Best strategy for carpet cleaning?
June 16, 2017 12:28 PM   Subscribe

A significant portion of the flooring in our home is beige/cream carpet. We are relatively new homeowners who grew up without carpet for the most part, so we haven't dealt with this before, but we have reached the point where vacuuming and spot cleaning is no longer cutting it. What makes the most sense for cleaning-- renting a machine, buying a machine (which one?), or having it done professionally?

The carpet itself is mid-range, medium pile, nothing special, pretty sure not wool but also not the cheapest. We are likely to stay in this house at least a few more years. Ultimately we'd like to replace the flooring but that is down the line. The total carpeted area is probably ~1000 square feet, so too big for a "SpotBot" type solution.

The biggest issues are the high traffic areas such as stairs, and a few random spots from spilled coffee etc where spot cleaning has been only marginally successful.

We have a dog but she is trained and very rarely creates messes (if she does, it's usually vomit and we've had success with spot cleaning). She is a moderate shedder whose fur pretty much matches the carpet. Most of the pet-specific carpet cleaners seem to be targeted at urine spots, which we are lucky to not have to deal with, but the fur-related features might be helpful?

- Renting would be ~$50-60 with solution. We are somewhat concerned that a rented machine might bring cigarette or other odors into our house -- is this an issue? We (ok, me) are generally very sensitive to odors.

- Buying a machine would range from $150-250, presumably with ongoing solution costs. Are home machines effective? If so, which are best? It kind of seems like a mattress situation where different brands and models have fancy names and similar features and it's hard to differentiate.

- A professional clean would be $250-350, but, based on how long it's taken us to throw up our hands and admit defeat, would last about 1.5 - 2 years with vacuuming / spot cleaning. We have the sense that professional companies have superior equipment especially related to drying, is this true?

At this particular moment we have more time than money, though the situation will reverse in the next few months as I start a new job. This feels like something people just know how to deal with, but we don't, so please help!
posted by charmcityblues to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
We bought a cheapish, well rated machine for I think about $130. It's not amazing or life-changing, but it works well. It seemed to be by far the cheapest long term solution for yeah, you guessed it, dog vomit and general grime.
posted by so fucking future at 12:33 PM on June 16

I tried to DIY it once with a machine borrowed from a friend. I wasn't used to the machine and obviously didn't operate it correctly, and ended up oversaturating my carpet, and then I had to figure out how to correct that. It ended up taking way more time than I anticipated, and that was the last time I tried to clean my carpet on my own. Now I hire a pro once a year; they do all the work and it's dry within a couple of hours, and my carpet doesn't get ruined.

My experience was pre-Youtube. If you are handy folks, watch some videos and see if you think you can handle it. Worst case scenario, you give it a try and end up calling in pros. Probably better to start with a rental until you figure out where your comfort level is.
posted by vignettist at 12:35 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]

We have a dog and 4 cats. We wash the carpets 4x a year (we bought a machine on sale from costco). It's amazing the crap that gets brought up; as well as the amount of fur that washing picks up (we have a dyson animal vacuum cleaner). If you have a pets, get an actual rug cleaner and clean with each season. Solution will be about a large bottle per year.

Since you're not in an emergency don't but a rug cleaner that's not on sale, or perhaps hold out for a wicked sale.

You only have one dog now, but if you increase the number of pets or get kids, I'd recommend additionally getting a smaller, portable rug spot cleaner.
posted by nobeagle at 12:36 PM on June 16

We have a storebought carpet cleaner, like a huge upright vacuum, that we got for around $200 almost 20 years ago now and we do the carpet maybe annually or when it gets really gross; it takes some practice, but once you get the hang of it the process goes well. It probably won't be as good as the big machines the pros use, but it will keep things from getting too grimy. Ours also has an 'upholstery attachment' that's good for armrests and other furniture parts that get a lot of gunk.
posted by AzraelBrown at 12:43 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]

Having done all of the above, just get it professionally done. They've got far superior equipment, there's no storage, no mess, no hauling a machine back and it turns out much better. Just wait for a sale.
posted by sageleaf at 12:46 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]

I have rented a machine. It was easy to use and did not bring any outside odors into the house - that hadn't even occurred to me. However, we did not have stairs. Supposedly the Rug Doctors and such have attachments for stairs, but I'm not sure how well it works.

