How much should carpet cleaning cost?

Carpet cleaning costs depend on the way a company determines rates, the type of cleaning requested and the number of add-ons purchased by a homeowner. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Peter V. of Chicago)

Carpet cleaning costs depend on the way a company determines rates, the type of cleaning requested and the number of add-ons purchased by a homeowner. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Peter V. of Chicago)

Hiring a professional carpet cleaning service is a great way to deal with general wear and tear or to remove a particularly tough stain. Homeowners often wonder, however, what to expect for a carpet cleaning cost and how to know if they're being overcharged.

The two common pricing types

Every carpet is different and every home a different size, which means there's no "one size fits all" carpet cleaning price. There are, however, two common ways companies determine cost when you hire a carpet cleaner.

The first is "per room," meaning they offer a flat cleaning rate for each room in a home. There are typically size caps on this method, and rooms over the maximum square footage are treated as two rooms. This lets companies offer quotes over the phone, but can artificially inflate the price to compensate for inaccuracy. It's also important to consider just how low a rate may be: anything under $20 per room probably won't come with quality service. Moving furniture is often an extra charge on top of this rate, meaning homeowners need to move couches, entertainment centers and other large objects if they want to keep costs down.

Angie’s List members who had similar jobs done in 2013 reported paying an average of $45.68 per room with a general range of $43.18 to $48.18, not counting discounts many service providers offer to Angie’s List members.

The other estimation method is per square foot. This is more accurate but requires a visit to your home before work can begin. If you own a smaller home, you will typically pay more because the company needs to offset travel and material costs; those with larger homes will pay slightly less per square foot because equipment set up and material requirements are fixed. Average rates run between $0.30 and $0.50 per square foot, and should include all labor, products and a guarantee about the standard of clean - for example, in compliance with the Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC) guidelines.

Different types, different costs

The type of carpet cleaning you choose also affects the cost. Hot water extraction cleaning, known as "steam cleaning," is the most popular method. This kind of cleaning doesn't actually use steam but instead uses high pressure to push very hot water, along with a cleaning solution, into carpet. The resulting moisture is then removed via suction, and the carpet needs at least 24 hours to fully dry. This is the method recommended by most carpet manufacturers for deep cleaning and is often required of homeowners to keep the warranty on their flooring valid. Companies may use either portable electric cleaners or vehicle-mounted equipment for more powerful suction.

Dry cleaning, also known as "low moisture" or "encapsulation" cleaning, uses a chemical solution and minimal water for a quicker clean, but it can't reach as deep as powerful wet cleaning methods. Dan Ayoub of highly rated Ayoub Carpet Service of Chantilly, Virginia, agrees: "Dry cleaning isn't as effective as steam cleaning because nothing reaches deep into the fibers to release dirt." Homeowners don't need to wait as long before walking on their carpet. Though some companies may ask you to vacate the home during cleaning to prevent accidental chemical inhalation, Ayoub says “I've never heard of customers having to evacuate the premises when performing the 'dry' clean method. Furthermore, I believe the IICRC has nothing about vacating either.” Dry cleaning typically costs less than wet cleaning, as it doesn't require as much labor or equipment.

Considering extra costs

While most carpet cleaning services now offer an upfront fee that covers all basic costs, it's still possible to incur some add-on costs. The first is for targeted spot cleaning: in some cases, a standard service won't be able to remove a stain completely and will require further followup. This may be covered under an initial contract, but homeowners need to know exactly what they're paying for and what requires an added cost. Many companies have also added extra services, such as color repair and dyeing, as well as dry and steam cleaning services. For a cost, typically assessed at an hourly rate, the company will correct carpet discolored by a stain or restore portions of a carpet to its original color. Always ask for references and guarantees if you choose to use this kind of service.

Carpet cleaning costs depend on the way a company determines rates, the type of cleaning requested and the number of add-ons purchased by a homeowner. No matter the final total, however, homeowners should always receive a transparent, easily understandable invoice detailing what they owe and exactly what it covers.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on May 20, 2013. We've updated it with 2013 cost data and additional information about dry cleaning.

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