How I clean my carpets (plus pro tips)

For a few months now, our living room carpet has been mocking me. “Nanny, nanny, boo, boo. Stanley Steamer won’t visit you …”

Oh how I wish I could have all the carpets in our home regularly cleaned by a professional. But we are trying to live rich on less up in here, so I’m stuck doing this dirty work myself.

Frankly, the thought of spending an entire day (or two) steam-cleaning the floors in our 2,300-square-foot home makes me want to curl up in the fetal position and chant, “Make the voices stop!” So instead of tackling the whole house in one fell swoop, I have tried to get in the habit of cleaning a room whenever it needs it and I can spare a few hours (uh, they don’t get cleaned that often).

Yesterday, all the stars aligned and I experienced a burst of motivation to tackle the living room. What better chore to take on before a Fourth of July picnic than a “quick” steam-cleaning of your living room carpet? (I need help, people.)

I began by removing the light furniture and accessories from the room and giving everything a good dusting and vacuuming, which included the windowsills and baseboard trim.

Next I sprayed spot cleaner on all the “mystery” stains.

Apparently, our neighbors are eating snacks and playing rugby in our house while we are away, because no one in our family is admitting to any of the messes I’ve discovered.

I used the bottle of spot remover that the lovely folks at Oreck gifted me at the Haven conference.

Then I loaded my machine with concentrated Bissell rug shampoo.

This stuff is not cheap! It costs approximately $20 and an entire bottle is gone after about a room and a half. I found a recipe for a homemade cleaning solution for steam cleaners, but I have yet to try it.

Homemade cleaning solution for steam cleaners

Fill the machine with equal parts white vinegar and warm water. Then clean according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Supposedly, the acid in the vinegar dissolves stains and also neutralizes odors. This method seems like a great inexpensive and chemical-free option. Have any of you used it? I’d love to get your feedback.

Here I am working my way around the room. Check out those hot gym shorts.

And finally … my now stain-free living room carpet.

Isn’t it beautiful?

Below are some tips from the pros on how to effectively clean carpets yourself.

1. Thoroughly vacuum the area you want to clean to remove any loose dirt.

2. Pre-treat any problem areas.

3. Use a steam cleaner according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Avoid over-wetting your carpet. Don’t go over heavily soiled spots more than twice. Berber, multi-level or looped carpeting retains more moisture. For these types of carpets, do not repeat the cleaning passes. If additional cleaning is needed, allow carpets to dry before re-cleaning. Overlap passes slightly to cover all areas. Keep the machine moving so the vibrating brush does not agitate in one place.

4. Open windows and doors or turn on an air conditioning or heating unit to speed drying time. To prevent staining, do not put furniture back before your carpet is completely dry. (Information courtesy of Rug Doctor)

For more information, click here to check out some great carpet cleaning videos from eHow home.

Happy carpet cleaning!

I’m linking this up to Tutorials and Tips Tuesday and Love of Family and Home.

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71 Responses

  1. Sharon Hines says:

    You’re hilarious! And the carpet looks great. I need to follow suit. Our carpets mock me daily. ;0


  2. Carol says:

    Love your ideas and style! Will you pleasevshare your paint color on living room walls? Also, did you make draperies and will you share how-to?
    Thanks much!

    • Susan says:

      Thanks for the feedback. My paint colors are listed on my FAQs page. I got my draperies at but unfortunately the site no longer carries them.

      • sandie says:

        I love your informative cleaning process!!!!! I too have a rugby team, volley ball team, and I’m pretty sure a pie eating group in training that uses our home! (kids in there 20’s are worse than 2 yr olds!!) I have tried many homemade cleaning solutions, the best are: 1C of awesome, @ scoops of $store oxie clean, 2T of frabic softner, (pick your scent) and 1t of bleach. Cook til boil & all is dissolved, cool and add to machine with water. This stuff is VERY concentrated, so follow your manual for standard cleaner. Good luck, and thanks again!

  3. Reana says:

    I use the vinegar and water solution when I clean my carpets, and it works really well! The room you are cleaning will smell like vinegar for a bit, but when the carpet dries, the smell dissipates.

