Dry Carpet Cleaning vs Steam Cleaning Methods

James Jassak of Masterclean in Lake Zurich, Illinois, cleans a customer's carpet. (Photo by Jay Madden)

James Jassak of Masterclean in Lake Zurich, Illinois, cleans a customer's carpet. (Photo by Jay Madden)

The time has come. Despite your best efforts, years of stains, dirt and grime have accumulated in your carpet. You need to clean the carpets, but how do you know which carpet cleaning method to pick?

Steam cleaning and dry cleaning are both popular methods for cleaning carpets, but does one have an advantage over the other?

Steam won't clean your carpets

In the dry carpet cleaning vs. steam cleaning debate, it's important to clear up the myth that steam is actually used to clean your carpets. While home and commercial machines use hot water, which gives off steam, the steam itself does not clean carpet.

Instead, the machine sprays detergent onto your carpet. Hot water activates the detergent on the carpet fibers — alkaline for synthetic carpets and acidic for wool or natural fiber carpets. A wet-vac is then used to suck up the bulk of the water on the floor.

Rent a steam cleaner, but prepare to wait

You can buy or rent a carpet steam cleaner for your home. These models typically rely on hot tap water to work properly, while machines rented from a hardware or grocery store may have a heating element.

Both operate by placing a cleaning solution in the machine and moving it slowly and methodically over the carpet. The machine will then suck up and dump out the water.

After you've cleaned the carpets, stay off of them for about 12 to 24 hours while they dry. In some cases, the carpet shrinks after the leftover water dries. However, unless your carpet is made entirely of natural, untreated fibers, this will not be a problem.

Professional steam cleaning dries more quickly

You can also hire a professional to steam clean your carpets. They often use a more powerful machine or one attached to a vehicle.

Because a professional carpet steam cleaner contains more power, it can spray more detergent into the carpet and suck up more water. Carpets take less time to dry if you use a professional carpet steam cleaner.

Dry carpet cleaning takes least amount of time

You can also dry clean carpets by using dry chemical compounds. Place these chemicals on a carpet and they will break down whatever soil they find.

The name of the dry cleaning method is also misleading because the professional use a small amount of moisture in the form of application solutions, which complement the dry compounds used.

Dry cleaning offers the advantage of time; floors can be used again almost instantly after cleaning is complete. Dry cleaning compounds are often used in industrial and retail settings for this reason.

Steam or Dry: Pros and cons of both techniques

Steam cleaning your carpet yourself means you need only hot water, a rented machine and detergent. Unfortunately, you'll have to wait between 12 and 24 hours to walk on your carpet again.

Ground-in stains typically reappear in the first few days after cleaning. Commercial solutions can eliminate some of these problems, but there are certain stains — pet stains or chemical stains, for example — that require multiple treatments or cannot be removed.

Dry cleaning, meanwhile, offers the advantage of almost no drying time and an effective cleaning through chemical agents and application solutions.

The chemicals used, however, can often be harsh, and homeowners are advised to speak with a commercial cleaning company about the products they use and any strong odors they may have.

Related: Clearing up your carpet-cleaning choices

Editor's note: This is an updated version of an article originally posted on Jan. 3, 2013.

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Carpet cleaning runs the gamut from at-home methods to rented steam cleaners and professional cleaning services. But which method is the most effective? Read on for an analysis of different carpet cleaning methods.


Thanks for the helpful article on carpet cleaning. I would add that a common method for dry cleaning carpet and area rugs is Host, which is made of organic, all-natural products and is not harmful for rug or carpet fibers. One should never use steam (hot water extraction) on a natural fiber rug. An additional advantage of dry cleaning for carpet and rugs is the water savings. We're in another drought here in California and folks should know they can save 40-70 gallons of water by using a dry carpet cleaner. Most areas of the U.S. have a Host dry carpet cleaner and, if you're inclined, you can rent a machine and do the work yourself. Look it up.

Guys there are industry standards put in place, the world standard of carpet cleaning is pretty clear, involving fiber identification, vacuming, application of chemical, agetation of chemical, extraction via steam clean finally carpet grooming. This can combine dry cleaning method for agetation and steam cleaning for extraction. Its just that a lot of cleaners have not even done the basic technician training with iicrc and are not awear. However i have done a ton of research on encapuslation cleaning, this method is breaking barriers. i had m carpet cleaned using it, great job! there are even green chemicals available. However it is recommended that you should use this method only up to four times on the carpet before hot water extract. Play nice:)

Which method is the best,safe and more effective way of cleaning carpet?

This is the most important things

I have been in high end cleaning for over 35 years. I also have engineering major and a chemistry minor from a very prominent university. Hot water extraction is the most thorough at getting more dirt and stains out with a neutral rinse afterwards...Anyone that knows stains realizes the pH factor. In other words not all stains will come out with one chemical. You must chemically neutralize stains then rinse with a neutral rinse. The most thorough cleaning is by using a truck-mount unit that is being maintained properly. An analogy-do you put your day to day clothes in the washing machine without a rinse afterwards?

I have just had my carpets dry cleaned by a professional cleaning company. He could not remove several staines because " the carpet is old". I have a vax-machine so I had a go at the staines. The staines did not improve, but i got a lot of grit and muddy water out of the carpet. It was filthy. I rang the carpet cleaner that i was not happy with the job he did, but he again said " it is an old carpet". The carpet is 20 years old, but what has that to do with leaving grit and soil after he did his job? Is that what dry cleaning does? He did not extract any dirt as far as i can see. Was i taken for a ride??

If you've read through the comments here you can tell there is a heated debate in the carpet cleaning industry about which method is best. At All Seasons Carpet Cleaning we understand that all cleaning methods have their place when properly used. In fact, we use several different methods on a regular basis. We make the decision with the customer based on what is best for them. I will confess that we primarily use the hot water extraction method, but we keep our minds open to what is best for the situation. I recommend that you stay clear of anyone who dogmatically states that their method is best and that all others are methods are ineffective and maybe even dangerous to your carpet or even yourself. Educate yourself and ask questions. Then you'll make the right decision for you and your carpet.

The comment submitted by Steve is fuilled with misleading information. There are over 100 carpet manufacturers that recommend dry extraction over steam of hot water cleaning. Any carpet cleaning performed with water over 160 degress damages the carpet by opening dye ports that hold in the color, loosens the taped seams, and promotes shrinkage. I have used both methods in the 15 years I have been cleaning carpet professionally and I would never use the hot water wet extraction again except in very small areas where there is no foot traffice for at least 12 hours.

Having professionally cleaned carpets since 1993 I know of zero US residential carpet manufacturers that recommends dry cleaning method over steam cleaning. All recommend "hot water extraction" to properly remove soil and clean residential carpet. Exception is wool based carpet. Dry cleaning is like washing your hair with soap but instead of rinsing clean with water you use a vacuum cleaner in attempt to suck out and remove the soap... just doesn't work very well plus too much chemical is left behind. We recommend our residential customers use 212 degree high temperature steam clean method with deodorizer included followed by a neutral steam rinse to get the very best results. The higher the temperature that is used for cleaning the better as this allows for lower chemical use and faster drying time as well. Good steam cleaning drying time depends on moisture and humidity in the air but typically between 4 and 8 hours for truckmounts and 8 to 16 hours for high powered portable carpet cleaners. Very dirty carpets that can be restored will need rotary shampoo process added to steam cleaning to fully remove tougher stains. Look for a company in your area that offers this extra step if needed for your carpet. Home carpet cleaning machines are great for in between professional cleaning but do not substitute for a deep cleaning offered by most companies. You must have a heating element in your home unit to boost water temperature to effectively work well.

Your information is flawed in regards to carpet cleaning. True there is steam cleaning and dry cleaning. There is also what is called low moisture cleaning. Low moisture cleaning is where a chemical is sprayed onto the carpet then using a pad machine and a cotton bonett the carpet is extracted. This is a very popular way to clean residential and commercial carpets. Please do some research before you make statements.

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