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Most materials and furnishings give a heads-up when they need to be cleaned. Wood floors show scuffs, bathtubs create a ring, and cushions highlight stains. But carpets are trickier. Sure, it’s easy to take out a vacuum or a spot cleaner to get rid of crumbs and spills, but a carpet’s going to need more than that to really gleam. And it’s not going to be as vocal when it’s past its prime.
“It is easy for bacteria and debris to get caught within the carpet’s particles,” Matt Bare, carpet merchant at The Home Depot. “Hot water extraction or steam cleaning is more effective for oily soils and other particles that vacuums don’t catch.” Read: Your vacuum can’t do it all, and the stuff that gets left behind can cause your carpet to look dingy even after you’ve just given it a once-over.
Since carpets aren’t the best communicators, Bare suggests cleaning them every 12 to 18 months to ensure that this dirt doesn’t overstay its welcome. “You can do so by hiring a carpet cleaning professional or renting a carpet cleaning machine—which we have at The Home Depot,” he continues. “Either way, the key is deep cleaning.”
If Bare’s timeframe is an alert that your carpets need to be cleaned, here’s how to get it done.
Choose a vacuum that has a rotating brush to lift embedded dirt, and run it over the desired area—obviously, the places that get the most foot traffic is best. But you’ll also need to suck up any dirt in corners and crevices, too, especially if you’re planning on cleaning stairs. “Vacuum in two directions, perpendicular to each other, for best results,” Bare says. Sucking up surface gunk will help the cleaner grab the more set-in stuff later. For best results, move furniture out of these spaces so you can clean the carpets thoroughly and evenly; at the very least, move any cords out of the way
Test out your carpet cleaner, and spot treat
If this is a DIY project, be sure to read the manufacturer’s guidelines on how to use your rented cleaning tool before getting started. (You can also buy one to keep, which might make sense if you have lots of carpet in high-traffic areas, multiple properties, or if you’re going in on it with friends or neighbors.) When you’re comfortable, begin in an area that’s hidden from view, just in case you notice that the cleaner is accidentally staining or dyeing the carpet. If this is the case, you’ll need a different cleaner. Don’t worry, though: No one will be able to see this tiny mistake if it’s in an obscure area.
Bare also suggests pre-treating stains in high-traffic areas with a spray cleaner, cotton towel, and a brush. “For stubborn areas, gently rub with a scrub brush and then blot with a clean towel,” he says. “Repeat this until the stain is gone.”
Give carpets a pass with the carpet cleaner
Now that you’re ready, use hot water—and this is vital—a pro-level cleaner to deep clean your carpets. “The machine is made to push out water as you move forward, and pull it back up as you move backward, allowing it to pull up as much water as possible to avoid mold and mildew,” Bare says.
When you’re finished cleaning, you’ll need to let the carpet dry for at least 24 hours (open windows and use a fan if you can). After a day has passed, run a vacuum over the space one more time to pick up any lingering dust. Then you can rearrange your furniture and know that your carpets are truly clean, once and for all.