How to use a carpet cleaner

You bought a carpet washing machine. So what now? We’ve got tips to help you avoid mistakes that could ruin your carpet and discover the best technique to make them look like new.

If you haven’t bought a carpet cleaner yet, check out our reviews of the Bissell PowerClean and the Bissell CrossWave.

No worries: cleaning your carpet is a big job. And if you don’t get it right, you could end up worse off than before, with patches of soap or a damp and moldy foundation.

But this is a good time to start thinking about cleanliness. The warmer months are best for carpet cleaning, as you can open the windows to dry things out.

Plan your clean

This is not a last minute job. The most important thing to have is time.

If you’re going to do carpet cleaning, the first thing to do is plan. The carpet will remain wet for several hours after you finish the job. The most common estimate is five or six hours, if you use a good quality cleaner and don’t over-wet the carpet. But it can take up to 24 hours for it to dry completely. It is best to let the floor dry overnight.

Otherwise, when you move the furniture back in, the areas where the furniture covers or touches the floor will still be damp. This will affect the carpet pile and can put the carpet at risk of mildew.

Move your furniture

If possible, clean your carpet room by room. Select a room and remove all furniture. If you can’t get everything out, clean the room in sections.

You also want to make sure that pets can’t get into the room to track the dirt around while the carpet is still wet.

Vacuum cleaner

Once you’ve cleared the space, vacuum the carpet thoroughly. Ideally, review it twice. For the first time, walk vertically across the room as if you were swimming in a lap. Then vacuum diagonally from an angle.

The idea is to lift the pile and remove as much dirt, hair, and fluff from the carpet as possible before you wet the carpet.

Read the manual

I know it’s hard for you to skip this stage but make sure you’ve read your carpet cleaner’s instructions and manuals. Even if you’ve used carpet cleaners before, the amount and type of cleaner used can vary between brands and models. Fill with detergent and water, as recommended.

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Don’t want to add a lot of cleaning liquid if your carpet is particularly dirty as you’ll just end up with soap in the carpet that won’t come out.

Make sure you do not overfill the water tank as the machine may not run properly. Follow the instructions on whether you should use warm or cold water.

Water and detergent

If you have the option, warm water will work best. Do not use water that is too hot. Most clean machine manuals will tell you not to put boiled water or water in the microwave, because water that is too hot can damage your machine and burn you.

If you have pure wool or blended wool rugs, use cooler water. Carpet cleaner should not be used on carpets and rugs that are not colorfast or on silk, jute or leather.

Some machines may require you to add detergent to the clean water tank. Others will have a separate compartment. There may also be a recommended brand of detergent. Don’t try to improvise with laundry detergent: it will be too soapy and you will never get it out.


Next, look for particularly dirty patches on the carpet. You should treat them first. Your carpet cleaner may come with a hose attachment, for cleaning stairs and upholstery. You can also use it on spills or stains.

Pre-treat your carpet five minutes before you’re ready to start the main cleaning job. If you have old, dried stains, you may find it more effective to use a separate stain remover (like this one from Vanish, which will cost you around £10).

Don’t let these stickers get too wet as they won’t dry properly and then they can become moldy and discolored.

Carpet washing machine is working

Cleaning method

Keep this in mind while cleaning: wetter is not better. The worst mistake you can make when cleaning carpet is getting the carpet too wet. Carpet washers work best to remove dirt from top part of carpet, pile. If your lining is soaked in water, that’s another way to encourage mold growth.

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When you are ready to start cleaning, bring the machine to the point furthest from the door. You don’t want to go through any area twice. You’ll also want to minimize the time it takes to wet carpet. You’ll have to go through it once, when you come back to wash it off, and that’ll be annoying enough.

Your machine will likely have different settings depending on the type of carpet you have and how dirty it is. You may want to use a higher setting for areas of the floor where people walk a lot, and a lighter setting for areas around the edge of the room.

Start in the corner of the room and clean in a straight line to the opposite wall. Then turn around and go in the opposite direction. You should clean with stripes as if you were mowing the lawn.

Carpet washers are not meant to be pushed around in random directions. Get as close to the wall or baseboard as you can. Make sure the stripes overlap slightly so you don’t miss any part of the rug.

How fast should you clean?

Move at a slow speed. Carpet washers work by spraying the carpet with clean soapy water and then vacuuming the carpet again. If you move too fast, it won’t have time to complete the process and won’t be able to clean a spot or leave dirty water behind.

The slower you go, the deeper the clean. But don’t stop completely or you’ll get the carpet too wet. If you need a break, immediately turn off the cleanup tool and start over.

Change the water tank

Keep an eye on the water tanks. Your cleaner will alert you when the dirty water tank is full. Stop immediately to empty it and refill the clean tank. Depending on how much space you want to clean, you may have to change the tanks several times.

Empty the water out of the tank, if possible, or into your toilet. Do not pour water into your sink or shower as it can clog the drain.

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You may want to go back to your room twice if the carpet is very dirty, but you should follow the instructions in the guidebook for this.

After you have finished cleaning, fill the water tank with cold water. Do not add detergent this time. Start back in the far corner and go through the room again. This will help clean the carpet, removing soap and dirty water trapped in the fibers. Using cold water will prevent the detergent from foaming again.


Once you’re done, let the carpet dry for as long as possible before moving the furniture back in. Open a window if possible. If you have fans or dehumidifiers, keep them in the room. If possible, leave the room empty for 24 hours. If not, leave at least five hours.

Empty and empty the water tanks of the cleaner and set them aside to dry before storing them away.

Seat cover

Many carpet cleaners will have smaller cleaning heads that can be used on upholstery and mattresses. Before doing this, check that the fabric you plan to use is colorfast and can be washed without damage.

Your carpet cleaner’s manual should have information on compatible fabrics. As with carpet, make sure you don’t over-wet the fabric and give it plenty of time to dry before using it.

If you’re looking for a carpet cleaner, check out our reviews of Bissell PowerClean and Bissell CrossWave.

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