How To Clean Carpet In 5 Easy Steps

(Clue: Two of the steps involve a vacuum.)

Yeah, carpet is great for rolling around like you’re a little kid and playing board games. It’s definitely cozy AF. But it is also super absorbent, soaking up everything from pet smells to smoke. It’s also sort of like Velcro, grabbing onto hairs, dander, dust bunnies and the like. It’s important to clean carpet regularly (like, really regularly), otherwise your plush, comfy floor will transform into a cesspool of grossness.

Carpet cleaning is easy, especially if you’ve got a good vacuum. Part of being an adult is coughing up a pretty penny for a food vacuum, but it’s totally worth it. (Oh, and part of owning a good vacuum is also making sure you’re emptying it between each use!)

This guide describes not only how to best clean your carpet, but also how often you should clean your carpet and then some additional bonus cleaning tips for specific ways to remove stains and spot treat problem areas.

How to clean a carpet in 5 easy steps

1. Vacuum

  • Why? The vacuum slurps up all those little particles that are hiding out among your carpet, preventing dirt from getting ground into the carpet or wearing away its fibers.
  • Move imposing furniture, cords and miscellaneous clutter out of your way (shoes, the dog bed, floor pillows, your foam roller, etc.).
  • Don’t forget to play with all the various vacuum attachments to really get into the carpet’s edges and beneath the furniture that was too big or annoying to move.
  • Vacuum in both directions to make sure you really cover all that ground.
  • We prefer a vacuum with a rotating bristle to really suck out any embedded dirt.

2. Spot clean + pretreat stains

  • Depending on the type of stain, you can use a clean, damp rag to blot at it (never scrub the stain, it’ll usually just make it worse!).
  • Give the stain a firm blotting using one of the following: club soda, vinegar, hydrogen peroxide or a dish soap (such as Dawn Dish Soap) and water will usually take out most stains and spots. (More on specific types of stains below.)
  • Always finish spot cleaning a stain with a clean water blot to remove any residual cleaning products, especially soap.
  • For more stubborn stains, you can try a salt solution.
    • Pour some club soda onto the stain to saturate it.
    • Dump some salt on top of club-soda-saturated stain. The salt serves as a buffer that prevents the stain from setting.
    • Let the salty soda solution sit and dry out for about 20 minutes.
    • Vacuum up the dried salt.

3. Scrub to disinfect

  • Combine a DIY solution of 1 part white vinegar + 3 parts water.
  • Scrub your carpet using a soft bristle scrub brush and your vinegar solution to disinfect any problem areas that might be smelly or unsightly.
  • Vinegar’s acidic properties will help to deodorize your carpet, even if it currently has your living room smelling like a bag of chips.
  • Blot away vinegar with a clean, dry towel.
  • If you’ve got some real weird smelly bits of carpet, try sprinkling the offending areas with baking soda, and let it sit for about 20 minutes before vacuuming it up.

4. Steam clean

  • With steam cleaners, always follow the directions.
  • Using hot water and a small amount of the ready-made cleaner of your choice, begin steam cleaning the carpet, navigating the steam cleaner slowly back and forth.
  • Steam cleaners push out water when you push them forward and suck it back up when you pull them backward. It’s important to move the steam cleaner slowly so it effectively removes as much moisture from the carpet as possible, to prevent mold or mildew growth.

5. Vacuum (again!)

  • Think again: You’re not done cleaning until you make one more final pass with the vacuum. Plus, those lines in the carpet are just so satisfying.

How often to clean a carpet

Is this even a question? Come on. Sorry, but if you’re asking, you know you ought to be vacuuming your carpet at least once a week, if not more often. If you’ve got pets, you should hit the carpet with a vacuum almost daily. You should give your carpet a deep clean (aka a steam bath) at least twice a year. And when it comes to spot treating or cleaning up stains, that should be obvious because they’ll be visible. Best to attend to stains as soon as possible, while they’re still fresh or wet.

How to remove bad smells from and deodorize a carpet

We can all agree that no one wants a stinky carpet. Here are some suggestions on how to tackle specific odors and neutralize unappealing scents.

