Having your carpets and rugs periodically cleaned will mean they’ll last longer and look better, and will improve the quality of the air in your home.
Which company does the work will probably impact how well the job is done: how good your carpets and rugs look afterward and how long the cleaned look holds up, whether difficult stains are removed, and whether the cleaning methods and products used by the service simply attract more dirt rather than remove it. With the least competent firms, you risk permanent damage from overwetting, improper or poorly mixed chemicals, improper brushing, and other errors.
Ask for a written workmanship guarantee promising that the firm will at least redo the job if you consider it unsatisfactory. Discuss with the firm in advance whether there are some stains or other problems that it can’t guarantee it can eliminate.
Compare prices. For most jobs, most firms will be able to quote prices over the phone. If your carpets or rugs are especially dirty or unusual in some other way, that may not be possible. If you can’t get over-the-phone quotes, ask firms to come to your home for estimates. On our In-Home Cleaning Prices table and our In-Plant Cleaning Prices table, we give you information that will help you make at least a rough calculation of how each firm will stack up for most types of jobs.
For in-home carpet cleaning, be wary of prices quoted by the room or by the “area” as opposed to by the square foot. Firms may see more rooms in your house than you do—two rooms in what you consider one L-shaped room, for example.
Don’t overpay for add-ons, such as soil retardants and deodorizers. They can dramatically increase your cost with some firms and cost little or nothing with others. What is actually done and how effective it is also varies from firm to firm.
Results will be affected by how you deal with a firm—including 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 firm any problems you find.
Even the neatest of neat freaks who vacuums religiously, cleans up spills
quickly, and enforces a Draconian no-shoes-in-the-house policy will eventually
need the services of a good carpet or rug cleaner. Dirt and dust come in
through the air and on your feet; oily residue from cooking, heating and
air-conditioning systems, and car exhaust settles out of the air. All become
deeply embedded into carpet and rugs.
There are reasons to keep your carpets and rugs clean other than for the
sake of cleanliness alone. Clean carpets and rugs will last longer and
look better, and cleaning them will improve the quality of the air in your
Manufacturers have made progress in reducing the need for cleaning. Advanced-generation
nylon fibers, for example, are "soil-hiding." Although the dirt is still
there, you don't see it as much because the fibers are shaped to diffuse
light differently. Also, most carpeting is now treated with soil and stain
protectants by the manufacturer. But there's no such thing as magic wall-to-wall
carpets or rugs; you'll still need to have yours professionally cleaned
from time to time.
On our Ratings Tables, you will find how area consumers have rated
area 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 do
top-quality work consistently and back up what they do.
This article tells you—for both in-home cleaning of wall-to-wall carpet
and in-plant cleaning of rugs—about the different cleaning processes, the
advantages and disadvantages of using a professional rather than doing
the cleaning yourself, how to choose a competent firm, how to work with
the firm to make your job more successful, what work you can do yourself
(and how), and what problems just can't be fixed.
We receive a fair number of complaints about carpet cleaners from our subscribers.
- "My carpets were worse after they finished and they performed an expensive
dog cleaning followed by a general cleaning. I do a better job with my
carpet steamer. I will never use them again. I felt like they ruined my
- "The technician cleaned two rooms and a stairway in less than 10 minutes.
I didn't even know he had started. There were still dust bunnies in the
corners. I had to have them come back and the technician gave me attitude
- "The carpet was still VERY damp after 24 hours and I had to call the company
back to extract more moisture two days later. This was my finished basement
room which now has a faint moldy smell that I never had before the carpet
- "They are a rip-off. They refused to honor the price on their coupon and
tripled the charge due to excess dirt.' They seem to only want to clean
carpets that don't need cleaning."
Doing the job right is important because there is much that can go wrong.
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 too much shampoo; and spilling.
If moisture reaches a carpet's backing, any of a number of problems can
result. There may be a separation of the secondary backing. If the backing
is jute, which is common in older carpets, the moisture may cause fibers
in the backing to shrink and tear seams, and the moisture may dissolve
the cellulose in the backing and wick it to the surface, causing 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.
The brushing that occurs during some cleaning processes—especially the
shampoo and bonnet methods—may 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, and it 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 too much pile distortion.
Using Too Alkaline a Solution
Carpets are cleaned most easily with highly alkaline detergent solutions.
But these solutions can cause the colors in some carpets to bleed and can
cause browning. One of the arts of the professional carpet cleaner is to
mix or select a cleaning solution to fit the carpet—sometimes even using
an acidic solution where there is a substantial danger of bleeding or where
there is 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 a solution
using brightening agents.
