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Shampoo vs. Steam Cleaning Carpets: Which to Choose?

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A good carpet can give your home or office a comfy or warm feel. However, it is also the hardest flooring option to maintain as it traps dust and debris easily. Worse still, a lot of carpets suffer infestation bugs and other parasites. 

If you have a carpet at home or are considering getting one, then there will likely be a time when you have to choose between shampoo and steam cleaning.

There is no all-in-one carpet cleaning option, as the different methods have their pros and cons. Deciding which method is best to clean your carpet will depend on your needs. 

In this article, we take a look at the two most common cleaning options: shampoo and steam cleaning.

Shampoo Cleaning

Shampoo cleaning is the oldest carpet-cleaning method in the business. Due to its simplicity and effectiveness, it’s also one of the most common options available.

How It Works

Shampoo cleaning uses a shampoo machine that carries a spinning brush and is equipped with spray nozzles to apply the shampoo solution on the carpet as it scrubs along. 

The spinning brush loosens up the dirt by agitating the carpet fibers. The shampoo solution is then sprayed to create a soap-dirt foam that is then vacuumed off. 

Pros of shampoo cleaning

Wide variety of uses

The shampoo cleaning method offers excellent cleaning variety for different carpet materials and respective stain types. Specially formulated cleaning solutions are available for just about any type of stains your carpet might have. 

You can also buy formulas made for specific carpet types. This availability of special formulas is especially useful for carpets that are sensitive to harsh chemicals.

Lasts for a long time

Shampoo cleaning is enduring. The chemical used tends to become embedded in the carpet fiber and creates a mild shield against soaking up dirt. This longevity makes the second cleaning easier than the first as the carpet readily foams. 

Great for getting out dirt

Shampoo cleaning agitates the fibers more effectively than any other method. The brush shakes up the dirt and opens up the carpet for a deeper chemical ‘siege’ of these nasty stains.

Cons

Attracts dust

The residue left behind is sticky and tends to attract more dust. There is also the threat of allergic reactions for people sensitive to the shampoo products.

Can be harmful to your carpet

Using the wrong shampoo or brush on your carpet can rapidly degrade its fibers. You should always check with your carpet dealer or manufacturer to know the kind of shampoo compatible with it.

Can cause discoloration

Some shampoo brands contain lightening agents. These can make your carpet fibers lose its color over time. While you’re probably safe if you only apply a lightening agent a few times a year, more frequent cleanings can cause a discoloration issue.

Doesn’t eliminate insect eggs

Some shampoo brands integrate insecticides in their products that can kill bugs and fungus. However, most of these have little effect on laid eggs. This lack of insecticide can become a real problem when the eggs hatch and infest your carpet with bugs. 

It’s not permeable

Shampoo cleaning has low permeability when compared to other methods. In carpets that have not been cleaned in a while, the shampoo machine will end up pushing some of the accumulated dirt further into the carpet.

Steam Cleaning

Steam cleaning is a carpet cleaning method that is gaining popularity among home and office owners, thanks to its deep purging and disinfection action.

How it Works

This method uses a steam machine and water. The steam machine carries a vent discharging a continuous stream of hot water/steam at over 212°F. 

As the machine moves along, the bristles of the attached brush agitate the fibers and forces in hot water under pressure. The agitation, combined with the heat action, dislodges the dirt and dust before it is sucked out by vacuum. 

Pros of steam cleaning

Highly permeable

The pressurized stream of hot water has high permeability and reaches deep down to the backing. It provides a deeper cleaning action than most shampoo cleaners where the brush just works on the surface.  

Kills bacteria, fungus, and bugs

The high temperature kills bacteria, fungus, and ends the life cycle of bugs that may have infested your carpet, including the eggs. Up to 99% of germs are killed with this method.

Doesn’t leave residue

Steam cleaning does not leave behind residue. The working fluid is steamy hot water, which eventually dries up into the atmosphere. It’s a clean and safe option for the home with infants, toddlers, and people with allergies.

Dries quickly

Steam-cleaned carpets dry quicker than shampooed carpets. The heat from the near-boiling water and the proceeding vacuuming action absorb most of the moisture, so you can quickly clean your carpet before your kids get back home.

Works with most carpets

Steam cleaning is adaptable to almost every type of carpet. It helps preserve your carpet’s color and texture integrity because it doesn’t rely on chemicals that might contain discoloring agents. 

