Having carpets and rugs periodically cleaned makes them last longer and
look better, and improves your homes air quality.
The company you choose to do the job impacts how well the job gets done:
how good your carpets and rugs look afterward, and how long they stay looking
good, whether difficult stains are removed, and whether the cleaning methods
and products they used attract dirt rather than remove it. With the least
competent companies you risk permanent damage from overwetting, improper
or poorly mixed chemicals, improper brushing, and other shoddy practices.
Ask for a written workmanship guarantee that the company will at least
redo the job if you find it unsatisfactory. Discuss in advance whether
there are some stains or other problems that it cant guarantee it can
Compare prices. Rug cleaners will quote prices for most jobs over the phone,
but if your carpets or rugs are especially dirty or unusual in some other
way, that may not be possible. If you cant get over-the-phone quotes,
ask companies to come to your home to provide estimates. Our In-Home Cleaning Prices table and our In-Plant Cleaning Prices tables include information
to help you make at least a rough calculation of how each company stacks
up for most types of jobs.
For in-home carpet cleaning, be wary of prices quoted by room or area,
as opposed to by square foot. Companies may envision more rooms in your
house than you dotwo separate rooms in what you consider one L-shaped
room, for example.
Dont overpay for add-ons such as soil retardants and deodorizers. With
some companies they can dramatically increase the price but cost little
or nothing with others. What is actually done and how effective it is also
varies from company to company.
Results will also be affected by how you deal with a companyincluding
preparing the rooms in advance for in-home cleaning, communicating exactly
what you want done, pointing out stains and problems with past cleanings,
checking the work carefully before paying, and promptly reporting to the
company any problems you find.
Martha Stewart recommends a no-shoes policy to help keep carpets and
rugs looking new. For those who can manage that, congratulations. For the
rest of us, kids, pets, parties, and everyday accidents still take an inevitable
toll on our carpets and rugs. Even if youve managed to keep your carpet
and rugs relatively stain-free, youll need to have them cleaned periodically.
The most stringent neat-freak policies cant prevent airborne dirt and
dust, oily cooking residue, and all manner of outdoor grunge from penetrating
your carpet and rugs.
There are reasons other than for the sake of cleanliness alone to keep
your carpets and rugs clean. Clean carpets and rugs last longer and look
better, and cleaning them improves your homes air quality.
Manufacturers have made progress in reducing the need for cleaning. Advanced-generation
nylon fibers, for example, are soil-hiding the dirt is still there,
but you dont see it as much because the fibers are shaped to diffuse light
differently. Also, most manufacturers now treat carpeting with soil and
stain protectants. But theres no such thing as magic wall-to-wall carpets
or rugs, and youll still need to have yours professionally cleaned from
time to time.
Our Ratings Tables reveal how area consumers have rated local carpet
and rug cleaners. For some of these, the use of the word professional
is something of a stretch. But for others, it is a perfect fit: They consistently
perform top-quality work.
This article will tell youfor both in-home cleaning of wall-to-wall carpet
and in-plant cleaning of rugsabout the different cleaning processes, the
advantages and disadvantages of hiring a professional rather than doing
it yourself, how to choose a competent company, how to work with the company
to make your job more successful, what work you can do yourself (and how
to do it), and what problems just cant be fixed.
Much can go wrong during a carpet-cleaning job:
Overwetting. The biggest danger is that the carpet will get too wet. Overwetting
occurs in various ways: use of poorly adjusted hot-water-extraction equipment,
which pulls water out at too low a pressure (see description of cleaning
methods and equipment below); passing over areas too many times with hot-water-extraction
equipment or shampoo; applying excessive shampoo; and spilling.
If moisture reaches a carpets backing, any of a number of problems can
result. There may be a separation of the secondary backing. If the backing
is jutecommon in older carpetsthe moisture may cause fibers in the backing
to shrink and tear seams, dissolving the cellulose in the backing and wicking
it to the surface to produce brown stains. The dye in an overwet carpet
may bleed. Mildew may develop if a carpet remains wet for several days.
And wood floors beneath carpet may suffer warpage or other damage.
Brushing improperly. The brushing that occurs during some cleaning processesespecially
the shampoo and bonnet methodsmay sometimes distort carpet yarns so that
different sections of pile lie in different directions. This can create
the appearance of shadows, or even of soiling, that may be impossible to
correct. The trick is to avoid over-brushing or to use a soft brush if
a stiff one appears to be causing excessive pile distortion.
Using too alkaline a solution. While carpets are cleaned most easily with
highly alkaline detergent solutions, these solutions can cause the colors
in some carpets to bleed and can cause browning. One professional carpet
cleaner art is mixing or selecting cleaning solutions to fit the carpetsometimes
even using an acidic solution where there is a substantial danger of bleeding
or a strong alkaline residue from previous cleanings. Many of the newer
stain-resistant carpets specify that the warranty will be voided if the
carpet is cleaned using a solution that is too alkaline or that contains
Using the wrong dilution ratio or chemicals that leave sticky residues.
Using chemicals that contain substances that may cause allergic reactions
or may be toxic.
Causing dyes to run by using inappropriate cleaning agents or solvents.
