Best Carpet Cleaning Methods

Of all the carpet cleaning methods available, which is best? Ask any carpet cleaner this question and their answer will probably be whichever method they use.

The question is not which method is best but which method is best for the project's cleaning needs.

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A thorough carpet inspection is always a good start and helps:

  • determine which method is best suited for the job
  • identify any potential problems or limitations
  • discuss client expectations

Whichever carpet cleaning system is selected, a proper vacuuming is fundamental.

Approximately 79% of all carpet soil can be removed with vacuuming alone. Unfortunately, this vacuuming step is often overlooked with many carpet cleaning services.

With the emphasis on "healthy" cleaning, it is imperative that as much of the dry soil be removed through vacuuming. The vacuum system should filter down to .1-.5 microns or ideally utilize a "HEPA" filter.


What are the dry carpet cleaning methods?

The term dry cleaning brings to mind a kind of waterless cleaning system. Much like a dry cleaner would use to "dry clean" clothing.

The dry cleaning method is better described as low moisture carpet cleaning. It's considered "dry" because the carpet can be cleaned and then quickly brought back into use.

The dry carpet cleaning methods are:

  1. Absorbent Powder/Dry Extraction Cleaning
    • This method utilizes an absorbent medium (sponges or powders) which has been impregnated with water and small amounts of detergent and solvent to absorb and control the soil once loosened, holding it for removal by vacuuming.

      The sponges/powder is worked into the carpet with a counter rotating double brush machine which also acts to revive the carpet pile during cleaning.
    • The advantages include less streaking and wick-backs of soil, and carpet can be back in service immediately.
    • The disadvantages of this method include a residue buildup of the absorbent sponges or powder which can be seen at the base of the carpet pile. This method may be limited in its ability to clean heavily soiled carpet.

    Some popular cleaning system names of this method include Host and Capture.

  2. Bonnet Pad Cleaning
    • This cleaning in this method is accomplished by spraying a cleaning solution over the face of the carpet pile. The carpet is then buffed with absorbent pads (bonnets) attached to a floor machine.

      The absorbent pads absorb the carpet soil. When the bonnets quit absorbing soil the pads are rinsed, changed or turned over to finish the job.
    • The advantages of bonnet cleaning are seen in this system's ability to quickly clean large areas which dry fast. A good system to use for a maintenance program which requires minimal operator skill.
    • The disadvantages of this method is the lack of deep cleaning action. Not the best system for heavy soil removal since there is not any rinsing action.
  3. Rotary Shampoo
    • This is one of the oldest carpet cleaning methods and utilizes a rotary floor machine equipped with a solution tank and a shower feed brush. The carpet is scrubbed while a shampoo solution is fed through the shower feed brush.

      Due to the scrubbing action of the cleaning process the carpet pile can get distorted. The carpet pile should be set or groomed before the carpet dries to avoid an uneven appearance. A thorough dry vacuuming is then performed to remove loose soil and crystallized detergent residues.
    • The advantages to this method are excellent agitation and deep cleaning that produces good overall cleaning results. With low equipment and chemical cost, this system is very economical to use.
    • The disadvantages are pile distortion from improper scrubbing or incorrect brushes. A high level of operator skill is needed for best results. Residues from improper chemical usage can cause rapid re-soiling.
  4. Encapsulation
    • This is one of the newer "dry" carpet cleaning methods. This system uses a cleaning chemistry which contains both a cleaning agent and a "crystallizing" agent.

      Utilizing the agitation from a floor machine, the cleaning agent works to suspend the soil which is then encapsulated by the crystallizing agent and dries to a crystal. This crystal is then vacuumed away.

      The majority of encapsulation products available are formulated with a detergent (the cleaning agent) and a polymer (the crystallizing agent). Although these encapsulation products do clean they cannot be certified by Green Seal because of the polymer component of the product.

      A healthier and safer Green Seal certified encapsulation product utilizes a detergent free cleaning agent and a sea salt derivative as the crystallization agent.
    • The advantages of this method is the lack of dirt attracting residues, the carpet stays cleaner longer. No rinsing is required. Large areas can be serviced quickly and is cost effective
    • The disadvantages of this method is its ineffectiveness on grease impacted carpet. Poor results are seen with insufficiently pre-vacuuming the carpet, using inferior quality encapsulating products or equipment which does not scrub deep enough.
  5. Dry Foam Shampoo
    • This carpet cleaning method is a version of the shampoo method. Special equipment equipped with a foam generator whips the shampoo liquid into a foam before it is applied to the carpet. It earns its name "dry" from the low amount of liquid used (10% liquid and 90% air).

