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How to clean a carpet: top cleaning advice from Mumsnetters

Whether you’re dealing with dirty dogs or facing a red wine emergency, Mumsnetters share their top tips on how to clean a carpet.

By Laura Cooke | Last updated Mar 24, 2023

A black vacuum cleaner head on a teal carpet

They say there’s no use crying over spilt milk. But if that milk is in a coffee that has just been splattered all over your new cream carpet, then you may be forgiven for shedding a tear or two.

We all know that accidents happen. We also know that these little accidents are even more likely in the presence of excitable pets, boisterous kids and clumsy adults. And your carpets will bear the brunt of it, from trodden-in mud to rogue felt-tipped colouring. 

But how do you banish these tricky stains? How do you clean a really filthy carpet? And does anything actually shift spilt red wine?

We’ve consulted the Mumsnet forums and cleaning specialists including Unileaver’s Cleanipedia to bring you a roundup of the very best tips and tricks to restore even the filthiest of carpets to their former glory.

Read next: The best vacuum cleaners to buy, as tested by Mumsnetters

Best carpet cleaners: Editor's picks

Russell Hobbs RHCC5001 Upright Carpet Cleaner
Best budget carpet cleaner

Russell Hobbs RHCC5001 Upright Carpet Cleaner

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Bissell carpet cleaner
Best carpet cleaner for pets

Bissell ProHeat 2x Revolution Pet Pro

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How to clean a carpet by hand

If you’re looking to freshen up a grubby carpet without using a carpet cleaner, then you can try washing it by hand.

Before you start, vacuum the carpet to remove any loose dirt and debris. Stubborn stains can be treated with washing up liquid or white vinegar. Once dry, liberally sprinkle either bicarbonate of soda or powdered carpet cleaner over the affected area. Leave it there for upwards of 30 minutes (or overnight for particularly dirty carpets). Then vacuum again and voilà - the dirt and powder has gone.

Alternatively, using the carpet shampoo or cleaning product of your choice, prepared as directed, cover the affected area and give any particularly stubborn stains or dirt a scrub with a hard-bristled brush. Allow the carpet to dry completely before vacuuming again.

Mumsnetter WeAreTheHeroes recommends: “Do not use hot water - it'll fix stains. You can use original Stardrops in cold or warm water and scrub with an old fashioned scrubbing brush. Use the foam from the Stardrops and don't get it too wet. I cleaned the kitchen carpet(!) in a rented flat this way and it worked really effectively. I've also cleaned a mucky sofa and armchair with fixed covers.”

Read next: Bag a bargain with our roundup of the best vacuum cleaner deals

How to remove stains on a carpet

Red wine: Argh, the horror of a glass of red splattering across a cream carpet! The first thing to remember is not to panic - red wine stains can be successfully cleaned up. 

Start by grabbing some absorbent cloths and blotting as much of the spilled wine as possible. Once you have done this, saturate the affected area with a specialist cleaner, such as Wine Away Stain Remover, which comes highly recommended by many cleaning specialists. Let it sit for a few minutes as directed and then blot the stain until it disappears. Remove any excess residue with a damp cloth. 

Alternatively, try mixing a generous squirt of washing up liquid and two tablespoons of white vinegar to two cups of warm water. Using a clean white cloth or sponge, dab the offending stain, working from the outside towards the centre of the spillage. Vacuum once dry. If the stain is still there, mix up a paste of baking soda and a small amount of water, spread generously over the stain, leave overnight and vacuum when dry.

Coffee: Just like red wine, the key to tackling coffee stains is blotting as much liquid as you can before it has a chance to really soak in. Treat the area with lukewarm water, taking care to dab and not rub, before blotting the excess liquid again. This may be enough to get rid of the stain, but if it’s still there, try a carpet shampoo or another suitable cleaning product. Follow the directions carefully and remember to keep blotting to absorb any excess moisture.