Allowing rust or wood stains to get on wet carpet by replacing furniture
without putting down leg covers or other protection.
In addition to staying alert for mishaps, pay close attention to cost.
Some carpet cleaners will push services you dont need, and prices for
the same service can vary from company to company by more than 100 percent.
Comparison shopping can be difficult because companies that charge low
prices for one service or type of carpet may charge high prices for others,
and add-ons (such as carpet protectors and deodorizer) can inflate a seemingly
low price into a high one. Also, services that go by the same name at different
companiesfor example, deodorizing or sanitizingmay actually be different
services. And be wary of companies that use fliers and other advertising
techniques that use extremely low per-room prices as bait and then switch
customers to higher priced treatments.
Checking What Their Customers Say
Start by looking at the customer ratings reported on our Ratings Tables.
To collect them, we asked area consumers (primarily CHECKBOOK and Consumer
Reports subscribers) to rate carpet and rug cleaning companies they had
used. Our survey asked respondents to rate companies inferior, adequate,
or superior for doing work properly, starting and completing work
promptly, neatness, advice on service options and costs, and overall
performance. Our Ratings Tables show, for companies that received
at least 10 ratings on our survey, the percent of each companys surveyed
customers who rated it superior (as opposed to inferior or adequate)
on each question. (For more information on our customer survey and other
research methods, click here.)
The highest rated companies were more than twice as likely as the lowest
rated companies to get superior ratings on our survey questions on doing
work properly, neatness, and overall performance.
Checking Complaint Records
In addition to ratings from customers, for firms that were evaluated in
our last full, published article, our Ratings Tables show counts of
complaints we gathered from local Better Business Bureaus (BBB) for a recent
three-year period, and complaint rates relative to the volume of work companies
do. For more information on reported complaint counts and rates, click
Checking the Guarantee You Get
Most carpet-cleaning services guarantee workmanship in writing, but what
they promise varies. Even without a written guarantee, most will redo a
job at least once if the customer complains that it is unsatisfactory.
Some companies require you to report a problem within a few days, since
they feel any problem that does not show up in that time is probably new.
But others will let you wait a month or morewhich lets you make sure the
problem will not just go away.
Give companies credit if they talk candidly about the limitations of what
they can do before they begin work. Some types of stainsfor example, urine,
coffee, tea, mustard, and mildeware extremely difficult or even impossible
to remove once they have set, and companies may not know whether they can
remove them until they try.
Some companies may have you sign forms in advance explicitly excluding
a wide range of trouble spots from their responsibility. This practice
enables you to turn to another outfit that does promise to take care of
the problems that concern you.
In addition to any guarantee from the cleaning company, if your carpet
is still under its manufacturers warranty ask the company whether its
services will keep the warranty in effect. Carpet manufacturers warranties
are notably murky about their coverage for wear and appearance, and
many include a clause declaring that, for these sections of the warranty
to remain in effect, the buyer must prove the carpet was professionally
maintained. This typically means that you must have your carpet professionally
cleaned once every 12 to 18 months using a hot-water-extraction method.
So if you care about warranty coverage, show the warranty information to
the cleaning service and have it assure you that its services will meet
any professional maintenance requirements.
Methods They Use
Select a company that offers cleaning methods appropriate to your carpet.
(See Cleaning Methods below.) If your carpet is lightly soiled, any method,
if performed properly, will be acceptable. But, in most cases, youre best
off with a company that offers hot water extraction with truck-mounted
equipment or a combination of shampoo and hot water extraction.
Along with high-quality work, you want a good price. If you describe your
carpet and calculate the square footage, most cleaners will quote prices
by phone. Others usually come to your home to give free estimates on in-home
cleaning. We have included pricing details for the companies we evaluated
on our In-Home Cleaning Prices table. For many homeowners, this table
provides enough information to calculate what each company would charge.
But if your carpet is in bad condition or not of a type shown on the table,
or if you want a combination of add-on services, youll need to talk with
the companies. And, of course, prices can be expected to change as time
passes. So use the table as a starting point.
Several factors determine what youll pay:
Type of carpetSome companies charge extra to clean very light-colored
carpet, while some charge less for commercial-grade carpet. Cleaning services
almost always charge more for wool carpeting; it is much more subject to
shrinkage, browning, and warping than carpets made of other fibers, and
therefore requires more time to clean properly.
Extent of soilingMany companies charge more for badly soiled carpets than
for carpets in better condition.
Cleaning methodCompanies that offer more than one method may charge different
amounts for the different methodswith prices for in-home cleaning of several
rooms sometimes varying by 50 percent or more.
Add-onsA company may recommend, in addition to carpet cleaning, one or
more add-on treatments (described further below). Since add-ons can double
the cost of a basic cleaning, think carefully about what you really need
and find out exactly what it costs. Order add-ons only for the portions
of carpet that need them.
StepsSome companies that charge generally low prices for most work charge
high prices for steps.
Furniture movingThe prices on our In-Home Cleaning Prices table assume
that a typical amount of furniture will have to be moved. Many companies
offer five to 10 percent discounts to customers who move their furniture
themselves before cleaning.
By room or by square footSome companies charge per square foot. Others
quote for a combination of two or three rooms and for additional rooms.
