Spoiler alert: Vacuuming isn't enough.

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Eric Piasecki

You'll be surprised to learn how much dirt vacuums miss-and how simple the best cleaning methods really are. The pitch was simple. In the 1950s, a vacuum salesman would come to the door, spill dirt on the carpet, and ask the lady of the house to clean it with her machine. Then he would load a fresh bag into his model, run it over the "clean" carpet, and open the bag to reveal what it had picked up.

Frequently that was all he needed to close the deal. Had the salesman reversed the order, however, using his machine first, the results might have been the same. Often the problem wasn't the old vacuum. It was the fact that once dirt goes into carpet, it doesn't easily come out.

Keeping Clean: The Basics

An ounce of prevention, as they say, is worth a pound of cure. To keep carpets as clean as possible, limit how much dirt gets into them in the first place. Declare a shoes-off rule, or place sturdy doormats at all entries. Frequent vacuuming is the only way to keep grit from becoming embedded, and having a vacuum that's easy to use is crucial. Spend the bulk of cleaning time where dirt collects: a dozen passes of the vacuum within four feet of outside doors, eight passes in high-traffic areas, and four passes elsewhere. Where carpets have not been regularly and thoroughly cleaned, double the passes for three months.

How to Clean Common Carpets

Depending on the materials of your carpet, different methods should be used for vacuuming, liquid spills and deep cleaning.

Carpet Type: Synthetic

Vacuum first. Remove grit with multiple vacuum passes in varying directions using the beater brush, set to the pile height. Change the bag once it's bag is half full because efficiency decreases after that. When you're dealing with a liquid spill, clean the area promptly using the blot technique: Cover the area with a clean towel or a thick pad of paper towels. Press down with the heel of your hand. Repeat using dry towels until all the liquid has been absorbed. If the spill is large, use a wet-dry vacuum (if available) to remove most of the spill before blotting.

Professional steam cleaning works best on wall-to-wall carpeting that needs a deep clean, and it may be required by the warranty. If you want to do it yourself, vacuum thoroughly, then use an extraction machine from a rental company (supermarket models are less powerful). Test the cleaning solution before you begin by pouring a few drops into a saucer and allowing it to evaporate (a hair drier speeds the process). If the dried residue in the saucer remains sticky, switch cleaners. Use fans or air-conditioning to dry the carpet. Area rugs can be cleaned using the same methods.

Carpet Type: Wool

To vacuum, follow the instructions above but avoid using a rotary brush on loop-pile (Berber) carpets; the yarn may get fuzzy. Instead, use a floor tool. To clean liquid spills, start by misting with water and blotting, as you would for synthetic carpets. Never use ammonia or any other high-alkaline cleaner, which can damage wool. To deep clean bor both area rugs and wall-to-wall carpets, home cleaning is not recommended because wool fibers absorb more water than synthetic fibers do. This makes them hard to dry, and area carpets become very heavy and difficult to maneuver. Additionally, many available cleaners are too alkaline for use on wool.

Carpet Type: Plant-Based Fibers

Use the same vacuuming technique as for synthetic carpets. A beater brush is the best way to remove grit, which causes excessive wear on these carpets. Plant fibers are less stain-resistant than synthetics or wool, even if they have been treated with a water repellent, so blot liquid spills promptly using the method described above. Make sure damp areas dry quickly by using a fan or a hair drier (set on low heat). As for deep cleaning, manufacturers recommend the use of dry methods only. Other methods should be left to professionals.

Comments (25)

