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How to Clean and Restore Carpet Even if It’s Old, Stained, and Disgusting

If you hate your carpet because it’s old, stained, and bordering on disgusting, I have great news. There are steps you can take that will have you falling in love with it all over again.

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Years ago when we remodeled our home, we replaced some of the carpets with hardwood. What a revelation. Now I could see the dirt and dust and, honestly, I couldn’t believe what accumulated in such a short time on those wood floors. Of course, I never saw it on the carpet but I know it was there all along. What a wake-up call it was to see the old carpet removed, rolled up and hauled away.

Here’s what we need to know and never forget: Regardless of the color, brand, or style—carpet hides dirt. This is not a good thing.

On the one hand, I love carpet for the warm, cozy way it can make a room feel, especially a bedroom. But the thought of what’s in it gives me a slightly creepy feeling. I used to think that occasional vacuuming was sufficient. Now I know better.

Still, even with its ability to harbor and hide all kinds of dirt and grime, I’m not ready to completely give up the carpet in my home! Even if I did, you can be sure that soon I would be shopping for area rugs. So what’s the difference? Carpet is carpet and all of it gets skanky, gross, and ugly if not well cared for.  

And what about those stains? On my wood floors, I wipe up spills instantly. But stains or spills on the carpet? I used to turn a blind eye. It’s a lesson I had to learn the hard way. And while I may not vacuum daily, I can promise you there are no stains on my carpet and no dirty paths either.

Vacuum Regularly

As often as you sweep, mop, and or dust your hard surface floor—that’s how often you should be vacuuming the carpet. Just because you can’t see the dirt, dust, debris, footprints, crumbs, and hair doesn’t mean it’s not there! Allowing any of that to burrow down into the carpet pile is going to turn your carpet into a disgusting situation.

You need a vacuum with super strong suction to remove dirt, dust, and grime quickly and easily. Weekly vacuuming is not too often. Twice a week—much better. Daily vacuuming of heavy traffic areas? Even better. The best way to vacuum carpet is to memorize this routine.


Treat Spots Immediately

Sugary liquids, sticky food, grease, mud, pet urine, and excrement—these are the bane of beautiful carpet. If you don’t want to hate your carpet you’ll pick up and remove spills and then deep clean the area as soon as possible after it occurs.

Allowed to remain for any period of time, spots become stains and stains will be difficult, if not impossible, to remove. I use, rely on, and highly recommend CarpetAid+ available online and some stores like Home Depot and Lowes. It is fabulous! CarpetAid+ comes in an aerosol can and dispenses like shaving cream, which makes it super easy to use.

CarpetAid+ carpet and upholstery stain cleaner works like magic! on tough stains like traffic, dirt, oil, pet accidents, and wine spills.


Wash Frequently

At least once every three months, wash (shampoo, steam clean) your carpet. Investing in your own carpet cleaning machine would be a wise choice. The machine will pay for itself the first time you use it instead of calling in the pros.

You won’t find a better machine than Hoover SteamVac. I’ve had mine for more than a dozen years, and it’s working as hard now as it did when it was new. And I’ve recently added the newer version to my collection, and it’s a beauty!


Carpet and CleaningThe Best Thing I Ever Bought

I cannot think of anything I’ve ever purchased that can top my Hoover SteamVac,  I bought it on Dec. 7, 2008, and I only know that because there it is in my Amazon order history—$147 with free shipping. All these years later—while still enjoying my spotlessly clean carpet, Hoover is still performing flawlessly. I wouldn’t want to live without my workhorse, Hoover. Over the year the Hoover folks have upgraded this machine and even given it a new name (on the right, and recently added to my collection)—still an amazing product.

It’s Been a Long Time

If it’s been so long you can’t remember when you last cleaned your carpet, and it is really, horribly, embarrassingly dirty and smelly—cleaning it with hot water alone (see The Best Thing I Ever Bought) is not going to cut it. You need to add a high-quality, commercial-grade carpet shampoo product to your cleaning machine. Or make it yourself. Just be prepared to rinse, rinse, and rinse some more. You must extract every molecule of soap or detergent that you lay down and soaks into the carpet. Any that remains will become a magnet, attracting new dirt, dust, and grime.


DIY Carpet Shampoo Solution

1 cup Oxiclean Stain Remover (NOT Oxiclean Detergent), 1 cup Febreze, and 1 cup white vinegar. Pour ingredients into carpet cleaning machine adding hot water to the fill line. This will not only clean your carpets it will also deodorize. It will smell slightly of vinegar until the carpet is dry. Be sure to test in an inconspicuous place first, just to be safe. This should be safe for all carpets.


If after deep cleaning your carpet is still not smelling sweet and fresh—with lingering undertones of pet urine—it’s time to bring out the big gun Nok-Out. Nok-Out is available direct from the company at Nokout.com. Or call 866-551-1927 to speak directly with owner Ted Price if you need more help with a specific stinky situation.


Clean the carpet first—clean it as best you can even if that takes several repeats. Then adhere to the following protocol from our friends at Nok-Out.


Nok-Out has a pH of 8.5 and works best in an alkaline environment. If you have used acidic cleaning products such as vinegar used previously (like for treating spots or spills), you must neutralize that acid by spraying club soda or a mild baking soda solution (1 teaspoon baking soda to 2 cups water) to the carpet using a spray bottle before applying Nok-Out to the area.

Allow this solution to dry before continuing the odor removal procedures. This step will neutralize any acids left behind by other cleaners on your carpet and allow Nok-Out to work most efficiently and effectively.


Always test in an inconspicuous place first like inside a closet. This is true for any cleaner, deodorizer, or other types of product you’ve not used before. You want to know exactly how your particular carpet (upholstery) reacts before you use this in an open, visible area.