Some other dangers include—
- Using the wrong dilution ratio or using 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.
Although quality of service is essential, you'll also have to pay close
attention to cost. Some carpet cleaning firms will try to sell you services
you don't need, and prices for the same service vary from firm to firm
by more than 100 percent. Comparing is difficult because firms that are
low-priced for one type of service or one type of carpet may be high-priced
for another, and add-ons (such as carpet protectors and deodorizer) can
convert a seemingly low price into a high one. Also, services that are
called by the same name by different companies, such as "deodorizing" or
"sanitizing," may actually be different services. In addition, you must
be wary of companies that use fliers and other advertising techniques to
mass market services at extremely low per-room prices and then switch customers
to higher priced treatments.
Ratings from Customers
You can start by finding a few firms with which your friends have had good
experiences. To provide you with additional feedback of this kind, we surveyed
area CHECKBOOK and Consumer Reports subscribers and asked them to rate
carpet and rug cleaning firms they had used. our Ratings Tables list
the firms rated by 10 or more customers on this survey. (For more information
on our customer survey and other research methods, click here.) The highest rated firms were more than
two times as likely as the lowest rated firms to be rated "superior" on
our survey question "doing work properly."
On our Ratings Tables, for firms that were evaluated in our last full,
published article, we show counts of complaints we gathered from the Better
Business Bureau (BBB) for a recent three-year period, and the number of
complaints on file with the Consumer Protection Division of the Office
of the Attorney General for a recent two-year period.
Where we were able to, we have also reported on our Ratings Tables
a complaint rate for each firm, calculated by dividing the number of complaints
by our measure of the number of full-time-equivalent employees who clean
carpets and rugs for the firms. These complaint rates are intended as a
rough way to take into account volume of work and the fact that firms that
do more work are exposed to a greater risk of incurring complaints.
You can check current BBB complaint information on any firm by contacting
the BBB at 312-832-0500 or by visiting www.chicago.bbb.org. For firms
listed on our Ratings Tables, in the details under the firm's listing,
click a link to the local BBB to go directly to the BBB's most up-to-date
report on any complaints about the firm.
What Guarantee You Get
Most carpet-cleaning services offer written workmanship guarantees. What
they promise varies. Most firms, even if they do not put a guarantee in
writing, will redo a job at least once if the customer says it is unsatisfactory.
Some firms require you to call about 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 more before calling—giving you
a good chance to be sure the problem you perceive will not just go away.
You will want a firm that talks candidly with you about the limits of its
service and your carpet's characteristics before beginning work. Some types
of stains—such as urine, coffee, tea, mustard, or mildew—are extremely
difficult or even impossible to remove once they have set, and firms may
not know whether they can remove them until they try to do so.
Some firms may have forms for you to sign in advance explicitly excluding
a wide range of trouble spots from their responsibility. This practice
enables you to turn to another firm at the start if the first firm can't
guarantee it can take care of the problems that concern you.
In addition to any guarantee you can get for the cleaning work, if your
carpet is still under its manufacturer's warranty you might want to ask
the firm whether its services will keep the warranty in effect. Carpet
warranties are notably murky when describing their coverage for "wear"
and "appearance," and many manufacturers include a clause in their warranties
declaring that in order for these sections of the warranty to remain in
effect, the buyer must be able to 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 this warranty coverage, you might want to show any
warranty information you have to the cleaning service and ask it if it
can assure you that its services will meet any professional maintenance
What Methods They Use
You'll want to be sure to select a firm that offers cleaning methods appropriate
to your carpet. (See "Cleaning Methods," below.) If your carpet is lightly
soiled, any of the methods will be acceptable if performed properly. But
in most cases, you're likely to be best off with a firm that offers hot-water
extraction with truck-mounted equipment or a combination of shampoo and
In addition to high-quality work, you want a good price. If you give firms
a description of your carpet and calculate the square footage, most will
give you a price by phone. Those that won't will usually come to your home
to give a free estimate on in-home cleaning. We have included pricing details
for the firms we evaluated On our In-Home Cleaning Prices table. For
many homeowners, the information on this table is enough to calculate what
each firm would charge them. But if your carpet is in bad condition or
not of the type shown on the table, or if you want a combination of add-on
services, you'll need to talk with the firms—and, of course, prices can
be expected to change as time passes. So just use the table as a starting
Several factors determine what you'll pay:
- Type of carpet—Some firms charge extra to clean very light-colored carpet
while commercial-grade carpet sometimes costs less. Cleaning services almost
always charge more to clean wool carpeting, since it is much more subject
to shrinkage, browning, and warping than carpets made of other fibers,
and therefore it takes more time to clean it properly.
