No matter how clean we think we keep our homes, sooner or later carpet cleaning becomes a necessity. If you have any type of carpeting in your home, whether wall-to-wall or area rugs, deep cleaning is a good idea every 12-18 months. Your best bet is to hire a pro. Not all professional carpet cleaners are alike, however. Don’t be swayed by print or television ads that offer super cheap prices. Many of these “companies” are fly-by-night, or offer sub-standard work. And while you may like to do it yourself, rental carpet cleaners are the fast food version of carpet cleaning.

You should always get an in-home inspection and written total price quote. Over-the-phone quotes cannot possibly take into account your particulars. Everyone has their own situation whether it be young children, pets, hobbies that can be messy, frequent entertaining, etc. The job really needs to be seen.

Dennis Cleary, owner of Pristine Orientals in Greenfield, MA, offers valuable recommendations for the average homeowner on how to have your carpets cleaned.

Who is really qualified to do the best job?

Cleary is in favor of hiring companies that have employees with IICRC (Institute of Inspection, Cleaning, and Restoration Certification) training. “There are 25 different categories of classes involved in the training,” Cleary explains.

If you have wall-to-wall carpets:

Cleary points out that most wall-to-wall carpets are made from threads of nylon or polypropylene (basically plastic). “Wall-to-wall is essentially attached to the building, so you can only clean the top,” he adds.

First of all, the carpets need to be intensely vacuumed (with a commercial-grade machine, not just your Hoover). “Otherwise it’s like trying to clean a carpet filled with mud,” according to Cleary.

Cleary recommends the use of companies such as his own, which employ the use of special “mounted” trucks offering “a more powerful and efficient freshwater and recovery system.” Cleary’s trucks carry specialized hoses, wands, and vacuums that are snaked into the home or office. Carpeting is dye tested in spots to be sure cleaning soaps and chemicals won’t damage it. Hot water, generated in the truck, and soap are sprayed on the carpets, which are “raked” to work in the soap and loosen dirt. The carpeting is rinsed again with hot water that is then extracted by powerful vacuums.

Generally, wall-to-wall carpet cleaning jobs done by professionals will take roughly 2 ½ hours for the work and 2-3 hours drying time (unless your home is enormous). Most companies will not charge for furniture moving. TIP: If you can, leave a few windows open during the cleaning or turn the heat a little higher to speed up the drying process. Don’t put your furniture back too soon, as wood may become damaged and metal furniture might leave rust stains.

Cleary dusting the carpet. Photo: Cris Carl

Area rugs and Oriental carpets:

Oriental and many area rugs are usually made of wool, wool blends, cotton, sisal, rayon or other natural fibers, so must be treated with special care. Cleary warns against companies that promise to clean your rugs in hours. “They put the rugs through a machine that looks like a printing press. The rugs are run through rollers and cleaned a bit like a car wash. The whole process only takes minutes.”

Cleary also strongly suggests that you avoid companies who say they can clean area rugs and Oriental carpets in your home. “It’s like trying to wash your clothes while still wearing them.”

Instead, after an in-house inspection, carpets are best removed to be professionally cleaned at a plant. In-plant cleaning assures optimal control of temperatures and the drying process. Expect the cleaning to take at least five days.

The treatment starts by “dusting” the rug with compressed air to remove loose dirt. Dye tests are done before the rug is soaked overnight. The next day the rug is immersed in warm soapy water. lower water temperatures are used due to the non-synthetic fibers. The rug is left in the soapy solution until day three, at which point it’s flushed with compressed air and water and hung to dry. Finally, the fringe is cleaned and any specialized work such as repairs, deodorizing, mothproofing, removal of gum or wax etc. is done.

Regarding pet stains:

Another case for professional carpet cleaning is what happens when your pets have “accidents” on the carpet. You may think you’ve cleaned the mess up, but often ammonium salts are left behind. During the winter, if your home is dry, you may not notice much in the way of odor as the salts remain crystallized. However, once the warmer, wetter months arrive, the salts absorb moisture and release more odor.

Chemicals and soaps that are used:

Cleary said that only for wall-to-wall carpeting are stronger chemicals and soaps applied. If you have chemical sensitivities, discuss what the company uses and how to lessen the effects. Products are normally fairly pH neutral, but wall-to-wall rugs with heavy soiling might require more alkaline soaps or cleaners.

What can you expect to pay?

Costs will vary according to the job and region. Cleary gives the average for his company as 60 cents a square foot. However, if the job is very large, that number can go as low as 10 cents a square foot. “It’s all about efficiencies of scale.”