5 Effective Homemade Carpet Cleaning Solutions

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  • Homemade carpet cleaners can be very effective for spot treating or cleaning an entire carpet.
  • Vinegar, baking soda, and salt are common household items that can be used as carpet cleaners.
  • Soften a carpet by mixing fabric softener, hot water, clear vinegar, and dishwashing detergent.
  • Visit Insider’s Home & Kitchen Reference library for more stories.

Carpets take a lot of wear and tear, but there’s no need to turn to harsh chemicals to get them clean. There are homemade carpet cleaner recipes that are perfect for most carpet types and stains, says Nick Wilkesmann, owner of the blog Cleaning King.

“I find homemade carpet cleaners can be just as effective as commercial solutions,” Wilkesmann says.

Andrii Gurskyi, CEO of the New York City cleaning service HomeClean, likes that homemade carpet cleaners are oftentimes on-hand, and environmentally friendly.

“Homemade carpet cleaning solutions have been shown to be incredibly effective at cleaning carpets,” Gurskyi says.

Whether you’re spot-cleaning a recent spill or tidying up as part of your regular home maintenance routine, there are plenty of homemade carpet cleaners that will work for you and your carpet type.

Best cleaning solution for most stains

A jar of baking soda and spray bottle of vinegar on top of a gray carpet.

 

Baking soda and vinegar is one of the best mixtures for spot-treating messes on a carpet.

Helin Loik-Tomson/Getty Images

A combination of baking soda and vinegar is Wilkesmann’s go-to solution for spot-treating most carpet types and stains.

“Baking soda and vinegar work so well as a cleaner due to their chemical makeup and reaction,” says Wilkesmann. When the alkaline baking soda reacts with the acidic vinegar, it creates a safe, oxygenated gas that foams up and helps lift stains out of a carpet, according to Wilkesmann.

How to use it

1. Sprinkle baking soda on the stain. Be sure to cover it thoroughly.

2. Pour a small amount of vinegar (about a tablespoon) on the baking soda. Add more little by little, just enough to make the baking soda fizz.

3. Gently massage the solution into the carpet with a hard-bristle brush or something similar.

4. Leave the solution on the stain for 4 to 6 hours or until the spot is completely dry.

5. Vacuum up the baking soda residue.

Best for steam cleaning

According to Gurskyi, water with vinegar can be used to clean an entire carpet with a steam cleaner.

Steam cleaners can be rented from hardware or grocery stores, or you can purchase one for permanent use. The key is knowing whether your carpet is made from synthetic or natural materials, since you’ll need different ratios of vinegar and water. Natural fibers are more delicate, so you’ll have to be more careful when cleaning them, says Gurskyi.

For synthetic carpet, mix a solution using a ratio of one part vinegar to two parts water. For carpets made from wool or natural materials, use a one-to-one ratio of vinegar and water.

If you’re not sure whether the carpet is synthetic or natural materials like wool, flip it over and look at the bottom: most synthetic carpets are hard underneath, whereas wool carpets are soft on both sides.

How to use it

1. Mix the water and vinegar, using the appropriate ratio of one part vinegar and two parts water for synthetic carpets. For carpets made from natural materials, use one part vinegar and one part water.

2. Add the solution to the steam cleaner.

3. Clean the carpet, following the instructions on the machine.

4. Allow the carpet time to dry.

Best for recent spills

Spilled red wine on a white carpet.

 

Using a mixture of salt and water can clean recent stains made from spilling wine or dropping food.

Tetra Images/Getty Images

To respond to a new stain, Gurskyi recommends another common kitchen item: salt. Salt can help absorb liquid stains like spilled wine before they set. The granular property of salt also makes it easy to vacuum up the mess. For stains that are already set in, the granular salt also gives your scrubbing a bit of extra abrasion, which can help lift the stain quickly. Be sure you’re applying this treatment either immediately after a spill.

How to use it

1. Blot the stain with a rag to remove most moisture.

2. Sprinkle salt onto the stain, covering it thoroughly, and leave it for five minutes.

3. Pour a small amount of cold water onto the stain.

4. Scrub with a soft brush for one minute.

5. Rinse with a damp cloth and blot dry.

Depending on the severity of the stain, you may need to use vinegar and baking soda to finish off cleaning the stain.

Best for dark and patterned rugs

While baking soda and vinegar are generally safe, they might leave a residue on dark-colored or patterned rugs. Because of that, Wilkesmann uses a spray of vinegar and liquid dishwashing detergent, Dawn dish soap, to spot-treat dark or patterned rugs.

Because of the baking soda, this mixture is generally good for lifting stains without leaving residue. It works especially well for greasy stains, Wilkesmann says, since the dish detergent is designed to break down grease.

How to use it

1. Mix 1 cup of vinegar with 1 teaspoon of Dawn dish soap in a spray bottle.

2. Spray onto the stain, covering it thoroughly.

3. Leave for 15 minutes.

4. Scrub with a hard-bristle brush. This should clear the stain, with no need to rinse the carpet afterward, according to Wilkesmann.

Best for deodorizing 

If you want to freshen your carpet or remove a musty smell in a hurry, stick to a dry cleaning solution. This isn’t as effective at removing stains and bacteria, but you won’t have to worry about drying time, according to Gurskyi.

How to use it

1. Sprinkle baking soda over the carpet, dusting the entire area.

2. Add fragrant dry spice, such as cinnamon or rosemary. Sprinkling the spice just like you did with the baking soda. Be sure to spot-test this to make sure the spice won’t stain your carpet.

3. Let it sit for 30 minutes.

4. Vacuum the carpet thoroughly.

How to soften a carpet after cleaning

If you want to soften your carpet, Gurskyi says you can use a laundry fabric softener like Downy since carpets are made from the same basic fiber types as clothing.

To make a carpet softener solution, mix half a cup of fabric softener, one gallon of hot water, one cup of clear vinegar, and one tablespoon of dishwashing detergent. Put the mixture into a spray bottle, and lightly spray the carpet until it’s damp. Use a soft brush to work the solution into the carpet, and then allow the carpet to dry.

How often should you clean your carpet?

Close up of steam cleaner cleaning very dirty carpet.

 

While there are homemade remedies for cleaning small spills and stains, it’s good practice to steam clean a carpet every 12 to 18 months.

Dusan Petkovic/Shutterstock

Keeping a rug looking and smelling clean takes regular maintenance. Rugs should be steam cleaned at least every 12 to 18 months, Gurskyi says. High-traffic or light-colored rugs will need more frequent cleanings.

You should clean a carpet immediately after a spill or stain, and whenever it has a musty odor or is visibly dirty. It’s also a good idea to give a carpet a cleaning whenever you’re struggling with allergies, as the allergies can be worsened by a dirty carpet.

Insider’s takeaway

Cleaning rugs is an important part of home maintenance, but you don’t need harsh chemicals to get the job done. Everyday items that you already have in your kitchen cabinet, including vinegar, baking soda, and salt, can all help lift stains and odors from your carpet and protect your rug. Make sure you’re cleaning your carpets regularly to it last longer, and leave a home looking and smelling fresh.

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