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Homemade Carpet Cleaning Solutions: Do They Really Work?

A quick google search of “homemade carpet cleaning solution” yields hundreds of recipes promising the “best ever” and “safest” stain removal and carpet cleaning. As an added bonus, you likely already have these items in your kitchen or laundry room! Double bonus: since you already have the ingredients, it’s cheap!

But not so fast… believe it or not, modern carpeting and rugs are complex textiles, comprised of various fibers, weaves, and finishes. How do you know if the homemade solution you found online is going to damage your carpet, rug, or deep carpet cleaning machine? While there are definite advantages to following recipes for making homemade cleaning solutions with familiar ingredients, it’s important to consider how much the formula’s creator really knows about textiles, fibers, surfactant chemistry, dyes, staining, toxins, bleaching agents, or carpet cleaning. Rug Doctor is all about DIY cleaning and saving money, but not at the expense of the life and health of your carpet. So the experts at the Rug Doctor Institute of Clean decided to take a closer look at the most popular DIY homemade carpet cleaning recipes to better understand what works and what doesn’t.

Most DIY carpet cleaning recipes use some combination of these common chemicals in varying amounts: vinegar, peroxide, dish soap, laundry detergent, ammonia, bleach, isopropyl alcohol, and fabric softener. Recipes usually instruct users to combine ingredients in a bucket in the specified amounts, mix them, and add a few ounces of their concoction per 1 gallon of hot water to use in deep carpet cleaning equipment. Easy enough.

We wanted to test this method for ourselves. Our experts first identified some major safety concerns with homemade recipes. Although most ingredients previously listed can be mixed without issue, you should never mix ammonia with bleach, vinegar with bleach, alcohol with bleach, or vinegar with peroxide. These combinations produce extremely unpleasant and potentially dangerous gases. And household bleach can damage your carpet, rug, and machine. It’s best to skip any recipe that lists bleach as an ingredient.

You should also scroll past carpet cleaning recipes that include fabric softener. You might think, “but it’s safe to use on my clothes, so it must be ok for my carpet.” WRONG.  Fabric softeners are made of cationic surfactants, and cationics are known to react with the factory (and aftermarket) applied stain blockers on carpet, rendering them ineffective. So using fabric softener means the expensive stain protectant on your carpet isn’t going to work as well as it should. And that actually equates to dirtier carpet for you. No thanks.

Another thing to consider when cleaning carpet, rugs, and upholstery is the pH of the solution you’re using. If your solution is too acidic or too basic, it can damage carpet fibers, and carpet cleaning equipment. For the most part, the pH of the recipes our experts tested were all slightly basic. That’s good news, as slightly basic or slightly acidic solutions will not damage carpet or equipment.

Finally, our experts tested what everyone really wants to know. Do homemade carpet cleaning recipes work for deep cleaning large areas? Unfortunately, once homemade solutions are added to recommended levels of water, their cleaning power becomes very diluted. When tested using standardized testing methods, these diluted recipes cleaned carpet only slightly better than water. So on one hand, it’s great you’re unlikely to damage your carpet or equipment. But “slightly better than water” is pretty underwhelming and probably not the deep cleaning results you’re hoping for.

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