    • Gweny says:

      Hi I used the vinegar and warm water also and it worked well. I also added a few drops of essential oil to help with the vinegar smell..

    • Christina says:

      I use the vinegar/water solution for our rugs. It works very well. I do them in the morning after everyone leaves and by dinner the smell is just about gone. We dont have many heavy duty stains( no pets) and I treat coolaid, etc as soon as I notice it with hydrogen peroxide.

      • stormy kronberg says:

        How much vinegar to how much water and can i add bissell carpet shampoo too.

        • Matthew says:

          I would say maybe a quarter cup of vinegar. If you want to do a combo vinegar/rug shampoo, maybe just make sure they together don’t fill up more than what the machine recommends for the soap.

  4. Marlene O says:

    I was given the white vinegar/water carpet cleaner suggestion by my professional carpet cleaning guy when we had an older kitty who routinely gourged her food and you guessed it, barfed it back up on my off white carpet. By the way he told me NEVER use the spray on cleaner you find in the grocery stores – not good for your carpets.

    It worked miraculously for spot cleaning for those cat throw up stains and other stains. Don’t know why it wouldn’t do well in your Bissell carpet cleaning machine.

  5. Pam P says:

    If I didn’t know better I’d say we had the same neighbors! =) We went with hardwood flooring throughout our new home. I use to hate that chore too. You have such a beautiful home and the carpet looks great!

  6. Joanne McMillen says:

    Great tip about the white vinegar for carpet cleaning…good old white vinegar! Very helpful.

    • Susan says:

      Thanks, Jo. I am definitely going to try this the next time I clean the carpets. I hope you and your family are doing well! By the way, Matt and I are expecting our second baby in November and my sis, Meg, is getting married next month. Lots of news!

  7. Margaret Varner says:

    I love the carpet and you make me laugh so hard.. Love the tip on vinigar and water..this had many uses. Isn’t it amazing? Congrats on the new one coming soon, can’t wait. Katee is having hers in begining of Aug. I am going up to keep her daughter while she heals and gets settled in home. I wanted to know something…Did this job take you a couple of days? You had advertised that the Rug Doc said to wait until floor is dry before putting furniture back, so did you have to wait and continue next day? Curious in Mt. Union

    • Susan says:

      I did wait about 24 hours before I put everything back in the room. That is the hardest part … keeping everyone away while it dries. I would recommend doing it early (or late at night) and then going away for the day or to sleep for the night. That helps.

  8. Margaret Varner says:

    I want to clean my carpets as well. I would like to buy, if I can, a can of the spray you got while you were away at Haven. I will have to rent a shampoo doctor of course. This place really needs a sprucing up and you just gave me the ooompah I have been needing, Thank you for your smart advice.

  9. Gweny says:

    A few drops of essential oil works wonders with the vinegar water mixture.. I used Lemon grass and it smells so clean. I noticed a lot of people use lavender.. Call me weird but I don’t really care for that scent.. I know weird lol

  10. Great post! I use the water/vinegar combo, but I also add a bit of baking soda to it too. It foams a little when you combine it, but it cleans great. I found it works better on pet stains rather than just vinegar and water. Oh and another tip I particularly like, I take about half a cup (or more depending on the size of your room) of baking soda and a few drops of essential oil. Using a strainer I sift the mixture over the carpet, then steam clean. It leaves the room smelling awesome for at least a few hours. You could do this just before vacuuming as well.

  11. Jaime says:

    I have a bissel pro heat 2. When you say half vinegar half water….that is in the holding tank correct? How much do i put in of each? And can i add baking soda to the tank or just put it on the carpet? Thanks in advance!!

