steam coming from steam cleaner on carpet

How to Steam Clean a Carpet (Illustrated Guide)

Does cleaning your carpet seem a tedious task? Not if you know a few hacks like the ones you’re about to find out here.

In this guide, you’ll learn how to steam clean a carpet yourself without using chemicals.

Steam cleaning a carpet is a great way to remove stains and disinfect it at the same time. All you need is a steam cleaner and water. At 212°F, steam can kill fleas, bedbugs, mold spores, and germs. It will leave your carpet refreshed, clean as new, and safe for pets and kids.

The process is easy you don’t have to get a professional carpet cleaning service. You can do it yourself and I’m going to show you how in this simple step-by-step guide.

How to Steam Clean a Carpet – Step by Step

Carpets that are not heavily soiled can be deep cleaned and sanitized at home with a steam mop. All you need is the right attachment to remove spot stains, dirt, and grime. You’ll also need a regular vacuum cleaner to remove dust and lose particles from the fabric. 

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to steam clean a carpet yourself using a steam mop.

1. Clear the room

Remove all furniture, toys and any items from the carpet. Most steam carpet steam mops are operated by pushing or pulling them. Having a lot of clutter on the carpet will slow down the process.

Some furniture may be heavy to move from the carpet. Wrap furniture legs with a waterproof tape to protect them from hot steam when you glide the mop nearby. Use aluminum foil to deter moisture if you don’t have flex tape.

It is also possible that you may not have enough room where you can put the furniture to pave way for cleaning. Try moving the furniture and other items at one end of the room so that you can get space to clean the cleared side.

How to steam clean a carpet step  1: Move furniture from teh carpet.

Pro tip: Clean your baseboards before going on to the next step. A lot of dust settles on them over time. Use a damp piece of cloth to clear all the dust here.

2. Vacuum the carpet

Vacuum the entire carpet twice to remove hair, dust particles, crumbs, and any other loose dirt. A carpet steam cleaning machine can dissolve stains and restore the fabric. It is not capable of removing solid dirt particles lodged deep in the carpet fibers.

  • For the first time, run the vacuum in one direction. Make sure you do this slowly enough to pick as much dust particles as possible.
  • For the second time, vacuum the carpet in the opposite direction. Be thorough enough to pick up large debris and even some parasites such as bed bugs.
Steam cleaning a carpet step 2 -Vacuum the carpet

Pro tip: Give the high traffic areas added attention when vacuuming your carpet. Foot traffic carries a lot of debris and deposits it into the carpet. These are the areas you need to spend more time on.

Remember, a proper vacuum job loosens your carpet’s fibers. This prepares it for easy deep cleaning using a steam mop.

3. Treat spot stains before steaming

Carpet stains such as lipstick, food and red wine spills can make it look very dirty. Pet messes such as dog urine and even poop also leave unsightly dirty spots.

Your vacuum and steam cleaning action cannot get rid of these on their own. So, here is how you should treat spot stains on your carpet before steaming:

  • Blot a piece of cloth with a carpet stain remover. 
  • Dab the spot so that it soaks in the stain treatment solution.
  • Allow it to sit for a few minutes before you start steam cleaning the carpet.
Steam cleaning a carpet step 3- Treat spot stains

Pro tip: Do not rub the stain spots with stain remover. This usually pushes the stain deeper into the carpet fiber, making it difficult to remove even with a carpet steam cleaning machine.

I’ve shared a video I found very helpful for DIY carpet stain removal below in this article. Be sure to check it out.

4. Prepare the carpet steam cleaner

Remove the water tank from your steam cleaner if it is detachable. Use a measuring cup to fill the tank with distilled water as directed by the manufacturer.

You can add a carpet cleaning solution, dish soap or white vinegar into the tank. I prefer to use only water because steam is enough at getting rid of stains on upholstery. Check the manufacturer’s recommended cleaning solution for your steam cleaner. Do not put anything that’s not recommended in the tank.

Attach the tank back onto the steam mop and plug it in a power outlet. Allow enough time for the water to heat up to steaming temperature. The preferred temperature if you want to kill dust mites, bedbugs and fleas is 212°F.