Some quote both ways, so you might save by taking the per-room price if
your rooms are large and the square-foot price if your rooms are small.
Our In-Home Cleaning Prices table shows the price for several specific
roomsa combination of living room, dining room, and hall totaling 330
square feet, and the price for these areas plus an additional room measuring
130 square feet (460 square feet total). For the sample areas measuring
460 square feet, per-square-foot prices for hot water extraction cleaning
of medium-color domestic pile ranged from $.22 to $.67.
When shopping for per-room prices, find out what constitutes a room: Some
companies count L-shaped rooms as two rooms.
Misunderstandings often arise when companies advertise charges by the area.
If the meaning of the word room can be murky, what constitutes an area
is even less clear.
Carpet protectors coat carpet fibers to repel oil and dirt particles resulting
in much more effective vacuuming and longer intervals between cleanings.
Carpet protectors also give you a chance to clean up spills before they
are absorbed into carpet fibers.
While almost all carpets are now treated with a carpet protector at the
mill, reapplication may be needed in time. Typically, carpet in heavy-traffic
areas such as hallways, steps, entranceways, and family rooms loses its
protective coating two to four years after purchase; in low-traffic areas,
the coating may never be lost. After a carpet loses its coating, it is
likely to need retreatment once every 18 months to three years.
When your carpet is dry, and before cleaning, test whether it has effective
soil or stain protection. Part the yarn and put a drop of water on the
side of the yarn tufts. If the water beads, the protection is still effective.
Do this in the heavily used areas of each room and out-of-the-way places;
you may be able to confine treatment to limited portions of only a few
If you decide you need retreatment, make sure that it is applied after
cleaning and not as part of the cleaning process; and make sure the job
is done with a fluorochemical-based protector. Other types of protectors
may actually attract soil and void carpet manufacturers warranties.
Sanitizing or Deodorant
If your carpet smells of urine, mildew, smoke, or other substances, a professional
carpet cleaner may be able to help you. But success is far from certain
and depends heavily on the technicians skill and the extent of the contamination.
For smells that arise from mildew (fungus), bacteria, yeast, and other
microbes, a sanitizing agent, applied after cleaning, may reduce or eliminate
the odor. The cleaning itself will remove most of the microbes, but the
sanitizing agent may prevent remaining microbes from multiplying.
To be effective, these products must reach the source of the problem. If
urine is deep in a carpet pad, reaching it with a sanitizing agent may
require overwetting the carpet so severely that the potential harm to the
carpet outweighs the possible benefits of odor reduction. Also, the carpet
pad may need to be replaced.
For odors such as those from smoke or incense that dont arise from microbial
sources, deodorants designed to cover up smells might help. But deodorants
often cause more problems than they prevent: To succeed, deodorants have
to remain behind after the cleaning process, which means their presence
could attract more dirt later.
Whatever cleaning outfit you choose, the quality of service you receive
will depend in part on you. Here are a few tips:
Remove or raise hanging objects that might be bumped by cleaning personnel,
who generally walk backwards as they work.
Move prized valuablesantiques, bric-a-brac, bookcases. Cleaning personnel
will generally move such items for you, but not necessarily with the care
Lift draperies that touch, or nearly touch, the floor. Throw the bottoms
of the drapes over hangers suspended from curtain rods.
Some companies require customers to vacuum first; some do it for free.
But it cant hurt to do it yourself.
If you want a particular kind of servicesuch as truck-mounted hot-water-extraction
cleaninginform the company before the day of your scheduled appointment.
When company personnel arrive, treat them like professionals. Ask the serviceperson
to explain what they will do and what choices you have to make.
Specify which add-on features you want, and which you dont wantcarpet
protector, deodorizer, etc.
Describe past cleanings. If shampoo had been used, your serviceperson may
have to alter the cleaning solution for the current job to compensate for
residues. If an absorbent powder had been used, the serviceperson may have
to do a more thorough vacuuming or use extra liquid to compensate for absorption
by the powder remaining in the carpet.
Point out stains and explain what caused them, when they got there, whether
they are likely to go all the way to the backing. Reach an agreement with
the serviceperson on each stainwill it be removed in the normal process
of cleaning, removed at additional cost, or not necessarily removed at
Alert the serviceperson to furniture with weak legs, seams in the carpet
(if you know where they are), and any other potential problem areas.
Get the total cost of the job in writing before service begins.
Dont pay until you have walked around and inspected the carpet. Check
for spots. Dont listen if the serviceperson tells you not to walk on it;
you can, if youre careful. If you are not satisfied with the finished
job, explain that you will not pay until the work is done properly.
Make sure plastic or foil shields have been placed beneath the legs of
Before the serviceperson leaves, ask him or her to estimate carpet drying
time and to provide any special instructions.
If the weather is not too cold, open windows and doors wide to speed drying.
Dont put anything on top of the carpet to walk on; this will slow drying.
If you must walk on the carpet, wear socks.
Leave moisture shields under furniture legs until you are sure the carpet
is dry. Mahogany, teak, redwood, and freshly stained wood pieces will bleed
color into carpet.
Vacuum immediately after carpet is dry and then vacuum regularly.