      Most dry foam equipment utilizes reel type brush systems for agitation. Some dry foam equipment is also equipped with a vacuum recovery system to extract the soiled foam solution.
    • The advantages include low moisture usage resulting in fast drying times, and the ability to cover large areas in short periods of time. This is a good method for surface appearance management in commercial maintenance programs.
    • The disadvantages are moderate level of soil removal and the need for periodic hot water extraction when this cleaning system is used on a regular basis.

The above listed dry carpet cleaning methods are most commonly used in the commercial carpet cleaning arena but could be used in a residential setting as well.


Are all the best carpet cleaning methods dry?

Of all the carpet cleaning methods available, the one which is used for restorative commercial carpet cleaning and the majority of residential carpet cleaning is hot water extraction, also known as steam cleaning.

Hot Water Extraction

  • This method can be performed by equipment which is either portable (the machine itself is brought inside the job location) or is truck mounted (the machine is mounted inside a van or truck) and hoses are run to the area to be cleaned.

    The cleaning process works by injecting hot cleaning solution under pressure into the carpet fibers followed by immediate extraction. Proper "pre-conditioning" of areas of heavy soil accumulation is an important step in the steam cleaning process.

    This cleaning method works best when the carpet is pre-conditioned, agitated and then rinsed.

    Although the modern truck mounts can offer more heat and quicker drying times than a portable, the portable machine has the ability to go where the truck mount cannot. Excellent cleaning results can be achieved with either equipment choice.
  • The advantages of the hot water extraction method is high rates of production and relatively low chemical cost. Recognized as the most efficient method for soil removal by carpet manufacturers and fiber producers.
  • The disadvantages include longer drying times, high level of operator skill, and high equipment and maintenance costs.

Each method of carpet cleaning whether dry or wet has advantages and disadvantages. Each system can provide good results on its own if operated as designed. Some methods may be combined for increased cleaning efficiency.


Click on the links below to see some great reviews about the best methods of carpet cleaning. They were all written by other visitors to this page.

Of All The Carpet Cleaning Methods, Which One Is Best?

Some carpet cleaners like steam cleaning, some prefer encapsulation and others get the best results with a bonnet pad. Even consumers have their favorite method. Share which method works best for you and why.

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What Other Visitors Have Said

Click below to see contributions from other visitors to this page...

Dry extraction is the best method 
I worked as a part of a team for 14 years using the Host dry extraction system. We followed the following sequence: 1. thoroughly vacuum the carpet 2. …

Steam Cleaning is Terrible 
I have had my carpets steam cleaned on numerous occasions over the years. Here's what I found. The carpets/mattresses stay wet for days, not a few …

steam cleaning over rated!!!! 
Steam cleaning may appear to be the best method due to "steam" however stains seem to re-appear quicker. The same can be said for extraction cleaning, …

HOST Organic Deep Cleaning Delivers Fantastic Results 
I use the Host Dry Extraction Carpet Cleaning system to excellent effect on a wide range of carpets in both residential and commercial situations. …

Using a Proper Carpet Cleaner 
We all know that cleaning carpets can be difficult, but with the right tools it can be quite easy. Unfortunately we also know that the right kind of carpet …

Steam Cleaning is old school ! 
There are new systems out Texatherm for one - that put stam cleaning to shame !!

I like Hot Water Extraction. 
HWE: This is the recommendation and sometimes requirement of the carpet mills in order to maintain the warranty. Who are we to mess with all of the testing …

Steam Cleaning period!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 
Because of its extraction of dirt.

Steam Cleaning is Best 
STEAM CLEANING IS BEST because if the carpeted areas are really dirty, sometimes we just have to use a steam cleaner and freshen up the entire carpeted …

steam king 
steam cleaning is best, it will kill bacteria and clean really dirty carpets.

Forget Steam Cleaning Not rated yet
Everyone knows that when you get your carpets steam cleaned (actually hot water extraction - there's no real steam - that's only water vapor) your carpets …

Every method is the best!! Not rated yet
Each cleaning method has it own purpose. Dry cleaning is a "surface clean" used mostly in hotels,casinos and other areas where they keep the carpet …

Why I think steam cleaning works best Not rated yet
There are a couple of methods for cleaning carpet which include both wet and dry but the most effective is steam cleaning. I think steam cleaning or …

CARPET CLEANING  Not rated yet
There are many different methods of carpet cleaning. With so many methods it can be difficult to determine which one is best. So is there one method that …

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