What Kind of Carpet Cleaning Is Best?

Find out the pros and cons of five carpet cleaning methods so you can make the best decisions for maintaining the carpet in your home or business.

“What kind of carpet cleaning do you recommend?”

It’s one of the most frequently asked questions our customer service team answers. 

The variety of methods and confusing advertising claims, it can seem overwhelming to make a good decision.

They all have some good points and bad points, but with the millions and millions of square feet of carpeting we have maintained – and our interaction with manufactures, retail stores and industry experts over the last 78 years – we have an intimate knowledge of which method is right for every situation.

So, with full disclosure, we’ll take a deep dive into five of the most common methods for installed carpeting: shampooing, dry cleaning, bonnet cleaning, hot water extraction and portable extraction. Plus, the pros and cons of each.

Let’s be like M.C. Hammer and break it down.

1. Carpet Shampooing

Shampooing your carpet and shampooing your hair have one thing in common:  Sodium Lauryl Sulfate. It’s the main ingredient in the shampoo you wash your hair with, AND it’s also a chemical used in carpet shampooing.

An optical brightener is often added into the carpet-cleaning solution. It takes invisible ultraviolet light and converts it into a form of visible light, making the carpet seem brighter than it really is – for a while.

Shampooing typically uses a rotary floor machine (the same kind used for stripping and waxing vinyl floors). These machines are heavy, weighing in at 75-100lbs. and they spin a stiff brush at 175 rpm.

This method has been used since wall-to-wall carpeting has been installed  in homes and businesses.

In the past, shampooing resulted in carpeting that got dirty much faster because it left behind a good deal of that shampoo in the fibers. It just wasn’t rinsed out at all.

Today, when done properly, shampooing can be effective as a pre-conditioning step to break down heavy soils in carpeting and area rugs.

It should then be followed by a second method, like hot water extraction, to remove residues and soils.

It’s most commonly used in commercial applications that get very heavy traffic like restaurants, hotels and car dealerships.

The good:

      • Helps to break down heavy, ground-in soils and stains.
    • It’s relatively fast and many square feet can be cleaned quickly.
    • Though it uses water as part of the cleaning agent, it dries pretty quickly – in most cases, under an hour.

The bad:

    • Not for use on any delicate carpet fiber as the mechanical agitation can untwist fiber and cause damage to the texture. (Wool carpeting can be particularly sensitive to this method, creating a “felted” or “matted” appearance.
    • Most manufacturers exclude this method from their recommendations due to the potential for damage from the aggressive brushes and the weight of the machines. Another reason is that inexperienced operators often fail to rinse excess detergents from fibers, causing that rapid re-soiling and discoloration mentioned above.
    • One of the biggest negatives is that it doesn’t remove any residues from carpeting. All soils and spills are just pushed deeper into the back of the fibers where they’re less likely to be seen. Imagine a pet urine stain or a food spill not being removed, but just pushed to the back of the carpet!  You can understand the limitations of using shampooing as your only cleaning method.

2. Dry cleaning with absorbent powders

This method is also known as “carpet absorbent cleaners.”

The word “dry” is a bit of a false statement as the compound includes water, detergent and solvent.

The compound is sprinkled over the carpet or worked into the carpet with a machine. The purpose is for the compound to attract the soiling with little “sponges,” kind of like a magnet for dirt.

Typically a special machine with cylindrical brushes is used to lightly agitate the soil, followed by vacuuming up the compound particles and dirt.

This method has an advantage of very fast dry time since very little water is used.

The Good:

        • The quick drying time.
        • It doesn’t take much training for the operator
        • Good for a quick touch-up or interim cleaning, especially in a facility that is open 24 hours a day

The Bad:

        • Only suitable for very lightly-soiled carpets as cleaning powders will not rinse and remove heavy spills, oils or soils.
        • Can cause dust in the home from residues left behind in the carpet.
        • Powders can build up in carpet fibers over time. We see this in commercial locations often where they’re cleaning frequently.
        • Most carpet manufacturers do not recommend this method since it has minimal soil removal, which causes breakdown of fibers over time, leaving traffic areas matted with faster re-soiling.

3. Hot water extraction

This method is also known as “steam cleaning,” which is funny since no steam is used for the process. 

First, a mild detergent is used to pre-spray the carpet. Next, hot water is injected into the carpet. Finally, a high-powered vacuum extracts the water, detergent and soil from of the carpet.

Ideally, this is done with a high-powered machine installed in a van. Long hoses are routed into a home or business, leaving the noise and odors outside.

Most manufacturers, including the two largest, Shaw Industries and Mohawk, both recommend using this method.

The Good:

    • Very effective at removing soils, stains and spills. The best method for removing pet urine and hair. Also the best at removing allergens and other contamination.
    • Not just a cover-up. This method effectively rinses and removes contamination from home or business.
    • Uses heat for increased cleaning effectiveness.
    • Manufacturer-endorsed and most common method to keep your warranty in effect.
    • Very gentle on fibers and can be used on nearly all carpet types, including wool.
    • The ability to use the widest array of spotting procedures to give the best final appearance.
    • Equipment and noise stay outside your home or business.
    • Leaves carpeting without residue and will stay “clean” for the longest time.

The Bad:

    • Takes a very experienced operator.
    • Dry time is longer. Typically, from our crews, we see full dry times in the 2-6 hour range.
    • In the hands of someone inexperienced, carpet can be left over-wet which can cause wrinkling and odor issues. We’ve been called in to correct cleaning from an inexperienced cleaner and they are still wet after 48 hours. This should never happen with an experienced technician.

4. Bonnet cleaning

This method is similar to shampoo cleaning, only it’s used with a rotary machine using a brush or pads to mix the foam cleaning solution with the soiling.

This method is mostly used for heavily-soiled commercial applications and is ill-advised according to carpet manufacturers.

Some solution still remains in the carpet unless an extraction is used afterwards since the original process doesn’t include much.

The Good:

    • Easy and fast.
    • Good for quick touch-ups to improve the appearance in commercial applications.

The Bad:

    • If used in a residential application, damage can occur to the fibers. Fuzzing or swirl marks can become permanent until the proper cleaning method is done to correct the problem.
    • Doesn’t actually remove any residue or contamination, instead, it just pushes the gunk into the backing. 

5. Do it yourself

You can rent a machine or you may prefer to buy your own.

Some machines need to have hot water added, while others have heating coils to pre-heat the water.

You can also buy a detergent that can be added to the tank.

Dry times average 18-24 hours as the suction for the extraction is not as powerful as a cleaning machine used by a professional.

If 10 gallons of water is used, some machines will only pick back up half or 5 gallons, leaving a great deal of water in the carpeting.

A couple of carpet manufacturers will still cover warranties with this type of cleaning, but you should always check before proceeding with this method.

The good:

  • It’s handy for a small spill or spot.
  • Obviously, it’s less expensive than having a company do the cleaning.

The Bad:

    • Long dry times. It’s recommended that you stay off of the carpet for 18-24 hours.
    • Very hard work. The low power and limitations of the machine mean more muscle power is needed.
    • Noisy when machines are running.

How often should my carpets be cleaned?
The answer to that question depends.

How many family members live there? What about pets? The color of the carpet and the location matter, too.

Most manufacturers recommend you have your carpets professionally cleaned every 12-18 months, but high-traffic areas could be cleaned more frequently..

With the exception of one (bet you can guess), at Hammond Knoll, we do all these methods.

Still have questions? We suggest calling your carpet manufacturer or the carpet store where you purchased the carpet for a recommendation.

And then call us so we can talk about the best method for cleaning your floors!

  • Heavy equipment to move up or down stairs.