If you discover spots or other problems after the serviceperson has left,
call the company immediately. The longer you wait, the more likely they
will suspect that the spot is new. If the carpet still feels damp after
24 hours, call the company to see what can be done to speed drying (unfortunately,
not much in most cases).
If you cannot resolve a dispute, complain to the California Department
of Consumer Affairs (800-952-5210, www.dca.ca.gov) or the Better Business
Bureau. There are independent inspectors who will, for a fee, come to your
home and offer a third-party judgment. They will also help arbitrate complaints.
You can get referrals for inspectors from the Institute of Inspection,
Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC) by visiting www.certifiedcleaners.org.
Even the most capable carpet cleaning professionals will find certain problems
difficult or impossible to solve.
Urine. Urine stains cant be removed unless they are treated before they
dry. Urine odor can sometimes be controlled or masked by a deodorant, but
generally it cannot be completely eradicated.
Shading, or pile reversal. The apparent shadows that result when carpet
yarns are distorted under heavy traffic or improper shampooing can never
Dyes. Dyes cant always be removed. This includes stains left by some soft
drinks, Kool-Aid, coffee, tea, and mustard.
Mildew. Cant always be removed.
Wood stains. Can rarely be removed.
Latent stains. Some chemicals cause stains that appear only under certain
conditions of heat or humidity. This is true of some household pesticides,
floor waxes, plant foods, cosmetics, and deodorants. Benzoyl peroxide,
the active ingredient in some acne medications, can rub off face or hands
unnoticed until humidityor moisture from carpet cleaningaccelerates its
bleaching action. By the time hidden stains are discovered, damage may
Bleach spots and areas where sunlight has caused fading. Although carpet
can be dyed, you can never fully compensate for a faded area; it is usually
difficult to blend the dyed area to match the surrounding area.
The life of your carpet will depend more on what you do regularly than
on what is done occasionally by a hired professional.
Purchase the right kind of carpet for the area you will be covering. See
our article on area carpet stores and installers.
No matter how diligently you maintain it, a thick white pile will not hold
up in a busy entranceway. When you are shopping for carpet or rugs, call
a good carpet-cleaning outfit for advice. A reliable carpet cleaner knows
which kinds of rugs hold up best in various situations, and wont share
the biases of some carpet and rug salespeople.
To prevent permanent stains, clean up spills immediately. Below, we provide
tips on spot removal.
Vacuuming is the biggest factor determining how long carpet wears and looks
clean. Frequent vacuuming prevents traffic from working soil particles
down into your carpet and embedding particles among the twisted fibers
of the yarn. While no hard data exists on how different frequencies of
vacuuming affect carpet life, the best advice experts offer is to vacuum
whenever dust, litter, and matting appear.
While you may want to save money by cleaning your carpets yourself, there
are good reasons to turn to a professional. Obvious ones are that a professional
will save you time and trouble. But good professionals also use heavier,
more efficient equipment than homeowners ordinarily can buy or rent; they
can recognize fiber types and the risks of bleeding; they know from experience
how much water a carpet can stand; and they work relatively quickly. Furthermore,
the cost of hiring some professionals may not be much more than the cost
of homeowner-done jobs.
On the other hand, if you clean your own carpet, you can avoid the task
of shopping for a professional; you can work until you satisfy your own
standards, which may be higher than those of some professionals; you can
be as careful as you want with your carpets, furniture, and walls; and
you will almost certainly save at least some money.
For thorough cleanings, you can rent hot-water-extraction or shampoo machines
from hardware stores or tool rental outlets, although these machines are
usually much less powerful than the ones most professionals use. You can
also buy the chemicals to use with your rented equipment at various outlets.
When applying chemicals, read all warning labels first, and carefully measure
out the correct amounts.
In recent years, vacuum cleaner models that also function as carpet cleaners
have become popular. These machinesfor example, Hoovers SteamVac line,
Bissells Deep Cleaner models, and Dirt Devils Easy Steamscrub a solution
of water and detergent into the carpet and then vacuum up the dirt and
water. Their cost has come down in recent years, with basic models going
for under $100. But these machines wont completely replace professional
cleaning because they have only a small fraction of the power found in
the machines used by professionals, and they dont perform the deep cleaning
that carpets regularly need. But they can be effective for topical light
cleanings and for regularly cleaning carpet in entranceways, stairs, and
other areas that get dirty quickly.
Keep in mind that no carpet-cleaning machine removes stains; youll still
need to clean up spills immediately and try and remove stains with specific
If you decide to obtain professional equipment to do your own cleaning
First, vacuum the carpet to remove as much dry soil as possible.
Avoid getting the carpet too wet.
Avoid using too much detergent. Doubling the amount of detergent wont
make it easier to clean extra-dirty carpet; instead, it will leave residue
that may attract soil and cause excess foam the next time the carpet is
cleaned. If a first pass doesnt remove all of the dirt, wait for the carpet
to dry and try again.
Avoid applying carpet protector or deodorant.
Avoid using powder deodorant since its effectiveness is limited and it
can form into a hard cake during later cleanings if not completely removed
by vacuuming. Also, if you fail to completely vacuum out powder detergents,
the residue can become a lung irritant.
