How to clean a carpet – treat stains at home, with or without carpet cleaner

Learn how to clean a carpet to lift dirt and stains quickly. Treat yours at home with baking soda, carpet shampoo, and more for great results

A modern living room with lilac light purple carpet flooring decor
(Image credit: Carpetright)

Knowing how to clean a carpet properly is essential to keep your home looking swell. From daily dirt to awkward grass, coffee, or wine stains (you know the drill), carpeted floors sure do take a hammering and are therefore a little more high maintenance.

That is not to say that you can't go about cleaning a carpet yourself at home with or without some of the best carpet cleaners. Because you can, and you must, if anything just to see the wonderful effects that baking soda, vinegar, and, of course, some of the best carpet cleaning solutions can have on this soft layer underfoot.

How to clean a carpet

'Cleaning your carpet regularly will help to keep it in a good condition, saving you money in the long run, as well as preventing any smells, and build-ups of allergens or bacteria,' says Punam Chada, carpet buyer, Carpetright.

'Regularly cleaning your carpet helps to keep it in good condition and prolong its life. A home simply cannot look clean if the carpets in it are not actually clean and regularly vacuuming your carpet will remove dirt and dust. You’ll continue to appreciate the look and feel of your carpet and will be happy to show off your home.'

For successful home carpet cleaning, it's important to consider what your carpet is made from synthetic materials, wool, or plant-based fibers, to ensure that you choose the right products and employ the right techniques to get the job done properly.

Below we've covered everything from cleaning carpet stains to carpet shampooing and more to get your carpets looking clean again.

How often should you clean a carpet? 

Cleaning your carpet is a great way to limit dust and other allergens, it can even reduce hay fever symptoms when in season. In a perfect world, you'd be getting your best vacuum cleaner out every day – though this is more crucial for big households with pets and kids in tow. 

According to Ian Allcock, supply chain sustainability manager, ScS, 'Bedroom carpets can be ten times dirtier than a toilet seat, so it’s really important to clean them regularly. At least once a week, give your carpets a good vacuum, and use natural cleaning sprays for a quick refresh. For stains, pre-treat them with a stain-removal solution as soon as possible and let it dry thoroughly before using a carpet cleaner.'

Trust us, you'll add years to the life of your carpet. And cleaning counts as exercise, right? Then in terms of a deep clean, you should wash your carpets every three to four months using a domestic carpet shampoo machine. Again, if you have kids and pets rolling around a lot it may be a good idea to wash your carpet more often than every three months.

Vacuum your carpet wall-to-wall

When using a vacuum cleaner, it's crucial that you choose the right pile height setting for your carpet type. If yours is synthetic or made from plant-based fibers, you can move in different directions and keep the beater brush on to lift more grit off. If your carpet is wool-based or a high-pile, you should avoid the beater brush and move with more care in the direction of the fibers where possible. 

Of course, before you begin cleaning your carpet you want to clear the area as much as possible. Stack chairs upside down on the table, remove rugs (we've got a separate guide on how to clean a rug FYI), and any small objects that are lying around. It's important to ensure that small objects won't be sucked up and damage the vacuum cleaner.

Choose the right carpet cleaning products and method

Dirtbusters Clean & deodorise carpet cleaning product demonstrating how to clean a carpet

(Image credit: Amazon)

To deep clean a carpet you will need a decent carpet cleaning product. You will also want a machine to clean with as these are designed to give a deep clean without soaking or damaging the carpet. Hire a carpet cleaning machine if you don't want to clean yours by hand and if you don’t want to buy your own, you can hire one of the best carpet cleaning machines such as the Rug Doctor from B&Q if you're UK-based. If you're based in the US and want to manage your expectations on how much it costs to rent a carpet cleaner, we've got a whole guide on it.

Then, when selecting your carpet shampoo, again consider what your carpet is made from. If you can, buy a shampoo that includes a carpet protector – for example Scotchgard (available on Amazon)– as this will help protect your carpet from future stains. For wool carpets. choose a cleaning solution that is wool safe.

This way you will know it has been tested and approved for carpet care specifically on wool (all Vax cleaners are wool safe). Just check out our Vax Platinum SmartWash carpet washer review or Vax SpotWash Spot Cleaner CDCW-CSXS review.

If it's a refresh or if you want to clean your carpet by hand, try the vinegar and baking soda methods further down.

How to clean polypropylene carpets

Poly-what you might ask? Also known as Olefin, this is the synthetic material which most carpets are made from – though do check with your retailer to be sure. Here Chada provides a step-by-step guide on how to clean a carpet formed with this fabric. This solution can get rid of stubborn stains like ink, red wine and ground-in mud.

'The only carpet that is safe to use a bleach mix on is a 100% polypropylene carpet,' says Chada.

