Carpet pros do a more thorough job than you can, but hiring a pro is expensive. So the next-best approach is to alternate between DIY and pro cleanings. DIY “steam”-cleaning machines can be effective if you understand how to use them and take the time to clean your carpet carefully.
You can rent a steam cleaner from a grocery store or home center. If you pick the machine up late in the day, many stores will charge you a half-day rate and let you keep the machine until the next morning. The detergent cost is additional. Typically you should use a tablespoon or less per gallon of water.
If you prefer to buy a steam-cleaning machine, plan to spend $60 to $300 or more. The pricier models have more powerful water jets and suction, and some even have a heating element to keep the water hot. The reviews on these machines are mixed, and some are prone to breakdowns. Do some online research (type “carpet cleaning machines” into your browser) before you buy.
Most rental machines weigh more, hold more water and come with a wider wand than purchased models, making them useful for larger, high-traffic areas. Purchased models are usually smaller, more portable and easier to store. They’re good for spot cleaning and are easier to drag up and down stairs. Whether you rent or buy, avoid damaging your carpets and make your cleaning last longer by following our how to clean carpet tips.
Clean the carpet before it becomes really dirty
How often your carpet needs cleaning depends on the kind of carpet traffic you have (think kids and pets). Clean the carpet when the color starts looking dull. If you wait until the carpet is filthy, cleaning it will be much more difficult, take much longer and cost more.
Vacuum well before and after cleaning
Vacuum beforehand to remove large particles of soil. Vacuum again after you clean and the carpet is completely dry to pick up soil that wicks to the surface during drying.
Pretreat stains and high-traffic areas
Mix a drop of detergent with hot water in a spray bottle and lightly mist the dirtiest areas. Let sit 5 to 10 minutes before starting the general cleaning.
Remove or elevate furniture
If your furniture is too heavy to move, put aluminum foil squares, wood blocks or plastic film under and around the legs of all furniture to prevent rust from metal casters or stains from paint and finishes from transferring to damp carpet.
Don’t overwet the carpet
DIY machines put a lot of moisture into the carpet, and most don’t have strong enough suction to extract it thoroughly. Make only one pass with the soap and water solution. Make one pass with the neutralizing rinse solution. Then make two or three drying passes with the water off.
Let it dry thoroughly
Wet carpet is a perfect environment for mold and mildew. After you clean your carpets, open the windows, use fans and a dehumidifier, or put the AC on a moderate setting (72 to 78 degrees) to remove excess moisture from the air. Don’t replace the furniture or walk on the carpet until it’s completely dry. This can take up to 12 hours, though six to eight hours is typical.