Cleaning area rugs runs many of the same risks as cleaning carpet: Rugs
can be permanently damaged by improper or poorly mixed chemicals, or improper
brushing. But for some rugsparticularly expensive handmade wool rugs and
many antique or semi-antique rugsthere are additional dangers: Dyes can
run; fringes, backing, and the rug itself can tear; the rug can shrink
or warp; and colors can become distorted.
Cleaning area rugs is also more challenging because the yarns of many rugs
are much more densely concentrated than the yarns in carpet. The most common
method of manufacturing wall-to-wall carpet is by tufting, wherein a machine
with hundreds of yarn-threaded needles pushes yarn through a backing fabric,
forming loops as the needles push in and pull out. This process leaves
a small amount of space between the carpet yarns and, during cleaning,
this space facilitates the loosening and extraction of dirt. Area rugs,
on the other hand, are usually made using processes such as weaving or
knotting that create a much more dense pile. Because of this density, rugs
wont get dirty as quickly as carpet (since dirt tends to stay on the surface,
rather than settling into the rug), but once dirt has penetrated the surface,
this density makes it especially difficult to remove. Removing dirt from
a typical area rug requires subjecting the rug to a washing process that
vigorously agitates the pile to loosen dirt and then completely soaks the
rug through with water to flush the dirt away.
Another key difference between carpet and rug cleaning is that, in most
cases, rugs have to be cleaned outside of your home, where you cant supervise
the work. If a company improperly cleans wall-to-wall carpet in your home,
you can ask it to correct errors on the spot, perhaps even before permanent
damage occurs. But if an incompetent company improperly cleans a rug in
its plant, youre not likely to notice until it is too late.
Because the work is difficult and so much can go wrongand since even a
machine-made Oriental rug can cost well over $3,000make sure you entrust
your rugs to a true expert.
The vast majority of rugs can tolerate a rigorous cleaning process where
rugs are immersed in and flushed with water, shampooed, rinsed, and then
Before cleaning, most companies will try to remove as much dust and dirt
as possible by using heavy-duty vacuums, beating the rug, using automatic
dusters, and/or spraying the rug with compressed air.
Inspection and Stain Treatments
If you can locate specific spots or stains, and know what caused them,
point them out to the company and make sure that these problems are listed
on the work orderbefore cleaning, spots and stains should be pretreated
with appropriate cleansers. Also notify the company if the rug has been
in contact with urine, feces, vomit, or blood, so that the company knows
that it needs to be decontaminated.
As with wall-to-wall carpeting, some stains or problems can be difficult
or impossible to correct; the company representative should speak candidly
about the limits of its service. Keep in mind that companies often wont
know whether or not they can successfully treat a trouble spot until they
The rug is spread out in the cleaning area of the plant, which is a large
concrete basin with plenty of drainage in a large garage, small warehouse,
or, in large operations, a small factory-like setting. The rug is pre-washed
and soaked by a high-pressure hose that sprays the rug with tepid water
usually containing a mild detergent.
Usually, the rug is then shampooed. Hand-washing rug cleaners pass a hand-scrubbing
machine back and forth over the rug. The scrubbing machine is similar to
a carpet shampooer in that it runs a mixture of water and carpet shampoo
through a rotating soft nylon brush, which is passed back and forth over
the rug, loosening dirt and grime that lie deep in the pile. The rug is
then rinsed with the high-pressure hose. The cleaner should rinse out as
much of the loosened dirt and shampoo as possible: If loosened dirt particles
are not removed, they will work their way deeper into the pile; and if
the cleaner does not rinse out all of the shampoo, it may lead to a buildup
of a sticky residue, which will accelerate re-soiling.
Be aware that hand-washing is a generic term used by almost all rug-cleaning
operations, whether or not they clean rugs using the preferred method described
above. So it makes sense to ask companies to describe in detail what they
mean by hand-washing, and to perhaps drop off a rug yourself so you can
see the plants cleaning facility and make sure youll get whats advertised.
For example, some companiesparticularly very large rug-cleaning operationsuse
large machines that pass rugs through an assembly-line process that automatically
shampoos and rinses them. Unlike hand-washing cleaners, which employ a
relatively labor-intensive procedure, automated cleaners can clean a rug
in less than a minute. The machine first moves the rug underneath a spray
of water to wet the rug, and then passes it through a series of brushes
that move back and forth over the rug, scrubbing it with a shampoo-and-water
mixture. After scrubbing, the rug is then rinsed underneath a series of
One disadvantage of automated rug washers is that operators have little
control over the cleaning process. If a certain area of the rug needs more
attention than others, automated machines wont spend extra time scrubbing
the problem area. And a possible risk of automated rug washing machines
is that the fringes of the rug, or the rug itself, can be snagged and damaged
as it passes through the assembly linealthough this risk can be largely
avoided if operators carefully monitor the machine.