'Always check with your store if you are not sure of your carpet’s makeup. Bleach will lift color from wool, cord, or any other carpet type so it’s really important to make sure your carpet is definitely made only from polypropylene if you don’t want patches.'

You will need:

How to:

  1. Always wear rubber gloves when working with bleach and a mask to protect your respiratory system from the caustic fumes. If possible open a window.
  2. Use a solution of 50% thin domestic bleach/50% tap water in a spray bottle.
  3. Evenly cover the stain and leave for 30 - 60 minutes.
  4. Rinse thoroughly with water.
  5. Use a brush if needed to remove any stubborn dirt.

Spot treat stains and impressions

You want to start with stains. Whether you're dealing with mud (thanks kids), blood, a coffee stain or red wine on the carpet (oops), if it's wet, blot it carefully with paper towel to remove as much of it as possible, but don't overdo it as this can actually make it spread further. Then use your favorite stain removal method to lift the mark while it's fresh. Act quickly.

If your carpet stain is dry, use a blunt scraper or a hard brush to loosen the debris, vacuum, then treat it and shampoo wash your carpet as above.

Then, try and remove any dents and impressions left on the carpet by heavy furniture by rubbing an ice cube over the area.

More of our favorite carpet stain removal methods include:

  • Go natural: If the stain in question is of organic origin, and especially if it's the result of a pet-related accident, consider using an enzymic stain remover, such as the Rocco & Roxie Stain & Odor Eliminator for Strong Odor, which has over 82,000 good reviews on Amazon. We've used it on all kinds of stains, from food stains to pet pee, and it really works. As with other stain removing products, ideally apply it sooner rather than later.
  • Pre-treat if deep-set: Remove any tough marks and stains you can see with a pre-treatment before you begin deep cleaning your carpet. A treatment such as Bissell Pre-Cleaner (grab a pack of two on Amazon) would be ideal. This will loosen the stain making it easier for your carpet cleaner to fully wash it away. 

Top tip: Test any stain removers on an inconspicuous section of carpet as soon as you buy. This will save you from potentially ruining your carpet in a panic when a stain occurs. 

And, patience is important so leave your stain treatment of choice to work its magic for 15 minutes or so. Be careful not to over-wet the carpet as this could make dye from the underlay seep through.

How to clean a carpet with baking soda

To clean your carpet by hand with baking soda, apply liberally over the carpet and then spritz with a fine layer of water, then leave it for a few hours. Vacuum once dried.

Cleaning with baking soda or even bicarbonate of soda is a great natural deodorizer and is ideal to freshen up a smelly carpet even if you don't want a deep clean. Simply sprinkle it on yours for at least 15 minutes (but preferably an hour) before vacuuming, and that lived-in smell will disappear.

How to clean a carpet with vinegar

Cleaning with vinegar is a great natural way to sanitize a carpet and to lift lingering stains and odors too. Always do a patch test first to check your carpet can take it. Then, make up a solution of one part white vinegar to three parts water.

Use a plant mister (this white bottle by Beautify Beauties on Amazon is cheap) to spray it on to the carpet and leave for a few minutes so it can do its work. Blot with a clean microfiber cloth (Again, we recommend these MR.SIGA ones on Amazon), following the essential rule that you should never, ever scrub at a stain. Vacuum thoroughly. 

How to use a carpet cleaner

  1. Prep the carpet cleaning machine: If you are using a carpet washer for the first time, read the instructions carefully and make sure everything looks like it’s in good working order. Rinse the tanks and check the filter and brush bar are clear. If there are any obvious problems consult the equipment’s manual.
  2. Fill the carpet cleaning tank: To begin, simply fill the water tank on your carpet washer with warm water and your choice of cleaning solution. Do this with the machine unplugged, then plug it back in using a socket as close to the door as possible as this will be your end-point.
  3. Clean the carpet: For successful carpet shampooing, start in the far corner of the room and work your way back to the door. This will prevent any accidental soggy socks! Move backwards and forwards, slowly holding down the trigger to spray the cleaning solution. Release the trigger and pull the washer backwards over the carpet. Continue moving backwards and forwards, repeating up to four times in each area.
  4. Let the carpet dry: To dry your carpet open the windows and ventilate the room with fresh air. If it’s too cold for that put the central heating on and leave for a few hours to speed up the drying process.

Testing carpet cleaners

We tested four approaches to cleaning carpet in a bid to see which is best at tackling red wine and pasta sauce stains. These included:

  • Vax Platinum Power Max Carpet Cleaner
  • Vanish carpet mousse
  • An eco-friendly baking soda solution
  • White wine (well, it is an old wives' tale for removing red wine)

Watch our short video (above) to see which performed best, and for some handy tips on cleaning carpet stains. It's also worth noting that state side, we loved the Folex Instant Carpet Spot Remover, 32oz (available on Amazon).