Some carpet steam cleaning machines have a detergent compartment. If yours doesn’t have one, you may mix it with the water in the tank.

How to steam clean a carpet step 4 - Prepare the steam cleaner

Pro tip: If you prefer natural cleaning and sanitization, use a vinegar solution. Some soaps contain chemicals that are not safe for your pets and kids.

5. Run the steam cleaner on the carpet

Run the steam cleaner on your carpet starting from one corner to another. Make clean straight lines with each run. Overlap the previous line every time you start a new one. This’ll ensure you do not miss any dirty spots.

I prefer starting from the corner farthest from the door. This way, I find it easier to move into the next room without stepping on the freshly cleaned carpet.

Steam cleaning a carpet step 5 - Steam clean the carpet.

Pro tip: If your steamer uses soap or carpet shampoo, run it over the same line twice. The first time you do, it injects soap over the fabric, and the second time, it sucks it up together with the dirt.

6. Allow the carpet time to dry

Steam cleaning a carpet does not leave a lot of water behind. Unlike mopping hardwood and tile floors, it does not get rid of moisture instantly.

Hot water extraction on carpets usually requires up to 12 hours of drying time. You may need to allow your carpet 4 to 12 hours to dry and for all the moisture to escape.

Here are a few tips to help your carpet dry faster after steam cleaning:

  • If you have a shop vac that has both dry and wet capabilities, use it to suck up excess moisture from the carpet. Simply run it over your carpet as you would your vacuum cleaner to make it dry faster.
  • Put your dehumidifier in the middle of the room and run it on the high setting.
  • Open the windows to allow moisture to escape easily and your carpet to dry quickly.
  • If you have fans, place them on the carpet after steam cleaning. Ensure they point downward for quick results.
How to steam clean a carpet step 6 - Allow it to dry.

Drying your carpet is as important as cleaning it. Leaving moisture behind will attract mold and mildew even after sanitizing it with steam.

Spot Cleaning Rugs

Before it’s that time to deep clean your rug, you may need to learn a few hacks for removing stains. Common stains you may have to deal with include red wine, ketchup, pet urine, makeup stains, and food spills. Coffee, blood, and ink are also common stubborn stains.

When these happen, you don’t have to deep clean the entire rug. A spot cleaning kit is all you need to get rid of the stains from your carpet. You’ll need baking soda, ammonia solution, vinegar, and rubbing alcohol. Hydrogen peroxide, nail polish remover (acetone) can also help remove some stains. Q-tips, white towels, and paper towels are also vital in this kit.

I find stain-resistant carpets to be the best, but even with normal ones, try to remove the stain as soon as possible. Doing so prevents sticky stains that’ll be stubborn to get rid of.

Here’s what to do to remove spot stains from your carpet.

  1.  Pick up the stains as soon as they occur on the rug.
  2. Dab a carpet stain remover on the spot if there’s any of it remaining.
  3. Blot carefully with a clean towel to pick up the remaining stains.

If you’re using a carpet cleaning solution, treat the spot with it and allow a few minutes for it to act. Use a handheld steam cleaner with a spot cleaning attachment to steam up the area and remove the stain. Here’s a video to help you with different spot stains on your rug.

Can I use a steam iron to spot clean my area rug?

For small areas with stains, you may not need a steam cleaner. A garment steam iron is a handy tool you can use for this purpose. The hot water vapor will loosen the stain and allow you to blot it out of your carpet.

Ensure that you do not iron the spot directly. You can damage the fibers of the rug. Use a wet towel between the rug and the steam iron. Once you’ve applied enough steam, blot away the loosened stain with a paper towel.

How Does a Steam Work on Carpet?

Most of us have known carpet shampooing for a long time. It is very different from using steam to clean your carpet. I did a comparison between steam cleaning a carpet and shampooing it here.

But how does steam cleaning work on a carpet? With a steam cleaner, hot vaporized water is blasted into the rug at high pressure. The heat breaks down grime, dirt and oils in the carpet fibers. As you move the steam cleaner in over the carpet, it sucks as much of the dirt and oils as possible.

This process leaves your rugs clean, restored, and disinfected using steam.

