Angie's LIST Guide to
Carpet cleaning

A homeowner's guide on carpet cleaning, including the different methods, how to hire a professional carpet cleaner and how often it should be done.
 

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Professional carpet can treat the toughest stains while protecting your floor underneath. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Russell H.)
Professional carpet can treat the toughest stains while protecting your floor underneath. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Russell H.)
 
 

The benefits of cleaning

Many homeowners prefer carpet or area rugs in living rooms and children's playrooms, but carpeting is more of a challenge to keep clean than other floor surfaces. Beyond vacuuming regularly, you may also benefit from professional carpet cleaning or doing it yourself at least once a year.

According to a report by the American Lung Association, dust accumulation in carpet and rugs can adversely affect members of your household who suffer from conditions that can affect their breathing, such as snoring or asthma. If you're not fully convinced of the benefits of carpet cleaning, consider the following top three ways the process leads to a healthier home:

1. Carpet cleaning eliminates trapped pollutants

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, a dirty carpet can retain several sources of indoor air pollutants, including pet dander, cockroach allergens, lead, particle pollution, and everyday dirt and dust. Toxic airborne gases can adhere to these particles and also get trapped within the carpet.

These toxic gases can be released through everyday activities such as vacuuming and walking across the carpet, which can cause them to contaminate the air in your home. Professional carpet cleaning services kill these bacteria through special shampooing formulas and can remove deeply trapped pollutants with high-powered vacuums.

2. Carpet cleaning can clear out dust mite infestations

Many homes have dust mite infestations, yet most homeowners aren't aware of the infestation because the creatures are microscopic. Dust mites themselves aren't allergens, but they often leave behind feces and body fragments which are.

Because of the microscopic size of these particles, they can easily be inhaled when the area is disturbed, which can exacerbate allergies. Many professional carpet cleaning companies utilize a technique known as steam cleaning when performing carpet maintenance work, which exposes your carpet to high temperatures that dust mites can't survive.

3. Carpet cleaning can help prevent mold growth

Especially in areas with high humidity levels, dirty carpets are at a high risk of developing mold growth when exposed to moisture. In precipitous weather, moisture frequently gets tracked into the home and can sink deep in the carpet fibers if not dried and vacuumed immediately.

Having your carpet cleaned regularly can prevent mold and mildew growth, because professional carpet cleaners have high-powered drying tools that annihilate moisture. If you choose to clean your carpet yourself, use fans and turn on the air or open windows to help dry the carpet out faster.

Carpet cleaning methods

Carpet cleaning professionals use a wide range of cleaning methods when tackling dirty rugs and carpets. Cost, degree of carpet soiling, environmental conditions and fiber type typically influence the selection of a carpet-cleaning method. Here are the benefits of the four most common professional carpet cleaning processes used today.

1. Steam cleaning

Also known as hot water extraction, steam cleaning is a common method of cleaning carpets. In this method, hot water is heated to boiling and injected into the carpet under pressure. The hot water effectively loosens the dirt, and the carpet-cleaning machine immediately draws moisture and dirt away. Heavily soiled carpet often requires the use of detergent. Steam cleaning is effective in removing odors and killing bacteria and dust mites. There are few drawbacks to this method, other than drying time.

2. Carpet shampooing

Carpet shampooing is the original carpet-cleaning method used by professional cleaners. In this process, a foamy chemical is distributed on the carpet and scrubbed in with a motorized circular brush. This method works best for heavily soiled, low-pile carpet. Since no extraction process is involved, the carpet must be thoroughly vacuumed to remove soil and residue. Many carpet cleaning professionals recommend steam cleaning as more effective than carpet shampooing.

3. Carpet dry cleaning

The dry-cleaning method uses virtually no water. A technician sprinkles a small amount of an absorbent compound over the carpet and uses a mechanized brush to work it through the carpet, dissolving soil. The soil and residue are then drawn up by a commercial vacuum cleaner. The dry-cleaning method dries carpet more quickly than any other cleaning method. Easily damaged natural-fiber carpets, such as sisal and hemp, benefit from the dry-cleaning process.

4. Bonnet cleaning

Though this method of carpet cleaning is sometimes referred to as a dry-cleaning method, it really is not. Bonnet cleaning uses a cleaning product, occasionally mixed with carbonated water, and spreads it as a mist over the surface of the carpet. A circular rotating buffer or "bonnet" with an absorbent covering is run over the soiled area. When the covering becomes soiled, it is replaced with a clean one. While the top one-third of the carpet is cleaned, soil which has settled to the bottom of the pile remains behind. This cleaning method should be viewed as a temporary measure between more intensive cleanings.