Smoke

Pour baking soda into a colander, and sprinkle it over the affected areas. Baking soda is a natural absorbent, so it’ll eat up those odors, plus it’ll seep all the way to the base of the carpet. Walk around on top (no bare feet) so that there’s an even coating everywhere, and let it sit for 30 minutes. Vacuum it up for a fresh start.

Mildew

Soak up any moisture from your carpet with a dehumidifier or several fans pointing downward. Once the area is dry, mix 2 cups of warm water with 1 cup of white vinegar, and spray the carpet. The powerful acidity in the vinegar will dislodge the odor-causing compounds and exterminate them. Try not to get the carpet overly saturated while treating it, or you’ll just be perpetuating the mildew problem. Don’t worry, when the carpet dries, that vinegar scent will fade away.

Bacteria + mold

For stubborn odors like bacteria and mold, we recommend hitting the carpet with a shot of vodka. The alcohol will break up the odor-causing compounds. Pour a bit of vodka into a spray bottle, and spritz any moldy areas. Let the alcohol sit for 15 minutes, then blot the spot with a clean rag. If the mold persists, sprinkle some baking soda onto the spot, let sit for 30 minutes and then vacuum up any residue.

Pet urine

Sorry, but if you know, you know. Soak up the stain as best as you can with a dry towel. Combine 2 cups of warm water with 2 cups of white vinegar in a bowl, and (slowly!) add 4 tablespoons of baking soda. Once you’ve stirred it all up, pour it into a spray bottle, and apply the mixture to the stained area. Let it sit for 5 minutes, and blot the spot with a clean, damp rag.

Club soda is a fine substitute for pet pee because its aerated carbonation lifts stains up and out of carpet fibers. Just pour some over the stain, and let it sit for a few minutes. It helps to open a window or turn on a fan in the room so the carpet can dry faster. Blot it up, and repeat until the odor goes away.

Sweat

All those home workouts might have your carpet smelling a bit like a locker room. A spray of Febreze Fabric should help, neutralizing odors and replacing them with far better scents, like lilac or violet.

How to remove stains from a carpet

Stains come in all shapes and sizes. Here are a few tips for getting specific stains out of your carpet.

Paint

First, no matter what type of paint you’re using, do this:

  • Use a spoon or putty knife to collect extra gobs of puddling paint from your carpet.
  • Be careful not to spread the paint around to any not-yet-stained areas.
  • Try not to rub or push the paint deeper into the carpet while doing this part.
  • Blot excess paint with a dry rag or paper towel.

For acrylic paint:

  • White Vinegar + Warm Water
    • In a plastic spray bottle, mix 1 part distilled white vinegar with 10 parts warm water. Shake it well to mix the solution.
    • Spray the vinegar/water solution directly onto the paint stain.
    • Blot with a damp paper towel or sponge.
    • Afterward, use a sponge with cold water to blot the paint stain.
    • Continue alternatively spraying and blotting until the paint stain has dissolved.
    • Let the spot air dry completely.
  • Rubbing Alcohol
    • Soak a rag in isopropyl alcohol until it is totally saturated.
    • Blot at the stain with the alcohol-soaked rag, as needed.
    • Let the paint stain soak in alcohol for about 15–20 minutes.
    • Then use a dry cloth to continue to blot the paint stain and soak up any residual rubbing alcohol.
    • Let the spot air dry completely.

For water-based paint:

  • Dish Soap + Warm Water
    • Blot at the paint stain with a clean, dry rag to clean up any excess paint pooling on top of the carpet.
    • Soak a rag or paper towel directly into a soapy solution of warm water and a tiny bit of dish soap (we like Dawn).
    • Wet blot the stain with your rag or paper towel until the stain dissolves.
    • Blot dry with a clean, dry rag or dry paper towels.
    • Let the spot air dry completely.
  • If the paint stain is still visible on your carpet, try hitting the spot with a handheld steamer, and continue to blot with your soapy rag until the stain dissolves.

