Vacuuming your home is the easiest and most convenient way to keep your carpet clean, but simple vacuuming will not be enough to keep a carpet in good repair.  At least once every year or two, our carpets will show enough wear and tear, stains, scuffs or blots, that we consider giving them a better, deeper cleaning.  It is then that we are faced with the choice between a home cleaning using a rented steam cleaner or small purchased model, or choosing a professional carpet cleaning.

Dirty carpets impact your indoor air quality, which is often 8-10 times worse than outdoor quality and which has a profound effect on those with asthma or allergies.  Regular carpet cleaning is a must for these individuals.   Many experts recommend frequent carpet cleaning for everyone, at least every six months, to help keep dirt, allergies, and germs at bay.  You should probably clean your carpets even more often if you have pets.

So how to clean those dirty carpets?  Steam cleaning is the only real way to loosen dirt and dust trapped deep within carpet fiber.  These tiny particles, moving within the deep carpet fibers, can effectively shred our carpet from within.  Getting them out is of utmost importance to protect your long-term carpet investment.   In fact, many carpet warranties require professional cleaning every 12-24 months in order to honor the warranty, for this very reason.

Steam cleaning works by spraying detergent mixed with hot water into the carpets. A steam cleaner then acts as a wet vacuum to pull the dirt, detergent, and water back out of the carpets.  This can be done by professionals or at home, with a rented or purchased machine.  Steam cleaning works well because it moves past the surface of the carpet into the deeper layers where dirt and dust particles like to hide.  The spraying and lifting actions of the machine help to pull those particles out of the cracks and crevices they have hidden in.

While you can certainly buy or rent a steam cleaner and do the work yourself, professional expertise helps with making sure all the steam comes back out of the carpets after cleaning.  Leaving the carpets wet is sure to lead to mold and a greater health hazard than the dirt you started with. Steam cleaning is both an art and a science.  Important factors to get the carpets really clean while avoiding moisture and resulting mold growth include: using the right amount of water (not too much or too little), don’t let the water sit too long on the carpets, and use the steam cleaner properly to vacuum the water and detergent back out.  Professional steam cleaners can use more water than home cleaners can because they have much stronger suction to pull the water back out - this gives a cleaner result.  Professional steam cleaners also have the advantage of hot water pumped from the truck into the machines, while, at home, you can only heat water and pour it into the steam machine, hoping it doesn’t cool off too much as you go.  Another factor is the condition of the machine you use at home.  If it’s a rental machine and perhaps not in good repair, it could create more problems than it solves by releasing too much water or detergent or failing to vacuum it back out well.

Steam cleaning is highly effective but it takes time to dry. A faster, though somewhat less effective, alternative to steam cleaning is dry cleaning.   Dry cleaning is not a completely dry process, but it uses far less water than steam cleaning.  Chemicals, in powder form, are sprinkled onto the carpets.  These chemicals sift down into the carpet, disrupting dirt, breaking it up and bonding with it.  A small amount of water is used over top of the chemicals to increase their effectiveness. Vacuuming is then used to pull the chemicals and dirt back up.  You can walk on the carpets almost immediately after this treatment, leading to less disruption for the carpet owner.   While these chemicals are very effective without much time or effort, they are also somewhat toxic and may affect those in your home who have allergies or asthma.  Home owners can dry clean carpets with a simple baking soda sprinkle, but the more effective and harsher chemicals are usually best left to professionals.

While professional carpet cleaners are far more effective at getting a clean result with both steam and dry cleaning, the costs will be higher.  Renting a steam cleaner for a day may only cost $20, while the professional may run $120 or more.   Ultimately the decision requires a cost vs benefits analysis by each homeowner where results are weighed against cost and the time of the homeowner is factored in.

Whatever you do about carpet cleaning, between cleanings, be sure to vacuum regularly.   With low wear, carpets can be vacuumed once weekly, with greater use, several times a week may be needed. Vacuuming slowly, thoroughly and in multiple directions will help keep your carpet far cleaner and reduce the number of times it needs a full cleaning.