Dry Carpet Cleaning vs Steam Cleaning Methods
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.
Editor's note: This is an updated version of an article originally posted on Jan. 3, 2013.