Remember the days when houses were made from wooden slats and clay? No? Well, how about when the only options for flooring were wood or concrete? Rather unlikely. In this modern age, flooring options are practically endless. We can install anything from oak, pine, maple, birch or bamboo to slate, granite, marble, limestone or sandstone. How about vinyl, linoleum, laminate, cork, ceramic or porcelain tile? Such a boundless sea of flooring opportunity! Yet the one enduring option to grace family homes from decade to decade is that foot-warming, cozy, timeless material that is carpeting. More often than not, at least some of the rooms in contemporary homes are carpeted and, with proper care, can last for many years.
However, such longevity is only attainable through the practice of careful carpet maintenance. Carpets can be a breeding ground for microorganisms such as mildew, mold, dust mites and other pollutants. Consider what you bring into your home on your shoes every day: dirt, chemicals, animal feces and anything else you happen to walk through in your daily travels. Then there are those of us with pets which introduce all sorts of contaminants into the home environment. At some point, your carpet will become exposed to such substances which will adhere to its millions of soft fibers and eventually decrease the life of the carpet. How do we avoid such undesirable effects? By following a regular cleaning regimen, thereby minimizing the degree to which your carpet becomes soiled and, subsequently, damaged.
When it comes to carpet cleaning, you have several options. The first step is to decide what it is you are attempting to remove from your carpet. Is it daily dust and grime that accumulate on every floor? Are your higher traffic areas looking like they need a facelift? Are your pets leaving evidence of their presence in unwanted places? Or are there unsightly stains tarnishing the look of your carpet? Depending on your carpet needs, you have options that can bring your carpet back to its original beauty whether through home remedies, equipment rentals or by means of professional carpet cleaners.
Economically speaking, most people would choose home remedies over other methods simply because of their cost effectiveness. A jug of white vinegar is far cheaper than hiring a company to do the job. On the other hand, some jobs are extensive enough that professional cleaning is the only answer. There are advantages to home remedies though, in addition to their relatively low cost. A clean carpet can be achieved much sooner if you can handle the job with ingredients found around the house than having to arrange an appointment with a cleaning company. Equally appealing is the potential to use green solutions for those who prefer to avoid using chemicals. Not only are they better for the environment, but household cleaning recipes are also preferable in situations where babies, young children and pets spend time playing or laying on the carpet thereby eliminating their exposure to harmful chemicals.
The very first approach to carpet cleaning is obviously vacuuming. Make sure your vacuum is of good quality, or you are wasting your time and money. Choosing the right vacuum really isn’t that difficult. There are basically 4 main vacuum styles: canister, upright, handheld and robotic. It comes down to the demands of the cleaning job and personal preference. Do you have stairs to clean? Are there corners and crevices to reach? What about areas where you have to slide under furniture? In such cases, a canister vacuum offers more flexibility with its maneuverability and various attachments such as dusting brushes and bare floor brushes. In the end, all of them clean carpets, but each tends to address specific issues.
Being the first line of defense, vacuuming often is essential not only to the health of your carpet but to the health of your family as well. Pollutants in the carpet mean pollutants in the air that you breathe. A regular vacuuming schedule will cut back on these contaminants for a cleaner overall environment. Time permitting, daily vacuuming would be the ideal, but how many of us live in an ideal world? Your home can be divided into regions of traffic use. The higher traffic areas should be vacuumed daily particularly if you have indoor pets, two to three times weekly for medium traffic areas, and once a week is sufficient for areas that don’t receive much use. Don’t forget that in bag models, the bag should be changed at approximately ½ to ⅔ full. Some models have a bag indicator to alert you when it is time to change it, but to be safe, manually check the content level yourself regularly.
Prior to doing any sort of carpet treatments, professional or otherwise, contact the manufacturer in cases where a warranty is still in effect. They will provide guidelines regarding carpet cleaning and maintenance that doing otherwise could void your warranty.
Let’s take a look at the various home based options for stain removal. Spills and smudges are the nemesis of any carpet, but they don’t have to be its undoing. Home remedies, tried and true, have evolved since the very first spill on the very first carpet. Kids with unsteady hands, house parties, pets with muddy feet are but a few of the blemish causing mishaps in the life of a carpet. Fortunately, many of these stains can be treated with simple household products such as vinegar, baking soda, dish soap, ammonia and even plain old water. The following are recipes to address a multitude of stains. And remember, logic dictates that the sooner you can start treating a stain, the better your chances are of successful removal.
