How to Clean Rugs and Carpets—Because You May Not Be Doing It Right

Try these expert tips to clean the dirt out of your carpets—because there are literally pounds of dirt lurking under your feet.

Cleaning your carpets and rugs will feel absolutely essential once you hear this icky fact: A single square foot of carpeting can hold up to a pound of dirt before it even looks dirty, according to the Carpet and Rug Institute. And even with regular vacuuming, there's plenty of dirt that gets missed.

Wool rugs are particularly good at hiding dirt, and debris can damage the structure of the rug over time, says Lisa Wagner, author of the blog Rug Chick and a certified rug specialist.

The solution: Learn how to clean rugs and carpets the right way so they last for years (and you're not walking or sitting on pounds of dirt in your carpets). The cleaning instructions are a little different, depending on your rug's material and size, so follow what's best for your carpet.

vacuum on rug
Getty Images

How Often to Clean Rugs and Carpets

Regular vacuuming is essential. For rugs in high-traffic zones like your living room or entryway, you might need to vacuum daily, especially the areas where people are constantly stepping, according to carpet manufacturer Shaw Floors. For lower-traffic areas (such as your bedroom), you can get away with a twice weekly run. (Keep in mind that robot vacuums can help you cross this to-do off of your list.

How often you clean your rugs or carpets depends a lot on where they're located, how they're used, and what your household is like. Most carpets need to be cleaned once a year, while rugs located in high traffic areas, or busy homes with lots of pets and kids, may need a deep cleaning a few times a year. And obviously, if your rug gets stained, it's time to clean that up pronto.

Considerations Before You Get Started

If you're just spot cleaning a red wine stain or doggie accident, break out the cleaning solutions ASAP. By cleaning it as soon as you catch it, you'll reduce the chances that the stain sets in and becomes permanent.

But if you're doing a general deep clean of your rugs or carpets, vacuum thoroughly to get any loose dirt and make your cleaning job much easier. (Note: For small rugs, you can flip the rug over to vacuum both sides, or take the rug outside and shake it or beat it to help loosen the dirt.)

What You Need

Small area rugs

• Mild detergent

• Vinegar-water solution

• Seltzer

• Soft brushes or sponges

• Thick towels

• Washing machine (optional)

Wall-to-Wall Carpeting

• Steam cleaner

• Carpet cleaning solution

• White cloth

How to Clean Small Natural Rugs (Cotton or Wool)

Step 1: Break out the detergent

If your rug is colorfast, you can use a soft brush or sponge to wash away the grime. (Note: If you aren't sure if your rug is colorfast, test it by putting a few drops of the detergent on an inconspicuous spot and rubbing it in gently with a white cloth. If you see dye on the cloth, it's not colorfast.)

Step 2: Rinse out the rug

Rinse thoroughly with water mixed with a small amount of white vinegar to remove residue.

Step 3: Let it dry

Roll the rug inside a thick towel, then stand on it to remove as much moisture as you can. Hang the rug so it dries as quickly as possible.

How to Clean Small Synthetic Rugs

Step 1: Figure out the best washing method

If the rug is very sturdy and machine woven, clean it in the washing machine on the gentle cycle. Check the care tag for notes on the recommended water temperature and detergent. If it isn't machine washable, you can use the natural rug method.

Step 2: Hang to dry

Hang it in a spot where it will dry quickly to prevent mold and mildew from forming.

How to Clean Larger Area Rugs

Step 1: Give the rug a lot of TLC

Because larger rugs are a little more unwieldy to work with, it's best to minimize the need for cleaning with regular vacuuming and dealing with spills ASAP.

Before you attack a stain, check your rug for colorfastness by using the detergent on a small inconspicuous spot and dabbing with a white cloth, to look for any bleeding of the dye.

If the dyes are colorfast, dampen the area with a sponge dipped in seltzer, using as little liquid as possible. Blot with a white cotton cloth, then sandwich the stain between two towels and stand on top briefly to remove excess water.

If the dyes aren't colorfast, use a mixture of four parts cold water and one part white vinegar, or sprinkle cornstarch on top and vacuum after 24 hours.

Step 2: Take it outside, if you can

If you're DIYing your rug cleaning, it might be easier to manage outdoors—and your rug will dry faster in the sunshine. Place the rug on a tarp or clean deck, after you've already vacuumed and beaten out as much dirt as possible.

Step 3: Choose an appropriate detergent

The kind of detergent you need differs depending on the material of your rug, whether it's wool, cotton, or a synthetic rug. Don't forget to test the detergent in an inconspicuous spot before you get started, and read the directions thoroughly: Some detergents suggest leaving the cleaner on the rug for several minutes before rinsing to work effectively.

Step 4: Rinse and scrub

Wet down the rug. Use a hose if you're outdoors and your rug isn't too delicate, or cool water and a sponge for more fragile rugs. Apply the cleaner with a brush, and let it set in if required.

Step 5: Rinse again

Remove the detergent with a hose or a sponge and cool water.

Step 6: Let it dry

Use thick towels, squeegees, and other tools to remove as much water as possible. Move the rug to a dry spot (perhaps draped over a deck railing to allow more air circulation, or in a garage or mud room), to dry more thoroughly.

Step 7: Consider calling in a carpet cleaning pro

It may be easier to hire a professional cleaner every year or so to deep clean your rug.

How to Clean Wall-to-Wall Carpet

Step 1: Choose the best cleaning method for you

You can rent a steam cleaner, but a real carpet cleaning is best left to the pros (visit to find providers).

Step 2: Move all furniture off the carpet

If you're hiring a carpet cleaner, they'll move the furniture for you.

Step 3: Choose the right detergent

Use a detergent that's created for your particular carpet material, and that works with your machine.

Step 4: Follow the directions for the carpet cleaning machine

Your carpet cleaning machine will have info on how to apply and remove the cleaner, and how long to let it soak into your carpet.

Step 5: Be careful while it dries

It can take up to 24 hours for your carpet to dry, so avoid walking on the carpet wearing anything but white socks until it's fully dry.

Step 6: Keep your rugs clean

To maintain your clean carpet, treat stains by blotting with a white cotton cloth. Pretest a carpet cleaner in an out-of-the-way area first. If it's OK and doesn't affect the dyes, apply a small amount to the white cloth and blot. Then blot with water.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles