How to Clean a Carpet With and Without a Machine

Carpets take a beating, but this step-by-step guide will show you how to do a routine and deep cleaning so yours look brand new.

Most people have a love-hate relationship with their carpets. The floor coverings add texture, color, and warmth to a space, but they also seem to soak up stains better than anything else in your home. And because you eat, drink, and walk around on them, they’re constantly getting splattered with something. They also trap allergens and can make asthma worse. If your latest accident has you googling “how to clean carpet,” you’ll be happy to know that there are a variety of great stain removers ready to tackle the job.

Whether you’re trying to learn how to clean your carpet as part of your regular cleaning schedule (make sure you’re vacuuming your carpet enough) or just want to erase the dreaded red wine spill, we’ve got all of the products, carpet cleaners, and expert advice you’ll need to bring your carpet back to its former glory. While you’re at it, follow these other spring cleaning tips for a home that practically sparkles.

Carpet-cleaning supplies

Before you begin cleaning your carpet, make sure you have the right tools. Depending on the type of cleaning you’re doing, you may need the following supplies:

How often to clean your carpet

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Your carpet will naturally collect dirt and dander over time, so you need to vacuum it often. Depending on how heavily it’s used, vacuuming once or twice a month will likely be enough for maintenance. Choose a vacuum with a suction attachment, which will clean your carpets better than a standard rotary vacuum.

Do deep cleanings every few months to go beyond the scope of a quick vacuum job and get your carpets good as new.

One big caveat: Wall-to-wall carpeting and area rugs aren’t the same things, so don’t assume you can use the same cleaning methods. Make sure your rug can handle a deep cleaning before you begin. If you have a vintage rug or one made of delicate materials, you’ll want to take it to get hand-washed with a pH-balanced shampoo every three to five years.

In addition to deep cleaning, you’ll also want to rotate your rugs. “It helps to rotate your rug once a year to ensure even wear over time,” says Ben Hyman, cofounder of Revival Rugs. “And use a rug pad, which will prolong its life. If it’s a wool rug, let it sunbathe once a year.” Sun helps sanitize wool, but be careful of color fading. And whatever you do, avoid steam cleaning because it will damage the carpet, Hyman says.

Before you begin

When creating a game plan for how to clean your carpet, carefully read the labels on all products you plan to use. Typically, the label will let you know if (and how) you should test on a small, inconspicuous area to ensure you don’t accidentally harm your whole carpet.

Once you’ve treated a small section of your carpet, wait a few hours to make sure there’s no adverse reaction—such as a change in the color or texture of the fibers—before you proceed to clean the rest of your carpet.

How to do a routine cleaning

People with allergies and asthma understand the importance of regular carpet cleanings, but even if your immune system doesn’t alert you when your carpet is filthy, you’ll want to do routine cleanings. Plus, if you spill something on your carpet, you’re going to need to treat the stain immediately.

Vacuum your carpet

Start by vacuuming your carpets and rugs a couple of times a month to remove dust and dander. And if you’re getting ready to deep clean or spot clean your carpets, you’ll want to vacuum first every time. Debris stuck in the fibers can block your ability to get through to those stains.

Hyman also suggests shaking out your rugs a couple times a month. Every few months, flip your rug over and vacuum the back. “This will get the grit out of the foundation of the rug,” he says.

Spot clean your carpet

Melissa Maker of Clean My Space says it’s important to know how to clean a carpet by hand. You’ll thank her for the tips the next time you need to remove gum or chocolate stains from a carpet.

Get pet hair out of a carpet

Italy, Low section of dog lying on carpet

Eugenio Marongiu/Getty Images

Pet hair can be a nightmare to remove, but there’s a trick that will save you tons of time: Sprinkle the area with baking soda; then vacuum it up. The baking soda will lift the pet hair from the carpet.

Get pet stains out of a carpet

They look bad and smell worse, but stains from your pet’s accidents are pretty easy to remove. Here’s how to clean dog pee from carpet: Use a paper towel to blot up as much of the urine as you can, says Maker. Then mix equal parts white vinegar and warm water in a spray bottle. Spritz the area to get rid of the odor. Blot this mixture with a paper towel once again.

If that doesn’t do the trick, try one of these products specially formulated for getting pet urine out of carpets.