MORE: Steam Cleaning Vs. Dry Cleaning

How often should you clean?

There are a lot of myths and misconceptions out there when it comes to deciding how often your carpets need to be treated by a carpet cleaner. The answer depends largely on the amount of traffic your carpet receives.

There are also a number of things homeowners can do between cleanings to extend the life of their carpet and reduce the amount of dirt, dust and grit that accumulates in the carpet fibers.

Cleaning your carpets regularly keeps your floor coverings looking great on the surface, and it also helps to remove abrasive dirt particles that damage the fibers, cause premature wear and eventually shorten the life of your carpet.

According to the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration (IIRC), all carpets should be cleaned at least once a year. In low-traffic areas, carpets can go 12 to 18 months between cleanings, but high-traffic areas may need to be professionally cleaned on a quarterly basis.

Households with pets, smokers, children and a good amount of foot traffic should have their carpets professionally cleaned two to four times each year. Dust mites, pet dander and allergens are only part of the problem. While dust and bacteria trigger asthma attacks and allergic reactions, the dirt, sand and abrasive particles shorten the life of your carpet and result in premature wear.

In addition to hiring a professional carpet cleaner, homeowners should vacuum areas with little foot traffic once a week and more often in highly trafficked areas. If pets and kids are in the house, these areas may need to be to tended to multiple times each week.

Ready to hire a carpet cleaner? Search for companies now!

Visible surface dirt isn’t the only thing homeowners need to worry about. The embedded dirt hidden deep in the carpet can damage the fibers and shorten the life of your floor coverings. To prevent dirt accumulations, have all guests remove shoes at the door and treat stains as soon as possible.

Vacuuming frequently, spot-treating stains and hiring a professional carpet cleaner at regular intervals will prolong the life of your carpet and keep it looking clean and fresh all year.

Of course, maintaining a carpet all year does cost time and money. Carpet cleaning costs vary, but there are two common pricing types. The first is per room. Angie's List members who had similar jobs done in 2013 reported paying an average of $46 per room with a general range of $43 to $48, not counting discounts many service providers offer to Angie's List members. The other way to measure cost is per square foot. Average rates run between $0.30 to $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 IIRC guidelines. Remember that it's still possible to have some add-on costs for items like targeted spot cleaning, so ask the carpet cleaning company upfront if there will be extra charges.

Insist on an in-home estimate to get the best estimate possible. Always be careful when you hear promotions for carpet cleaning.

Never go with an estimate that sounds too good to be true. You always want to be sure that you’re going to get the right estimate so you don’t end up with extra charges after you hire someone. There are a number of different carpet cleaning methods out there and they can be overwhelming for consumers. The best bet is to follow your carpet manufacturer’s recommendation because you don’t want to risk voiding your warranty.

Hiring a carpet cleaner

When hiring a carpet cleaner, research prospective companies, consider the cleaning process, ask about included services and avoid the lowest price options. Sometimes, companies offer a low price to get a foot in the door, and they'll identify many other issues to upsell. Make your hiring decision based on quality and recommendations first, and price second

Why hire a carpet cleaner?

With the varying levels of intimacy you may experience with your flooring, it’s crucial that you keep your carpeting as clean as possible. There are several measures homeowners can take to reduce the need to clean including reducing foot traffic, vacuuming frequently and spot-treating stains. However, there are certain advantages to hiring.

Not all carpets and rugs are cut from the same cloth. Depending on whether they’re wool or synthetic and how they’re made, carpets may require different treatments. Professionals will know which cleaning method to use.

You eliminate the need to rent or buy carpet cleaning equipment. Carpet cleaning machines sold in retail stores usually aren’t as effective as professional cleaners. You also can save yourself a trip to the rental facility, and you can use your limited storage space for other things

Retail carpet cleaners don’t have sanitizing systems. Professional systems actually kill bacteria and dust mites lodged in your carpeting, which will help to keep your home clean and cut down on allergens.

Professionals have more understanding of stains and what it takes to remove them. Some cleaning products can actually make a stain worse if not used properly. Professionals are trained in the science behind removing stains, and will know which cleaning method to use without damaging your carpet.