Cons of steam cleaning

Ineffective against oil and grease

Steam cleaning is ineffective against some stain types like oil and grease. Water does not dissolve oil, so you will have to spot clean these areas before you use the steam cleaner.

Bad for carpets with organic fibers

Carpets with organic fibers can suffer significant deformation as they lose their rigidity under heat. Refer to your carpet manufacturer’s manual to know the types of cleaning operations compatible with it.

The Verdict

Shampoo cleaning offers a good variety, with a shampoo for every carpet type. It, however, leaves a residue that many people may not be comfortable with, and carpet fibers tend to get degraded and lose their color over time. It offers only temporary relief from bugs and insect infestation.

Steam cleaning, on the other hand, is a clean, safe option that is free of residue. It permeates carpet fibers to a deeper level than shampoo cleaning. It offers long-term relief from bug and parasite infestations. However, it has a tough time removing grease stains and can deform some carpet types.

How Often Should Your Carpet Be Cleaned?

While commercial steam and shampoo cleaners perform their jobs quite satisfactorily, there will still be some dirt and debris that will get pushed down to the backing. 

A good practice is to deep-clean your carpet with a professional service at least once a year for light foot traffic areas, and up to 3 times a year for heavy foot traffic areas. This frequency will help get rid of dirt and debris that are out of your commercial machine’s reach. 

Note: Frequent vacuuming will prevent most of the dirt from sinking in and reduce how often you need to use your cleaners. 

Carpet Cleaning Tips

Below are some helpful tips to ensure you get the best of whichever cleaning method you decide to go with:

Steam Cleaning

Fill the reservoir with preheated water

Save yourself time and your steam cleaning machine the energy to heat the water by filling the reservoir with preheated water. Some machines already require this, but for machines that use cold water at the reservoir, pre-heated water will save you time and make your cleaning faster. 

Add soap or detergent

You can tweak your steam cleaner by adding a mild soap or detergent solution to the water reservoir. 

Be careful with this one. You’re violating the warranty agreement of your machine if the manufacturer states only to use water in the manual. It’s worth considering, though; the soap solution contributes to the stain removal process and will generally be more effective than ordinary hot water. 

Shampoo Cleaning

Keep all shampoos and cleaning agents out of reach

If you have small children or pets in your home, they can easily harm themselves by mistakenly consuming carpet shampoo. To avoid a trip to the hospital, make sure you place your carpet shampoo (and all other cleaning agents) high up and out of reach. 

No rinse function? No problem!

If your shampoo cleaning machine doesn’t have a rinse function, no worries; you can eliminate shampoo residue by emptying the shampoo reservoir and refilling it with water. Clean water will then be discharged as you run the machine over the carpet.

Note: Try turning on your home heater to hasten the drying process. 

Consider Professional Cleaning Services 

If your carpet is very large or seriously stained, then it is advisable to use a professional cleaning service to get the best results. Professional cleaning services come with very powerful cleaners that do the job very effectively and quickly.

You can consider using professional cleaning services say, once a year to get rid of deep-lying dirt, and your home cleaning machines say monthly. 

When you use professional cleaning services, you don’t have to worry about what method will be used. Their industrial-grade machines are powerful enough to get rid of so much dirt; you won’t know the difference.

Choosing the Right Carpet Cleaner

It’s one thing to know how to shampoo or steam clean, and another to do it. 

Perhaps you just happened to land on this page while in search of the best cleaning method for your carpet, but don’t have the equipment yet.

Well, you’re in luck, as we’ve compiled a list of trusted brands for your carpet cleaning needs.

Bissell 

Bissell is a renowned brand that produces efficient steam and shampoo cleaning machines. 

Bissell Pro Heat 2X Revolution Pet Pro

Top on the list of their shampoo cleaners is the Bissell Pro Heat 2X Revolution Pet Pro. Its special design allows it to be highly adaptable to cleaning carpets, rugs, and upholstery. This machine is ideal for pet owners and families with kids, where tough stains and odors are frequent.

Here are some of the best features of this carpet cleaning machine:

  • Weighing in at just over 8.5 Kilograms, it is easily maneuverable and makes cleaning quick. 
  • A special stain removal feature that allows you to pre-treat stains with pedal control, without having to touch the carpet at all. 
  • A revolutionary water heating system that uses the heat from the main motor to keep the water warm and cooling the latter in the process.
  • An over 28cm wide cleaning hub that ensures a wide area is covered in a single pass.
  • An impressive 2.6-yard long cleaning hose section allows for easy maneuverability in tight and far-reaching spots.  