Water temp

When using Nok-Out in a carpet-cleaning machine, add 1 to 2 cups to the reservoir, then add enough room-temperature water to total one gallon (128 ounces). Never use Nok-Out with hot or boiling water.

Let it penetrate

Push the carpet shampooer forward while spraying, but do not vacuum up the cleaning fluid yet. Spray the entire carpet first, and wait for  10 to 20 minutes to allow Nok-Out to penetrate deeply and oxidize into the fibers of the carpet, as well as the matting, the pad, and floor substrate underneath.


After the waiting time has passed, begin the extracting process by pulling the carpet cleaning machine backward. This pulls all liquid back into the cleaning tank. Dry quickly by using overhead ceiling fans, floor fans, turning the ac/heating fan to “On” and or opening windows.

If a second application should be necessary, simply repeat this procedure.

One last thing

If you are getting ready to replace your carpet, don’t select a color because you think it will “hide the dirt.” No! You want a color that will point out every bit of dirt, every spill, and every stain.

You want to see those things so you can immediately take steps to clean them up, in the same way, you care for your beautiful wood, laminate, and tile floors. 

You are not alone if you have come to hate the carpet in your home, but it doesn’t have to be that way. It might take a few go-rounds with vacuuming, stain-removing, and deep cleaning, but if you are diligent, you and your carpet just might fall in love all over again!

CAUTION: Once again, always test, clean, or treat carpet in an out-of-the-way, inconspicuous spot first like inside a closet. I offer no guarantees for how any recommended product or appliance will react in your specific situation. 

Revised, Expanded & Updated 7-28-23

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  1. Paula Trojahn says:

    We have wood floors with area rugs. If I shampoo the rugs, won’t it damage the floor underneath? In the past we sent them to a rug cleaner which is expensive and doesn’t get all the dirt out.

    • Mary Hunt says:

      That could happen if you overly saturate the rug in place. But there are so many variables here (do you have a heavy pad under that area rug? Is there a rubber or other waterproof backing on the rug? Etc.). If I were you I would move the rug to be cleaned to the driveway or some other similar spot for DIY cleaning. Allow to dry before moving back into place.

  2. Tamarafinide Dittimi says:

    I was looking for this informative article for the past few days and luckily read this article today. This article helped me a lot to understand the importance of Clean and Restore Carpet. Please keep sharing such kind of article with us. Thank you.

  3. Suzanne says:

    I had wall to wall carpet for many years, and I used your helpful pointers to keep them clean. I even bought my own Hoover Steam Vac. But the older I got the more I resented having to spend so much time and energy on carpet care. So I finally just had it all pulled up and replaced with hardwood. I do have some lovely area rugs in the bedrooms, but having such an easily cleaned surface in most of the house has been a big help. At 67, and with arthritis becoming more of an issue, I enjoy having something that can be cleaned so quickly, easily, and thoroughly. Carpet is nice if you have the time and energy to keep it clean. But sometimes hardwood is just the easier way to go.

  4. Blanca says:

    Mary: I also, use the Hoover SteamVac, I got it at an estate sale for about $40 about 10 yrs ago and it’s still going strong. My question is, I shampoo my carpet about 2 times a year (I have 2 dogs) but it seems like my carpet is buckling. I am doing something wrong? Please help.

    • Mary Hunt says:

      My first thought is that it has stretched. Look for carpet service company that will come to your home and pull the carpet away from the tack strip, restretch, reattach and then cut away any excess.

  5. Linda S says:

    Years ago I bought the Hoover Steamvac you recommended and loved it until recently. My carpet is 25 years old and it needs to be replaced or so I thought. My sons convinced me to try out a new carpet cleaner and so I did my research and bought a Bissell ProHeat Pet. I can not believe how much better of a job it does compared to my Hoover Steamvac. It has way more power and the brush actually fluffs up the carpet. I also use their Bissell Professional Pet cleaner -safe for pets and does a great job (although I think the Max is even better but we have pets). So just saying I wouldn’t recommend going out and buying this Hoover model again without checking reviews on some of the newer cleaners that have come out in recent years….just my two cents….But your advice years ago plus my nylon carpet has kept my carpet in pretty darn good condition all of these years so thanks a bunch Mary!!!

  6. Linda Zavada says:

    Upon your recommendation in a newspaper article, I bought a Hoover Steam Vac about ten years ago. I absolutely LOVE it, and it has kept my carpets looking great all these years. The one feature I had a hard time getting connected was the hose attachment. It was awkward and difficult to attach to the machine so I could use it on my couch and chairs. My question for Mary is: Has the design of the hose attachment changed in the past ten years? If the hose attachment system has been improved, I am thinking about buying a new Hoover Steam Vac. Thanks!

  7. Evelyn Morgan says:

    I have a question. I have old carpet, which is in good condition, but I have recurring areas, where stains were. I shampoo about every 3 months, I vacuum regulary, but the shadow of the stain still return. What can I do? Also, you said to pour the solution into the water reservoir, and nothing into the soap dispenser?

    • Mary Hunt says:

      I’d bet just about anything that you are not removing all of the shampoo/soap/detergent. You’ve got dirt magents! Because the residue is slighty sticky, vacuuming isn’t removing the dirt and dust that lands on those aeras. Fill your carpet cleaning mahcine with hot water—not detergent—and give that a go. I’ll bet you’ll see soap suds in the dirty water reservoir … and lots of them. You need to keep rinsing with clear water until the water in the dirty water reservoir comes back clean and clear!

  8. Shirley Swiecichowski says:

    The very BEST suggestion from you was the Hoover Steam Vac – used as you said with hot water and no soap, it’s super wonderful. Thank you.

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