    • Susan says:

      Jaime, I have yet to use this method, so I can’t speak from experience. But I do know that the half water/half vinegar mixture should go in the cleaning tank where the shampoo/water combo usually goes. Also, I know the individual who uses baking soda sprinkles it on the floor first, then shampoos with the vinegar/water mixture. I would not recommend adding the baking soda to the cleaning tank as you’ll have a fizzly mess on your hands. Good luck and God bless! 🙂

      • Ryan says:

        I’m about ready to tackle the job of cleaning my carpets with my Bissell ProHeat. I have used the vinegar and water mix for years, and it seems to work pretty well. I was just about to try what many have suggested, which is to add baking soda to the mix, when I suddenly realized something. Since it’s the acid in the vinegar that does the real cleaning, and its common knowledge that banking soda neutralizes acid, it seems we’d just be wasting the vinegar and the baking soda, and might as well be using only hot water. In other words, there’s no getting around the fact that the baking soda is going to counteract the acid in the vinegar, so it defeats the purpose of the vinegar. Does than make sense to anyone else?

        • Susan says:

          Excellent observation, Ryan. I’ve long been using the combo to clean laundry (and my floors) as I’ve been told that together they pack a powerful punch. But your question peaked my curiosity and caused me to do some more research on the subject. I love this article: The conclusion from my findings? I’ll be sprinkling baking soda alone on my carpets periodically as an odor absorber, then vacuuming it up. When steam-cleaning, I’ll be sticking to vinegar and water alone. Thanks for your feedback. So helpful!

  12. looking good! I’ve used vinegar and water as a spot cleaner on carpet; I need to borrow my friend’s steam cleaner and try filling that up with it.

  13. Emily says:

    I need to do this! We moved into our home and are living with “mystery spots” from the previous owners. We’ll also soon be welcoming our 4th little one so we have a lot of “kid spots” to take care of as well. Thanks for sharing! I’m looking forward to having more beautiful carpets.

    Visiting from the House of Rose Dogs Days of Winter link party.

  14. Wow! Your carpets look so clean! I will have to dry the homemade carpet cleaning solution.

  15. Kelsey says:

    Sounds crazy- but most carpet cleaning places like Stanley steamer use a concoction of warm water, white vinegar and ammonia to clean carpets. I use it all the time with our carpet extractor and I have never found a stain or smell it didn’t conquer! The mixture I usually use is 1 cup of each ammonia and vinegar mixed with a full tank of warm water (around 2-3 gallons).

  16. Sandra says:

    Thanks for the ratio on the water and vinegar. I have a Bissell as well and use the professional 2x deep cleaner that they sell. I noticed that withing a few months I had additional dirt clinging to the areas that I had cleaned with their shampoo. This morning I cleaned 1/2 of the house and my home is the same square footage as yours. I’m doing the remaining carpets tomorrow and will try your solution. I have two sons. They have friends. I need something that will really get out the dirt and stains.

    • Susan says:

      Let me know how the vinegar works out for you, Sandra. I’ve been suspicious that shampoo is doing exactly what you claimed – helping new dirt cling to the carpets.

  17. Peggy says:

    Hey ya’ll so I just made my own carpet cleaner and it worked wonders. I used 1/2 C. of (Kirkland brand bc that what we buy) laundry detergent, 1/4 (Kirkland brand) fabric softener I diluted them in a gallon jug but only filled it 3/4 of the way. I then Dissolved 1/4 c powdered oxy clean in a bowl with 3 c boiling hot water, let it dissolve all the way. (you cant put this in a bottle to dissolve I learned the hard way it builds pressure and explodes) Add this mix to your gallon jug and shake it.

    This did wonders to my carpet and it lifted stains right up. A friend of mine told me she uses Laundry Oxy pre- treat and it lifts set stains right away she only uses her steamer for hot water rinse!!! I cleaned our whole house (1300 sq ft) with 1/2 a gallon.

    I would suggest if your using your own cleaner/ or even bissell cleaner run a hot water rinse cycle through it.

  18. Peggy says:

    Also Vinegar is used to set stains, I soak my jeans in vinegar to set the color so they wont fade. It is also used in setting Tie-Dye

  19. Anyone working in the

    professional cleaning trade would enjoy reading this article.
    Nicely put together and well thought out, I’ll be back
    to read more.

  20. gemma says:

    You carpet looks lovely. May I ask what machine you are using?Also in the picture with the machine have you just used the white vinegar and water solution? I have just bought a bissell machine hope it works just as good in my machine. My carpets are very light cream.