Anonymous
July 17, 2019
Cleaning up rugs in a household with 4 indoor-outdoor cats is next to impossible. It took me a couple of years of regular washing and vacuuming that professional services are the best option. Very impressed with Steamex’s services- certainly the best in my area. Would definitely go for them again.
Anonymous
June 9, 2019
Carpets are not rugs, carpets are wall to wall rugs are not. Thanks for a great article I’m saving it for future use as we have both rugs and carpets in our new place.
Anonymous
February 13, 2019
Really wish this article just talked about methods for removing regular old dirt. My dogs come in with dirty paws and even with an extra mat sometimes there is a footprint or two. This is just literally mud and dirt from my yard.
Anonymous
October 5, 2018
A good piece of Easy Home Vacuum advice when cleaning rugs is to test first on a small piece of the carpet fabric and make sure no color or fabric distortion occurs. Only then proceed with treating the entire carpet.
Anonymous
February 15, 2018
Having a clean workplace means much more than a sparkling, fresh building. Numerous studies have revealed that employees working in a clean and orderly office are positively impacted, which improves their productivity significantly. Thanks for taking the time to post this
Anonymous
January 18, 2018
MY JUTE RUG HAS THE TENDANCY TO SHED--FIBERS COME OFF ON CLOTHING ETC. AND GETS TRANSFERRED TO MY FURNITURE--IS THEIR ANY WAY TO SEAL THEM SO I AM NOT CONSTANTLY VACUUMING MY FURNITURE
Anonymous
January 18, 2018
MY JUTE RUG HAS THE TENDANCY TO SHED--FIBERS COME OFF ON CLOTHING ETC. AND GETS TRANSFERRED TO MY FURNITURE--IS THEIR ANY WAY TO SEAL THEM SO I AM NOT CONSTANTLY VACUUMING MY FURNITURE
Anonymous
June 19, 2017
Thank you for this great article. One suggestion is to get carpet cleaning supplies that have CRI seal of approval. Those supplies clean the carpets well without causing them harm. Check us out at http://www.carpetcleaningarlington.net
Anonymous
June 7, 2017
Apply a carpet protector after your carpet has been cleaned. This way, you will be able to remove stains much easier when they occur. Most professional carpet cleaning companies should have this included as an option, just make sure to ask. http://www.moveoutmates.com.au/carpet-cleaning/
Anonymous
May 11, 2017
Excellent article, sometimes however professionals are needed, especially with repairs and carpet stretching. https://www.carpetcareandbeyond.net
Anonymous
February 17, 2017
A good piece of advice when cleaning rugs is to test first on a small piece of the carpet fabric and make sure no color or fabric distortion occurs. Only then proceed with treating the entire carpet. Here's what a careful carpet cleaning process should look like: http://www.carpetcleaninglondonagency.co.uk/services/carpet-cleaning-services/
Anonymous
July 19, 2016
Add baking soda to the peroxide to neutralize any odor, even cat urine. I use a paste of peroxide and baking soda to clean cat litter boxes, and leave a residue on the inside surface to keep odor down.
Anonymous
February 10, 2016
Anonymous
January 21, 2016
I need help....My dog left diarreah all over the carpet - which is light brown - and I used hydrogen peroxide with dawn to clean it. It cleaned up well but today - a day and a half after drying, the spots are whitish....is there anything I can do about this?
Anonymous
December 17, 2015
I would like to know your opinion on Dry carpet cleaning. I understand it it great for mold. I read that you have used it. Thank you
Anonymous
July 24, 2015
Hiii, i like your blog.i read read many blogs for cleaning but this one is the best and quit informative then others.hope using your methods i clean my rugs
Anonymous
July 4, 2015
If you have any query about carpet cleaning issues, then please call us. Lake Norman Carpet and Tile care http://www.lkncarpet.com
Anonymous
March 17, 2015
I placed a small throw rug on top of my white carpet. When I picked up the throw rug, the backing had left a beautiful rectangle of yellow stain. So far my attempts to remove the stain from the carpet have been unsuccessful. Any suggestions would be appreciated!
Anonymous
December 22, 2014
My two woolen Mexican area rugs are tossed into a pile for their weekly cleaning. I think this encourages a lumpy appearance. Would it be better to put them over a railing while the wooden floors beneath are cleaned? Should the rug pads also be protected from folds and lumps?
Anonymous
October 12, 2014
I have two wool area rugs, which I love for their color and loft. However, they seem to have developed a 'wet dog' smell (I do not now, nor have I ever owned a dog). I clean the carpets regularly with a high end vacuum (Miele model S800). In the summer I send them out for professional cleaning and storage. By the time I put them back down, the weather is damp and I again notice the wet dog smell. Are wool rugs just not practical for damp, Northwest climates?
Anonymous
August 1, 2014
Shag Rugs are Handwoven Rugs made from differents kinds of yarns. Dense and plush, all shag rugs are prepared using wool or polyester depending on the designs. Shag area rugs make a fun addition to any fashionable space by incorporating texture to the room.
Anonymous
April 9, 2008
The very best solution I have found for cat urine is 1-large bottle peroxide, 3tsp. baking soda and a few drops liquid soap. Mix with all glass or plastic-no metal. pour onto spot and let dry by its self. Don't try to hurry it. The enzymes in the mixture are eating the protine in the urine spot so it wont smell.
Anonymous
April 7, 2008
We have some unidententified stains on the carpet in our entry way from the previous owner... they are blackish colored and I have tried steam cleaning these with no success. I wonder if maybe these could be grease stains... hopefully the rubbing alcohol will work... it's worth a shot! Otherwise it looks like we will be replacing this carpet. Fingers crossed!
Anonymous
April 4, 2008
What ratio of vinegar to water to clean an area rug that is badly stained from the resident four leg?
Anonymous
April 4, 2008
perfect time for spring cleaning tips...especially the carpet care..just so happens I needed advicet today...white vinegar and water....magic..did the trick.....quick and left no odor......thanks martha....