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Home & garden.

Updated: 27 Apr 2022

How to clean a carpet

From day-to-day cleaning to tackling tough stains, here’s how to keep your carpet looking its best.
Paula Flores

Carpet is warmer and cosier than wooden flooring, but it can take a bit more effort to keep clean. Our top tips will help you spruce up your carpet, keeping dirt and grime at bay.

Frequent cleaning is essential to prevent carpet looking dull, particularly if it's a light colour. Dirt, dust, hair and other debris can collect among the fibres and ruin the appearance of your carpet – and turn yours into a hotbed of bacteria. 

One in seven of those we surveyed* said they had been unable to remove certain stains from their carpet.

Read on for our advice on the best ways to maintain your carpet and expert tips for banishing stains. 

If all your damage prevention and cleaning efforts have failed and it's simply time for a new carpet, discover which are the best places to buy carpet.

Carpet cleaning tips

To keep your carpet looking good, a vacuum cleaner should be the first line of defence. Make sure you're using the correct settings as using the wrong ones can mean you're wasting your efforts or even damaging your carpet. 

Refer to your vacuum's manual for exact settings and check our guide on how to vacuum your home effectively

Remember that dirt isn’t always instantly visible. So don’t just wait until your carpet looks dirty to get the vacuum out – stick to a schedule of vacuuming once or twice a week. Regular vacuuming will also help keep your carpet tufts upright. 

If you’re using carpet in high traffic areas such as hallways, or if you have children or allergies, you should vacuum even more regularly to keep dirt from building up, as these are the areas likely to be dirtiest. Or consider getting rid of your carpet and going for another type of flooring that's easier to keep clean. 

If you have pets, you might find pet hair all over the house. Our best cordless vacuums for pet hair guide reveals which vacuums are best for cleaning up after your furry friends. 

Placing a doormat at your home's entrance will help to trap dirt and moisture but make sure to clean your doormats regularly too. And don't wear shoes around the house, or all your efforts to keep your carpet clean will be in vain. 

If you’re a Which? member, log in to read our vacuum cleaner reviews and use the filters to find models with high scores for carpet cleaning.

How to get dirt out of carpets

Even with regular vacuuming, after many months of use grime can collect in the fibres and leave your carpet looking dull and smelling musty. A good quality carpet cleaner can help to restore it to its original glory.

You can rent carpet cleaners from some high street DIY stores, tool hire shops, dry cleaners and supermarkets. Read our carpet cleaner reviews to find out how popular rental models such as the Rug Doctor performed in our tests.

If you have a lot of carpets or you need to clean them regularly because you have pets, young children or you’re a smoker, you might want to invest in your own carpet cleaner. See our advice on how to buy the best carpet cleaner to get the right model for you.

Vacuuming long-pile rug

How to clean carpet stains

Stains were the most common problem experienced by the carpet owners we surveyed.

So it’s a good idea to stock up on carpet shampoo when you get a new carpet, so that it’s always on hand, rather than waiting until something is spilt. 

We tested carpet cleaners to find the most efficient one to help you get rid of those pesky carpet stains. Our best carpet stain removers guide reveals which ones came top.

We also quizzed our expert Trusted Trader cleaning companies about the best way to tackle stains.

To avoid a stain ruining your carpet, experts recommended that you should:

  • act quickly to improve the chance of removing it
  • carefully scrape, remove and blot away as much of the spill as you can
  • work the stain from the outside in to avoid spreading
  • test your cleaning product on an inconspicuous area of your carpet before use to make sure it won’t damage or discolour the material
  • avoid using a lot of water, or hot water, as this can make some stains worse and even lead to it soaking into the carpet
  • don’t rub the stain too aggressively, as this can damage the carpet fibres.
A woman sponging a stain out of a carpet

For tough stains like blood, the experts we spoke to said it will depend on what the carpet is made from. If the carpet is wool or a wool blend, stick to mild detergent and water. For other materials, you may be able to use methylated spirits or ammonia mixed with water, but check with the manufacturer first. 

If you get candle wax on your carpet,  remove the excess material by scraping it off. Cover the residue with a white cotton towel or brown paper.  Then apply a warm iron until the residue is absorbed.  Don't apply the iron directly to the carpet. Change or rotate the towel or brown paper and repeat the procedure until all the wax has been absorbed. 