- How soiled it is—Many firms charge more for badly soiled carpets than for
carpets that are in better condition.
- Cleaning method—Some firms that offer more than one method charge different
amounts for the different methods—with the same firm's prices for in-home
cleaning of several rooms sometimes varying by 50 percent or more.
- Whether you contract by the room or by the square foot—Some firms offer
a price per square foot. Others quote for a combination of two or three
rooms and for additional rooms. Some quote both ways so that you might
save by taking the per-room price if your rooms are large or the square-foot
price if your rooms are small.
On our In-Home Cleaning Prices table, we show the price for several
specified rooms—a combination of a 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
for medium-color domestic pile ranged from $.13 to $.80.
When shopping for per-room prices, be sure to check what constitutes a
room. Don't let yourself be surprised by a firm that counts an L-shaped
room as two rooms.
The greatest danger of misunderstanding arises when firms advertise charges
by the "area." If the meaning of the word "room" is sometimes debatable,
what constitutes an "area" is even less clear.
- Which, if any, add-ons you request—Since add-ons (described below) can
sometimes double the cost of a basic cleaning, you'll need to think carefully
about what you really need and check exactly what it will cost. Whatever
add-ons you want, order them just for the portions of your carpet that
- How many steps must be cleaned—Some firms that are low-priced for other
work are high-priced for steps.
- Whether furniture must be moved—The prices On our In-Home Cleaning Prices
table assume that a typical amount of furniture will have to be moved.
Many firms give a five- to 10-percent discount to customers who agree to
move their furniture themselves before cleaning.
A firm may advise that, in addition to carpet cleaning, you get one or
more add-on treatments. You'll need to consider whether any of these treatments
is worth the cost.
Carpet protectors can be used to coat carpet fibers so that oil and dirt
particles are repelled. The result is much more effective vacuuming and
a longer time between cleanings. Carpet protectors also give you the chance
to get to a spill before it is absorbed into carpet fibers.
Almost all carpets are now treated with a carpet protector at the mill.
But reapplication may be needed in time. Typically, in heavy-traffic areas
such as hallways, steps, entranceways, and family rooms, carpet will lose
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, before cleaning, you can test whether it currently
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, your protector
is still effective. Do this in the heavily used parts of each room and
in out-of-the-way places; you may be able to confine treatment to limited
portions of only a few rooms.
If you decide you want retreatment, make sure that it is applied after
cleaning and not as part of the cleaning process and make sure that the
job is done with a fluorochemical-based protector. Other types of protectors
may actually attract soil and will void carpet manufacturers' warranties.
Keep in mind that there may be health risks associated with most soil or
stain protection treatments (see below).
Sanitizing or Deodorant
If your carpet smells from urine, mildew, smoke, or other causes, a professional
carpet cleaner may be able to help you. But success is far from certain
and depends heavily on the technician's 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 help reduce or
eliminate the odor. The cleaning itself will remove most of the microbes,
but the sanitizing agent will help to 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 a carpet so severely that the potential harm to the
carpet outweighs possible benefits of odor reduction. Also, the carpet
pad may need to be replaced.
For odors (such as odors of smoke or incense) that don't arise from microbial
sources, you might get some benefit from deodorants that are designed to
cover up smells. But deodorants often cause more problems than they prevent:
to work, deodorants have to remain behind after the cleaning process, which
means their presence could just attract more dirt later.
Whatever firm 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 hit by cleaning personnel,
who generally walk backwards as they work.
- Move prized valuables—antiques, bric-a-brac, bookcases. Cleaning personnel
will generally move such items for you, but not necessarily with the care
- Lift draperies that might touch, or nearly touch, the floor. You can throw
the bottoms of the drapes over hangers suspended from your curtain rods.
- Some firms require you to vacuum first; some do it for you free. It can't
hurt for you to do it.
- If you want a particular kind of service—such as truck-mounted hot-water-extraction
cleaning—tell the firm before the day of your scheduled appointment.
- When the firm's personnel arrive, treat them like professionals. Ask the
serviceperson to explain what is going to be done and what you have choices
- Specify exactly the add-on features you want, and those you do not want—carpet
protector, deodorizer, etc.
