How to clean a carpet in seven steps - with or without a machine

Wondering how to clean a carpet at home, and if it's actually possible without a machine? We spoke to several cleaning experts and here's what they had to say...

person demonstrating how to clean a carpet on a grey carpet
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Knowing how to clean a carpet is essential if you favor carpets or rugs over hard flooring. The feel and aesthetic of a beautiful soft-pile carpet is unrivaled, but they do require more maintenance than other flooring types.

Carpet cleaning is a chore that almost everyone dreads. Try as you might, spills happen and high traffic areas eventually show evidence of the many footfalls they endure. While no one may ever say that cleaning a carpet is fun, there are ways to get it done effectively without too much back-breaking work.

Much like knowing how to clean an upholstered chair or how to clean a mattress, your approach will differ depending on how old your carpet is, the material it’s made of, and what sort of stain you’re treating. For stubborn stains like red wine or coffee, consult our dedicated guide on how to get stains out of carpet or how to clean blood out of a carpet.

How to deep clean a carpet in 7 steps

Giving your carpet a deep clean is a satisfying chore, as you're left with a fluffy, unblemished carpet at the end of it that will make your living room feel all the more luxurious (not to mention more hygienic!). To achieve the best result, preparation is key.

If you're tackling the entirety of your house with some kitchen cleaning and bathroom cleaning too, you might want to take a look at our guides on how to clean tile floors and how to clean vinyl floors.

1. Remove all furniture

“Before you start you will need to move out as much of the furniture as you can, this will then allow you to clean as much of the carpet as possible,” advises cleaning expert, TV star and Queen of Clean, Lynsey Crombie

For the best results, remove all your furniture from the room before starting. This gives you free access to all areas of the carpet and lets you see the dirty areas under the furniture. Be warned, you may be upset when you see just how dirty your carpet has become - but that’s exactly why you’re cleaning it. If you’re guilty of (quite literally) sweeping things under the rug, this is also a good chance to declutter your home.

2. Vacuum the carpet

person vacuuming, the second step to take to clean a carpet

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Next, give the carpet a thorough vacuuming. “One of the best ways to keep your carpets and rugs in tip-top condition is to make sure you vacuum them regularly in a criss-cross pattern,” explains Darren Manning-Coe, Owner of carpet and upholstery cleaning company, Denny & Coe. “The criss-cross pattern manipulates the carpet fibers to ensure that any dirt or dust that’s settled in between can be picked up by your hoover.”

When vacuuming, use the highest suction and lowest height setting possible. Do it slowly so that the vacuum's brushes really have a chance to break up any areas that have become flattened. Investing in one of the best vacuums and using it regularly will mean you can avoid dirt and grime accumulating over time.

Don’t neglect the corners either, advises Lynsey. “Use the nozzle on your vacuum to go against the skirting boards,” she says. “The vacuum doesn’t always go in tight against the wall and a dark line of dust can be left."

3. Check for any furniture indents

With your furniture moved out of the way, it’s now time to smooth over the indents that heavier pieces create on your carpet. For a deep clean, you want the surface to be as smooth as possible as these indentations and grooves can mask all sorts of marks and stains. Luckily, they are generally fairly easy to remedy.

“If you have dents from furniture, pop ice cubes in these spaces and then leave them to naturally melt in,” says Lynsey. “Once melted in rub your hand over the area and the carpet will bounce back to life and the dents will be gone.”

4. Read any care instructions

Does your carpet still have a tag? Do you have the original cleaning instructions for it, or can you look them up online? Ideally, you should check the cleaning instructions before moving forward. Those instructions will also let you know of any cleaning agents that you shouldn't apply to your carpet, preventing you from inadvertently causing damage. 

5. Remove stains

Person spot-cleaning a stain on their carpet, the fifth step of how to clean a carpet

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For stains or heavily trafficked areas, you will want to pre-treat the carpet. Much like soaking dishes makes them easier to clean, pre-treating spots or ground-in dirt will give you a better chance of removing the dirt and grime completely.