    • Susan says:

      I have the Bissell ProHeat 2X Healthy Home Upright Deep Cleaner. For the blog post you looked at I used the Bissell Pet Stain and Odor cleaner. But since then, I’ve tried the vinegar and water method and it works great! Thanks for stopping by.

  21. Gemma says:

    Hi again can you please send me a link of the exact same Bissell Pet Stain and Odour cleaner as loads came up when I looked. Much appreciated!

  22. Nathan says:

    Your article, and the comments intrigued me – especially the idea of using vinegar (acid), using baking soda (alkaline), using both together, and the comment someone left that said professional cleaners use a concoction of vinegar(acid) and ammonia(alkaline).

    My question was similar to the poster who asked if the acid and alkaline neutralized each other. The link you posted helped to answer that. However I kept reading that vinegar was good for removing inorganic stains such as rust and hard-water buildup. But nothing was mentioned about organic and oil stains. Most carpets I know are covered with organic and oil stains (dropped food, pet messes, kid messes, even plain old dirt has a lot of organic material in it.) So I did some more reading. Here are some links to good info:

    1. An overview of cleaning chemistry from Wikipedia:

    2. A brief overview of ph in regards to cleaning:

    3. A HS student’s lab test sent her looking for answers on why vinegar did not clean her cloth as well as an alkaline product.

    • Nathan says:

      Oops. I didn’t finish…

      My conclusion is that we need to know a bit about what we are cleaning before diving in. Sometimes an acid is better (like vinegar), sometimes a base is better (like ammonia or baking soda).

      Regarding carpet cleaning (I need to clean our van), I wonder if a 3-pass system would work. 1 – sprinkle baking soda on the carpet and use only water in the machine to get the organic stains. 2 – mixture of 50-50 vinegar and water to get the inorganic stains. 3. – a water rinse to make sure there is no residue to attract further dirt.



      • Susan says:

        Thanks for all the helpful links and info, Nathan. I have to chuckle because I’m a bit of a “ready, fire, aim” person when it comes to this stuff. In other words, I tend to try a bunch of stuff to just see what works best. But I am intrigued to learn about the science of it all. Case in point, the other day I discovered my son had gotten hold of a tube of pink lipstick and smeared it all over our champagne-colored carpet. I would consider this an oil-based stain. I tried my normal carpet cleaner in a bottle with no success. Then I sprinkled on a bit of washing soda (a base, I assume) and went back over it with the steam cleaner. It brought the lipstick out like magic! So using a base to remove an oil-based stain seems to do the trick. Best of luck cleaning out your van. 🙂

  23. Tiffany says:

    Thanks for all of the great info! I’m going to have to try the vinegar in my bissell pro heat 2x! I recently bought one at a yard sale (couldn’t get myself to part with 200+ $) for $10 to find that it was clogged up and would spray solution. After spending hours on you tube and tearing apart my machine to find that the heating element was clogged with soap and scale! So hey, we descale coffee pots with vinegar why wouldn’t it work on this! You found a twofor! Thanks again!

    • Susan says:

      Oh wow, Tiffany. Great find with the $10 Bissell and I give you a double fist bump for your DIY efforts in tearing apart the machine. 🙂 I have very hard water at our house and I find my steam machine clogs frequently. Vinegar is a great start in getting it unclogged, but you’ll need to soak the components for awhile, if possible. Even the vinegar sometimes doesn’t work on our hard water! I wonder if a descaling solution might work. Here’s one I found online: Best of luck with getting your machine working again. 🙂

  24. Doug says:

    I just bought a Bissell and tried the 2x cleaner and it worked well. I was very interested in your alternative for the solution because I agree that it seemed pricey.
    So I did the math (all rounded numbers): a 60oz bottle of Bissell 2x solution is $18 at Walmart. Use per fill is 2.5oz (based on Bissell’s recommendation) at $.75 each.
    The cheapest I have found a gallon of White Vinegar is at Walmart for $2.50 ( That seems WAY cheaper until you do the math. You recommended putting equal parts vinegar and water which would be 1/2 a gallon of vinegar each fill. That comes out to $1.25 of vinegar per fill.