- Describe past cleanings. If shampoo has been used, your serviceperson may
have to alter the cleaning solution for the current job to compensate for
residues from previous jobs. If an absorbent powder has been used, the
serviceperson may have to do a more thorough vacuuming or use extra liquid
to compensate for absorption by the powder that remains in the carpet.
- Point out stains and explain what caused them, how long they have been
there, whether they are likely to go all the way to the backing. Reach
an agreement with the serviceperson on each stain—that it will be removed
in the normal process of cleaning, that it will be removed at additional
cost, or that it will not necessarily be removed.
- 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.
- Don't pay until you have walked around the carpet and inspected it. Check
for spots. Don't accept the excuse that "you can't walk on it." You can,
if you are careful. If you are not satisfied with the finished job, explain
that you will not pay until the work is done properly.
- Be sure that plastic or foil shields have been placed beneath all furniture
- Before the serviceperson leaves, ask for an estimate of carpet drying time
and ask for any special instructions.
- If the weather is not too cold, open windows and doors wide to speed drying.
- Don't 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 on a regular schedule.
- If you discover spots or other problems after the serviceperson has left,
call the firm immediately. The longer you wait, the more suspicion there
will be that the spot is new. If the carpet still seems to be damp after
24 hours, call the firm to see what can be done to speed drying (unfortunately,
not much in most cases).
- If you cannot resolve a dispute, complain to the Consumer Protection Division
of the Office of the Attorney General or the Better Business Bureau. There
are independent inspectors who will, for a fee, come to your home and give
a third party judgment. They will also help you arbitrate a complaint.
You can reach an expert through the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and
Restoration Certification's referral line by calling 800-835-4624 or by
Even the most capable carpet cleaning professional will find certain problems
difficult or impossible to cure.
- Urine. Urine stains can't be removed unless treated before they dry. Urine
odor can sometimes be controlled or masked by a deodorant, but generally
cannot be completely removed.
- Shading, or "pile reversal." The apparent shadows that result when carpet
yarns are distorted under heavy traffic or improper shampooing can never
- Dyes. Dyes can't always be removed. This includes stains left by some soft
drinks, Kool-Aid, coffee, tea, and mustard.
- Mildew. Can't always be removed.
- Wood stains. These can rarely be removed.
- Latent stains. Some chemicals cause stains that only appear 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 humidity—or moisture from carpet cleaning—accelerates its
bleaching action. By the time hidden stains are discovered, damage is often
- 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 than on what is
done by an occasionally hired professional.
Be sure to purchase the right kind of carpet for the area you will be covering.
(See our article on area carpet stores and installers.) A thick, white
pile will not hold up in a busy entranceway no matter how diligently you
maintain it. When you are shopping for carpet or rugs, call a carpet-cleaning
firm for advice. A reliable professional will know which kinds of rugs
hold up best in various situations, and will not have the biases some carpet
and rug salespeople might have.
To prevent permanent stains, clean up spills immediately. See below for
tips on spot removal.
Vacuuming is the biggest factor determining how long your carpet will wear
and how long it will look clean. Frequent vacuuming prevents traffic from
working soil particles down into your carpet and from embedding the particles
among the twisted fibers of the yarn. There are no hard data on the effect
different frequencies of vacuuming have on carpet life to tell you how
much effort you should put out to preserve your carpet. The best guide
the experts can offer is to vacuum your carpet whenever dust, litter, and
You may want to do your own carpet-cleaning job rather than call a professional.
There are good reasons to turn to a professional. The obvious reason is
that a professional will save you time and trouble. But good professionals
also have other important advantages. They have heavier, more efficient
equipment than homeowners ordinarily can buy or rent; they know how to
recognize fiber types and the risks of bleeding; they know from experience
about how much water a carpet can stand; and they have had enough practice
to be able to work relatively quickly. Furthermore, some professionals
offer prices not much higher than the costs of a homeowner-done job.
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, your furniture, and your walls;
and you will almost certainly save at least a small amount of money.
For thorough cleanings, you can rent hot water extraction or shampoo machines
from hardware stores or tool rental outlets for about $20 to $30 per day.