“If you spot stains, you need to pre-treat these first, says Lynsey. "When it comes to cleaning old stains on the carpet, it is important you use a specialized carpet cleaning shampoo or solution. If you are using a carpet cleaning machine, the solution for the machine will also act as a great spot cleaner if you don’t have a carpet cleaner. 

"Always use cold water on the carpet as hot water can shrink them and apply the solution directly into the stain. Leave a while and then blot dry using a white cloth.” A clean microfiber cloth works well for this purpose as it's very absorbant.

natural ingredients that can be used to clean a carpet

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In general, if you do spill anything on your carpet or spot stains, it’s better to treat them right away as it’s easier to lift fresh stains. You can often treat these without specialized products.

“Our top tip is to keep a bottle of soda water on hand to soak the stain. The tiny bubbles lift out most stains if they're caught quickly enough,” advises Ed Willes, founder of natural cleaning product company ALLAVARE. “Cover the stain and blot with a kitchen roll or an old towel. Repeat until the stain is removed.”

Darren also sings the praises of household materials for this purpose. “As soon as an accidental stain occurs, most people have a tendency to rush straight to the cleaning cupboard in search of a product to lift it. In fact, if you act quickly enough, most stains can be removed using just clean water and a towel,” he tells us. “When cleaning a stain, always work from the outside in, and be careful to blot and not rub the area as this can cause discoloration.

“There are a few household items that are actually great for removing the odd accidental stain from your carpets," says Darren. "Traditional shaving foam (make sure it’s a foam and not a gel) will lift grease from a carpet – simply apply to the stain, leave for around 30 minutes, then blot dry. Similarly, baking soda can be used to clean up pet accidents. Always remember when applying anything to your carpets to test in an inconspicuous area first."

Baking soda is a handy piece of cleaning arsenal to have in your cupboards as it can also be used to clean marble and is a key ingredient if you're wondering how to clean a shower, kitchen tiles or even stained coffee cups.

6. Use a carpet cleaning machine

Now you have a choice to make. Sometimes, vacuuming and spot cleaning your carpet is all it needs to look fresh again. However, if it needs a little more TLC, our experts unanimously advise you to turn to a specialist product or service. 

“While there are some good appliances and cleaning products on the market that you can use at home, I would always recommend that for a thorough, deep clean of your carpets, bring in the professionals," Darren advises. 

"A professional carpet cleaning machine is a lot more powerful than domestic cleaners and will clean much deeper into the fibers removing all of the dirt that you can’t see with the naked eye."

You can rent a machine from supermarkets, DIY shops, specialist cleaning services or even some dry cleaners. If you take this route, always ensure you read and fully understand the instructions before you start. These will normally be very comprehensive and guide you through the process. When you're ready to get started, Lynsey advises to "start in one corner of the room and then move across in straight lines. For stains, go back and over again for a more thorough clean." 

Or, use a domestic steam cleaner

If you don’t have a carpet cleaning machine and are in possession of one of the best steam cleaners, you can use this to clean your carpet. 

A home steam cleaner could be the best option if you have children or pets and find you need to rent a professional cleaner several times a year. Not only will this save you money in the long run, but it is also available whenever you need it for a quick spruce-up or spill removal. 

"Most steam cleaners you can buy come with a carpet glide that sits over the base," advises Lynsey. "The steam will break odors, lift out stains, and refresh the carpet pile.  When using your steam cleaning do not put any solution in the machine, all you need is the power of steam."

Much like the best cordless vacuums, steam cleaners come with an array of attachments: for carpet cleaning, you'll need a machine with a nozzle, brush, and tube. As ever, check the manufacturer's instructions first. Some steam cleaners can exclusively be used on hardwood floors.

Whether you opt for a domestic or professional machine, use smooth even movements while wetting the carpet and avoid lingering over any one area for too long. Otherwise, the carpet can become heavily saturated and it can become difficult to remove the liquid. When it comes time for suctioning, go slowly. Go over each area until no more liquid is being sucked up. 