Since you have more time than money, I think I'd rent a machine this one time and see how it goes. You can get a pro cleaning if you need to/want to after you start your job.
posted by Kriesa at 12:53 PM on June 16

I do a combination. I get carpets cleaned professionally once a year and will use an upright cleaner in between. I also have spotbot.

I prefer the professional clean, I can see that it's far cleaner than the upright BUT it's a lot of work as I move all a lot of the furniture out. For the upright I only move light pieces.

Our carpet guy says the upright leave a residue which makes it easier to bind dirt to the carpet.

You want a company who uses a big truck, and runs the hoses from there. I had one who used a portable machine, and it was a waste of money.

Be sure to check your walls before they leave to ensure there wasn't splash back.
posted by Ftsqg at 12:55 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]

Professional cleaning is really not at all the same as the do-it-yourself versions. The carpets get much cleaner.

Store-rental and store-bought ones perform about the same. the rental ones seem a bit more heavy-duty though. They do a fine job once every few months, with vacuuming in between. I've never had an odor problem with a machine from the super market. Just don't rent one that hasn't been emptied or cleaned properly. I just horse the rug doctor rental up and down the stairs.

However I would get it done professionally when you move in. It's an enormous difference, but not cheap.
posted by bonehead at 1:05 PM on June 16

Because you have stairs, I'll recommend getting the pros in to clean. I don't have stairs and I'm happy with my upright home steam cleaner (it's a Bissel) which I use a couple times a year.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 1:47 PM on June 16

I hated the professional steam cleaning I got for our wall to wall white carpets. Everything stayed wet for 2 days and it accidentally stained the rugs terribly because the underlayment had (unbeknownst to us) been put down in pieces rather than in one big whole, and the seams stained up into the rug. It was awful.

There is a business where I live called something like "Citrus cleaning" and it was wonderful, got everything very clean, was dry the same day. No steam, just some sort of natural citrusy chemical.

If you make a practice of not wearing outside shoes in the house, your carpets will stay significantly cleaner.
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:31 PM on June 16

I have an upright Hoover carpet cleaner (like a vacuum) that I got as a Amazon warehouse deal for about $115. I agree that it's not as good of a clean as a professional, but if you use hot, hot water, it really is decent and makes a difference in the carpet. It does remove stains. I have it for basically cat hairball situations and I rent, so I'm not maintaining some great quality carpet. It's nice to have just to break out when it's needed and it's not much of a hassle at all, no scheduling an appointment, etc.
posted by not that mimi at 3:19 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]

I have Stanley Steemer in once a year (get on their e-mail list and wait for a good sale, or whatever your local equivalent is), and if there's a big mess in between that I can't manage with spot cleaning, I'll go rent a Rug Doctor (which costs $25 here -- again you can keep an eye out for coupons). Stanley Steemer moves all the furniture for me, it's so much easier and they get it so much cleaner than DIY.

That said, I've never had a problem with a Rug Doctor machine smelling odd, they're pretty convenient and easy enough to operate. (Like, after my kids have a backyard birthday party and a billion five-year-olds spend the day tracking mud across my carpets to get to the bathroom is a great time for a Rug Doctor.) I just grab them from the local grocery or hardware store so they're not like fancy and well-serviced or anything, they just don't seem to smell.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:21 PM on June 16

We used to rent machines and now have our own storebought - I think it's a Bissell, don't remember exactly what model. We're happy with the job it does (three cats, lots of fur, one of them occasionally pees in places one could wish he would not pee). That said, DIY-ing it makes sense for us because my partner weirdly enjoys the process. (I have no idea why, but far be it from me to question, I'm just glad that means I don't have to spend any time on it myself.) If he disliked cleaning the carpets as much as I do, I would probably instead budget for an annual professional cleaning, and maybe buy a small spot cleaner for touch-ups throughout the year.
posted by Stacey at 3:32 PM on June 16

Ooh ooh ooh - I just moved into a house that's more than half carpeted, we live in the country (mud & dirt) and have two dogs. I ordered this amazing Hoover upright cleaner for $150 from Amazon and so far we've cleaned about half the carpeted area with it. Let me tell you; IT WORKS. It's easy to use and not tricky to clean the machine itself. It pulls disgusting grossness out of apparently-clean carpet and leaves it only slightly damp. If you want, you can home-brew carpet cleaning solution, or use non-Hoover brands.
posted by workerant at 4:35 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]