These machines usually have much less power than found in the machines
used by most professionals. You can also buy the chemicals to use with
your rented equipment at various outlets. When applying chemicals, make
sure to read all warning labels first, and carefully measure out the correct
In recent years, vacuum cleaner models that can also act as carpet cleaners
have become popular with many consumers. These machines—such as Hoover's
SteamVac line, Bissell's Deep Cleaner models, and Dirt Devil's Easy Steam—use
a solution of water and detergent that is scrubbed into the carpet and
then the dirt and water is vacuumed up. The cost of these machines has
come down in recent years—basic models cost less than $100. But these machines
won't completely replace the need for professional cleaning because they
have only a small fraction of the power found in the machines used by professionals,
and won't be able to give you the deep cleaning that your carpets will
need from time to time. But they can be effective at giving topical, light
cleanings and are also good for regularly cleaning carpet in entranceways,
stairs, and other areas that get dirty quickly.
Keep in mind that no carpet-cleaning machine is a stain remover; you'll
still need to clean up spills right away and to try and remove stains with
If you decide to do your own cleaning using professional equipment—
- First, vacuum the carpet to remove as much dry soil as possible.
- Avoid getting the carpet too wet.
- Avoid using too much detergent. Doubling up on the amount of detergent
you use won't make it easier to clean carpet that is extra-dirty; instead,
you'll simply leave residue that may attract soil and then cause excess
foam the next time the carpet is cleaned. If a first pass doesn't remove
all of the dirt, wait for the carpet to dry and then try again.
- Avoid applying carpet protector.
- Avoid using powder deodorant since its effectiveness is limited and since
it can form into a hard cake at the time of later cleanings if it is not
completely removed by vacuum cleaning. Also, if you fail to completely
vacuum out powder detergents, the residue can become a lung irritant.
The cleaning of area rugs brings many of the same risks as cleaning carpet—rugs
can be permanently damaged from improper or poorly mixed chemicals, or
improper brushing. But for some rugs—particularly for expensive, hand-made
wool rugs and many antique or semi-antique rugs—there are additional dangers:
dyes might run; fringes, backing, or the rug itself might tear; the rug
might shrink or warp; and colors might be distorted.
Area rugs are also more challenging to clean than wall-to-wall carpet,
since the yarns of many rugs are much more densely concentrated than the
yarns in carpet. The most common method of making wall-to-wall carpet is
by tufting, where 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; during cleaning, this space facilitates the loosening and pulling
out 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, a rug won't get dirty as quickly as carpet (since dirt tends to
stay on the surface of the rug, rather than settling into the rug) but
once dirt has penetrated the rug's surface, this density makes it especially
difficult to remove. Removing the dirt in a typical area rug requires that
the rug be subjected to a washing process that vigorously agitates the
rug's pile to loosen dirt and then completely soaks the rug through with
water to flush the dirt away.
Another key difference between carpet cleaning and rug cleaning is that,
in most cases, rugs have to be cleaned outside of your home, so you likely
won't be able to supervise the work. If a firm improperly cleans wall-to-wall
carpet in your home, you can ask it to try to correct errors on the spot,
perhaps before permanent damage occurs. But if an incompetent firm improperly
cleans a rug in its plant, you likely won't be made aware of problems until
it is too late.
Because the work is difficult and so much can go wrong, and since even
a machine-made Oriental rug can cost you well over $3,000, you'll want
to make sure that you're trusting your rugs with 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 firms 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 already know of specific spots or stains and what caused them, be
sure to call them to the attention of the firm and make sure that these
problems are written down on the work order—before cleaning, spots and
stains should be pre-treated with appropriate cleansers. You should also
notify the firm if the rug has been in contact with urine, feces, vomit,
or blood, so that the firm 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 representative should speak candidly with
you about the limits of its service. Keep in mind that firms often won't
know whether or not they can successfully treat a trouble spot until they
try to do so.
The rug is then spread out in the cleaning area of the plant. Usually this
area is a large, concrete basin with plenty of drainage in a large garage,
small warehouse, or, in the case of large operations, in a small, factory-like
setting. The rug is pre-washed and soaked using a high-pressure hose that
sprays the rug with tepid water that usually contains 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 rug's 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 just work their way deeper into the
pile of the rug; 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 they clean rugs using the preferred method described
above, or not. So it makes sense to ask firms to describe in detail what
they mean by "hand-washing" and to even drop off a rug yourself so you
can see the plant's cleaning facility yourself to make sure you're getting
For example, some firms, particularly very large rug-cleaning operations,
will clean rugs using a large machine that passes them 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 the
rug 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 rinsing jets.
