How to Clean a Carpet: Get Rid of Stains, Smells & More

How-To Guides
by How-To Guides

We’ve all been there. You’re throwing a fabulous party and someone spills their wine on your carpet. Or is it a pet that has an accident? Or maybe your kids just ran through the house with their soccer cleats on, getting mud everywhere!

Carpet stains happen, it’s just a fact of life. It’s too late to prevent them, so let us help you remove them!

There are so many approaches to how to clean carpets that you may feel overwhelmed, but we’ve broken it down into a step-by-step process that’s easy to follow.

Most carpets will respond to a basic 5-step treatment, even if they have marks and stains that have been around for a while.

how to clean a carpet

DeeDee / Spot Cleaning Carpet With a DIY Solution

Let’s start with what you’ll need to get your carpet fresh and clean:

What you'll need to clean your carpet:

  • Vacuum - Any old vacuum will do, however, if yours is stronger, it’s more likely to get everything out of your carpet quicker.
  • Stain remover - This can be something homemade or store-bought. We’ll provide a few options below.
  • Carpet cleaning solution - This is different from a stain remover and can also be homemade or store-bought. As with the stain remover, we’ll provide a few options below.
  • Steam cleaner - A good steam clean every now and then is vital in keeping your carpets in tip-top shape. You can rent a steam cleaner at your local Home Depot.
  • Vinegar - Come on, did you think we’d have a cleaning post that didn’t involve vinegar? This pantry staple is also a cleaning staple and is oh-so versatile.
  • Rag - If you have a white rag that is best, as you don’t want to risk any color transferring from your rag to your carpet. Alternatively, you can use a microfiber cloth as they are colorfast and work great with any cleaning project.
  • Stiff bristle brush
  • Spray bottle - If you happen to have an empty spray bottle lying around, use that. If not you can grab one from your local dollar store. If you choose to go with a foaming solution, make sure to get a foaming dispenser bottle.
  • Sponge - Any old kitchen sponge will do (just don’t grab the one you’re currently using to wash your dirty dishes!)

Now that you’ve gathered all your supplies let’s get started!

vacuum cleaning tips

Chas / DIY Vacuum Cleaning Tips

How to clean your carpet step-by-step

1. Vacuum

Don’t skip vacuuming! The very first thing you have to do when cleaning your carpet is to get rid of any loose dirt and debris that may be hiding in it. When vacuuming, move slowly to make sure that you pick up as much dirt as possible. Once you’ve vacuumed in one direction, take another pass from another direction to catch anything you may have left behind.

2. Choose a stain remover

Just as you pretreat stains on your clothing, you also need to pretreat stains on your carpet before you do a full cleaning. You can choose one of the many commercial stain removers out there, such as OxiClean or Resolve, or you could take a more natural route and whip up a DIY carpet cleaner.

Here is a great recipe for a DIY stain remover, and you probably already have all the ingredients at home:

DIY stain remover recipe

Combine it all in a bucket and you’re ready to go!

Pro-tip: If you’re looking to be a little more eco-friendly, you can use baking soda and white vinegar to clean up a stain in a pinch.

If you are looking for ways to clean a specific stain, keep reading! We’ll address some common offenders a little later on.

3. Test your stain remover

Now that you’ve chosen your carpet cleaner, test it out to make sure it won’t discolor. Spray a bit in an area that is covered by furniture, let it sit, and then wipe away. If everything looks good, then it’s time to start cleaning!

Removing carpet stains

Angela / Remove Carpet Stains

4. Pretreat stains

Grab your chosen stain remover and spray it on the stained area of your carpet. If you’re using a commercial stain remover, follow the instructions on the bottle.

If you’ve chosen to make your own stain remover, once you’ve sprayed it on the stain, gently blot it with a clean rag. It’s important not to rub the stain further into the carpet, so ensure that you blot instead of rubbing in a circular motion.

Stain still stuck fast? Grab a stiff bristle brush and gently scrub the area. Then blot again.

Be patient, you may have to do this multiple times before the stain truly comes up.

5. Steam clean your carpet

Once you’ve removed all of the stains, it’s time to give your carpet a good steam clean. As we noted above, we recommend checking with your local Home Depot about renting a portable carpet cleaner if you’d rather not buy one. However, if you’d like to own one and always have it handy, they tend to run between $100-$200.