Other excellent products from Bissell are the Bissell Big Green Machine Professional Carpet Cleaner and the Bissell Pet Stain Eraser Cordless Carpet Cleaner.

Rug Doctor

Rug Doctor is another amazing brand that offers machines with good portability and impressive features.

Rug Doctor Portable Spot Cleaner

When it comes to high portability and compactness, the Rug Doctor Portable Spot Cleaner stands out from the crowd. It cleans carpets, rugs, and upholstery with much ease.

Here are some of its features:

  • Weighing in at 8.2 Kg, moving it around is light work for just about anyone. 
  • Large capacity tanks to ensure uninterrupted cleaning for a long time. 
  • It is the only machine with a motorized brush in the series, to ensure maximum agitation of the carpet’s hairs. 
  • It has easy maneuverability with a retractable handlebar and compact design.

Other great products from Rug doctor are the Rug Doctor Deep Carpet Cleaner and the Rug Doctor Pet Portable Spot Cleaner.

Spot Cleaning Carpets

Before you use your shampoo or steam cleaning machine, carpets with stubborn stains will have to be spot-cleaned. Stains like pet droppings, food and drink spills, makeup, ink, and blood comprise some of these stubborn stains that will need a little more effort to remove.

Coffee Stains

If you get a coffee stain, don’t worry; here’s how you can clean it up quickly:

  1. As soon as a coffee stain occurs, quickly dry the portion with a rag or towel. 
  2. Next, mix five portions of clean water with one portion of bleach.
  3. Carefully dab the stained area with this mixture and use a clean napkin to rub-dry it. 
  4. Repeat the process until the stain is gone.

Bleach is safe to use for most carpets made from polypropylene. If you’re unsure about the safety of bleach on your carpet, check your carpet’s manual or contact the manufacturer. 

Pet Droppings

As cute as they get, untrained pets can mess up carpets pretty bad with urine and feces. 

Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to deal with. Here are some tips for cleaning these stains completely:

  • Remove solid droppings with gloves on and use a napkin to dab urine (do not wipe or scrub as this will only spread it further).
  • For already dried stains, wet the area and apply specially made carpet cleaning solutions for pets. You can find old urine stains using black light with the room lights off. 
  • To get rid of the odors, mix one part of vinegar with one part of water to create a warm solution. Apply this on the already cleaned stain and dab it off with a dry napkin. 

Ink Stains

Ink stains can be very persistent, and you want to get them off as quickly as possible. 

Depending on the type of pen (ballpoint or felt-tip), the solutions you will use vary. Here are the most effective options:

  • Use a clean cloth moistened with isopropyl alcohol (or just alcohol) to dab the stained area for ballpoint pen ink, and allow the ink. Use a dry cloth to dab the area (remember not to rub) and get the stain out. 
  • An alternative to alcohol is nail polish remover, but this can damage some carpet types.
  • For felt-tip pen ink, apply a concentrated solution of liquid laundry detergent and add a little ammonia. After the ink has dissolved, use a dry cloth to dab the area.

Blood Stains

We hope no one or any pet gets injured to cause bleeding. But if it does happen, the efficacy of removing a blood stain depends on how quickly you act. 

Here’s the process:

  1. To remove a fresh stain, apply cold water to prevent clotting (blood thickens when warm).
  2. Mix some dishwashing liquid with water and apply the mixture to the stained area. 
  3. Allow the carpet to absorb the mixture then use a dry cloth to dab it until it dries. 
  4. Use cold water to rinse it off. 

General Food Stains

For food and drink spills, use a mixture of vinegar and water to clean the stained area. 

Note: Non-bleach detergents are also a good option. 

Summary

Shampoo and steam cleaning are two excellent options to maintain carpets in the home or office.

Shampoo cleaning works for most carpets, and it will clean up most stains without a problem. However, it can leave a residue that is harmful to pets and children, and discoloring agents may damage your carpet. It’s also ineffective against insect eggs, which can be a problem if you have a carpet bug infestation. 

Steam cleaning also works for most carpets. It’s a great choice if you need to agitate a lot of dirt deep in your carpet, and it’s free of residue that can harm your children, pets, or carpet integrity. If you have an organic carpet, you need to be careful, as the hot water can degrade the fibers. 

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