How to Clean Your Carpets Without a Carpet Cleaner

Mariel Loveland
Written by Mariel Loveland
Updated September 15, 2022
Small dog on gray carpet
Photo: Galka3250 / Adobe Stock

From spot cleaning to scrubbing your whole carpet, this guide has you covered

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Carpets get dirty; that’s just a fact of life. Whether your toddler spilled a cup of grape juice or your shoes tracked dirt through your home for months, you’ll probably have to learn how to clean up more than a few messes.

Though carpet cleaning isn’t always a fun job, it’s a job that eventually needs to get done (ideally as soon as the mess appears). So, how do you clean your carpets if you don’t have a carpet cleaner? It’s time to put on your DIY hat.

Can I Clean My Carpet Without a Carpet Cleaner?

There’s a reason homeowners shell out cash for a thorough carpet steam cleaning. Carpet cleaning machines are almost unmatched when it comes to removing tough grime and embedded dirt. They get in deep—but they're not the only option.

At home, carpet cleaning is limited to vacuuming and cleaning with powders or solvents (unless you want to shell out for a steam machine). Some of these you can get at the store, and some of these you can find right under your kitchen sink. It takes a little more elbow grease to clean a carpet on your own, but it can make a big difference.

How Much Does It Cost to Clean a Carpet?

The typical cost of professional carpet cleaning is $120 to $230, depending on the job. You’ll pay an average of $240 for shampooing or $300 for steam cleaning. If you do the job on your own using something other than a steam cleaner, you’ll just have to pay for materials. Commercially available carpet cleaners typically cost less than $20 at a local hardware store or online.

Prepping to Clean Your Carpet Without a Machine

Blue carpet being cleaned by brush.
Photo: Karen / Adobe Stock

Before you can clean your carpet, you need to do a little prep work. A carpet cleaning pro knows which cleaning method is best for your specific carpet, but if you’re doing the work yourself, you’ll need to assess your carpet cleaner of choice to see if it’s safe. Check the manufacturer’s instructions (on both the cleaner and your carpet) and always perform a spot test. 

Choosing a Cleaning Agent

When choosing a cleaning agent, you’ll want to start with the gentlest method possible. You may be able to blot a fresh stain away with some club soda or clean your carpet with a vacuum or broom if there’s loose dust and dirt. Otherwise, you can use one (or some) of the following:

  • Powdered carpet cleaner

  • Baking soda

  • Carpet shampoo

  • Vinegar

  • Dish soap

Commercially available carpet cleaning products are the most convenient if you need to clean the entire rug. Baking soda, dish soap, and vinegar tend to work well for spot cleaning stains. You should always spot clean stains first before attempting to clean your entire carpet.

How to Spot Clean a Carpet Without a Carpet Cleaner 

Before you clean your entire carpet, you’ll need to spot clean the stains, ideally when the stain is fresh. Each carpet cleaning method has its pros and cons. Some are gentle, albeit less effective, while others are harsh but can lift tougher stains. Start with club soda (which is typically harmless unless you’re dumping lots of it on a wool rug that can’t handle moisture) and move from there.

1. Blot with Paper Towels

If you’ve got a fresh, liquid spill on your hands, blot it immediately with a white paper towel or absorbent microfiber cloth. You may be able to blot up the entire stain before it sets. If not, move to another method.

2. Try Club Soda

Blot—don’t scrub—your stain using a white paper towel and a small amount of club soda. Use just enough to saturate the area. This method will help dilute and lift a fresh stain. It won’t work well with a stain that has already set, so in that case, move on to the next method. 

3. Use a DIY Solution of Vinegar and Dish Soap

You can use vinegar and clear dish soap to make a powerful DIY spot cleaner. Keep in mind that vinegar is acidic, so it can lift some of the pigment in a dyed carpet. Do a spot test first. To make the solution, mix the following ingredients in a bowl: 

  • 1–2 cups of white vinegar

  • 1 cup of warm water

  • 2–3 drops of clear dish soap

Use a clean sponge or cloth to apply the solution to the stain, dabbing from the edges to the center of the stain. Let it sit for a few minutes to lift the stain, then blot it with a dry towel. Repeat the process if needed. Once you’re done, use a clean cloth to blot the area with water. You want to remove the rest of the cleaning solution. 