Mud: The best thing to do is to let the mud dry and then put the vacuum cleaner to work. If you’re still left with muddy stains after vacuuming, mix one tablespoon of liquid hand dishwashing detergent with two cups of warm water. Using a clean cloth, sponge the stain with the solution, blotting with absorbent cloths as you go. Keep alternating between sponging and blotting until the stain has gone.

Ink: Your heart may sink when you see multicoloured streaks left behind by errant felt-tipped pens, but luckily water-based ink is a doddle to clean from carpets. Just put a teaspoon of laundry detergent into a bowl of warm water and keep dabbing the stain until it goes. This often works without the detergent.

If you’re faced with stains caused by permanent markers, never fear. Just half fill a spray bottle with warm water, add a tablespoon of ammonia, spray from 20cm away and blot with a damp cloth. Afterwards, use the above laundry detergent-water mixture to get rid of the ammonia residue. 

Oil: Oil on the carpet? Keep blotting with kitchen roll until no more oil is being picked up on the towel. Then dab some rubbing alcohol onto the stain with a clean cloth, continuing to blot as you go. If this stain is proving particularly stubborn, sponging a small amount of washing up liquid mixed with water directly on to the oil should do the trick. Rinse soap residue away with a wet sponge and allow to dry. Easy peasy.

Read next: The best floor mops, as rated by Mumsnet users

What’s the easiest and fastest way to clean a carpet

Woman using Vax carpet cleaner

This really depends on the nature of the dirt and stains and how widespread they are. If you’ve just spilt any liquid on to the carpet, you must start to tackle the stain straight away. Start by blotting the excess liquid before using the appropriate cleaning method or carpet shampoo of your choice. Spot cleaning spills as soon as they happen reduces the likelihood of staining.

However, if you have to clean a whole carpet in one or more rooms, then the easiest and fastest way to do this is by using a steam cleaner or a carpet cleaner.

Read next: How to clean a floor: top cleaning tips from Mumsnetters

Best carpet cleaning products: Editor's picks

Is it worth buying a carpet cleaner?

Once again, this depends on the nature of the cleaning job. If you have animals or your kids are regularly traipsing mud and filth through the house, frequently leaving your carpets looking rather worse for wear, then a carpet cleaner may be a good investment for your household.

Is it worth hiring a professional carpet cleaner?

If you have a major clean-up job ahead of you, then you might want to consider hiring a carpet cleaner for a day or even a weekend.

One of the most popular professional carpet cleaning brands that you may have heard of is The Rug Doctor. This industrial cleaner can be hired from a number of major retailers, including supermarkets Asda, Tesco, Morrisions and Sainbury’s, as well as home improvement stores like Homebase and B&Q. Prices start at around £25 for 24-hour hire.

Mumsnetter Shaniac said of her Rug Doctor sesh: “I did the Rug Doctor from Tesco last week, it's fab! Got out the cat p*ss and years of dirt that had been left in the flat, the whole place looks, feels and smells clean now. Deffo worth it.” 

If you’re not sure about getting down to the dirty business yourself, you could always get a professional in to do it for you - but it will cost you extra.

Mumsnetter Dumblebum says: “We get ours done professionally annually. Bloke comes in with a machine the size of a standard under the counter fridge and they always look like new after. It’s about fifty quid a room.”

But if marauding pets and kids are regularly taking a toll on your carpets, it may ultimately be more cost-effective to bite the bullet and buy your own carpet cleaner, as Lamentations says: “I would buy a carpet cleaner if you can afford one because the problem will reoccur and you'll end up shelling out on a rug doctor again and again. Black Friday is probably not a bad time to do it. We have a vax one, it's very good and like a PP I use a generic shampoo - screw fix does a good one.”

If you want to find out more about which cleaning products Mumsnet users recommend, take a look at our guide to the best cleaning products. Alternatively, check out our roundup of the best eco-friendly cleaning products, as tried and tested by Mumsnetters.