Our ratings of carpet and rug cleaners will help you find a high-quality company. 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.
  • Remove prized valuables. Cleaning personnel will generally move them, but not necessarily with the care you desire.
  • 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; others do it themselves for free. It can’t hurt to do it yourself.


  • If you want a particular kind of service—such as truck-mounted hot-water-extraction cleaning—inform the company before the day of your scheduled appointment.
  • When company personnel arrive, ask them to explain what they will do and what choices you have to make.
  • Specify which add-on features you want, and which you don’t want—carpet 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 and when they got there. Reach an agreement with the serviceperson on each stain: Will it be removed in the normal process of cleaning, removed at additional cost, or not removed at all?
  • 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.

Understand the Limits

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 don’t see it as much because the fibers diffuse light differently. Also, most manufacturers now treat carpeting with soil and stain protectants. But there’s no such thing as magic wall-to-wall carpets or rugs, and they still need professional cleaning from time to time.

Even the most capable carpet cleaning professionals will find certain problems difficult or impossible to solve:

  • Urine. Urine stains can’t be removed unless they are treated before they dry. Urine odor can sometimes be controlled or masked by a deodorizer, 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 be eliminated.
  • 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. 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 deodorizers. 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 may be irreversible.
  • 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.

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  • Don’t pay until you have inspected the carpet. Check for spots. Don’t listen if the serviceperson tells you not to walk on it; you can, if you’re careful. If you are not satisfied with the finished job, explain that you won’t pay until it’s done properly.
  • Make sure plastic or foil shields have been placed beneath the legs of all furniture.
  • Before the serviceperson leaves, ask him or her to estimate carpet drying time and to provide any special instructions.
  • 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 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 your local government’s office of consumer affairs 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.
  • Get referrals for inspectors from the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC).