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A Guide to Deep Cleaning Carpet

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If you want the cleanest carpeting possible, you probably should hire professionals who use hot water extraction, otherwise known as steam cleaning. They should arrive with a machine mounted in a truck or van -- the more portable units will never have the same suction power and usually will not match the heat of a good steam cleaning either. The combination of injecting extremely hot water -- which in addition to loosening dirt also kills many organisms -- and pulling it out with strong suction gets carpet cleaner than just about any other method invented.

But what if you do not want to spend the money for a professional carpet cleaner and you still want a good deep cleaning. Can you clean your carpet by yourself and get anywhere near the same results? The answer is maybe. It depends on how dirty the carpet is to begin with, what kind of fiber it's constructed of, and how motivated and patient you are. Here are some suggestions for deep cleaning carpet that is not too far gone and has a relatively short pile.

Vacuuming and Other Preparation

The first thing you can do is the most obvious; vacuum the carpeting well and often. But what you may not have considered is the power of your vacuum cleaner. If it is old you might want to get one with stronger suction. If you are not ready to buy a new vacuum cleaner you might be able to increase the suction of the one you have. Start by putting a new bag in it, if it takes bags. If it is a bag-less type, there will still be at least one filter. Locate this and either replace it or wash it out. Some are designed to be rinsed out, and if you haven't done this in a while you might double the power of the machine with this one step.

Setting the height of the vacuum is important as well. If it is too low you will struggle to push it across the carpet, and it might push the fibers over, so the dirt does not come loose as easily. If it is too high it will not pull the dirt from deep down in the fibers. If you are not sure what the best level is to set the wheels at, one option is to vacuum twice, using a different setting each time. This might be the best way to get the most dirt in any case.

If there are spots where there is a lot of dirt, like where a potted plant tipped over, you can remove the hose and use it to more directly vacuum those small areas. Use a circular motion and be sure that you attack the spot from several angles. Then place the hose directly over one little section after another and push it down to get the deepest dirt out. If there is still dirt that can be removed you should hear it as it goes through the hose. Continue until you no longer hear any material being sucked up.

If you happen to be working on a loose-laid carpet, you can remove it and take it outside on a sunny day. Turn it over to gently beat the dirt and debris out from behind with a broom. Then let the sun shine on each side for at least thirty minutes to disinfect the fibers. Be aware that excess sunlight will eventually fade the color in the fibers, so you won't want to do this too often. On the other hand, the fading will at least be more even than that which occurs from sunlight entering through windows and hitting only a portion of the floor.

For the final deep cleaning carpet needs water, and preferable hot water. Detergent is not an absolute necessity, and it is used it will be necessary to rinse it out thoroughly to avoid residue that will attract and hold dirt. If you are doing this yourself you'll be using an under-powered portable machine, so use slow passes and repetition.

Because it is so important to dry carpeting quickly to avoid mildew growth, you should consider timing your cleaning for the best day. Specifically you will want low humidity and warm enough weather so you can open a few windows to allow air flow. It also helps to have fans blowing across the carpet to dry it quickly. Move the fans around from time to time to be sure that every part of the carpeting is dried. If you have furniture propped up on foam blocks or pieces of plastic, these will prevent the fibers underneath from drying easily, so move them around once or twice during the drying process. Just moving a table or couch over a couple inches will allow the spots where the legs (and plastic or foam blocks) were to dry more quickly.

Finally, to avoid the necessity of doing this kind of deep cleaning very often, put rugs by entrances to catch dirt before it comes too far into the house, have a no-shoes policy inside, and vacuum often. Damaged carpet gets dirtier faster too, so by keeping it from being abused you'll keep it cleaner.

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