Other companiesparticularly small rug-cleaning operationsskip the shampooing
step altogether. These companies spread the rug out onto the floor of a
garage or small warehouse, and then clean the rug using the same hot-water-extraction
equipment they use for in-home carpet cleaning, except that they usually
run tepid water through the machine. Hot-water-extraction machines can
adequately clean a rug made from wall-to-wall carpet remnants, but avoid
companies that use this process for other types of rugs because hot-water-extraction
equipment is designed for cleaning less dense wall-to-wall carpet and isnt
likely to effectively remove dirt that has become embedded into a rugs
Similarly, other small rug-cleaning operations may clean rugs using the
same bonnet-cleaning system they use for wall-to-wall carpeting. As with
bonnet cleaning wall-to-wall carpet, this methods limitations are that
it provides only a topical cleaningmany of the loosened dirt particles
are never removed. Also, since companies that use the bonnet method rarely
utilize a rinse process, repeated cleanings can overload the rug with residues
that may contribute to accelerated re-soiling.
Special Treatment of Delicate Rugs
A common problem with antique or semi-antique rugs is that the warm water
used to clean them can cause dyes to run. Companies can prevent this problem
by lightly spraying the rug with an acidic conditioner before cleaning.
The vast majority of rugs can be cleaned using the cleaning processes described
in the above section, and, in fact, most rugseven expensive handmade rugsare
washed using an immersion washing process after they are manufactured.
But highly delicate rugs may require a different method, particularly rugs
made of silk or imitation silk and very frail rugs.
If you want to clean a highly delicate rug, hire an expert to do the work.
In most cases, cleaning delicate rugs is similar to cleaning other rugs,
except that they receive a lighter, lower moisture cleaning. Often the
rug can be lightly shampooed by hand. To rinse out remaining dirt and shampoo,
the rug is lightly misted and then wiped clean before being spread out
Other types of delicate rugs can be cleaned using steam-cleaning equipment,
but replacing boiling-hot water with tepid water. In these cases, the cleaner
is treating the rug as he or she would clean upholstery.
Some delicate rugs just cant stand water at all. In these cases, the cleaner
will remove as much dirt from the rug as possible by brushing it, vacuuming
it with heavy-duty equipment, beating out as much remaining dirt as possible,
and then using a dry-cleaning process.
After cleaning, a good company will groom the rug with a brush so that
the lie of the rugs nap runs in the correct direction to give the rug
an even appearance. Companies may also provide special treatments or care
to the rugs fringe or edges, and may repair damaged areas.
It is important for the rug to dry as quickly as possible; a rugparticularly
a wool rugthat remains damp for more than a few days can become mildewed,
warped, or discolored.
Drying a rug that has been completely soaked through with water is no simple
feat. One option is to use a large wringer system to squeeze out most of
the water. A wringer device is usually the last step in the assembly line
for large automated operations, and some cleaners that do not have automated
systems may still use a wringer after rinsing the rug. Cleaners that have
no wringer usually use hot-water-extraction equipment to pull out as much
water as possible. After the rug is sent through a wringer or sucked dry
using extraction equipment, some companies then use a high-power wet vacuum
system to pull out as much remaining moisture as possible.
Larger operations will then hang the rug in a drying room, usually a climate-controlled
area with industrial-size dehumidifiers and a heating system that pumps
in dry heat. Using this method, a rug can be completely dried in six to
12 hours, depending on its thickness, how much water the cleaner has pulled
out of the rug, the humidity level in the drying room, and the number of
rugs hanging in the drying room.
Smaller operations will spread the rug out flat on a floor and direct large
fans onto itdepending on thickness, how much moisture remains after cleaning,
and humidity levels, it will take 24 to 72 hours to dry a rug this way.
Some carpet cleaners that take in area rugs dont actually perform the
work themselves, but instead send rugs to specialized cleaners. These companies
may contract the work out to a local rug cleaner or to a large-scale out-of-area
operation that uses automated equipment. Its worthwhile asking companies
whether they do the work themselves, as youre likely to retain more control
over quality by dealing directly with the company that actually performs
Also find out whether companies employ a dedicated rug cleaning staff,
or if its in-home carpet cleaners spend a certain amount of time each week
cleaning area rugs. Having a rug cleaned by someone who normally cleans
wall-to-wall carpet is not a concern as long as the cleaner is also an
expert at cleaning rugs, but it will be easier for someone who spends all
of their time cleaning rugs to gain expertise. Keep in mind, however, that
an automated operation might place more emphasis on production than on
The results of our customer surveys and a review of complaint records,
shown on our Ratings Tables, will help you find cleaners that do good
If you own an expensive or delicate rug, have several companies come to
your home to inspect it and give you a proposal as to how they would clean
it. If youre uncomfortable with their answers, or receive conflicting
answers from different companies, ask the representatives to justify their
When the cleaner picks up your rug, or when you drop it off, make sure
you receive a receipt including the type, size, and description of the
rug. If you own a handmade antique or semi-antique rug, make sure this
is noted on the receipt.
If you know (or suspect) your rug is valuable, have it appraised so that
you can be fairly compensated by the company or your homeowners insurance
carrier if the rug is ruined or lost. As already noted, a delicate rug
can be easily damaged by a less-than-diligent cleaner. And though you might
think it would be difficult to lose a rug measuring 80 square feet or more,
our reviews of complaint files at consumer agencies around the U.S. reveal
that some cleaners just cant seem to keep track of their customers rugs.
A few rug cleaners warned us that some disreputable rug cleaners take in
expensive rugs for cleaning, sell them to rug dealers, and then tell their
customers that their rug has been lost or stolen.
