleaning carpet, sprinkle the entire surface with a bit of baking soda. Leave it on for 15 minutes before moving on with the rest of your carpet cleaning. "Baking soda can soften grease and dirt and also deodorize the space," says Varela. If you have pets, your carpets likely absorbed some pet smell. And while you probably won’t notice, someone else will. Baking soda helps eliminate these pesky odors.

Step 2: Remove Large Particles and Debris

Next, you'll want to give the area a thorough vacuuming to remove any dust and debris from the surface and within the pile. Don't be afraid to over the surface a few times, as this will loosen up any worn-in dirt and allow the vacuum to capture any deep debris. For wall-to-wall carpet, move furniture out of the way to identify areas with a build-up of dirt and dust and achieve the most meticulous clean.

Always perform a spot test on a small, hidden area before applying any cleaning product or solution to your material or surface.

Step 3: Apply A Cleaning Solution

While you can buy rug shampoos at the store, a DIY solution of equal parts vinegar and warm water works just as effectively. Plus, some aggressive cleaning solutions can damage certain thread types. Mix the vinegar and water solution into a spray bottle and apply to any noticeable stains or spray over the entire surface for a full-blown clean. You should make sure the fabric is damp, but not soaking wet, as this will take longer to dry and can end up breeding mildew—which will make your carpet smell.

"Use warm, not hot water," advises Carlos Garcia, cleaning expert and founder of London-based cleaning company, Total Clean. "The fibers in your carpet could shrink and the colors can fade."

Step 4: Gently Scrub Any Noticeable Stains or Spots

Use a soft bristle brush or sponge to scrub the rug, brushing in the direction of the fibers. This should work the stain out. More stubborn or set-in stains may require a paste of the vinegar solution and either baking soda or table salt. For these, apply the mixture and let it sit for about 10 minutes before using the soft bristle brush to lightly scrub.

blue carpet staircase

Ashley Montgomery Design

Step 5: Blot the Area

With a clean, dry towel, blot out the stain. Try not to rub, as this can end up spreading the stain and allowing it to travel deeper into the carpet's fibers. Instead, "blot it consistently with a clean towel until the stain is removed," says Garcia.

Step 6: Let it Dry

It’s extremely important that you let your carpet dry properly. Moisture can lead to odor, bacteria, and mold growth. Prioritize making sure that the room gets good airflow and turn on some fans to help increase the space's circulation and help the fibers dry.

Choose to clean your carpet on a day when you can open your windows. The ventilation will help speed up the drying process.

Step 7: Give It a Final Vacuum

Once the carpet is dry, go back over the entire surface with the vacuum. This will help lift up any fibers that have flattened or clumped together and get out any remaining particles.

How to Get Rid of and Prevent Smells in Carpet

Invest in a Carpet Deodorizer

Brands like Arm and Hammer make pre-vacuum deodorizers with baking soda that not only help break up any left-in debris but leave your carpet with a fresh, laundry-like scent. They're meant to be used regularly, so you can sprinkle them on before your weekly vacuum to keep carpets from retaining odor.

Create Good Ventilation

When carpets are exposed to too much moisture, they can produce mold. This is often the main culprit of that musty smell. Creating good ventilation by opening windows regularly or turning on a fan can help eliminate excess moisture.

Sop Up Spills Immediately

When a stain or spill happens, don't wait to clean it up. Odors can arise from food particles, waste, or left-over liquids that end up breeding bacteria and causing a stench. To preserve your carpet's integrity, use the spot-cleaning method above immediately after a stain occurs.