Did you ever think about which is the best method to clean your carpet?
Dry Carpet Cleaning vs. Steam Cleaning Methods
A carpet-cleaning professional explains the pros and cons of how to clean carpet.
Despite your best efforts, years of stains, dirt and grime have accumulated and you're in need of carpet cleaning.
But how do you know which carpet-cleaning method to pick?
Dry cleaning and using a steam cleaner are both popular methods for cleaning carpets, but does one have an advantage over the other?
Steam cleaning isn't chemical free carpet cleaning
In the dry carpet cleaning vs. steam cleaning debate, it's important to clear up the myth that steam is actually used to clean your carpets. While home and commercial machines use hot water, which gives off steam, the steam itself does not clean carpet.
Instead, the machine sprays detergent onto your carpet. Hot water activates the detergent on the carpet fibers — alkaline for synthetic carpets and acidic for wool or natural fiber carpets. A wet-vac is then used to suck up the bulk of the water on the floor.
Some people opt for steam carpet cleaning because they have concerns about dry cleaning chemicals affecting their health and the environment. Technically speaking, the only way to clean a carpet without chemicals is to just vacuum it, since even plain water is a chemical compound.
What most people mean when they ask, "Can you clean my carpet without chemicals?" is, "Can you clean my carpets safely?" For most carpet cleaning services, the answer is yes, and it's likely your carpet cleaner will be able to use a cleaning solution that will clean your carpet without causing harm.
The hot water extraction rinse used by a steam cleaner or carpet shampooer is also typically enough to remove any cleaning solution and should leave little residue behind in the carpet. For customers with health concerns such as allergies and ashtma, cleaning solutions that are non-toxic or hypo-allergenic and free of dyes and perfumes are also available.
Steam cleaner rental means longer wait times
You can buy a steam cleaner or opt for carpet cleaner rental. Rental steam cleaner models typically rely on hot tap water to work properly, while machines rented from a hardware or grocery store may have a heating element.
Both operate by placing a cleaning solution in the machine and moving it slowly and methodically over the carpet. The machine will then suck up and dump out the water.
After you've cleaned the carpets, stay off of them for about 12 to 24 hours while they dry. In some cases, the carpet shrinks after the leftover water dries. However, unless your carpet is made entirely of natural, untreated fibers, this should not be a problem.
Professional steam cleaning dries more quickly
You can also hire a professional to steam clean your carpets. They often use a more powerful machine or one attached to a vehicle.
Because a professional carpet steam cleaner contains more power, it can spray more detergent into the carpet and suck up more water. Carpets take less time to dry if you use a professional carpet steam cleaner.
Dry carpet cleaning means less waiting
You can also dry clean carpets by using dry chemical compounds or cleaning solvents. Place these chemicals on a carpet, and they will break down whatever soil they find.
The name of the dry-cleaning method is misleading, because professionals use a small amount of moisture in the form of application solutions, which complement the dry compounds used.
Dry cleaning offers the advantage of time: Floors can be used again almost instantly after cleaning is complete. Dry-cleaning compounds are often used in industrial and retail settings for this reason.
Steam or dry cleaning: Pros and cons
If you're still undecided, here's a quick breakdown of the steam carpet cleaning vs. dry cleaning debate:
Steam cleaning your carpet yourself means you need only hot water, a rented machine and detergent. Unfortunately, you'll have to wait between 12 and 24 hours to walk on your carpet again.
Ground-in stains typically reappear in the first few days after steam cleaning. Commercial solutions can eliminate some of these problems, but there are certain stains — pet stains or chemical stains, for example — that require multiple treatments or cannot be removed.
Dry cleaning, meanwhile, offers the advantage of almost no drying time and an effective cleaning through chemical agents and application solution
The chemicals used in dry cleaning can often be harsh, and homeowners are advised to speak with a commercial cleaning company about the products they use and any strong odors they may have.
*Editor's note: This is an updated version of an article originally posted on Jan. 3, 2013.