One disadvantage of using an automated rug washer is that the operator
has little control over the cleaning process. If a certain area of the
rug needs more attention than other areas, an automated machine won't 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 the rug passes through the assembly line—although
this risk can be largely avoided if the operator is carefully monitoring
Other firms, particularly small rug-cleaning operations, skip the shampooing
step altogether. These firms 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 that 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 for
other types of rugs, you may want to avoid firms that use this process,
since hot-water-extraction equipment is designed for cleaning less dense
wall-to-wall carpet, and likely won't be effective in removing dirt that
has become embedded into a rug's dense pile.
Similarly, other small rug-cleaning operations may clean rugs using the
same bonnet-cleaning system that they use for cleaning wall-to-wall carpeting.
As with bonnet cleaning wall-to-wall carpet, this method's limitations
are that it provides only a topical cleaning of the rug—many of the loosened
dirt particles are never removed. Also, since firms that use the bonnet
method rarely utilize a rinse process, repeated cleanings can overload
the rug with residues and 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. Firms 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 rugs—even expensive, hand-made
rugs—are washed using an immersion washing process after being made. But
highly delicate rugs may require a different method, particularly rugs
that are made of silk or imitation silk, or very frail rugs.
If you have a highly delicate rug, it can still be cleaned, but you will
want to make sure you hire an expert to do the work. In most cases, delicate
rugs are cleaned similarly to other rugs, except that they are given 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 to dry.
Other types of delicate rugs can be cleaned using steam-cleaning equipment,
but instead of using boiling-hot water, the cleaner will use tepid water.
In these cases, the cleaner is treating the rug as he or she would clean
Some delicate rugs just can't 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, and beating out of the rug as much remaining
dirt as possible, and then will use a dry cleaning process.
After cleaning, a good firm will "groom" the rug with a brush so that the
lie of the rug's nap runs in the correct direction to give the rug an even
appearance. Firms may also give special treatments or care to the rug's
fringe or edges, and may repair damaged areas.
It is important that the rug is dried as quickly as possible; a rug—particularly
one made of wool—that 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 squeeze out most of the water using a large wringer
system. Usually a wringer device is the last step in the assembly line
for large, automated operations, and some cleaners that do not use an automated
system may still use a wringer after rinsing the rug. Cleaners that do
not have a wringer usually use their hot-water-extraction equipment to
pull out as much water as possible from the rug. After the rug is sent
through a wringer or sucked dry using extraction equipment, some firms
then use a high-power wet vacuum system to pull as much remaining moisture
as possible from the rug.
Larger operations will then hang the rug to dry in a drying room. These
rooms are usually climate-controlled areas with industrial-size dehumidifiers
and a heating system that pumps in dry heat. Using this approach, a rug
can be completely dried in six to 12 hours, depending on the thickness
of the rug, how much water the cleaner has been able to pull 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 the rug—depending on the thickness of the rug, how much moisture
remains in the rug after cleaning, and humidity levels, it will take 24
to 72 hours to dry a rug using this method.
After drying, firms usually will groom or brush the rug again, and give
special treatment or care to the rug's fringe or edges, or repair damaged
Some carpet-cleaning firms that take in area rugs for cleaning don't actually
do the work themselves, but rather send rugs to specialized cleaners. These
firms may contract the work out to a local rug cleaner or to a large-scale,
out-of-area operation that uses automated equipment. It makes sense to
ask firms whether they do the work themselves. You will probably retain
a little more control over quality by dealing directly with a firm that
will actually be performing the work.
You might also want to ask firms whether or not they employ a dedicated
rug cleaning staff, or if the firm's in-home carpet cleaners simply spend
a certain amount of time each week cleaning area rugs. Having a rug cleaned
by someone who usually cleans wall-to-wall carpet won't be a concern so
long as the cleaner is also an expert at cleaning rugs, but it will be
easier for someone who spends all of his or her time cleaning rugs to gain
expertise. Keep in mind, however, that an automated operation might place
more emphasis on production than on diligence.
The results from our customer surveys and our review of complaint records
at area consumer agencies, shown on our Ratings Tables, should help
you find a firm that does good work.
If you own an expensive or delicate rug, you may want to have several firms
come to your home to inspect the rug and give you a proposal as to how
they would clean it. If you're uncomfortable with the answers you are given,
or get conflicting answers from different firms, ask the representatives
to justify their cleaning proposals.
When the cleaner picks up your rug, or when you drop your rug off, make
sure that you are given a receipt that lists the type, the size, and a
description of the rug. If you own a hand-made, antique, or semi-antique
rug, be sure that the receipt notes this fact.