I've rented, I've bought a carpet cleaner, and I've used professionals--and I now exclusively use Stanley Steemer every 18 months or so. To me it's worth the money to have someone else move the furniture and do it right. I have them clean 3 rooms plus stairs and a hallway and it takes them about two hours tops and takes maybe a day to fully dry. Plus, once in awhile I'll also have them deep clean some upholstered furniture as well--it doesn't add much time or cost. Totally worth it to me!
posted by bookmammal at 5:24 PM on June 16

As someone who has had carpet and pets, and now has hardwood and pets- I'd save the money on carpet cleaning and put it towards hard flooring. I'm not particularly allergic to my pets but within a day of not having carpet any more, I was breathing better than I had in years. Turned out I was constantly experiencing allergic symptoms and I didn't even know it because my baseline had shifted and it just felt normal. Carpet traps SO many kinds of dust, dander, spores... my life got a lot better when I got rid of the carpet. Just a data point!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 6:12 PM on June 16 [4 favorites]

I have tried several carpet cleaning machines (rented and bought), and used professional cleaners, but finally found the best one that I can recommend with confidence! It is a bit pricey, but totally worth the cost (especially when you consider the cost of even one professional cleaning). Most of the cheap machines and the rental ones don't do a good job of extracting the dirty water from the carpet and leave the carpet wet with dirty water and cleaning agents. It takes longer to dry and needs multiple passes for the extracted water to be coming back "clear".

Not so with the Bissell Big Green Deep Cleaning professional grade machine. You can find it on Amazon here. I can pretty much guarantee that you can get dirty water out of a carpet that has just been fully "cleaned" by a rental cleaner or cheap upright machine. Don't take my word for it, check out the Amazon reviews. You don't need to buy the official cleaning solution, you can buy cheaper ones from your local grocery store. It comes with a cleaning attachment and 9-ft hose for stairs and hard to reach places.

Our carpet is medium pile on one floor, and low pile on the other floors. It works well on both. We have a dog as well, who sheds a fair amount. I do one pass with the cleaning solution and one pass with warm water. For heavily soiled areas, I use two passes. Carpets are restored to like-new condition. Only downside is that its a bit heavy, so if you need to carry it over stairs to multiple floors, that may be a consideration. (I clean our 4-story home with this about once a month, but I like cleaning (!), so it may be a downside for others, not for me :)
posted by thewildgreen at 8:24 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]

As someone who has had carpet and pets, and now has hardwood and pets- I'd save the money on carpet cleaning and put it towards hard flooring. I'm not particularly allergic to my pets but within a day of not having carpet any more, I was breathing better than I had in years. Turned out I was constantly experiencing allergic symptoms and I didn't even know it because my baseline had shifted and it just felt normal. Carpet traps SO many kinds of dust, dander, spores... my life got a lot better when I got rid of the carpet. Just a data point!
posted by pseudostrabismus

Can't second this hard enough. When I had pets and carpets over the 20+ years I owned my home, I tried it all -- renting a machine, professionally cleaning our carpets, bought my own steam cleaner, and even had the carpets replaced several times. The carpets looked very clean on top, but no matter how diligent you are, you'll be fighting a losing battle. Save your money and replace the carpet with wood or tile where it makes sense. Even if you don't have allergies, it's totally worth it if you plan on staying in your home.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 1:39 AM on June 17 [2 favorites]

So I got the Bissel ProHeat 2X Revolution Pet Pro and it is AMAZING. It got rid of 90% of the spots and significantly reduced the rest, the stair tool was fantastic and the hose is definitely long enough to reach the whole way up our (split-level) stairs, and the upholstery tool did a great job on our fabric couch.

It took several hours of hard work to do the main living area, but so worth it cost/benefit-wise to us at this point. Related: I did not realize that you use only a small amount of solution with each tank of water; the bottle we bought will probably last 10+ cleanings, which made me happy.

We are still planning to eventually replace the carpet with wood, but for now this machine has made such a difference! Thanks, MetaFilter!
posted by charmcityblues at 11:58 PM on June 17 [2 favorites]

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