One last thing you need to do before you steam clean your carpet is to protect any furniture that you can’t move out of the space. Slide a piece of foil or wax paper under the legs of your furniture to protect them from sitting on a damp carpet and getting damaged.

Now you’re basically going to wash your carpet. 

  • Fill the steam cleaner with hot water and a small amount of carpet cleaner. As with the stain remover, you can buy a carpet cleaning solution or mix up your own if you like. A simple recipe involves dissolving a tablespoon of Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap in a quart of almost boiling water. Castile soap is oil-based and will make quick work of breaking down oil-based grime stuck in your carpet.
  • As you push the steam cleaner forward, it will lay down the cleaning solution, and as you pull it back it will extract it. Be sure to pull back very slowly, as you want to remove as much water as possible from your carpet. If you leave too much behind, you run the risk of developing mold, mildew, and some pretty bad smells. 
  • Pro tip: clean your carpets when it’s warm outside. Opening the windows will air out your space and help your carpet dry quicker. Experts recommend cleaning in late spring and autumn when the weather is nice.
  • Once you’ve gone over the whole carpet, remove the soap mixture and fill the carpet cleaner with a mix of equal parts vinegar and hot water and go over it once more. As we’ve mentioned before, vinegar is a steadfast favorite when it comes to cleaning. Not only does it clean well, but it’s also great at deodorizing. Don’t worry about the smell of vinegar, after about an hour it completely dissipates. 

And now we wait. Give your carpet ample time to completely dry. Keep all pets, toys, and people from stepping foot on your freshly cleaned carpet until it has fully dried.

6. Vacuum again

Once your carpet has fully dried, vacuum it one more time to remove any dirt or dust that may have been brought up when you steam clean it. 

The cleaners we’ve provided above are great for general stains, but what about some stain-specific solutions? Here are some common offenders:

How to remove red wine stains from carpet

Chas / 2-ingredient carpet spot cleaner

How to remove red wine stains from carpet

You may have thought this was an old wives’ tale, but should you spill red wine on your carpet, a splash of white wine will help you remove it! Simply splash a bit of white wine over the red wine and then blot.

You can also mix salt and soda water, pour it on the stain, and then blot it with a paper towel.

How to remove blood from carpet

So you cut yourself and, as if to add insult to injury, you stained your carpet with blood. All is not lost! If it’s still wet, blot it with club soda. If you’re past that point and it’s already dried, hydrogen peroxide is the way to go. Just make sure to test it out first to make sure it doesn’t discolor your carpet.

How to remove urine from carpet

Angela / How to Prevent Pet Stains

How to remove urine from carpet

If you have a pet you know the agony of cleaning up an accident, and it’s so much worse when it happens on your carpet. There’s a genius hack to remove pet stains from carpet that involves baking soda, vinegar, and a plate! (If you need something a little more heavy-duty, try using hydrogen peroxide and dish soap.)

So how often should you clean your carpets? Experts recommend giving your carpet a good cleaning once every six months or so. This will not only have it looking, and smelling, fresh and clean, but it will also prevent stains from sitting for years and becoming permanent.

But wait! What if you did all this and it didn’t work? Well, it may be time to call in the experts.

A strong favorite is Stanley Steemer (we know that jingle lives in your head rent-free!) and they truly are what they claim to be, tough on dirt, and gentle on carpet. But we’re pretty sure that with everything we’ve provided above, you’ll have clean, fresh-smelling carpets in no time!

Got any questions? Ask below and we’re sure someone will be able to help you out!

Frequently asked questions
Have a question about this project?
  3 questions
  • Kj Kj on Aug 10, 2021

    What is the hack to remove pet urine stains from the carpet?

  • Lynnette Goolsby Lynnette Goolsby on Aug 10, 2021

    what is the hack to remove pet urine stains ?

  • Wendi Wendi on Apr 30, 2023

    How do you get rid of cat urine that has been in the carpet for a while

Join the conversation
 1 comment
  • Mariah Mariah on Nov 09, 2021

    For an easier solution, Shaw (one of the top leading carpet companies in the USA today) go to their website ( and you can literally choose which spill happened and on what surface and they tell you exactly the steps to take. I sell carpet and all other flooring types and I do recommend you look through your carpet warranty, any "cleaning hacks" will void your warranty, and if you just got your carpet, that is something you want to have.