If you know your rug is valuable, or suspect that it might be valuable,
you may want to have it appraised so that you are fairly compensated by
the firm or by your homeowners insurance carrier if the rug is ruined or
lost. As we've already noted, a delicate rug can be easily damaged by a
less-than-diligent cleaner. And though you might think that it would be
difficult to lose a rug that measures 80 square feet or more, our reviews
of complaint files at consumer agencies around the U.S. reveal that one
all-too-common problem among some cleaners is that they just can't seem
to keep track of their customers' rugs. A few of the rug cleaners we spoke
with while preparing this article warned 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 firms quoted to CHECKBOOK
shoppers for in-plant cleaning of an eight-by-10-foot, all-wool, hand-knotted,
Oriental rug. As you can see, cleaning prices ranged from $40 to $200 or
more. We also asked firms for their charges for picking up and delivering
the rug if the customer lives 10 minutes away. Many of the firms' prices
would be increased by $40 or more for pickup and delivery.
our In-Plant Cleaning Prices table also shows prices the firms quoted
for some popular add-on services.
The prices on our In-Plant Cleaning Prices table should be used only
as a reference point for your own shopping, since we asked the firms to
quote prices assuming that our rug was only moderately soiled, was of a
medium color, and had no stains. Your rug is likely to be of a different
size, color, and condition. Most firms will quote prices over the phone
if you accurately describe your rug and its condition. Before cleaning,
ask any firm to provide you with a written, fixed-price contract for the
cleaning and any add-on services you want.
There are many ways to clean a carpet. Some may work better than others,
depending on the condition of your carpet.
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 hot water alone if there is already
a residue of detergent from previous cleanings. This method, if done properly,
can clean even heavily soiled carpets.
This type of cleaning can be done with portable equipment (some types of
which you can rent yourself at tool rental shops) or with truck-mounted
equipment. Truck-mounted equipment generally does a better job on heavily
soiled carpets than is possible with portable equipment. The truck-mounted
equipment allows the technician to heat water (either from your water supply
or from truck-mounted tanks) to a high temperature and to spray and extract
the cleaning solution at much higher pressures than are possible with most
portable equipment. The high pressures allow the process to reach relatively
deep into carpet pile.
Many "truck-mounted" units are simply portable units bolted to a truck,
and they lack power. The most effective machines are powered by an engine
in the truck rather than the home's own electrical system.
Many firms that use hot-water-extraction machines enhance the effectiveness
of the process 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 to remove dirt and grime, and also
lubricates the carpet so that the hot-water-extraction wand doesn't distort
the carpet pile.
Shampoos for carpets operate in a manner similar to the operation of laundry
detergents you use to wash clothes. Some shampoos also contain chemicals
to reduce odors, retard future 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 carpet pile. Use of low-quality detergent,
too much detergent, or overly concentrated detergent may lead to a buildup
of a sticky residue on carpet fibers. Repeated cleanings without proper
extraction will overload the carpet with residues and may contribute to
Combined Shampoo and Hot Water Extraction
Because high-powered, truck-mounted hot-water extraction equipment—especially
when used after carpet has been treated with a conditioner—will usually
get even heavily soiled carpet clean, this two-step method is rarely used
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, usually the two steps are separate, and therefore expensive because
of the extra labor costs.
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 results mostly in 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, which is 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 until both sides are soiled;
then the pad is rinsed.
The bonnet method's limitations are similar to those of shampooing—many
of the loosened dirt particles are never removed and simply work their
way deeper into the carpet pile; use of low-quality detergent, too much
detergent, or overly concentrated detergent may lead to a build-up of a
sticky residue on carpet fibers. And since firms that use the bonnet method
rarely utilize a rinse process, repeated cleanings can overload the carpet
with residues and may contribute to accelerated 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 it usually is not as effective as other methods, dry compound
cleaning has special applications.
The most common soil and stain protectors used for carpeting are DuPont's
Teflon or 3M's Scotchgard products. For the past several years, there has
been much debate between the chemical manufacturers and environmental groups
as to whether the perfluorochemicals (PFCs) used to manufacture these types
of products pose serious health risks.
The EPA has stated that perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a chemical compound
that is used in the manufacture of Teflon and other advanced plastics,
is a "likely carcinogen" in humans and that it has found "suggestive evidence"
of PFOA's potential human carcinogenicity based on animal studies.
