How to Steam Clean Carpet: A Step-by-Step Guide

By
Jeneva Aaron
Jeneva is the founder and CEO of thehousewire.com where she provides honest and objective reviews on home and cleaning products. She is a cleaning enthusiast. She got inspired to build her own cleaning blog when she realized how cleaning can make an impact on our lives and how a cleaner home can affect a person's mood.
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Updated April 13, 2022

Get a better clean with the power of steam.

Get a better clean with the power of steam.

How to steam clean carpet
Over time, the amount of foot traffic in your house will start to show on your carpets.

Because carpets are made with fibrous material, they trap dirt and odors very easily. When dirt soaks into the carpet fibers, it’s impossible to clean carpets with just vacuuming.

A steam cleaning machine will give your rug or carpet a deep clean with the use of very hot steam. It removes dirt and sanitizes better than any other carpet cleaning method.

You can even kill dust mites, bacteria and bugs with a steam cleaner!

There is a technique to it though. To make sure you get the best clean, we’ve put together this great guide for steam cleaning carpets. Our techniques will ensure your carpets stay looking great for years to come.

How Often To Steam Clean a Carpet

How often your carpets need to be cleaned depends on the amount of high traffic areas in your household.

If you have kids and pets, or have company over often, you’ll need to steam clean regularly. Mud, dust and pet dander work their way into carpet fibers and stay there until you steam them away.

If the above situation describes your household, we recommend you steam clean your carpets every 3-4 months.

For less busy households, a typical cleaning regimen is twice a year. This is enough to keep your floors sanitized, and will help extend the life of your carpet.

Note for households with smokers, your carpet will need to be steam cleaned more often than non-smoking houses. Without regular cleaning, smoke will start to discolor your carpet.

The smoke smell also settles into the carpet fibers and is practically impossible to remove without the help of steam.

Before You Begin

We now know that steam cleaning is one of the best ways to refresh and deodorize your carpet. Let’s move onto teaching you the best methods, so your carpets stay fresh and clean for longer.

Keep in mind that a steam cleaner is not the same as a carpet shampooer.

A steamer lifts fine dirt and removes bacteria from deep within your carpet. A shampooer works more so on the surface to clean heavily soiled areas.

Lastly, check if your machine is designed to refresh carpets.

Machines designed for carpets will usually have a carpet glider attachment. These removable plastic attachments allow a mop head to move easily across a carpet or rug.

What You’ll Need

Steam Clean Carpet - Tools to Use

* : Commercial stain remover (CRI certified), liquid dish soap, or any homemade solution works too!).

Instructions

1. Clear the Area

Clear the Area

For a thorough clean, you should pick up any loose items on the floor of the room.

This includes toys, papers, electric cords and any other items that sit on your carpet. These items can get damaged from the hot steam if they aren’t removed.

Next, move any furniture out of the way. You don’t need to take all the furniture out of the room if you don’t have the space. You can stack everything on one side of the room, and clean the carpet in two sections.

Note

This step ensures you have a clear working area, so you can remove dirt from the whole floor. It’s a lot of work, which is why we recommend a steam cleaning every few months.

2. Vacuum Up Hair and Debris

Vacuum Up Hair and Debris

Once your carpet is clear, use a carpet vacuum to suck up any pet hair and dirt.

Remember, the steam cleaning machine is meant to deodorize and sanitize, and won’t pick up debris. In fact, leaving that dirt in your carpet can cause the steam to release even more odors.

Vacuuming is a critical step, because it leaves you with a clear working surface.

Another benefit to vacuuming beforehand is that it will fluff up the fibers. This makes it easier for the dirt to be released once you start steaming.

3. Spot Treat Any Carpet Stains

Spot Treat Any Carpet Stains

Spot treatment to remove stains is the next important step before you steam clean.

You’ll want to make sure you spot treat any protein-based carpet stains first. If you’re not sure what a protein-based stain is, see our list below.

Types of Protein-Based Stains

When you use heat on protein-based stains, it “sets” and becomes chemically bonded to the carpet fibers.

To avoid this, first, lift the dirt using an appropriate stain remover solution. For pet urine, pet stores often carry a special cleaning solution for dogs or cats.

The CRI also has a list of certified carpet cleaning solutions if you’re unsure what to use. (1)

You can also make your own carpet cleaning solution using household products. Dish soap is a popular choice, and you probably already have this in your cupboard. Vinegar is another all-natural option.

To spot treat an area, use your sponge or cloth to blot the solution onto the dirty area on your carpet. Work your way from the outside into the center of the stain, to avoid it from spreading.

Whatever you do, do not scrub – this will only work the dirt deeper into your carpet!

Once the dirt is gone, dab the area with clean water to get rid of any excess solution.

This step is important since many steam cleaning machines are not safe to use with detergents or vinegar. It’s a good idea to read your machine’s instructions to see what the manufacturer recommends.

4. Prepare Your Steam Cleaner

Prepare Your Steam Cleaner

Steam cleaners are all made differently, so read the user manual to ensure you have the correct attachment for carpets.

If you have a steam mop, attach the carpet glider/refresher piece onto the mop head. Never use the machine without this attachment, as it can damage your carpet. It also won’t clean very efficiently.