7. Allow the carpet time to dry

woman opening a window to allow the carpet to dry after cleaning

(Image credit: Getty)

"Once complete, open the window and allow your carpets to air dry and close the room off for a few hours to save anyone going in," advises Lynsey. If you have air conditioning, you can also utilize that if you can't board the room off for a few hours.

How to clean a carpet using cleaning powder

If your carpet only needs a quick refresh, you can use cleaning powder and a high-powered vacuum. Although this can be done with a suction-only vacuum, you will get much better results if you use one that has brushes. The best Dyson vacuum cleaners and the best Shark vacuum cleaners nearly all come with appropriate brushes. 

Powdered carpet cleaners can be found in many department and grocery stores but for heavily soiled carpets, you may want to order a professional strength version online. These powders work by acting like glue to attract and bind to the usual types of dirt and grime found in carpets. Once the dirt has bonded to the powder, it is no longer stuck to your carpet fibers and so can be vacuumed away.  

All you have to do is sprinkle the powders liberally on your carpet, putting more down on heavily trafficked or stained areas. You may want to use a soft scrub brush to rub the powder well into the carpet fibers in particularly dirty areas. Now you just let the powder sit on the carpet for the amount of time designated on the instructions. Once the time has passed, just vacuum thoroughly for a clean, dry carpet. 

This technique is good for quick touch-ups and leaves behind a fresh scent, but it doesn't replace the need to deep clean your carpet periodically.

How to clean a carpet using vinegar and water

As stated before, there are a range of fantastic made-for-purpose products if you need to spot clean your carpet or give it a gentle clean, like Ecozone's carpet shampoo solution or Vanish's gold carpet care foam. These generally work on the same principle as cleaning powder: apply, massage in, blot, then vacuum. However, you can also make an easy DIY cleaning solution using vinegar and water to spot clean stains. This method is effective for stains and low-traffic areas, but if you want to clean an entire room, it's advised you use another solution.

  • Create a solution—one part vinegar and two parts water. 
  • Add the solution to a spray bottle and spritz the stain—you may want to test this water and vinegar mixture on a discreet corner of the carpet or rug before you really go to town. With some delicate fibers, this solution can cause discoloration. 
  • If your test area turns out ok—continue spraying on all stained areas. 
  • Next, blot out the area—using a clean towel until the stain has lifted. 
  • Lastly, apply fresh water—and blot up to remove any remaining vinegar. 

Don't like the idea of your carpets smelling like vinegar? While the scent will fade quickly on its own, a few drops of essential oil added to the solution can help your carpets smell even better. 

How often should I deep clean my carpet?

You should plan to deep clean your carpet every 12-18 months to keep it looking its best. Of course, if your carpet is subject to particularly heavy use or frequent stains, you may want to consider deep cleaning it more often to help maintain its longevity. 

"A professional clean once every one to two years is the best way to keep your carpets and rugs in a good condition and make them last longer too," confirms Darren.

Clean carpets look better, feel better underfoot, and are likely to last longer, making deep cleaning a valuable investment of time and effort. Even better, it can help reduce common allergens in your carpet, improve indoor air quality, and even help combat the spread of bacteria throughout your home. 

Anna Paul
Freelance writer

Anna is an editor and journalist, specializing in SEO and digital content production. First carving her career in communications and advertising agencies in Berlin and Barcelona, Anna's former life saw her work for film studios and inside a fashion house, before she moved to where her career highlights include heading up the SEO desk during the Covid-19 pandemic. Anna's published work ranges from culture and films to human interest features and live news coverage.

In her spare time, she enjoys watching movies, discovering the next big thing in music, traveling, online shopping, and poring over poetry and magazines. When she's not consuming those things, she's probably writing about them.  Originally from Glasgow, Anna has lived in Berlin, Barcelona, and London, not to mention stints in Guernsey and Athens. When she's not struggling to navigate a new language, she's always chasing the next hot trend and perfect black dress (you can never have too many). 

With contributions from