Some professional cleaners use low-moisture equipment and techniques. One of the downsides of carpet cleaning is the amount of moisture left in the carpet, which can take up to a day to dry and even lead to mold growth.

Still, many homeowners attempt to save by cleaning themselves. With the proper equipment and experience, DIY carpet cleaning can save money, doesn't require a scheduled time and can fit more nicely around a busy schedule. Of course, homeowners have to actually complete the cleaning, which takes time and often comes at a greater expense than it's worth.

MORE: Tips for removing pet stains and odors from carpet

Professional carpet cleaning tools and machines are available at hardware stores and grocery stores. While it might be a good alternative given the right circumstances, there are a few cons that should be weighed before choosing a DIY carpet cleaning project.

Physical exertion

If you break a sweat just from vacuuming the carpet, the physical exertion required for a full carpet cleaning may be more strenuous than you can physically handle. Cleaning your carpet in the same manner as the professionals requires constant lifting of heavy machinery in addition to a lot of bending and rigorous movement.

Risk of insufficient cleaning

When you hire a professional, you can count on him or her to eliminate stains, dirt, and odor to fully restore the quality of the carpet. But, if you haven't had proper training, it can be impossible to know the correct approach to take when combating trapped debris and deeply soiled carpet fibers.

This is not only a waste of your time and money, but it can also increase the carpet's susceptibility to new dirt and stains.

You might not save as much as you think

When you clean your carpet on your own, you will have to pay the same amount for supplies each time. In addition, you risk compromising the quality of the job. When you choose a professional carpet cleaning company, they will usually offer customer loyalty discounts or general discounts during slower business months.

A basic cleaning can wear you out both physically and financially. Hiring a professional would give you the opportunity to add specialized services to the package, such as spot stain removal, preventative stain treatment and tile and grout cleaning.

These additional services usually come at a relatively low cost when added onto a basic carpet cleaning package. Buying additional tools to conduct these projects yourself may not be financially practical.

MORE: Carpet cleaning equipment: Buy, rent or hire? 

What to do before the carpet cleaner arrives

Getting your home's carpets cleaned is a great way to freshen up the appeal of your home and preserve a floor covering's life span.

While part of the joy of hiring a professional is having someone else do the dirty work, taking these pro-active steps can help make sure you get the cleanest carpet possible:

1. Vacuum, if needed - Removing as much debris and dirt from the carpet fiber prior to a cleaning can help ensure your carpet cleaner is focusing on the deep down soiled-in dirt. Some carpet cleaning services vacuum the carpet prior to beginning their work. Others rely on you, the homeowner, to do so. Ask your carpet cleaning professional whether or not you need to vacuum prior to their arrival.

2. Dust and clean baseboards and HVAC registers - Clearing these areas of dirt and debris can help ensure the carpet isn't' dirtied quickly following a cleaning.

3. Remove fragile items - Porcelain knick-knacks, Ming dynasty vases, collectibles and any other potentially fragile or breakable items should be removed from the cleaning area and placed in a safe area.

4. Remove valuable items - While many carpet cleaning companies thoroughly screen and vet their employees, it's still a good idea to remove any items of value from rooms with carpeting that will be cleaned. Store them behind a locked door or in your car's trunk.

5. Move furniture, if necessary - Your carpet cleaner may offer a discount for cleaning a room that's empty or just focusing on high foot traffic areas. On the other hand, you may want to ensure your carpet is totally clean from wall to wall. Some companies charge a fee for moving furniture, others don't, so ask about moving furniture when making an appointment.

6. Remove smaller items from the floor - Floor lamps, waste baskets, toys, and clothing or shoes should all be moved out of the area to be cleaned. It's also a good idea to lift up and secure things like bedspreads, drapes or dust ruffles with a clothespin to prevent them from getting in the way of a carpet cleaner's tools.

7. Free up a parking spot - If your carpet cleaner uses truck-mounted equipment, he or she will need to park their vehicle as close as possible to an entry door to run hoses for their cleaning equipment. Make sure your family's vehicles aren't obstructing them.

8. Point out areas of concern - Showing a professional carpet cleaner the stains, spots or high-traffic areas you're most concerned with will help make sure they're not missed during the cleaning process.

