How to Spot the Best Carpet Cleaning Services
Last updated November 2019
That reddish blotch on your rug looks like it’s from a crime scene, though it’s just a stain from the Pizza Incident of 2018. And did your kid use a PURPLE MARKER on your trendy Moroccan rug??!! You might have good intentions to keep your rugs and carpets nice and clean, but life (muddy dog paw prints, dust particles, even cooking grime) interferes. This means you’ll eventually need to get them cleaned.
Here's info to help you find competent, reasonably priced companies that can help.
Start by consulting the information compiled on our Ratings Tables. They report results from our surveys of local consumers, complaint counts, the areas companies serve, and how operations compare on price for carpet and rug cleaning.
Feedback from Customers
The ratings reported on our Ratings Tables come from surveys we sent to local consumers. We primarily surveyed Checkbook and Consumer Reports subscribers, but also invited other randomly selected area consumers to submit reviews. We asked them to rate carpet and rug cleaning companies they had used “inferior,” “adequate,” or “superior” for “doing work properly,” “starting and completing work promptly,” “neatness,” “advice on service options and costs,” and “overall quality.” Our Ratings Tables show, for companies that received at least 10 ratings on our survey, the percent of each company’s surveyed customers who rated it “superior” (as opposed to “inferior” or “adequate”) on each question. Click here for more information on our customer survey and other research methods.
As you can see, many professional cleaning companies consistently perform great work, but calling some of them “professional” is a stretch. 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 quality.”
Our Ratings Tables also report counts of complaints we gathered from the Better Business Bureau (BBB) for a recent three-year period, the number of complaints on file with the Consumer Protection Division of the Illinois Office of the Attorney General for a recent two-year period, and complaint rates relative to the volume of work companies do. Click here for more information on reported complaint counts and rates.
What Do They Guarantee?
Most carpet cleaning outfits provide guarantees, but what they promise varies. Give companies credit if they talk candidly about their limitations before they begin work. Some stains are extremely difficult or even impossible to remove once they’ve set, and companies may not know whether they can zap 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 a guarantee from the cleaning company, if your carpet is still under its manufacturer’s warranty ask the company if its services keep the warranty in effect. Carpet manufacturers’ warranties are notably murky about coverage for “wear” and “appearance,” and many include a clause declaring that, for certain sections of the warranty to remain in effect, the buyer must prove the carpet was “professionally maintained.” This typically means the carpet must be professionally cleaned once every 12 to 18 months using a hot-water-extraction method. That’s a very expensive requirement, but if you care about warranty coverage, show the warranty to the cleaning service and have it assure you that its services meet its requirements.
Do They Use Effective Methods?
Select a company whose cleaning methods are appropriate to your carpet or rugs. Some cleaning methods work better than others, depending on the condition of your carpet or rugs. Most oriental rugs should be cleaned at a company’s plant using an immersion method. Click here for details and best practices for rug-cleaning jobs. For lightly soiled carpet, any method performed properly is acceptable, but in most cases you’re best off with a company that offers hot-water extraction with truck-mounted equipment.
Here’s a rundown of the pros and cons of various methods:
Hot Water Extraction
Also called “steam cleaning,” this technique sprays hot liquid (either water or water plus a mild detergent) into carpet pile and then immediately vacuums it—and grime—out. Performed properly, hot water extraction can clean even heavily soiled carpets.
This type of cleaning can be done with equipment or truck-mounted equipment; the latter generally does a better job on really dirty carpets—it provides technicians with higher temperatures and pressure that penetrates deeply into carpet pile. The most effective machines are powered by an engine on the truck, rather than the home’s electricity.
The extraction machines work more effectively if the carpet is sprayed with conditioner and lightly agitated with brushes before cleaning. The conditioner acts as a degreasing agent, which helps remove dirt and grime, and also lubricates the carpet so the hot-water-extraction wand doesn’t distort the pile.
For years, companies affiliated with the Chem-Dry brand used a modified bonnet method (see below), but most now usually use its hot-water-extraction method, which mixes in a carbonated solution that, in theory, requires less moisture to be effective.
Shampoos for carpets operate like laundry detergents. Some also contain chemicals to reduce odor, retard soiling, brighten colors, and speed drying. Cleaners use a rotary brush that releases shampoo onto the carpet, converts it into foam, and works it in. When the shampoo dries, it leaves dry particles that can be vacuumed up.
However, those loosened dirt particles might not get removed and may simply work deeper into the pile. Too much (or lousy) detergent may cause a sticky buildup on carpet fibers. And repeated cleanings without proper extraction can compound this problem, accelerating re-soiling.
Combined Shampoo and Hot Water Extraction
High-powered truck-mounted hot-water-extraction equipment usually cleans even heavily soiled carpet—especially if it is treated with conditioner—but this two-step method is rarely employed in homes. 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. Although some professional machines combine the shampoo and extraction methods, the two steps are usually separate, meaning extra labor charges.
Foams are really just a form of shampoo. Professionals use machines that generate foam and agitate it on the carpet with brushes. You can use aerosol cans of foam at home, applying it in a thin layer and rubbing it in with a damp sponge. When it dries, simply vacuum up the residue. The main advantage to do-it-yourself users is that foam contains very little moisture, so you’re unlikely to damage carpet by overwetting. But this also means that not much soil is removed, so you’re cleaning only the carpet’s surface. Plus, some foams are difficult to rinse out and may interfere with later attempts to clean the carpet.
Originally meant for 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 shampooing—many loosened dirt particles are never removed and simply work their way deeper into the carpet pile. The incorrect amount of detergent may produce a sticky buildup on carpet fibers. And since companies using this method rarely employ 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 the 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.