Steam cleaning a carpet

Get the most out of your best steam cleaner by using it on both your hard floors and soft carpeted surfaces. Here, Chada shares how to use this cleaning appliance to make your carpets look like new.

You will need:

  • Wax paper / aluminum foil / wood blocks (N.B: you might not need these)
  • A dustpan and brush
  • A vacuum cleaner
  • A steam cleaner

How to:

  1. Remove everything from the room, including furniture (if too heavy to move, place squares of wax paper, foil, or wood blocks under the legs to protect from the moisture).
  2. Dust the skirting boards and vacuum the carpet thoroughly.
  3. Follow your steam cleaner’s instructions to prepare for cleaning.
  4. Start in a corner away from the door, so you won’t be walking on damp carpet. Don’t use short, back and forth strokes as you would with a vacuum.
  5. Allow to dry completely before moving any furniture back in.

How to remove pet hair from carpet

A white long-haired domestic cat laying on cream high-pile carpet flooring

(Image credit: Carpetright)

The best vacuums for pet hair do exactly what they say on the tin – suck up fur, fluff and mottled hair. But, if you can't fork out on a specialist machine, they are other methods to cleaning a carpet if you own a furry friend, as Chada explains.

You will need:

  • Lint roller
  • A vacuum cleaner
  • Fabric softener (optional)
  • Water
  • Rubber gloves
  • Window squeegee

How to:

  1. Use a lint roller to remove any surface pet hairs.
  2. Vacuum your carpet to remove as much hair as possible. If you’re not getting much hair up, try spraying the carpet with a mix of fabric softener and water. Let this dry and try vacuuming it again to remove more hair.
  3. Rubber gloves are also great at removing pet hair. Simply put on the gloves and give the carpet a good rub.
  4. A window squeegee can also work wonders at removing pet hairs. Drag the squeegee along the length and breadth of the carpet and the hair will easily be removed.

Grooming gloves (great for pampering your pooch) and pet hair brooms like the FURemover – both of which can be found on Amazon – can also stop shedding fuzz from decorating your carpet.

How to get rid of fleas and other pests

A beagle on a cream carpet looking head-on

(Image credit: Future)

Whether you want to know how to get rid of fleas, or how to get rid of carpet beetles – rest assured that this pesky pest problem is more common than you think. So there's no need to be embarrassed or ashamed.

Typically speaking, pet owners are more likely to have them, and the proximity of the best dog beds to the carpet make for the perfect, warm and humid breeding ground for the critters (gross.)

Thankfully, Chada has some choice methods to chase 'em out of your carpet flooring.

She says: 'To banish fleas from your home, use an anti-flea carpet solution that will not damage your carpet. Spray it in every part of your home and on the carpet, and most importantly in every corner!'

'Treat your furniture too and in any place that you think that the fleas may want to hide, such as pet beds and toys. Do make sure that your pet has been flea-treated first though, as otherwise, the problem will return. If the flea problem in your home persists then seek professional carpet cleaners.'

How to remove wax stains from carpet

The best candles can fill our homes with a gorgeous aroma, and add ambiance to a room in an instant. But that sultry low-lit look can quickly come crashing down when hot wax spills on your carpet, then cools and hardens.

The key to cleaning a carpet which has candle wax on it is to act quickly with ice and your best steam iron.

A modern living room with rust / burnt orange wall paint decor and blue abstract pattern rug decor

(Image credit: Habitat)

You will need:

  • Ice cubes
  • An iron (This Rowenta model has almost 10,000 good reviews on Amazon)
  • A plastic bag (a carrier bag will do)
  • A blunt kitchen knife (a butter knife is best)
  • Clean cloth or brown paper bag

How to:

  1. Fill a plastic bag with ice. Lay this directly onto the stain and let it freeze the wax for a few minutes.
  2. Remove the plastic bag and start to scrape the wax off the carpet using a blunt knife.
  3. Lay a clean cloth or a brown paper bag directly over the affected area of the carpet.
  4. Using a warm iron, slowly press the iron on top of the paper bag or cloth. The material should start to absorb the wax and lift it off the carpet.
  5. Repeat this until the wax disappears.

No iron? We can show you how to get wax out of carpet with your best hair dryer too.

How to remove tea stains from carpet

A traditional tea pot and mugs containing English breakfast tea on wooden table with Berber rug or carpet underneath in living room with tan sofa decor

(Image credit: Future)

You don't have to be a Brit to like a nice cup of tea, but English breakfast tea is up there with one of the best hot beverages (not that we're biased at all!). But the tannin content in tea leaves means that it can tarnish your carpet if not treated.