The chemical companies claim otherwise, and assert that even if PFOA and
other PFCs were harmful, they are not released from finished consumer products.
Environmental groups claim that the PFCs are highly toxic and point to
their own research showing that Teflon and Scotchgard products do emit
PFCs under normal conditions.
What's clear is that the chemical companies appear to want to move on from
the subject, and quickly. In January 2006, eight chemical companies, including
DuPont and 3M, agreed to cut emissions of PFOA by 95 percent by 2015, and
both have claimed that their new generations of Teflon and Scotchgard already
have much less PFC content. Whether these changes actually mean the products
are safer is still being disputed.
Since PFCs are so ubiquitous, completely avoiding contact with them would
be difficult. But if you have concerns, one obvious step you can take is
to ask your carpet cleaner not to apply soil retardant. Since carpet mills
usually apply a coating of Teflon or Scotchgard when manufacturing carpet,
your carpet likely won't be completely free of these products, but at least
you won't have more of the product introduced into your home in the form
of an airborne mist.
The Green Movement has spurred new service industries—and marketing schemes—aimed
at capturing eco-aware customers. Some carpet cleaning businesses have
begun declaring they use different, green cleaning methods and practices,
- 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 plants—such as, orange peel—rather than conventional
- Instead of the usual hot-water-extraction method, using a smaller amount
of hot water that includes a peroxide solution or softened water containing
Are the "greener" claims just marketing nonsense or do they have merit?
If the companies actually 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
Unfortunately, none of these questions is easily answered.
Among the green strategies, treating wastewater before disposing of it—or
paying to have it treated by sending it to a wastewater plant—is a practice
any company can employ to minimize the effect their used water and solutions
have on local waterways. You could simply ask any company you're considering
what it does. Of course, you'll have to accept their answer without verification
unless you're willing to follow their trucks back to the office/plant.
Using equipment that uses less fuel is also a way any firm could lessen
its impact on the environment. But equipment with less power will mean
equipment with less cleaning power, which means the equipment will have
to be used for extra amounts of time to do the job—and might not be able
to do the job as well as full-powered equipment.
Other approaches and claims—use of natural detergents and solutions that
don't include detergents instead of the water-plus-detergent method—may
be just marketing hyperbole. The owners of top-rated carpet cleaning outfits
we spoke with certainly believe this is the case (we'll refrain from repeating
the colorful language a few used when sharing their opinions with us).
A key point they make is that cleaning carpets using the hot-water-extraction
process doesn't 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 along with suspended
soils. Detergents that are used are non-toxic and hypoallergenic; it's
not as if carpet cleaners are soaking carpets in a drycleaning solution.
If the cleaner is properly trained and diligent, detergent often isn't
used at all, and if it is used, it is used sparingly so residues don't
attract future dirt.
Another claim made by companies espousing new, greener cleaning methods
is that these processes allow carpet to dry faster, meaning the possibility
of mold and mildew issues is avoided. But as we discussed elsewhere in
this article, carpets that have been properly cleaned using the hot-water-extraction
method will take a day or two to dry, and if the areas remain well ventilated,
that's not enough time for mold and mildew to have an effect.
Stains can ruin a carpet. But if you act quickly 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 ten, 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.
- Don't overwet. Work with small amounts of solution.
- Don't rub or brush. Excessive agitation may cause distortion.
- Work from the outer edge toward the center of the stain.
- Have patience—some stains respond slowly.
- Remember, haphazard attempts at spot removal may result in indelible stains
and/or permanent damage to fabrics. If you have doubts, seek the advice
of a professional.
Depending on the stain, you'll want to try one or more of the following
cleaning agents (note: NEVER mix together ammonia and bleach):
1. Drycleaning solvent.
2. Mixture of one-half teaspoon of white neutral detergent (a mild liquid
dishwashing detergent containing no strong alkalies or bleaches) with a
cup of lukewarm water.
3. Mixture of one tablespoon of ammonia with one-half cup of water.
4. Mixture of one-third cup of white vinegar with two-thirds cup of water.
5. Mixture of a solution of powdered enzyme laundry detergent made by following
the directions on the label or box. The solution should remain on the stain
for the length of time recommended by the manufacturer.
Try these cleaning agents in the order indicated in the following list
until the stain is removed. Apply small amounts of the cleaning solution
with a clean, white, absorbent towel. Blot frequently and continue to apply
and blot until the staining material is no longer transferred to the absorbent
material. The final step is to 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
Catsup 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