Discover the best carpet cleaner home remedies for red wine, curry and ketchup.

Glass of red wine spilt on carpet

If you can't remove your stain, and need to call in a carpet cleaning service,  you can use our Which? Trusted Traders search tool below to find reliable carpet cleaning companies in your area.

If the spillage extends to your sofa, check out our guide on how to clean a sofa.

How to get rid of carpet moths

These little insects can wreak havoc once installed on your carpet. If you find threadbare areas, this may well be due to carpet moths.

One of the the best ways to address this is to make sure vacuuming is carried out regularly and carefully, as mentioned before. 

Make sure to reach underneath furniture and not just around it as this is where larvae will be. Wool carpets and rugs will be the ones most at risk.

Moths will mostly attack the areas around the edges – the ones with least traffic –  so it is key to reach all these when vacuuming. Having carpets professionally cleaned also helps.

Similarly to dealing with moths in clothing, placing cedarwood can be a great help, as it should naturally repel carpet moths. You can also get moth paper and moth traps from various DIY shops.

If none of this helps, you'll need to contact a dedicated pest control company.

How to get rid of carpet beetles

These little invaders can also cause mayhem to your textiles. Look out for infestation signs such as patches in your carpet. 

Usually, signs appear near windows and doors as this is how they normally get in. 

Once again, cleaning regularly is key, as it is vacuuming. Make sure to use the correct attachments to reach all the nooks and crevices. 

Spraying vinegar is also recommended but, again, try an inconspicuous area and always check your carpet's manufacturer guide.

There are also plenty of insecticides you can use.

Professional carpet cleaning

If your own efforts to shift ground-in grime and stains have failed, it might be time to call in the professionals. Some carpet cleaning companies will have a special service for exterminating carpet moths. 

Man using carpet cleaner

Finding a professional carpet cleaner

Look for carpet cleaners near you that are registered with professional organisations. 

Search our directory at Which? Trusted Traders. Every company that we endorse has been vetted in our rigorous assessment process, and we make sure that they comply with our strict requirements and code of conduct. And all of the reviews on its profile page will have been checked by a team of moderators. 

If you can't get hold of a Trusted Trader near you, the National Carpet Cleaners Association also has listings. 

Getting quotes for professional cleaning

Before you agree to hire a professional service, work out how much of your home needs to be cleaned and discuss your requirements with the company.

If your carpets are all in good condition apart from one stain or spillage, your cleaner may be able to just deal with the stain and blend in the surrounding area for a cheaper fee than a full service.

Another option is to ask for a quote for only cleaning parts of the carpet that you regularly walk on. You may find that it's cheaper to clean around large items such as beds and sofas than to move them out of the way. 

However, it's sensible to move these large items of furniture every now and again anyway, so that you can clean behind them and check for anything unpleasant like mould. So, if you have the budget, a thorough carpet clean may be best. 

It's likely that the call-out charge will make up a significant proportion of the total job cost. If that's the case, it may be better value to get several rooms cleaned at once. 

Some cleaners offer discounts to customers who use them regularly, as it’s easier to clean carpets that have been well looked after. So you may be able to negotiate a reduction on future services.

If you can, get quotes from at least three companies before choosing which one to use.

Don't forget to ask how you should prepare your home so that the job can be done quickly. If the company has to move furniture for you, that may add to the cost. Also ask how long they anticipate you'll need to wait before moving the furniture back. 

When you buy a new carpet or have one professionally cleaned, ask for a ‘stainguard’ treatment to be applied – it makes removing stains in future far easier.

Your rights and responsibilities towards your carpet when renting 

Many landlords prefer to change the carpet at the end of a long tenancy, but they are only required to change them if the carpets are unsafe.

If you're renting and the carpet is badly damaged or stained at the end of a tenancy, the landlord may be able to charge you for a deep clean, repairs, or replacement. However, if it is normal wear and tear the landlord can't charge the tenant for this.

That is why if you're moving in to a new property it is key to have a proper inventory with plenty of pictures.

Some rental contracts also require you to have your carpets professionally cleaned when you check out at the end of your tenancy. If that's the case, try to arrange to remove your belongings in advance, so that the clean is quicker and cheaper.

Keeping your carpet clean will also help improve your indoor air quality. Find out more about how to improve your indoor air quality at home

*In November 2021 we asked 6,381 carpet owners about their experiences with carpet in the past five years.