Oriental rugs

It can be a good idea to hire a cleaner who specializes in cleaning Oriental rugs. Here are some of the advantages:

  • Preserving value. Good Oriental rugs may be passed down from generation to generation. Professional care can extend the life and beauty of a rug.
  • Pick up and delivery. Most companies that specialize in cleaning Oriental rugs will pick up your rug and reinstall it.
  • Thoroughness. A company that specializes in cleaning Oriental rugs has specialized equipment to give your rug a more thorough cleaning and drying.
  • Access to superior cleaning products. Commercial cleaning services have access to products designed especially for use on Oriental rugs. Most carpet shampoos and cleaning products found in retail stores are designed for synthetic wall-to-wall carpeting and are often too harsh for the delicate natural fibers in Oriental rugs.

Consider how Angie's List can help. Members have access to local consumer reviews on Oriental rug cleaners and service providers in more than 550 other categories.

Comments

This is an extremely helpful post on cleaning tips. I am always looking for some myself. I recently hired an environmentally friendly cleaning service, and honestly I have never seen my house so neat and clean. They use all “green” cleaners so gone are the days of strong bleaches that dry out our skin when we step in our shower, and burn our eyes when we walk into our clean house. This is a tip I wish I knew before because it was an easy fix.
You are right though I always think once my carpet is vacuumed it looks amazing, until my carpet cleaner comes and it becomes four shades lighter with dirt removal.

My carpet needs to be stretched and cleaned. Is it better to clean it first or stretch it first?

As a carpet cleaner, it is always better to have the carpet stretched first. Stretching is necessary for the best cleaning. When a carpet becomes loose and gets waves in it, it will not only wear out faster, but is much more difficult to clean.

hi sheri you schould alway's stretch your carpet first before cleaning. that way the technician doesn't get wet while he is stretching the rug. it's very uncomfortable. plus his hand's will be wet & HE WILL BE USEING A VERY SHARP KNIFE TO CUT THE STRETCH DOWN TO SIZE. so alway's stretch first. thank's. hope this helped you out.

how can you get gray tape residue off of carpets?

try using Goo Gone, available at Lowes...apply to towel and rub in a back and forth motion to melt the stickem.
Repeat and flip towel to clean side with new goo gone applied...you will notice the sticky getting less the more you use it.

My carpet, which is not all that dirty has stains which come from a cat which threw up on my carpet. These stains are my primary concern. What would you recommend? If I have my carpet cleaned should I go with steam cleaning or chemicals?
Thanks

This can be problematic ....due to the food cats eat with dye in their foods ..However pet stores do sell several types of cleaners for this problem ..however it is generally a much tuffer job than that because of the food dye..so that requires a much stronger chemical based spot cleaner. that in most cases should only be done by a pro

Try mixing one part of white distilled vinegar to four parts of hot water. Saturate the stain that you are trying to remove, allow 5 to 10 minutes of dwell time, then blot with a terry cloth towel. Remember do not agitate the stain which will embed the stain just blot or step your weight into to remove all the moisture. This should allow the stain to release from the fiber. Now if you have alot of stain throughout it is best to hire a steam cleaning company to remove the stains. For more information log on to aquateccarpet.com if looking for a good carpet cleaner. If not in your area find someone who compares to our information.

First for most adhesives i would recommend a professional as its takes several steps to remove.with that said..these are the basic steps..1....you will need a citrus based gel spot remover.applying it to affected area.aggregate and rinse out with hot to warm water preferably with carpet cleaning machine commonly called steam cleaning. This may take several times to remove..2 .you will need to apply an enzyme spot remover to the area let dwell on area for a few minutes ..then rinse again with steam cleaner.but as you can see this is really a job for a pro

For per stains is dry cleaning or low moisture the most effective method.

We lost our beloved cat of 16 years but before he passed away, he wasn't able to make it to his litter and urinated in an area of about 66 square feet in our great room. Unfortunately, we didn't find this out until much later. We have tried enzymatic liquids, carpet shampoo for pets, and even vodka over the course of many weeks, while using a water extraction Hoover machine we own. We still have the smell although it is lighter. We want a hot water extraction cleaning system and not a cover-the-odor approach. THREE QUESTIONS: (1) Can anything be done? (2) What sort of guarantee should we expect from a reliable pro? (3) Would this generally require multiple visits from a pro?

Ideally the carpet would be lifted and the padding contaminated padding removed and replaced,,, but the next option is to find a cleaner who has a tool called a "water claw". With this tool the area is flooded with a neutralizing liquid, and then the water claw extracts the fluids all the way down to the subfloor.
It is a specialty service, and by it's self can be pricey. But shop it as part of a cleaning package, An area that large is a definite upcharge but a far cry from replacement.

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