NOTE: ALWAYS TEST A HIDDEN SECTION OF CARPET WITH CLEANING SOLUTIONS PRIOR TO STAIN TREATMENT.
The common DIY procedure
Step 1. Vacuum the carpet. Vacuum thoroughly, make sure you remove most of the dust and dirt.
Step 2. Prepare the solution. Vinegar is one of the best household cleaners and has extensive applications around the home. It is natural, non-toxic and inexpensive. Begin by purchasing two spray bottles and a jug of pure white vinegar. Fill one bottle with straight vinegar and the other bottle with a combination of 50% vinegar and 50% water. Keep both of these on hand as some stains require full strength vinegar while others call for a diluted solution. You can also use a solution of ¼ teaspoon non-bleach detergent mixed with 32 ounces of water. These solutions address stains such as:
- alcoholic beverages
- ice cream
- pets droppings or urine
- food dyes
- washable ink
- latex paint
Step 3. Perform the following procedure: If the stain is still wet, use a white cloth or white paper towels to soak up any fluid. Then spray the stain with the vinegar and water solution. Allow the solution to sit for a few minutes and gently agitate. Then using a clean, white cloth, blot the stain from the outer edges inward. DO NOT SCRUB as this can damage the carpet fibers. Reapply and blot again until the stain is removed. Finally, spray the stain with water to rinse and blot with a clean, white towel to remove any residue. You can also apply the non-bleach detergent and water solution following the vinegar and water solution for deeper cleaning. Then spray with water to rinse and blot dry.
Some water-soluble stains require a stronger approach. Combine one tablespoon of ammonia with one cup of water. You can also combine one part chlorine bleach to five parts water but only on solution-dyed carpets as bleach can damage other types of carpet. If you are unsure as to your carpet type, contact the manufacturer.
Blood. A tricky stain and much easier to remove if treated immediately. ALWAYS apply COLD water to blood stains as hot or warm water will set the stain permanently. Try straight water first, spraying the stain and blotting with a clean, white towel repeatedly until the stain is removed. If this doesn’t remove the stain, try a solution of one tablespoon dish-washing detergent to two cups cold water. Follow the same application and blotting process. You can even GENTLY agitate the stain with a small brush (i.e. a toothbrush) after spraying with the detergent solution. A third option is to use a solution of one tablespoon ammonia with two cups cold water. There is even evidence that a salt “paste” can remove blood stains. Forming a paste out of cold water and salt, spread the mixture on the blood stain and allow to sit for a few minutes. Then blot with a clean, white towel until the stain is removed. Vacuum any residual salt. Finally, and only as a last resort, try hydrogen peroxide. This is a last resort because it can affect the carpet color, so test a hidden spot first. Dampen the stain with the 3% hydrogen peroxide and allow to penetrate for one hour. Follow the same blotting procedure until the stain is removed.
Mustard. Remove as much mustard as possible with a clean, dry cloth. DO NOT RUB; this will grind the mustard into the fibers and spread to surrounding fibers. Start with the dish-washing detergent solution and blot to remove the stain. If the stain persists, move on to the ammonia solution (one tablespoon ammonia to two cups warm water) and blot to remove the stain. A really stubborn stain may require a more drastic measure. Try forming a paste out of dish-washing detergent and hydrogen peroxide (one part peroxide to three parts detergent… again, test a hidden area to avoid damaging your carpet). After spreading the paste onto the stain, hold an iron turned to its lowest temperature setting directly above the paste (don’t touch the paste with the iron) for a minute. This should loosen the stain. Next, dip a clean, white cloth into cold water and blot at the stain until it is removed.