Our In-Plant Cleaning Prices table shows prices quoted to CHECKBOOKs
mystery shoppers for in-plant cleaning of an eight-by-10-foot all-wool
hand-knotted Oriental rug. As you can see, prices ranged from less than
$125 to more than $300.
Because we asked the companies to quote prices for a rug only moderately
soiled, of a medium color, and with no stains, use the prices on our In-Plant Cleaning Prices
table only as a reference point for your own shopping.
Your rug is likely to be different in size, color, and condition. Most
companies will quote prices over the phone if you accurately describe your
rug and its condition. Before cleaning, ask any company to provide a written,
fixed-price contract for the cleaning and any add-on services you request.
There are many ways to clean a carpet. Some work better than others, depending
on the condition of your carpet.
hot water extraction
In the hot-water-extraction method (sometimes referred to as steam cleaning),
hot liquid is sprayed under high pressure into carpet pile and immediately
vacuumed back out along with suspended soils. The liquid usually is hot
water containing a detergent, but may be just hot water if carpet contains
a detergent residue from previous cleanings. Performed properly, this method
can clean even heavily soiled carpets.
This type of cleaning can be performed with portable equipment (some types
available at tool rental shops) or truck-mounted equipment. Truck-mounted
equipment generally does a better job than is possible with portable equipment
on heavily soiled carpets. The truck-mounted equipment allows the technician
to heat water (either from the homes water supply or truck-mounted tanks)
to a high temperature and spray and extract the cleaning solution at much
higher pressures than possible with most portable equipment. The high pressure
allows the process to penetrate relatively deeply into carpet pile.
Many of what seem to be truck-mounted units are simply portable units bolted
to trucks, and they lack power. The most effective machines are powered
by an engine in the truck, rather than the homes electrical system.
Many companies that use hot-water-extraction machines enhance their effectiveness
by spraying the carpet with a conditioner and then lightly agitating the
carpet with brushes before cleaning. The conditioner acts as a de-greasing
agent, which helps remove dirt and grime, and also lubricates the carpet
so that the hot-water-extraction wand doesnt distort the pile.
Shampoos for carpets operate like laundry detergents. Some shampoos also
contain chemicals to reduce odor, retard soiling, brighten colors, and
speed drying. The shampoo is released onto the carpet through openings
in a rotary brush. The rotary action converts the detergent into a foam
and works it into the carpet. When the shampoo dries, it leaves dry particles
that can be removed by a vacuum cleaner.
Unfortunately, many of the loosened dirt particles are never removed and
simply work their way deeper into the pile. Using low-quality detergent,
too much detergent, or overly concentrated detergent may cause a buildup
of a sticky residue on carpet fibers. Repeated cleanings without proper
extraction will overload the carpet with residues that may accelerate re-soiling.
Combined Shampoo and Hot Water Extraction
Because high-powered truck-mounted hot-water-extraction equipment usually
cleans even heavily soiled carpetespecially when used after carpet has
been treated with a conditionerbut this two-step method is rarely employed
in residential work. The shampoo and hot-water-extraction process uses
shampoo and rotary brushes to loosen dirt particles, followed by hot water
extraction using water rather than a cleaning solution to remove the soil.
Although some professional machines combine the shampoo and extraction
methods, the two steps are usually separate, and therefore incur extra
Foams are really just a form of shampoo. Professionals use machines that
generate foam and agitate it on the carpet with brushes. Foams used mostly
by homeowners are available in aerosol cans. Foams are applied in a thin
layer, then rubbed in with a damp sponge. When dry, the residue is simply
vacuumed away. The main advantage to do-it-yourself users is that foam
contains very little moisture, making it unlikely to damage carpet by overwetting.
But the low moisture content also means that not much soil is removed,
so this method mostly results in only surface cleaning. Some foams are
difficult to rinse out even with multiple cleanings and may interfere with
later attempts to clean the carpet.
Originally designed for use on commercial carpeting, bonnet cleaning uses
a round absorbent pad, or bonnet, attached to the bottom of a rotary floor
machine. Detergent is sprayed onto the carpet; then the pad is rotated
over the surface, removing soil that adheres to it. When one side of the
pad is soiled, it is reversed; when both sides are soiled, the pad is rinsed.
The bonnet method shares many of the same limitations as shampooingmany
loosened dirt particles are never removed and simply work their way deeper
into the carpet pile; using low-quality detergent, too much detergent,
or overly concentrated detergent may produce a build-up of sticky residue
on carpet fibers. And since companies that use the bonnet method rarely
utilize a rinse process, repeated cleanings can overload the carpet with
residues that may accelerate re-soiling.
Absorbent Dry Compounds
Dry powdery compounds containing detergents or solvents can be sprinkled
on carpet, worked into the pile by machine, then removed by a vacuum cleaner.
The detergent or solvent dissolves the oily film on carpet fibers, freeing
the soil to be vacuumed out along with the powder after about half an hour.
Although usually less effective than other methods, dry compound cleaning
has special applications.