4. Make a Baking Soda Paste

A baking soda paste works well to remove deep carpet stains. Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Combine three parts baking soda with one part water to make a paste.

  2. Work the paste into the carpet (a toothbrush can help you get in deep).

  3. Let the paste sit for a few hours. 

  4. Once it’s dry, vacuum up the paste. 

  5. If you can’t get all the paste up, you can blot the area with warm water.

5. Use Carpet Shampoo or Powdered Cleaner

When all else fails, spot clean your carpet using a carpet shampoo or a powdered carpet cleaner. Follow the directions on the packaging.

How to Clean a Carpet Without a Carpet Cleaner

Man vacuuming living room carpet.
Photo: Halfpoint / Adobe Stock

After you spot treat stains, you’ll need to clean your entire carpet. This guide will walk you through it step-by-step—without leaving dirty shoe prints. 

1. Vacuum Your Carpet

Start by cleaning your carpet with a vacuum, removing loose dust and dirt. If your vacuum is too delicate to vacuum, you can try brushing it with a stiff-bristled broom. It may take a little more elbow grease, but it works well—especially on pet hair.

2. Sprinkle Some Baking Soda 

It’s not just for baking cakes: Baking soda is a multi-use green cleaning product that can banish nasty odors. Sprinkle baking soda across your carpet, and let the powder sit for at least 30 minutes before you vacuum it away. 

3. Apply a Powdered Carpet Cleaner

You can use a powdered carpet cleaner just like you would baking soda. These cleaners are available at most home improvement stores and are a great option for wool, which doesn’t respond well to moisture. Follow the directions on the packaging. Most of the time, you’ll have to sprinkle the cleaner on the rug, let it sit for around 30 minutes, then vacuum it up. 

4. Use Carpet Shampoo

If you’re using carpet shampoo, you can make a gentle cleaning solution by diluting it. Put a couple of drops of the liquid carpet cleaner in a spray bottle filled with warm water, then follow these steps:

  1. Spray your carpet using as little solution as possible. You don’t want to saturate the fibers—moisture leads to mold and mildew.

  2. Remove caked-in dirt by brushing your carpet with a carpet brush.

  3. Blot the carpet with a dry towel to remove as much of the cleaner as possible.

  4. Spray the carpet with fresh water (again, don’t saturate it).

  5. Blot the carpet with a dry towel until it’s as dry as possible.

  6. Brush the pile with a carpet brush to make sure it looks neat and tidy.

Tips for Cleaning Your Carpet Without a Machine

There are a few things to remember when cleaning a carpet without a machine. Not every material is the same. Some are damaged more easily. To ensure your carpet comes out looking—and smelling—like new, consider the following:

  • Always use the gentlest cleaning method possible.

  • Always spot test your cleaner before applying it to a noticeable area on your carpet.

  • Limit moisture, which can encourage mold and mildew to grow.

  • Open your windows to help moisture evaporate.

  • Move your furniture out of the way to give you a better workspace.

  • Blot, don’t scrub. Scrubbing can spread a stain or embed it deeper into the pile.

  • If you’re cleaning the whole carpet, start in a corner and work your way across. You want to avoid stepping over areas you’ve already cleaned—especially if they’re still wet or covered in powder.

DIY vs. Hire a Pro

You can save money on carpet cleaning by doing the job yourself. DIY cleaning generally works well as long as the carpet isn’t very delicate and doesn’t have significant stains or sticky odors (think: pet urine and cigarette smoke).

If your carpet is delicate or has deep-set stains, you’ll probably want to hire a professional. You can’t deep clean by hand as well as you can with a machine. A simple steam clean can make old carpets feel brand new. On top of that, a local carpet cleaner will know the best cleaning method for the type of carpet and the grime at hand.

Frequently Asked Questions

If you don’t have a carpet cleaning machine, you can still clean your carpet by hand using carpet shampoo or powdered cleaner. If you want a gentler solution, vinegar and baking soda are great DIY options. Whatever you choose, make sure it’s compatible with your carpet’s material.

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