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

Dirtbusters Clean & deodorise carpet cleaning product
(Image credit: Amazon)

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 clean a carpet yourself at home. Because you can, and you must, if anything just to see the wonderful effects that baking soda, vinegar and, of course, a good old fashioned carpet cleaner can have on this soft layer underfoot. 

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 the vacuum out every day – though this is more crucial for big households with pets and kids in tow. 

According to 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.

How to clean a carpet at home

For successful home carpet cleaning, it's important to consider what your carpet is made from: synthetic materials, wool or plant-based fibres, 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.

Vacuum your carpet wall-to-wall

It's crucial that you choose the right pile height setting for your carpet type. If yours is synthetic or made from plant-based fibres, 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 fibres 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 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

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 a machine such as the Rug Doctor from B&Q if you're UK-based.

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 – 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).

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

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 (oops), if it's wet, blot it carefully with kitchen roll 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:

  • Ironing: Iron out stains in the carpet by soaking a cloth or flannel in water, placing on the stain and running a hot iron across it. The heat will start to break up the stains, making the carpet easier to clean. This is a great way to remove spilt wax too.
  • Go organic: If the stain in question is of organic origin, and especially if it's the result of a pet-related accident, consider using an organic stain remover, such as the Ecos Stain & Odour Remover. We've used it on all kinds of stains, from food stains to pet urine, and it really works. As with other stain removing products, ideally apply 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 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.

Baking 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. Simple 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

You can use vinegar 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 to spray it on to the carpet and leave for a few minutes so it can do its work. Blot with a clean microfibre cloth, following the essential rule that you should never, ever scrub at a stain. Vacuum thoroughly. 

how to clean carpets: carpet cleaning machine

(Image credit: Getty)

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.

Cleaning carpets: what not to do

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 fibres.
  • 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 fibres 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. 
  • 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 fibres so don't go overboard. 
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