Red Wine. Soak up as much of the wine as possible with a clean, dry, white cloth. BLOT… DON’T SCRUB! Then saturate the area with a vinegar and water solution. Blot with a clean, white towel. Next, apply a small amount of dish-washing detergent and water solution (½ teaspoon to 4 cups warm water) and work the area with a blotting motion. Finally, use plain water and a blotting motion to remove any residue. You can also try the well-known method of club soda. Some theories suggest that club soda works on red wine stains because of the bubbles. Others believe it is less attributable to the club soda and more so to the speed with which one reacts to the spill in the first place. If the latter is true, then water would work just as well. Either way, remove most of the wine spill by blotting with a clean, dry, white cloth. Then apply club soda to the area as a way of “flushing” the wine from the fibers. Continue blotting to pull the stain out of the carpet. Following this step, combine four cups of water with ½ a teaspoon of dish-washing detergent and gently agitate the carpet fibers with a clean, white cloth. Continue blotting until the stain is gone, and then apply water and more blotting to remove any residue. Alternatively, after blotting up most of the wine and diluting the stain with water, blot up all excess liquid. Then try applying a paste consisting of three parts water to one part baking soda. Spread this over the stain and allow to dry. Simply vacuum up that which remains.
Grease Marks. Although you might think otherwise, stains like this are not a lost cause. Scrape off any excess oil with a spatula or butter knife. Sprinkling baking soda, cornstarch, cornmeal or talcum powder on the remaining stain acts as an absorbent, soaking up the grease. Allow to sit for half an hour before vacuuming. Then apply a solution of one tablespoon dish-washing detergent, one tablespoon of vinegar and two cups of warm water to the stain and blot until the stain is removed. As always, use plain water and blotting to remove any remaining detergent and vinegar.
Oil Marks. Just like sprinkling sawdust on your garage floor soaks up oil spills to be quickly swept away afterward, applying an absorbent such as baking soda, cornstarch, cornmeal or talcum powder acts to soak up an oil stain from your carpet. Simply allow it to sit for at least 30 minutes and then vacuum. Next, apply a dry-cleaning solvent such as Guardsman Dry Cleaning Fluid with a clean cloth and sponge into the stain. Blot until the solvent is absorbed into the fibers. Any remaining stain can be treated with the same detergent/vinegar/water solution as with grease marks.
Chocolate. Carefully scrape away any excess chocolate with a non-serrated knife or spatula. If the chocolate is soft, wrap an ice cube in a plastic bag and freeze the chocolate to a harder consistency. This will make it easier to chip away more of the chocolate. Vacuum up any loose pieces. Then with paper towels placed over the stain, take an iron on its lowest temperature setting and slowly slide the iron across the towels. The chocolate should start to stick to the paper towels. Continue in this fashion with clean paper towels until no more chocolate sticks to them. Any remaining dark spots are likely oily and can be treated with dish-washing detergent or a dry solvent. Dry solvents contain no water and work to break down or “dissolve” the oil in the stain. These can be obtained from any carpet cleaning products distributor. Most solvents on the market today are effective stain removers because of conscientious efforts of manufacturers and distributors as well as due to improvements in formulation.
Gum. Did you know that chewing gum, in its varying forms, has been around for 3,000 years? Modern gum achieved its chewy quality from “chicle”, a natural latex from Mexico. Later, chicle was exchanged for more desirable chewy substances like hydrocarbon polymers such as styrene-butadiene rubber, isobutylene, isoprene copolymer, paraffin wax and petroleum wax… appetizing huh!! As much as we enjoy our gum chewing experiences, not so enjoyable are the sticky messes that end up on the carpet. Though they often seem impossible to eliminate, gum stains are manageable. It holds true once again that treating a gum stain as quickly as possible will yield better results. Begin by wrapping an ice cube in a plastic bag and laying it on top of the gum to harden it (around 30 minutes). Then you can carefully remove most of it with a table knife. The remaining stain can be treated with cleaners such as 409 or WD40 and then scrubbed with a toothbrush or fingernail brush. Repeat this application and scrubbing until the stain is removed. Any muscle-rub product containing methyl salicylate will have the same effect with its oil-based loosening agents. Follow this with the detergent and water solution and blot to remove any cleaner residue. Finally, use straight water and blotting to remove any detergent. Alternatively, aim your hairdryer directly at the gum until it starts to melt. Be careful not the melt the carpet fibers. Using a plastic bag, scrape off the gum which will stick to the plastic bag. Repeat this process until the gum disappears.