    That means the vinegar method is 167% more expensive.

    Am I confused? I really am trying to find an alternative and I love your blog!

    • Susan says:

      I purchase my vinegar at Sam’s Club in bulk, so it is a bit cheaper, but that is not the issue here. The container I fill with cleaning solution is only about 16 oz. total. Here’s a photo of it: In other words, there is NO WAY in the world I would ever use a half gallon of vinegar per fill. At the most, I use about 10 oz. of vinegar per fill. I hope that clears up the math. 🙂

      • Doug says:

        Thanks for the clarification. I just bought the new Pro Heat 2X Premier Pet and there isn’t a separate solution dispenser. You put the solution directly into the hot water. It holds 1.25 gallons at a time. Any thoughts about how much Vinegar you would put into that size tank? 🙂

        • Susan says:

          OK. Got it. If it was me, I would use twice the amount of vinegar as I would use of the cleaning solution. Because the cleaning solution is “2x concentrated,” logically I could treat the vinegar as if it was an unconcentrated, regular cleaning solution … Hope that makes sense. You can always experiement to see what works for you.

  25. White wine helps neutralize red wine stains on carpeting. Simply pour white wine on top of the red wine stain and blot. This helps lift the red wine stain from the carpet and helps prevent it from spreading. If you are out of white wine, try plain vodka.

  26. CleaninginND says:

    Has anyone ever tried using the shampoo on the 1st pass than the vinegar/water combo on the 2nd pass to remove any soap residue?

  27. garrick says:

    i see a lot of people in the comments wasting their money on oxiclean, ill admit i used to buy it. but instead go get a box (55z oz/3lbs) of washing soda, important washing soda is not baking soda. it might be hard to find im lucky enough to get it at the local QFC for 3 dollars. just add half a cup to hot water to dissolve with whatever detergent you use and spray evenly over your carpet before shampooing or steaming. i like to use a garden weed sprayer but use whatever works for you. the difference between oxiclean and washing soda is. the purpose of washing soda is to make the water “wetter” by breaking down the bonds in the water so that the soap can become more effective with oxiclean which contains washing soda is an oxygen bleach that over time can bleach fabrics but not as bad as chlorine. also washing soda can be used to clean ANYTHING except aluminum because the PH is so high (12, on a scale of 14 being the highest) it will discolor it. its a great degreaser for the kitchen without the harsh smell. but always wear gloves or make sure to rinse well cause since the ph is so high it might irritate your skin.

  28. Eleanor McKeever says:

    I just bought a Bissell and was looking for another alternative to the expensive rug shampoo. Thanks for the tips, trying it today!

  29. Patricia says:

    I use baking soda,vinegar and peroxide on stubborn stains. Works miracles when your child eats hot cheetos and gets sick.

  30. Bryan A. says:

    I’m actually glad you use professional cleaning products to treat your carpet. I’ve seen people use things as crazy as dish soap to clean their carpets! Please, at the very least, leave the dish soap to the dishes! With dish soap, the carpet usually only winds up looking clean for a day or two, before the soap residue that’s left behind leaves a dark spot of trapped dirt and oils. Then it really needs a professional cleaner to clean the stain out!

  31. DAVID J. says:



  32. Gail Roth says:

    My Bissell Proheat Pro-Tech carpet cleaner has a small SmartMix bottle for the cleaning solution and a separate Tank-in-Tank for the water. So, should I put straight vinegar in the SmartMix bottle or 50-50 vinegar/water. It will mix with the water in the Tank-in-Tank. Thanks!

  33. Bruno Marin says:

    Great article! There is also another way for owners of a vacuum cleaner with an aquafilter. Often on such models, there is a function of spraying liquid onto the carpet. If the detergent is poured into the tank of this liquid, it will be sprayed directly to the contamination place, then the brush for carpet will beat the foam, which, together with the dirt, is sucked into the vacuum cleaner. Checked personally, cleaned perfectly dirty spots. If the wine or blood, then you should pour a little detergent on the stain and let it get soaked, then just vacuum it.

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