Note that not all steam cleaners can do a good job with cleaning carpets. High pressure handheld steam cleaners can remove spot stains. You will find them ineffective at cleaning large surface areas such as a large area rug.

I recommend you choose a steam cleaning machine that’s good for carpets for routine steaming.

Benefits of Steam Cleaning Your Carpet

Although cleaning a dirty carpet may be a little tedious, doing it yourself can save you anywhere between $50 and $500. But that’s not the only benefit. Steam cleaning is better than shampooing and here are the benefits:

  • Extends the carpet’s lifespan: Sanitizing your carpet on a regular basis keeps it in tip-top condition. High traffic areas are protected from wear and tear, discoloration, and staining. This extends the rug’s lifespan.
  • Get rid of fleas: Carpets infested with fleas can be a nightmare. Flea bites are itchy and a misery. Steam gets rid of fleas in your carpet by destroying their entire life cycle.
  • Get rid of bed bugs: Like fleas, bed bugs can live in your carpet too. Steam is one of the best methods used to get rid of bed bugs and their eggs from carpets and mattresses.
  • Safe for pets and children: Steam cleaning carpets destroys harmful bacteria and germs. Your family will be safe on disinfected floor mats and rugs.
  • Removes odors: Stain build-up causes musty smells in area rugs. Cleaning them with steam is a great way to deodorize your carpets. It even works well for unpleasant pet odors.
  • Kills allergens: Steam carpet cleaning is safe for people with allergies. Hot steam kills mold, dust mites, mildew – the common triggers of allergic reactions.
  • Easy stain removal: I find it a lot easier to get rid of stains with steam. Pet messes, grease, red wine, and even lipstick come off your carpet with ease when you blast them with steam.

How often to clean a carpet

The American Lung Association recommends deep cleaning a carpet at least once a year. This prevents the accumulation of pet dander, mold spores, and other allergens.

Regular cleaning keeps carpets free from irritants. In the cleaning industry, the rule of thumb is to deep clean your carpet 3 times a year. Vacuum your carpet twice a week to prevent debris from lodging too deep in the fabric.

But, the number of times you should deep clean rugs depends on a few factors. These include:

  • The amount of foot traffic on the carpet.
  • Whether you have pets in the house.
  • Whether you have allergies.
  • Whether there’s cigarette smoke to be removed.

These factors require you to deep clean your carpet more often than you would otherwise. At least once every week will keep your floor mat refreshed, restored and disinfected. This may, yet, affect the lifespan of your carpet.

Professional vs DIY Steam Cleaning

You look at your carpet and wonder, should you call in a professional cleaning service? Can you get it clean yourself?

The answer to this is very simple. First, if your carpet is heavily soiled, an ordinary multipurpose steam mop may not do an effective job. But if we are talking light stains, a DIY cleaning session can get it refreshed and restored.

Professional carpet cleaners come with commercial steamers. These are usually powerful enough to complete the task faster than household steamers.

A single session of professional deep cleaning may need you to do in two sessions to get the same results. The upside to the DIY option is that you save on the costs while learning how to do it within your preferences.

Cost of Steam Cleaning a Carpet 

How much will it cost to hire a professional carpet cleaning service? Well, when you opt not to clean it yourself, it will cost you between $42 and $75. Sometimes, the cost can go as high as $125 for home services and $350 for office carpet cleaning.

A few factors come into consideration when deciding the cost of steam cleaning a carpet. The most important ones are size and how dirty the rug is.

  • Standard costs per square foot range between $0.18 and 0.50.
  • Extra services such as bed bug extermination usually lead to higher costs.

From my experience, the larger the area of your home or carpet, the more you’ll save per square foot.


Does steam cleaning carpet remove stains?

It is possible to remove some stains with steam only. However, some stains may need a special treatment procedure before applying steam to be able to get rid of them. For example, waxy stains such as lipstick can be treated and removed using acetone. A steam cleaner will then follow to sanitize the rug.

Can you use vinegar to steam clean a carpet?

If you do not want to use detergent or chemical solutions, vinegar is a great organic alternative. It breaks down stains and helps in disinfecting your area rugs as well. If you prefer using it, spray a small amount of vinegar before steam cleaning the carpet.

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