Carpet Cleaning and Care

A wine glass knocked over on a carpet with spilled red wine.

Regular thorough vacuuming removes soil from among fibers of carpets, thus keeping their good appearance and extending their life. Most carpeted areas need this vacuuming once a week, with several slow strokes. Little-used areas need may not need as frequent vacuuming, while areas with lots of active or messy use may need quick daily vacuuming.

Surface Soils

Dry soil from shoes, crumbs, etc. may stay on the surface of the carpet a short time before working its way down into the carpet. This, along with litter such as paper, threads, etc. can be removed with a vacuum, light-weight stick vacuum (or "electric broom"), or even a carpet sweeper, if used promptly. These methods will also remove dust from the carpet surface. Pet hairs should be removed promptly, as the oil in them makes them cling to carpet, and work its way down into the pile.

Deep Soil

Gritty soil tracked on carpet by shoes, wet or dry, will sink down in between fibers of carpet. Gritty soil has very sharp edges capable of cutting carpet yarn fibers. Vacuuming is the best means of removing the grit from deep in between the carpet fibers. Moving the vacuum over the carpet seven times - forward and back, forward and back, forward and back, forward on the next section - should remove deep seated grit.

Upright vacuum cleaners generally do the best job of removing deep-seated gritty soil from carpets. Next are combination canisters with power-driven rug nozzle. Steps can be vacuumed with the upholstery nozzle or brush attachment.

Room-sized oriental rugs are best cleaned with an agitator type cleaner. When approaching a fringed edge with an upright cleaner, lift up the cleaner nozzle by pushing down on the handle. This will allow cleaning to the fringe, but will raise the nozzle and avoid catching the fringe. When using a canister with a power nozzle, stop before reaching the fringed edge. Fringe may be cleaned with low suction, using the upholstery tool or floor brush.

Pile fabrics tend to stain more readily due to long yarns. They may be cleaned satisfactorily at home with dry powder cleaners, but test first. Wet cleaning of velvets, etc. should be done professionally. If protected with stain resistant finish, blot quickly and gently with lint free cloth. If stain remains, spot clean, wiping the stain in the direction of the pile. Brush lightly during drying to prevent matting. If unprotected, pretest in an inconspicuous area for discoloration or pile distortion. If color proves fast, sponge lightly with appropriate cleaning agent.

Carpet Cleaning

Eventually carpets need some type of cleaning to remove soil that sticks to the fibers. How often depends on amount of use and soil carpet gets; some areas will need cleaning before other.

Basic methods are: dry absorbent powder, foam, shampooing, and hot water extraction (sometimes called steam cleaning or extraction). Each method has advantages and disadvantages. Costs in dollars, time, and energy vary, as do skill needed to do a good job. Always vacuum thoroughly before starting cleaning method. Here are some general precautions for all methods:

  • Pretest before using.
  • Protect the carpet from rust stains by putting aluminum foil, wax paper, or plastic wrap under furniture legs, until carpet is dry.
  • Follow the cleaner and equipment instructions as directed.
  • Do not over wet the carpet. Excess moisture can cause shrinkage, streaks, or mildew.
  • Keep mechanical action to a minimum to avoid carpet damage or streaks.

Dry Powder

In the dry powder method, absorbent granules containing dry cleaning solvent are sprinkled over a section of carpet and worked into the pile by mechanical or hand brush. The dry cleaning solvent dissolves oils and greasy soil. These are then absorbed by the granules. When thoroughly dry, the carpet is vacuumed. A powerful vacuum is essential for total removal of cleaning granules.

Advantages Disadvantages
  • short drying time
  • good for delicate and non-colorfast carpets
  • relatively inexpensive
  • effective for spot cleaning
  • less effective on heavy soil or water-base soil
  • complete granule removal may be a problem
  • dry cleaning solvent can evaporate in storage
  • not recommended
    for shag carpet

Professional Carpet Cleaning

Have your carpet professionally cleaned periodically, every third or fourth time, if this service is available in your area. Or you may find it more convenient to have it done professionally each time special cleaning is needed, rather than doing it yourself.

Professional cleaners use similar methods to home cleaning, but they should have the knowledge, equipment and experience necessary to do a more thorough job of removing embedded soil. Room size rugs and some wall-to-wall carpets can be sent to the rug cleaning plant.

Professional cleaners can also handle spot removal, re-dyeing, rebinding and repairs. Always alert the cleaner to the location and cause, if known, of spots and stains that require attention.

When selecting a cleaning service, the main factor to consider is the operator's skill and ability. Ask reputable carpet dealers in your area whom they recommend. Satisfied customers may also suggest a cleaner to contact. Rug cleaners of long standing reputation can usually be relied upon to provide satisfactory service. They cannot provide guarantees, however, because of the range of quality and wear they face in the carpets and rugs they clean.

Professional cleaners offering truck-mounted hot water extraction, will have more power to remove soil and water than in a smaller, self contained unit (like the ones you rent). Another professional method using carbonic foams the carpet with the same bubbles as club soda, and less water. This method often leaves less moisture.

This carpet cleaning and care guide will have yours looking newer longer. Happy cleaning!

This article has been contributed in part by Michigan State University Extension