Here, Chada – quite literally 'spills the tea' on how to clean a carpet if you've dropped this drink on your floor.

You will need:

  • A cotton towel or kitchen towel
  • White vinegar
  • Water
  • White cloth

How to:

  1. Remove any excess by blotting the stain with a paper or cotton towel.
  2. Blot until the liquid no longer transfers onto the cloth.
  3. Pour a small amount of water onto the stained area. Keep on blotting up the liquid.
  4. If the stain still remains, sponge white vinegar diluted 1:1 with water onto the stain. Top tip: Test the vinegar in a hidden spot first, as it can bleach your carpet.
  5. Leave to sit for 5-10 minutes.
  6. Rinse and blot up the liquid with a clean white cloth.

If coffee's more your problem, we've got a whole guide on how to get coffee stains out of carpet and how to get coffee stains out of wood coffee tables too.

How to remove chocolate stains from carpet

Whether you're a big kid or a child, our taste buds are quite literally programmed to love chocolate. 

So if something made with cocoa has fallen on the floor (rather than straight into your mouth), or melted into your carpet – get cleaning that carpet before the choc has time to lock itself in. 

This is a good guide to refer to over the Easter, Halloween and Christmas holidays where candy and confectionery are aplenty.

You will need:

  • A clean cloth
  • Cold water
  • Washing-up liquid (dish soap)
  • Soft brush

How to:

  1. Blot with a clean cloth and cold water.
  2. Remove as much of the stain as possible.
  3. Blot washing up liquid onto the stain with a clean cloth.
  4. Use small, circular motions to remove the stain.
  5. Remove any excess water with a cloth. Brush with a soft brush if needs be. Allow to dry.

How to remove crayon stains from carpet

There's nothing more terrifying than a toddler that's gone quiet. The chances are there's a cloud of baby powder somewhere or your home has been graced with graffiti – the writing is quite literally on the wall.

But what about crayon wax that's been drawn or trodden into the carpet? If your cutie has got to work with the Crayola set, here's what to do:

You will need:

  • White spirit or mineral spirit
  • A clean cloth
  • Kitchen towel / paper towels
  • Water 
  • Soft brush

How to:

  1. Apply white or mineral spirit to a clean cloth and place over the stain.
  2. Leave for two minutes, then blot. Repeat until the stain no longer transfers to the cloth.
  3. Apply a spot of remover to a cloth and blot. Repeat until no more of the stain transfers to the cloth.
  4. Repeat the blotting with clean water to remove any residue.
  5. Dry the area with a white cloth or paper towel.
  6. Groom the cut pile carpet with a soft brush to align the pile. If all else fails, find an approved carpet cleaner.

Cleaning carpets: what not to do

A wine glass containing red wine spilled on light cream carpet floor decor

(Image credit: Future)

Now we've given you plenty of tips on how to clean a carpet, here are a few things you should avoid doing:

  • Never use neat vinegar on carpet stains: Never pour neat white vinegar directly on to a stain as it will just soak in, spread the stain and could damage the fibers.
  • Don't use hairspray to treat ink stains: There are loads of so-called cleaning hacks that claim a spritz of hairspray will get rid of pen or ink stains, but it really won't. In fact, it can damage the carpet fibers and attract dirt.
  • Don't use bleach on natural carpets: Never, ever use bleach on a wool carpet or you'll end up with pale blotches. If you're not sure what your carpet is made of, make a bleach-water solution and do a tiny patch test in a corner using an old toothbrush.
  • Don't use white wine to treat a red wine stain: yep, that one's a myth. Try cleaning with shaving cream instead.
  • Don't use hot or cold water on carpet stains: Grabbing a wet cloth might seem like an obvious choice, but it can actually do more harm than good. Hot water especially can cause the stain to spread and seep deeper into the carpet pile.
  • Don't rub too much: Too much harsh rubbing can actually hack at the fibers so don't go overboard. 
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How often should I deep clean my carpet?

'Carpet adds texture, color, and warmth to a home, but daily use can cause stains, as well as trap dust and allergens.' says Fishburne.

'While regular vacuuming is the first step in cleaning carpets, an annual deep clean is recommended to help extend the life of your carpet and keep your home looking clean.'

Christina Chrysostomou
Former acting head ecommerce editor

Hi, I'm the former acting head ecommerce editor at Real Homes. Prior to working for the Future plc family, I've worked on a number of consumer events including the Ideal Home Show, Grand Designs Live, and Good Homes Magazine. With a first class degree from Keele University, and a plethora of experience in digital marketing, editorial, and social media, I have an eye for what should be in your shopping basket and have gone through the internal customer advisor accreditation process.