The Green Movement has spurred new service industriesand marketing schemesaimed
at capturing eco-aware customers. Some carpet cleaning businesses now claim
to have introduced different green cleaning methods and practices, including
Using smaller trucks and/or equipment that use less fuel;
Treating used water before disposal, or at least disposing of it in a sewer
so that it goes to a water treatment plant, rather than simply dumping
it into a storm drainage system that takes it directly into local waterways;
Using detergents derived from plantssuch as orange peelrather than conventional
Abandoning the usual hot-water-extraction method by instead using a smaller
amount of hot water containing a peroxide solution or softened water containing
Are the greener claims just marketing nonsense or do they have merit?
If the companies really do what they claim, are the results actually more
environmentally friendly than traditional cleaning methods? And, in terms
of results, how do these methods compare to conventional cleaning methods?
Unfortunately, none of these questions is easily answered.
Among the green strategies, treating wastewater before disposalor paying
to have it treated at a wastewater plantis a practice any company can
employ to minimize the effect of their used water and solutions on local
waterways. You could ask any company youre considering what it does with
the wastewater, but youll have to accept their answer without verification
unless youre willing to follow their trucks back to the office/plant.
Using more fuel-efficient equipment is also a way companies can lessen
their impact on the environment. But less-powerful equipment is equipment
with less cleaning power, which means it will take longer to do the joband
might not do the job as well.
Other approaches and claimse.g., using natural detergents and detergent-free
solutions instead of the water-plus-detergent methodmay be just marketing
hyperbole. The owners of the top-rated carpet cleaning outfits we spoke
with certainly believe this is the case (well refrain from repeating the
colorful language a few used on the subject). Their key point is that the
hot-water-extraction process doesnt use a lot of detergents or other chemicals
to begin with; after all, virtually all of the cleaning effect comes from
hot water shot into carpet pile and then immediately vacuumed back out
along with suspended soils. Detergents are non-toxic and hypoallergenic;
its not as if carpet cleaners are soaking carpets in a dry-cleaning solution.
Properly trained, diligent cleaners may not use detergent at all, and,
if they do, use it sparingly so residues dont attract dirt.
Another claim made by companies espousing new greener cleaning methods
is that these processes allow carpet to dry faster, thus forestalling mold
and mildew issues. But, as discussed elsewhere in this article, carpets
properly cleaned using the hot-water-extraction method take a day or two
to dry, which, in well-ventilated spaces, is not enough time for mold and
mildew to develop.
Stains can ruin a carpet, but act quickly and you can avoid disaster.
Immediately blot up spills, using a clean white absorbent material.
Pretest spot-removal agents. Put a few drops of solution on each color
in the carpet. Then, using white absorbent material, hold it against each
color, count to 10, and examine the results. If the dye has bled into the
absorbent material, or if there has been a change in the colored area,
call a professional.
Dont overwet. Work with small amounts of solution.
Dont rub or brush. Excessive agitation may cause distortion.
Work from the outer edge toward the center of the stain.
Have patiencesome stains respond slowly.
Remember, haphazard attempts at spot removal may produce indelible stains
and/or permanently damage fabrics. If you have doubts, seek professional
Depending on the stain, try one or more of the following cleaning agents
(note: NEVER mix ammonia and bleach):
1. Dry-cleaning solvent.
2. Mixture of one-half teaspoon white neutral detergent (a mild liquid dishwashing
detergent containing no strong alkalis or bleaches) and one cup lukewarm
3. Mixture of one tablespoon ammonia with one-half cup water.
4. Mixture of one-third cup white vinegar with two-thirds cup water.
5. Mixture of solution of powdered enzyme laundry detergent made by following
the directions on the label or box. Keep solution on the stain for length
of time recommended by manufacturer.
Try these cleaning agents in the order indicated in the following list
until the stain disappears. Apply small amounts of cleaning solution with
a clean white absorbent towel. Blot frequently and continue to apply and
blot until the staining material no longer transfers to the absorbent material.
As the final step, blot any remaining moisture or cleaning solutions by
pressing or padding the area with an absorbent towel.
Beer 2, 4
Blood 2, 3, 5
Butter 1, 2, 4
Candle wax 1, 2
Ketchup 2, 3, 5
Chewing gum 1, 2
Chocolate 2, 3, 4, 5
Coffee or tea 2, 4, 5, 1
Cosmetics 1, 2, 3
Crayon 1, 2
Egg 2, 3, 5
Food coloring 2, 3
Fruit and juices 2, 3, 4, 5
Furniture polish 1, 2, 3
Furniture stain 1, 2
Glue, school 2
Grease 1, 2, 3, 4
Ice cream 2, 3, 4, 5, 1
Ink 1, 2, 3
Iodine, Merthiolate 2, 3, 4
Milk 2, 3, 4, 5, 1
Mustard 2, 4, 5
Nail polish 1, 2, 4, 5
Oils 1, 2, 3, 4
Ointment 1, 2, 3, 5
Paint, oil-based 1, 2, 3
Paint, water-based 2, 3, 1
Perfume 2, 4
Rubber cement 1, 2
Shoe polish 1, 2, 3
Soft drinks 2, 3, 4
Soot 1, 2, 3
Syrup 2, 3, 4, 5
Urine 2, 3, 4
Vomit 2, 3, 4, 5
Water stains 1, 2, 3, 4
Wine 2, 4, 3