Get blood out of a carpet

Nosebleeds, household injuries… We get it. Bloodstains are tough to avoid and even harder to get out of carpets. Thankfully, you have options.

Maker uses a mixture of two parts hydrogen peroxide and one part dish soap. Wet a cloth with the mixture; then blot the stain with it. You can also try removing bloodstains by mixing cold water and white vinegar, then soaking the stain for a few minutes before using a paper towel or microfiber cloth to blot it.

Get wine out of a carpet

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This stain in particular often triggers panic, but if you’ve spilled red wine, there’s hope for your carpet yet.

To clean up a red wine stain, blot up as much as you can—ASAP. Then sprinkle salt or baking powder (generously) on the stain, giving it a few minutes to settle before you vacuum it up. If you can still see the stain, use a specialty carpet-cleaning solution like Puracy or Wine Away.

Get paint out of a carpet

Craft project gone awry? It may look bleak, but paint is actually easier to remove than it sounds. This is how you get paint out of carpet: First, identify the paint. Is it oil-based or water-based? Water-based paints will be much easier to clean up since many are water-soluble.

  • Water-based paints: Use a paper towel to blot any remaining wet paint; then scrape the remainder out with a dull knife or razor blade. If there’s still paint on your carpet, dampen a microfiber cloth with rubbing alcohol and pat it onto the stain. If that doesn’t work, try applying paint thinner.
  • Oil paints: For fresh stains, try blotting away the excess paint first. If the paint has dried, you’ll need to use a cloth dampened with paint thinner and possibly a 1:1 ratio of dish soap and warm water. To protect your carpet going forward, try applying Scotchguard.

How to deep clean your carpet

Regularly running the vacuum over your carpets is great, but that’s not going to give your carpets a just-like-new look. That’s why you need to deep clean them a few times a year.

Deep clean by hand

Using a carpet-cleaning machine is your best bet for a thorough clean. If you don’t own one and don’t want to rent one, there’s a DIY solution.

  1. Sprinkle baking soda over the surface of your carpet.
  2. Mix carpet shampoo (that you’ve color tested) with warm water; then add the mixture to a spray bottle.
  3. Spray the cleaning liquid over the carpet.
  4. Brush with a carpet brush.
  5. Blot the area.
  6. Spray again with warm water only.
  7. Blot the carpet again.

Yes, it’s time-consuming, but it’s more cost effective than buying or renting a carpet-cleaning machine.

Use a carpet-cleaning machine

Carpet-cleaning machines get a bad rap for being big and bulky, but these days, there are smaller machines that can really simplify carpet cleaning. If you don’t see yourself using a carpet-cleaning machine that often (or if you don’t have the room to store it), you can rent one from your local home improvement store.

Here’s how to deep-clean your carpet with a carpet-cleaning machine, according to Rachel Coldren, a spokesperson for vacuum company Bissell:

  1. Remove furniture and anything else on the carpet.
  2. Vacuum the area to pick up loose dirt.
  3. Pretreat stains that will need extra attention (and remember to do a color test before using a new cleaning solution).
  4. Choose the formula to add to your cleaning machine (Pro Max Clean and Protect will do the trick).
  5. Start your engines! Begin in the farthest corner of the room (so you don’t get trapped mid-room surrounded by wet carpet). Bissell recommends pushing your cleaning attachment forward and backward with the spray button pushed down. Follow that with the same movement without the spray button pressed. Do this throughout the space until you’ve cleaned the entire carpet.
  6. Rinse. You don’t have to, but it’s a good idea to refill your machine with warm water and repeat the process.
  7. Let it dry. Wait four to six hours before putting your furniture back or walking on the carpet.

Hire a pro

If you’re not up for renting or buying a machine, and if a stain is really stuck on or your carpet looks like it’s on its last legs, the answer to how to clean a carpet may be to hire a pro. Professionals use detergents and steam to really get in there, and commercial machines are beasts when it comes to getting bacteria and dirt out of any pile of rug. If your home has wall-to-wall carpeting, you might want to do this once a year.

Of course, paying a professional will cost more money. And companies often charge a fee based on the number of rooms they’ll be cleaning and the square footage. Before you book a cleaner, weigh the pros (convenience) and cons (cost).

Once you understand how to clean carpets, it’s time to tackle other areas of your house by learning how to clean your shower curtain, your mattress, and even your baseboards.


How to Clean Carpet So It Looks as Good as New

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