Candle Wax. Another one of those sticky substances, candle wax removal involves a few steps. First, place a bag of ice on the wax stain for a few minutes until the wax hardens. Then you can use a dull blade or straight edge to scrape off the wax. The next step is to place a brown paper bag over the wax and slowly run a hot iron across the paper. The bag will absorb the hot wax. Repeat until the stain is removed. You can then use a detergent and water solution or household carpet cleaner to remove any residual wax.
Lipstick. Since lipstick contains oil, you’ll need a solvent like Goo Gone, a dry cleaning product, rubbing alcohol or an all-purpose stain remover. Apply with a clean, white cloth, and the color will start to transfer to the cloth. Repeat this application until no more color transfers to the cloth. You will then need to use a dish-washing detergent and water solution and blotting to remove any remaining lipstick and cleaning product. Finish with plain water and blot to remove any residue.
Makeup. Like lipstick, most makeup contains oil and can be treated in the same manner as lipstick. However, certain types of makeup can also be treated with specific cleaners. For example, for:
- eye-liner and mascara: use a dish-washing and warm water solution
- liquid foundation: use a 3% hydrogen peroxide solution
- nail polish: nail polish remover (free of color, fragrance and acetone)
NOTE: use the proper cleaning solution, apply and blot in the usual fashion until the stain is removed. Follow with the detergent and water solution and then plain water and blotting for the final cleaning step.
Tomato Sauce. Try the detergent and water solution initially. If the stain persists, move to an ammonia and water solution (one tablespoon ammonia to ½ cup water). Club soda is also an option as well as rubbing lemon on the stain and then spraying with water and blotting. If all else fails, try mixing together one tablespoon hydrogen peroxide with three tablespoons water. Apply to the stain and allow to sit for half an hour, but check it regularly for any color change. Rinse with cold water and blot.
Urine. Lovable as they are, pets can wreak havoc upon your expensive carpet (so can toddlers, for that matter!). Treat your puppy’s accident as quickly as possible by soaking up any puddles with absorbent towels. Exerting pressure, soak up as much of the liquid as you can. Exchange the towels for dry ones and continue to soak up the urine until no more liquid can be removed from the carpet. Using a shop vac removes even more of the liquid. One option is to apply a solution of equal parts vinegar and water. Saturate the stain and allow to sit for five to ten minutes. You can even use a small brush to massage the solution down into the carpet fibers. Then blot in the usual fashion with a clean, white cloth. Reapply and blot until the stain disappears. If the stain persists, the same procedure can be applied to a solution of ¼ teaspoon dishwashing detergent and one cup warm water. As a last resort, a combination of hydrogen peroxide and dishwashing soap can be applied. Spray with water and blot until all residue is removed. If the stain is dry, you can sprinkle baking soda liberally over the stain. Then mix a solution of ½ cup 3% hydrogen peroxide and one teaspoon dishwashing detergent and apply to the baking soda. Use a brush to scrub the carpet. Allow the mixture to dry and then vacuum.
Odors come from ever so many sources: pets, socks, feet, cigarette smoke, cooking and so on. Unpleasant, lingering odors can be combated in several ways. You can try a liberal sprinkling baking soda on the carpet and allowing it to stand for at least 30 minutes, but overnight is better. Brushing it deeper into the carpet will potentially give the soda a better chance of reaching the odor source. Baking soda is an alkaline substance and will neutralize odors of an acidic nature. The next step is to sweep up the surface soda as vacuuming up excessive amounts of powder can damage the vacuum. Then you can vacuum up whatever amount is left. Spraying your carpet with a vinegar and water solution can also freshen your carpet. Allow the vinegar to absorb into the carpet fibers for at least 30 minutes. Then spray with plain water and blot with a clean, white cloth. Another more drastic option involves the use of hydrogen peroxide in the same fashion as the vinegar and water solution. However, peroxide can affect the color of the carpet, so test a hidden area prior to full application. And remember: fresh air is one of the best ways to freshen anything, so open the windows and let the room breathe.
Obviously, the stain list could continue infinitely as long as substances exist on the planet to stain your carpet. What do you do when none of the above options work or when an entire room requires carpet cleaning? You won’t be down on your knees with a spray bottle and clean, white cloth, you can be sure. Your next options involve either purchasing or renting a carpet cleaner and products or hiring a professional carpet cleaning company to do the job for you. The decision really comes down to these questions:
- Do you want to spend the money on a cleaning company?
