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How To Clean A Heavily Soiled Carpet

How To Clean A Heavily Soiled Carpet

The secret of how to clean a heavily soiled carpet is using the right type of cleaner to match the type of soiling, so you can properly clean it up without damaging the carpet, padding, or subfloor.

Cleaning a heavily soiled carpet starts with determining what caused the soiling followed by good vacuuming to remove loose debris. Depending on what kind of soil you are dealing with, you will use the appropriate stain remover, and then rinse it out completely. Finish off with wet/dry vacuuming.

Determine the type of soiling

The most important step is to first identify different types of soiling, so you know what will be the best cleaning method. The type of cleaning method you would use on some stains will only make other stains worse or damage the carpet.

Most carpet soiling comes from either dirt, pet urine, or some type of grease. Also, carpets that sustain a lot of foot traffic are going to become soiled much faster than those that don’t.

Cleaning A Soiled Carpet: Step by Step

Follow this step-by-step guide to the best cleaning processes, depending on the type of soiling.

First, always test a cleaner in an inconspicuous area of the carpet. If the cleaner ends up not working or discoloring the carpet, you will know before using it and potentially damaging the entire floor.

Have a good wet/dry vacuum cleaner ready to use. If you don’t own one, look into renting one from a local store. Whatever vacuum you choose to use, make sure it has the ability to tackle sucking up liquids as well as dry dust or debris.

  • Begin with a good vacuuming over the entire carpet to get up any loose dirt. Vacuum until the bag or bin in the vacuum starts to come up empty.
  • Spray water over a small area where the set-in stain is
  • Use an alkaline cleaner, and rub it into the carpet using a brush
  • Rinse the area on the carpet with water
  • Vacuum up the moisture with a wet/dry vacuum cleaner

You will most likely encounter a muddy mess once the water and cleaner meet the heavily soiled carpet. But, a good wet/dry vac should be able to tackle it all. However, don’t be surprised if you need to repeat the steps at least one or a few more times before the carpet is clean.

Tackling Grease Stains

If the set-in stain is from grease, follow the same steps to get it clean, only swap out the alkaline solution cleaner for an anti-grease cleanser.

An anti-grease cleaner will start to break up the grease and loosen it from the carpet fibers so that the stain can be vacuumed up.

Other Cleaning Methods

There are a few other cleaning methods that work depending on what type of substance caused the carpet to be heavily soiled. Keep in mind that if you don’t know the nature of the heavy soiling in the carpet, you may need to try a few different types of cleaners before it comes clean.

Be careful! Some chemicals don’t mix well and can create harmful fumes, such as ammonia and chlorine.

Always be sure that the area is rinsed well to remove any cleaner before moving on to try another type of cleaner. Wait several days in between to be sure the first cleaner is completely gone before trying another.

Baking Soda

Baking soda works great to clean up heavily soiled carpets since it absorbs mud, grease, and other residues. Sprinkle a good amount across the surface of the carpet. Rub it into the fibers with a clean, dry towel or sponge mop until it is about a half-inch thick and starts to clump.

Wait about 10 minutes before vacuuming the area with a household vacuum cleaner. Repeat the steps as often as needed.


Many find that white vinegar works well on several kinds of stains. To clean with vinegar, many find it works best to mix it with ¼ each salt, borax, and vinegar. After applying this mixture to the stain, let it completely dry before vacuuming it up.

Club Soda

Club soda works great for removing stains that have become deep-set and penetrated the carpet fibers. Apply a generous amount of club soda to an area that is soiled. Blot the club soda onto the stained area, and then wait for it to dry before vacuuming it up.

The carbonation in the soda helps to lift out debris from carpet fibers.

Hydrogen Peroxide

Mix ¾ cup hydrogen peroxide with ¼ cup of white vinegar and 2 tablespoons of dish soap of fabric softener. Combine these cleaners with 1 gallon of warm water. Spray it onto the carpet stains, and allow it to soak in before blotting it dry.

Rubbing Alcohol

Be careful if you use rubbing, isopropyl, alcohol since it could bleach the carpet. If nail polish or paint is your problem, however, rubbing alcohol can often get it out with a bit of work and careful cleaning. Make sure you properly rinse the stained area after it has been removed.

Steam Clean

Steam cleaning the carpet often works to get heavily soiled carpets clean. The steam combines water and heat which helps loosen and extract a lot of different kinds of debris. Some prefer to add vinegar to the water when they steam clean so clean up the grime while extracting it with steam.

If you don’t have a carpet steamer, a steam iron also works nicely to get stains out and loosen dirt and debris from the carpet fibers. Just be sure to first lay down a thin, white cloth so the hot iron doesn’t burn the carpet. After the steam has loosened the soil, use a brush or damp rag to blot up the mess.

Laundry Detergent

Since laundry detergent is formulated to clean clothing made of cotton, wool, silk, or synthetic fibers, it only makes sense that it would work on cleaning soiled carpets. Laundry detergent works well when you use a carpet shampooer. Just add a tablespoon of detergent per quart of water, and start cleaning.

Carpet Cleaner

One of the best ways to clean a heavily soiled carpet is to use a carpet cleaner machine. Make sure the machine you use can tackle tough, set-in stains. Avoid portable machines that are intended mostly for spot cleaning.

Lint Rollers or Squeegees

If you want to get down on your hands and knees and try to tackle the ground-in dirt, a lint roller or a rubber squeegee will often remove quite a bit of debris or hairs that have become tangled in the carpet fibers.

Shaving Cream

An unlikely cleaner that you probably already have tucked away in a bathroom cabinet is shaving cream. Shaving cream works great for getting out dirt, dust, mud, or other carpeting spots.

Once you apply the shaving cream, you will need to rub it in vigorously until the dirt or grime is dissolved. After blotting up the mess, run a vacuum over the carpet.

Properly Dry The Carpet

The final step in any carpet cleaning method will be to thoroughly allow the carpet to dry. Any dampness leftover will become a breeding ground for mold, mildew, and other bacteria which will ultimately damage the carpet, padding, and subfloor while posing health concerns to your family.

After you clean the carpet, make sure you thoroughly dry it out before placing the furniture back in place or walking across the floor. Use fans, even ceiling fans, if necessary to make sure it is completely dry. A professional may even use a carpet drying machine.

When To Contact A Professional

In some cases, the carpet may be too damaged to clean and may require a professional consultation. If you have tried every other cleaning method, or you don’t have time to invest in attempting to clean the carpet yourself, it’s time to call in a professional.

You will also want to have your carpeting professionally cleaned if it is located in a high-foot trafficked area such as a school, office, or other public space. Professional carpet cleaners are usually able to clean a wide array of stains from carpet, even those that are heavily soiled.

If the carpet is beyond cleaning, for instance, if the carpet was soiled with acids that destroyed the carpet fibers, it may be time to have it removed and replaced with new flooring. Of course, this is a last-ditch effort after you have tried to clean the carpet to restore it.

Final Thoughts

How to clean a heavily soiled carpet will depend on what caused the carpet to become dirty. Choosing the proper cleaning method will get the dirt and grime out and oftentimes save your carpet. When all else fails, however, it may be time to call in a professional or replace the carpet with new flooring.