What's the Difference Between Dry & Steam Carpet Cleaning?

Kathryn Pomroy
Written by Kathryn Pomroy
Reviewed by Asya Biddle
Updated July 8, 2021
couple sits on stylish, recently cleaned carpet
BraunS / E+ / Getty Images

Steam cleaning and dry cleaning your carpets are both popular choices, with the only difference being—you guessed it—the amount of water used

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From birthday parties and practicing yoga to training your new puppy what not to do inside, your carpet sees a lot of activity. Both steam cleaning and dry cleaning work well to get dirt, pet urine, and stains out of your carpet. But which is best for your home?

Steam Cleaning

Steam cleaning uses hot water extraction to get soils and spills out of your carpet and prolong its life. 

Steam cleaning works well on most types of carpets, including wool. A machine injects hot water into the carpet with high pressure. Then the water is extracted, taking with it all of the dirt and grime. Sometimes the carpet is pretreated before cleaning. 

During steam cleaning, you or a professional will:

  • Vacuum the carpet

  • Apply a chemical spray

  • Inject water via high pressure into the carpet

  • Use a special vacuum to remove all the water

"Many companies will offer various options of cleaning chemicals: environmentally safe, non-abrasive, abrasive,” says Asya Biddle, Angi Expert Review Board member and manager of The Dust Busters janitorial company in Williamsport, PA. “The choice will be dependent on the frequency that the carpet is maintained, where it’s located like in a heavily trafficked area, and if it’s consistently becoming stained and in contact with debris."

Benefits of Steam Cleaning

  • Removes deep-down stains, dirt, and grime

  • Removes dust mites, allergens, mold, pet scents, and more

  • Kills bacteria

  • Doesn’t leave residue

  • Often works better than other methods

  • Doesn’t use harsh chemicals

Drawbacks of Steam Cleaning

  • Leaves carpet much wetter than some other methods

  • Can take up to 24 hours to dry

  • You’ll likely have to keep furniture off the carpet until it dries

  • The cost to clean the carpet yourself runs higher than dry cleaners

Some people opt for steam carpet cleaning because they have concerns about dry cleaning chemicals affecting their health and the environment. However, many cleaning solutions are available for people with allergies that are non-toxic or hypo-allergenic and free of dyes and perfumes.

Child taking a step on carpet
John Keeble/Moment via Getty Images

Dry Powder Cleaning

Dry cleaning uses powder chemicals to clean your carpet. All methods of dry cleaning use a small amount of water, but much less than steam cleaning. The dry cleaning method uses an absorbent compound sprinkled over the carpet or applied with a machine. 

The compound contains an absorbent carrier, detergent, solvent, and a small amount of water to break up stains and remove them. In some cases, you may decide to apply a  stain protector to minimize the chance of future stains. 

During dry cleaning, you or a professional will:

  • Vacuum the carpet

  • Sometimes pretreat stains

  • Apply a chemical dry powder, detergent, and solvent 

  • Vacuum the carpet to remove the chemicals and all of the water

Benefits of Dry Cleaning

  • Short drying time

  • Best for cleaning high traffic areas

  • Can be used to spot treat stubborn areas

Drawbacks of Dry Cleaning

  • Uses chemicals and perfumes

  • Can build up residues that break down the fibers of your carpet

  • May not provide a deep clean

Because dry cleaning uses chemicals, people with allergies or sensitivities may have concerns about possible reactions to the solvents and perfumes.


Can You Rent or Buy a Steam Cleaner?

Yes, you can rent or buy a steam cleaner. A heavy-duty McCulloch Steam Cleaner costs $140 at most retail outlets and online. This particular model will steam clean your carpet for 45 minutes before you have to add more hot water from your tap. 

Most of the larger machines you can rent from a hardware or grocery store have a larger water reserve and a heating element. Both operate by moving slowly and methodically over the carpet. Whether you rent or buy a unit, you will want to stay off your carpet for at least 12 to 24 hours while they dry.

Can You Dry Clean Your Carpet Yourself?

Yes, you can also dry clean your carpets by using dry powder compounds or cleaning solvents. First, you’ll want to vacuum your carpets. Then, you’ll sprinkle the dry powder on the carpet (a sifter works great), where it works to break down stains, soil, and grit. 

Use a brush to work the powder into the carpet, let it sit for about 30 minutes, then vacuum it up. Dry cleaning does use a minimal amount of water in the form of application solvents, which complements the dry compounds used.

Dry cleaning powder ranges from about $25 to $75, depending on the size of the container. You can buy it online or at most hardware stores, or you can make it yourself. The main advantage of dry cleaning is that you can walk on your carpet almost instantly after cleaning is complete.

Should You Get Your Carpets Professionally Cleaned?

If you don’t have the time or your carpet hasn’t been cleaned in a while, you may decide to hire a professional to clean your carpets. They often use a much more powerful machine than you can rent or buy, and many use a unit attached to a vehicle so there’s no mess. 

Carpet cleaning prices vary. Typically, a professional carpet cleaner will charge a flat rate, which applies to how many rooms need to be cleaned rather than the square footage of those areas. You can expect to pay around $25 to $75 per room.

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