Red wine

Baking soda

  • Blot the red wine stain with a clean, dry rag to absorb any excess liquid.
  • Pour a bit of cold water onto the red wine stain to saturate it. We recommend ¼ cup or so, depending how big the stain is. The water will dilute the red wine and help with your blotting.
  • Keep on blotting at the wet stain until it appears to reasonably dissolve.
  • Make a baking soda paste by mixing together 1 part water to 3 parts baking soda. It should be thick, like cake batter.
  • Generously apply the baking soda paste to the red-wine-stained carpet.
  • Let the paste sit for about 20 minutes until it dries out.
  • Vacuum the baking soda residue from the carpet.

Club soda + salt

  • Blot out excess wine from the stain with a clean, dry rag.
  • Pour the (ideally cold!) club soda directly onto the red wine stain. The soda’s carbonation should lift the stain out of the carpet fibers.
  • Dump some salt on top of the club-soda-saturated stain. The salt actually serves as a buffer that prevents the stain from setting.
  • Let the salty soda solution sit and dry out for about 20 minutes.
  • Vacuum up the dried salt.

Nail polish

Nail polish remover

  • Be sure to test this method on a discreet section of carpet or rug (think the corner or under a strategically placed piece of furniture) because it could cause discoloration.
  • Nail polish remover works best on fresh stains.
  • It’s important that you’re using non-acetone or dye-free nail polish remover.
  • Nail polish remover works best to remove polish from light or white carpet.
  • Soak a rag with nail polish remover, and blot or dab at the nail polish stain until it comes off.
  • Be sure not to totally soak the carpet with the nail polish remover. Only apply it directly to the stain.
  • Blot, don’t scrub.
  • If you don’t have nail polish remover, you can substitute rubbing alcohol and follow the same guidelines.

Hairspray

  • Make sure your hairspray has a high alcohol content, which will be most effective when removing the nail polish from the carpet. Alcohol-free hairspray won’t work on stains, they’ll just make your nail-polish-soaked carpet even stickier.
  • Hairspray actually works best on already dried stains. Before applying the hairspray, be sure to scrape off as much dried nail polish as possible, and vacuum up the dried bits.
  • Wet the nail polish stain with cold water.
  • Spray about 10–15 pumps of hairspray. Yes, that’s a lot of hairspray!
  • Add a pinch of rubbing alcohol to the stain, in addition to the hairspray.
  • Use a soft bristled brush (or an old toothbrush would work well), and scrub (yes, scrub!) the stain with cold water.
  • Let the spot air dry completely.
  • More tips on how to remove nail polish from carpet here.

Blood

Hydrogen peroxide

  • Note: Hydrogen peroxide may seriously discolor your carpet or rug. Best to test this method on a discreet corner of carpet someplace before applying it directly to the stain.
  • Apply hydrogen peroxide to a clean rag.
  • Blot it to the blood stain with the peroxide-soaked rag until it fades away.
  • Then blot the former stain with a damp rag soaked in cold water to finish.
  • Dry blot with a clean rag to absorb excess water.
  • Allow the spot to air dry completely, or use a wet vac to dry the area.

Gum

Ice

  • Take an ice cube to the gum stain, and rub it until it hardens.
  • Using a putty knife (or whatever sharp blade you’ve got handy), scrape away the gum.
  • If there’s still a residual gum stain, hit the spot with a citrus-based cleaning agent or blot it with some white vinegar to further dissolve the stain.
  • Finish by blotting the spot with some clean water to remove any cleaning product or vinegar residue.

Wax

Iron

  • Place a damp, white towel or rag (preferably one you don’t care about because the wax will transfer from the carpet to the towel) on top of the wax stain.
  • Take a hot iron (high setting), and run it over the towel for about 10–15 seconds.
  • Repeat until all of the wax has pulled away from the carpet and adhered to the rag.

Wow, that was an aggressive amount of information about how to clean your carpet. Now you’ve got no excuses for stains or smells or even clumps of pet hair accumulating on the carpet. Remember: Get a vacuum you love. It’ll make your chores so much easier. And keeping items like baking soda and white vinegar in your pantry will go a long way when it comes to neutralizing scents and removing stains.

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