5 effective home carpet cleaning solutions

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  • Homemade carpet cleaners can be very effective at treating stains or cleaning an entire carpet.
  • Vinegar, baking soda, and salt are common household items that can be used as carpet cleaners.
  • Soften a rug by mixing fabric softener, hot water, light vinegar, and dish detergent.
  • Visit Insider’s Home and Kitchen Reference Library for more stories.

Carpets wear out a lot, but you don’t have to use harsh chemicals to clean them. There are homemade carpet cleaner recipes that are perfect for most types of carpet and stains, says Nick Wilkesmann, owner of the Cleaning King blog.

“I find that homemade carpet cleaners can be just as effective as commercial solutions,” says Wilkesmann.

Andrii Gurskyi, CEO of New York’s HomeClean cleaning service, loves that homemade carpet cleaners are often available and environmentally friendly.

“Homemade carpet cleaning solutions have been shown to be incredibly effective in cleaning carpets,” Gurskyi said.

Whether you’re cleaning up stains from a recent spill or tidying up as part of your regular home maintenance routine, there are plenty of homemade carpet cleaners out there that will work for you and your type of carpet.

Best cleaning solution for most stains

A jar of baking soda and a spray bottle of vinegar on a gray carpet.

Baking soda and vinegar are one of the best mixes for treating carpet stains.

Helin Loik-Tomson / Getty Images


A combination of baking soda and vinegar is Wilkesmann’s ideal solution for the spot treatment of most types of carpet and stains.

“Baking soda and vinegar work so well as a cleanser because of their chemical makeup and reaction,” explains Wilkesmann. When the alkaline baking soda reacts with the acidic vinegar, it creates safe oxygen gas that foams and helps remove stains from carpet, according to Wilkesmann.

How to use it

1. Sprinkle baking soda on the stain. Make sure you cover it well.

2. Pour a small amount of vinegar (about a tablespoon) over the baking soda. Gradually add just enough to make the baking soda sparkle.

3. Gently massage the solution into the carpet with a stiff bristle brush or something similar.

4. Leave the solution on the stain for 4 to 6 hours or until the stain is completely dry.

5. Vacuum up the baking soda residue.

Ideal for steam cleaning

According to Gurskyi, water with vinegar can be used to clean an entire carpet with a steam cleaner.

Steam cleaners can be rented from hardware or grocery stores, or you can purchase one for permanent use. The key is whether your rug is made from synthetic or natural materials, as you will need different ratios of vinegar and water. Natural fibers are more delicate, so you’ll have to be more careful when cleaning them, Gurskyi explains.

For synthetic rugs, mix a solution using a ratio of one part vinegar to two parts water. For rugs made from wool or natural materials, use a ratio of one to one of vinegar and water.

If you are unsure whether the rug is synthetic or natural material such as wool, turn it over and look at the bottom: most synthetic rugs are hard underneath, while wool rugs are soft on both sides.

How to use it

1. Mix water and vinegar, using the appropriate ratio of one part vinegar and two parts water for synthetic rugs. For rugs made from natural materials, use one part vinegar and one part water.

2. Add the solution to the steam cleaner.

3. Clean the carpet following the instructions on the machine.

4. Let the carpet dry.

Ideal for recent spills

Red wine spilled on a white carpet.

Using a mixture of salt and water can clean up recent stains caused by spilled wine or spilled food.

Tetra Images / Getty Images


To meet a new stain, Gurskyi recommends another common kitchen item: salt. Salt can help absorb liquid stains like spilled wine before they harden. The grainy property of salt also makes it easy to suck up messes. For already encrusted stains, the granular salt also gives your scrub a little extra abrasion, which can help remove the stain quickly. Be sure to apply this treatment either immediately after a spill.

How to use it

1. Blot the stain with a rag to remove most of the moisture.

2. Sprinkle salt on the stain, covering it completely, and leave it for five minutes.

3. Pour a small amount of cold water on the stain.

4. Scrub with a soft brush for a minute.

5. Rinse with a damp cloth and pat dry.

Depending on the severity of the stain, you may need to use vinegar and baking soda to finish cleaning the stain.

Ideal for dark and patterned rugs

While baking soda and vinegar are generally safe, they can leave residue on dark-colored or patterned rugs. For this reason, Wilkesmann uses a spray of vinegar and liquid dish detergent, Dawn dish soap, to treat dark or patterned rugs.

Due to the baking soda, this mixture is generally good for removing stains without leaving a residue. It works especially well for oily stains, Wilkesmann says, because dish detergent is designed to break down grease.

How to use it

1. Mix 1 cup of vinegar with 1 teaspoon of Dawn dish soap in a spray bottle.

2. Spray on the stain, covering it completely.

3. Leave to rest for 15 minutes.

4. Scrub with a stiff bristle brush. This should wash off the stain, without needing to rinse the carpet afterwards, according to Wilkesmann.

Ideal for deodorizing

If you want to freshen up your carpet or get rid of a musty smell in a hurry, stick to a dry cleaning solution. It’s not as good at removing stains and bacteria, but you won’t have to worry about drying time, according to Gurskyi.

How to use it

1. Sprinkle baking soda on the carpet, dusting the entire area.

2. Add fragrant dry spices, such as cinnamon or rosemary. Sprinkle the spices as you did with the baking soda. Be sure to do a spot test to make sure the spice won’t stain your carpet.

3. Let sit for 30 minutes.

4. Vacuum the carpet carefully.

How to soften a carpet after cleaning

If you want to soften your carpet, Gurskyi says you can use a laundry softener like Downy, because rugs are made from the same basic types of fibers as clothes.

To prepare a carpet softener solution, mix together half a cup of fabric softener, a gallon of hot water, a cup of clear vinegar, and a tablespoon of dish detergent. Put the mixture in a spray bottle and lightly spray the carpet until it is damp. Use a soft brush to work the solution into the carpet, then allow the carpet to dry.

How often should you clean your carpet?

Close-up of a steam cleaner cleaning a very dirty carpet.

While there are home remedies for cleaning up small spills and stains, it is recommended that you steam clean a carpet every 12 to 18 months.

Dusan Petkovic / Shutterstock


Keeping a clean looking and smelling carpet requires regular maintenance. Carpets should be steam cleaned at least every 12 to 18 months, Gurskyi says. Heavy-traffic or light-colored rugs will require more frequent cleaning.

You should clean a carpet immediately after a spill or stain, and whenever it smells musty or is visibly dirty. It’s also a good idea to clean a carpet whenever you have allergies, as allergies can be made worse by a dirty carpet.

Insider takeaways

Cleaning carpets is an important part of home maintenance, but you don’t need harsh chemicals to get the job done. The everyday items you already have in your kitchen cabinet, including vinegar, baking soda, and salt, can all help remove stains and odors from your carpet and protect your carpet. Make sure to clean your rugs regularly so that they last longer and your home looks and smells fresh.


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