- Can you do an adequate job cleaning your carpets yourself if you rent the equipment?
- Do you know the dos and don’ts of carpet cleaning, the pitfalls, the precautions you need to take?
- Can you afford to rent the equipment AND hire a cleaning company if you are unsuccessful doing the job yourself?
- Considering this busy life we lead, do you want to invest the time and physical effort into doing the job yourself?
These are all important issues to consider when it’s time to clean your carpets. There is always the option of purchasing your own carpet cleaning machine, but they are often fairly expensive. Nonetheless, having your own machine at your disposal is convenient and saves precious time when stains need to be addressed immediately. Generally, the larger and more powerful the motor is in a machine, the better job it does of lifting dirt and stains from your carpet. Keep in mind that the manufacturers of these machines will often insist that you use only their cleaning products in their machines, or you risk voiding the machine’s warranty. When you are out shopping for a carpet cleaner, physically push and lift the machine in the same manner that you’ll be operating it at home. How is it to lift? Will you be maneuvering it on stairs? How many stairs? Will it be practical within your home? Does it have separate tanks for water and cleaning solution? Separate tanks make refilling quicker, particularly because you will usually be refilling the hot water tank more often. Machines with smaller tanks will require more frequent refilling. Also consider machines with specific attachments if you think you’ll want to clean your upholstery or stairs. These are all things to consider before you invest in an infrequently used machine.
Now let’s consider the rental equipment option. Most major grocery stores carry carpet cleaning equipment that you can rent for a reasonable price. Remember, though, that you will also have to purchase any cleaning solutions as well to be used in the machine. These machines will usually do a good job on your carpets, but they are often bulky, heavy and difficult to manage. In addition, if they don’t have as strong a suction as professional machines, then your carpet could be left pretty wet. That will result in a longer drying time. Be sure to clean your carpets on a day when the windows can be left open, and avoid carpet cleaning on particularly humid or moist days. There is an increased risk of mold and mildew development if your carpets remain wet for a prolonged period of time. Using a dehumidifier can also decrease the drying time.
Sometimes, the best option is to call in the professionals. Before you choose a carpet cleaning company, do your research. Begin by checking with the BBB (Better Business Bureau). Companies that are members of the BBB are a good choice. At the very least, check to see if there have been bad reviews reported to the BBB about specific companies. It is also highly recommended that you look for companies carrying the IICRC logo. The IICRC (Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification) is a global, non-profit organization established in 1972 and is present in over 25 countries. This organization identifies businesses with high ethical standards and technical proficiency. The IICRC has over 140 approved instructors and 70 approved schools offering Cleantrust certification. This is a training program for technicians which sets out strict guidelines regarding the cleaning of residential and commercial properties. When doing your research, look for companies with Cleantrust certified technicians.
Once you have identified potential cleaning companies, prepare your list of questions and interview each one. Remember that you are allowing these people into your home. You must be able to trust them in your home environment and with what amounts to a hefty investment on your part: your carpet. Ask such questions as:
- How long have you been in business? (Some information will be accessible on the internet.)
- Ask or look for customer reviews.
- Do you vacuum before deep cleaning? (The answer should be, “Yes.”)
- What is your pricing structure? (By calculated area is preferable rather than by number of rooms. Measure your carpeted areas before calling.)
- Obtain a firm estimate over the phone before they arrive.
- Are your technicians certified through the IICRC?
- Do you move furniture? If so, do you charge?
Be aware of your specific carpet manufacturer’s requirements where the warranty is concerned. You may not be allowed to add the extra treatments that many carpet cleaning companies offer. When the cleaners arrive, be sure to point out specific problem areas. Finally, be sure to allow sufficient, thorough drying time before replacing your furniture. Premature furniture placement can cause new staining.
When you look at the big picture, carpet cleaning is not a simple concept. Many factors play into the health and longevity of your carpet. After all, of equal importance is the fact that your health and that of your family is directly related to the cleanliness of your living environment. Therefore, enjoy life, spill your wine, love your dog and care for your carpet as though your life depends upon it……because actually…….it does!
Had any past carpet cleaning experiences? Planning to clean you carpet soon? Talk with me, post a comment, ask a question, I’m here to answer.