Strategy #1: Banish dirt
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Set the vacuum at the right height
If your vacuum is set too low, you can damage the carpet as well as the vacuum's
roller brush and drive belt. If it's set too high, you won't pick up any dirt. To set the
vacuum's ideal height, raise it to its highest setting, turn it on and lower it until you
can feel the vacuum trying to tug itself forward.
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Use mats inside and outside
Use water absorbent mats indoors to wick off moisture before the carpet does.
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Leave dirt outside
Thick, coarse mats outside entry doors scrub dirt off shoes before it can get into the carpet. Replace the mats when they start to look worn and flat.
Dirt is like thousands of little blades
that cut carpet fibers. When you
walk across a dirty carpet, you grind
sharp dirt particles against the yarn,
making tiny nicks in the fibers. All
that fuzz mixed in with the dirt in
your vacuum cleaner bags is your
beautiful carpet headed out the door
one bag at a time. When dirt scratches
the fibers, it dulls the sheen,
which is why high-traffic areas
appear duller than the rest of the carpet.
Over time, grinding dirt wears
away the fibers too, which mats
them down and makes them stain
more easily. Follow these tips to
keep your carpet as dirt-free as
To protect your carpet, vacuum
entrance areas and high-traffic areas
twice a week and the rest of the carpeting
at least weekly. Oily soils
attract oily soils, and frequent vacuuming
will reduce soil buildup.
Start with a clean bag or filter
A dirty bag, dirt cup or filter can cut
a vacuum’s suction power in half.
The main reason bagless vacuums
stop working is that the filters aren’t
changed often enough. Replace or
wash (if possible) the filters on bagless
vacuums every three months.
Replace vacuum bags when they’re
Vacuum at the right speed
Vacuum slowly enough to get out as
much dirt as possible. Make one quick pass over low-traffic areas and
two slow passes over high-traffic
areas. Two slow passes removes
ground-in dirt more effectively than
several fast passes.
Use walk-off mats
Use walk-off mats inside and out to
keep dirt off the carpeting. Coarse-textured
mats outside your doors remove
soil. Water-absorbent mats inside prevent
wet shoes on the carpeting.
Strategy #2: Use a pro wisely
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Four ways to recognize quality pros: 1. Truck mounted equipment
Truck-mounted equipment is a better choice than portable steam cleaning equipment
because it exhausts the dirty air and humidity outside. Its stronger suction
leaves carpets drier, too.
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2. Everything's included
Quality pros include furniture moving,
vacuuming (some charge extra for
this, so check), routine spot removal,
preconditioning and deodorizing as part
of a standard cleaning package.
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3. High-pressure rinse
To agitate the pile and neutralize
the carpet's pH, pros force a hot, high-pressure
rinse solution into the carpet
and then extract it.
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4. Furniture protection
After cleaning, quality pros set furniture
on blocks or pads to prevent stains
from transferring from furniture legs to
the damp carpet.
Most carpet manufacturers recommend
professional hot water extraction
as the primary cleaning method
for synthetic carpets. Although it’s
often referred to as “steam” cleaning,
there’s no steam involved. The carpet
is pretreated with a detergent solution,
and then a very hot rinse solution
under high pressure is forced
into your carpet and vacuumed out. When done correctly, this
process cleans deep and doesn’t
leave behind a soap residue. Quality
pros charge $300 to $500 to deep
clean 1,000 sq. ft. of carpet. At that
price, you might be tempted to skip
professional cleanings altogether and
just rent a machine to clean the carpet
yourself. Don’t. Or at least don’t
do only that. A rented or purchased
carpet-cleaning machine will remove
the surface dirt. But deep cleaning to
remove allergens, dust and greasy
residues requires the specialized
equipment and training of a pro. The
best strategy is to use our DIY cleaning
tips most of the time
and hire a professional every 12 to 18
Don’t take bids over the phone
Quality pros will provide references,
an in-home inspection and a written
estimate based on the square footage,
type and condition of the carpeting
rather than the number of rooms
cleaned, and a written guarantee of
Beware of “discount” carpet cleaners
Discount pros depend on making
volume sales rather than establishing
ongoing client relationships.
They typically spray soap on your
carpet, suck up the water and are
gone in 30 minutes. These services
leave behind a soap residue that will
actually attract dirt to your carpet.
Those “three rooms for 50 bucks”
offers also get them into your house
so they can sell you high-priced add-ons
like spot removal and deodorizers—services that quality pros
include for free.
You get what you pay for
Quality pros charge according to the
type of carpeting, the services you
need and the size of the job. The
entire process can take one to three
Strategy #3: DIY right
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Use DIY machines carefully
Hurrying through a cleaning will
leave soap residue, a soaked carpet
and a pad that can mold or
mildew. Larger rental machines
require you to pull them across
the floor rather than push.
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Use less soap than directed
The soap used in DIY machines foams a lot
and leaves behind a lot of residue, which
acts as a dirt magnet. Despite what the
directions say, use a tablespoon or less
of soap to 1 gallon of hot water to prevent
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Use a mild acid rinse to neutralize soap residue
DIY machines are often sold with a
neutralizing rinse, or you can make your
own using 1 cup white vinegar to 1 gallon
hot water. Rinse after you make one
pass with the detergent solution.
Carpet pros do a more thorough job
than you can, but hiring a pro is
expensive. So the next-best approach
is to alternate between DIY and pro
cleanings. DIY “steam”-cleaning
machines can be effective if you
understand how to use them and
take the time to clean your carpet
You can rent a steam cleaner from
a grocery store or home center. If you pick the
machine up late in the day, many
stores will charge you a half-day
rate and let you keep the machine
until the next morning. The detergent
cost is additional.
Typically you should use a tablespoon
or less per gallon of water.
If you prefer to buy a steam-cleaning
machine, plan to spend $60 to
$300 or more. The pricier models
have more powerful water jets and
suction, and some even have a heating
element to keep the water hot.
The reviews on these machines are
mixed, and some are prone to breakdowns.
Do some online research
(type “carpet cleaning machines”
into your browser) before you buy.
Most rental machines weigh
more, hold more water and come
with a wider wand than purchased
models, making them useful for
larger, high-traffic areas. Purchased
models are usually smaller, more
portable and easier to store. They’re
good for spot cleaning and are easier
to drag up and down stairs.
Whether you rent or buy, avoid
damaging your carpets and make
your cleaning last longer by following
Clean the carpet before it becomes really dirty
How often your carpet needs cleaning
depends on the kind of carpet traffic you have (think kids and
pets). Clean the carpet when the
color starts looking dull. If you wait
until the carpet is filthy, cleaning it
will be much more difficult, take
much longer and cost more.
Vacuum well before and after cleaning
Vacuum beforehand to remove large
particles of soil. Vacuum again after
you clean and the carpet is completely
dry to pick up soil that wicks
to the surface during drying.
Pretreat stains and high-traffic areas
Mix a drop of detergent with hot
water in a spray bottle and lightly
mist the dirtiest areas. Let sit 5 to 10
minutes before starting the general
Remove or elevate furniture
If your furniture is too heavy to
move, put aluminum foil squares,
wood blocks or plastic film under
and around the legs of all furniture
to prevent rust from metal casters or
stains from paint and finishes from
transferring to damp carpet.
Don’t overwet the carpet
DIY machines put a lot of moisture
into the carpet, and most don’t have
strong enough suction to extract it
thoroughly. Make only one pass with
the soap and water solution. Make
one pass with the neutralizing rinse
solution. Then make two or three
drying passes with the water off.
Let it dry thoroughly
Wet carpet is a perfect environment
for mold and mildew. After you
clean your carpets, open the windows,
use fans and a dehumidifier,
or put the AC on a moderate setting
(72 to 78 degrees) to remove excess
moisture from the air. Don’t replace
the furniture or walk on the carpet
until it’s completely dry. This can
take up to 12 hours, though six to eight hours is typical.
Strategy #4: Clean stains right—right away
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Don't dig or scoop food spills
Digging or scooping can work the
stain into the carpet. If there are
solids on top of the stain, use a
spoon or dull knife to carefully
scrape the food toward the middle
of the spill and into a white towel
and then treat the stain.
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Use a shop vacuum on wet spills
Keep vacuuming until no more
liquid can be removed. If the spill
was a colored liquid, treat it as you
would a stain, after vacuuming.
If you get to a stain immediately, there’s
a 99 percent chance you can remove it.
The longer a stain reacts chemically with
the carpeting, the harder it is to remove.
Try water first
Eighty percent of stains can be removed
using plain tap water. To remove a stain,
press a clean, dry, white cloth over the
stain to absorb the spill. Repeat until the
spill is absorbed. Then gently work water
into the stain with a damp white towel
and blot until the stain is gone. Change
cloths when necessary. For a particularly
stubborn spot, go to the online “spot
solver” resource at The Carpet and Rug Institute (the carpet manufacturers’ trade organization) to find
your stain and a suggested solution. Use
a fan to dry the area if it’s very wet.
Blot—don’t rub or scrub
Scrubbing a stain will damage the fibers
and create a fuzzy area. Always blot
from the outer edge toward the center
of the stain to avoid spreading the spot
and creating a larger problem.
Work water gently into the spill and then
blot with a dry cloth. Repeat until the
stain is gone and all the water has been
absorbed. If you’re patient, you’ll almost
always be able to remove the stain.
On tough spots, try vinegar or club soda
If water alone doesn’t remove a stain, try
a white vinegar and water solution (equal
amounts) or club soda before trying
stronger commercial cleaning products.
Test commercial products first
Some products can cause carpet to get
dirty faster or damage the carpet’s color
and texture. For a list of carpet manufacturer-
approved spot and stain cleaners,
go online to The Carpet and Rug Institute. Test
carpet-cleaning products on an inconspicuous
area before using.