Along with high-quality work, you want a good price. Pay close attention to cost. Some carpet cleaners will push services you don’t need, and prices for identical services 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 deodorant) can inflate a seemingly low price into a high one. Also, services that go by the same name at different companies—for example, “deodorizing” or “sanitizing”—may actually be different services. And be wary of companies whose fliers and other advertising techniques quote extremely low per-room prices as bait and then switch customers to higher-priced treatments.

On our Ratings Tables we report pricing details for the companies gathered by our undercover shoppers to clean carpeting in several specific rooms: a combination of living room, dining room, and hall totaling 330 square feet plus an additional room measuring 130 square feet. Per-square-foot prices for our sample rooms varied dramatically from company to company.

On our Ratings Tables we report price comparison scores, which show how each company’s prices compared to the average company’s prices. Price comparison scores are adjusted so that the average score is $100; a score of $90, for instance, means that the company’s prices were 10 percent below average.

In our detailed ratings for each company, the pricing information we report should provide you 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 you want a combination of add-on services, you’ll need to talk with the companies. And, of course, prices can be expected to change as time passes. If you describe your carpet and calculate the square footage, most cleaners will quote prices by phone.

Several factors determine what you’ll pay:

  • Type of carpet—Some 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 soiling—Many companies charge more for badly soiled carpets than for carpets in better condition.
  • Cleaning method—Companies that offer more than one method may charge different amounts for the different methods—with prices for in-home cleaning of several rooms varying by 50 percent or more.
  • Add-ons—A company may recommend, in addition to carpet cleaning, one or more add-on treatments (described 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.
  • Steps—Some companies that charge generally low prices for most work charge high prices for steps.
  • Furniture moving—The prices reported on our Ratings Tables 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 foot—Some 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 opt for the square-foot price if your rooms are small. Note that 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. Also, when shopping for per-room prices, find out what constitutes a room: Some companies count L-shaped rooms as two rooms.

Carpet Protectors

Carpet protectors coat carpet fibers to repel oil and dirt particles, which results 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 rooms.

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; it depends heavily on the technician’s skill and the extent of 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 don’t 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.