Next, lift the water tank from the machine and remove the insert assembly. Fill with warm or room temperature water for best results (don’t use hot water!). Be careful not to exceed the maximum fill line.

Replace the insert assembly, and screw the cap on tightly. Then, just plug in your steam cleaner, and you are ready to tackle deep-set dirt!

5. Start Steaming Your Carpet

Start Steaming Your Carpet

It’s always a good idea to do a test area first, to know how your carpet will react to steam.

Squeeze the trigger and steam a small section of your carpet. Wait 15 minutes to see if the carpet is OK. If there are no issues with the test area, continue onto your entire carpet.

Similar to a vacuum, push the machine in one direction, then the opposite direction while releasing steam. Make sure you go slow—the steam needs to get really hot in order to kill bacteria.

The hot steam produced can even kill bed bugs and common allergens like dust mites. If this is your goal, make sure the steam reaches temperatures of 160°F to 180°F.

Do not exceed these temperatures, as anything hotter might start to damage your carpet. An infrared thermometer will read the surface temperature of your carpet after you steam it.

Go over the area more slowly for higher temperatures, and more quickly if it’s getting too hot. Most carpet steam cleaners will have adjustable settings for steam and heat.

Your carpet should be damp to the touch but not wet after the entire room is complete. This is normal, and you should let the carpet dry on its own.

6. Unplug and Store Your Steam Cleaner

Unplug and Store Your Steam Cleaner

When you’re done cleaning your carpets, it’s best to let the machine cool down for five minutes. The attachments will still be hot, and you can burn yourself if you try to remove them right away.

Be sure to empty the water tank if there’s any moisture left behind. If you store a dirty water tank, the moisture will start to smell bad and create bacteria.

Wrap up the cord on the cord wrap and make sure you store the carpet steamer upright in a dry area. A storage room with decent ventilation is recommended, to avoid mold from forming in your steam cleaning machine.

7. Vacuum Again

It’s always a good idea to vacuum your rug or carpet after a steam cleaning. The steam helps to loosen deep-set dirt, which you can now suck up more easily.

Don’t worry if the carpet is still damp when you vacuum. Unlike carpet cleaners, the carpet cleaner machine will not saturate your carpets with water.

You can use a regular vacuum for this step. If you have a wet/dry vacuum like this TICWELL Cordless Wet Dry Vacuum, that’s even better to use.

8. Let the Area Dry and Ventilate

Let the Area Dry and Ventilate

After steam cleaning, your wet carpet needs time to properly ventilate and dry. Although steam won’t soak your floors, it’s important they dry all the way to prevent mildew.

We suggest you open windows and doors to encourage airflow so the carpet dries faster. If you have one, turn on the ceiling fan.

Close off the room to all foot traffic for at least 2-3 hours to ensure the fibers are fully dry.

And that’s it, your carpet is steam cleaned!

For first-timers, we recommend you watch this how-to video. A visual guide will help ensure you’re doing every step right.

FAQ about Steaming Carpet

Now that you know how to steam clean your carpets, we’ll answer a few of the most frequently asked questions.

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Can I Use Vinegar to Steam Clean My Carpet?

Yes, you can! In fact, many professionals use white vinegar as a cleaner because it’s powerful and doesn’t contain harsh chemicals.

Vinegar works great to remove coffee and tea stains, and the acid neutralizes the smell of pet urine. Even the Carpet & Rug Institute recommends it for spot removal on your carpet or area rug.

Before putting vinegar in any machine, read the instruction manual to ensure your machine is compatible. Some brands will advise to not use vinegar as it will corrode parts inside the machine.

A Bissell steam cleaner is one brand that doesn’t recommend using vinegar. Their user guide claims: “Never put […] vinegar products into the steam cleaner, as this may damage it or make it unsafe for use”.

When in doubt, you can always use vinegar as a spot treatment.

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Can I Use a Handheld Steam Cleaner On Carpet?

Yes, handheld steam cleaners can be used on carpets.

Most handheld cleaners are designed for cleaning other surfaces like fabric or furniture upholstery. Because of this, they will perform just as well on carpet fibers.

Simply because of its size, a handheld cleaner will do better for spot treatment. One or two stains are easy to tackle with a handheld tool.

And, you won’t have to clear out the whole room or move all your heavy furniture!

A handheld steam cleaner is a useful appliance to have since it is light and easy to store. And, it is more versatile. You can steam clean your linens, curtains, and practically any fabric surfaces in your house

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Will a Steam Cleaner Damage My Carpet Fibers?

No, it won’t. You may be concerned about the high heat burning or discoloring your carpet when steaming it.

Rest assured that steam cleaners are safe, and designed to be used on carpets. However, you’ll want to make sure that the machine you buy has the proper attachments.

A machine designed for carpets will come with a glider attachment. This is a hard plastic piece that simply snaps over the mop head. It allows the mop head to glide over your carpets without getting stuck.

Because the carpet glider moves over top of your floor, the fibers won’t get damaged from the heat. The steam will simply release the dirt without any pressure or force.

Remember, proper technique is also important to avoid any damage to your carpets. Don’t hover over the same area for over 20 seconds.

Some fabrics are more delicate than others, so adjust the settings on your steam cleaning machine when you can.

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