Carpet Cleaning: DIY or Professional?

I am an inveterate do-it-yourselfer. I do NOT like to pay someone to do what I can do myself. The Man is the same way. Together we have redone three houses – everything from drywall to trim to plumbing to wiring to painting to décor. The Man does all the mechanic work on our cars. I will be the first to recommend to anyone to learn how to do something for yourself before shelling out the premium bucks to have someone else do it for you.

Have you ever had professional carpet cleaning? Read my experience having it done for the first time and whether I think it's worth the money.When it comes to carpet cleaning, I have tried the usual ways of doing it myself. For many years I used my Kirby vacuum cleaner (bought used from Ebay, y'all; calm down :-) ) shampoo attachment.  It was frustrating to work with, however.  The tank is very small, so you end up having to refill it about a gazillion times just for one room; and I never could figure out how to get the foam to come out evenly, which means that instead I got spits and spurts of water creating wet spots in the carpet. Then there is the weak suction, which means that most of the soap/water stays in the carpet.  It is true that the small amount of dirty water that thing sucked up was BLACK — I kid you not.  But within a few weeks the carpet would look worse than before.

I've also rented the big machines from the local store. They have a larger tank, and a wider path, and greater suction than my Kirby. But each time I use one, I spend about $60 total, by the time I've rented the machine and bought all the necessary cleaner. Plus a murderous 24 hours trying to get all over the house before the machine has to be returned. Those puppies are NOT easy to haul around, let me tell you.  Again, I'd get dirt out of my carpet, but within weeks it would look the same or worse than before I had cleaned it.

There are good reasons why these types of machines are not effective over the long haul.

First, when you clean anything, you often need to give whatever cleanser you are using time to soak into the dirt, to soften it and cause it to release from whatever it is stuck to. Then, after it has sat for a minute or more, it is easily wiped away. The same is true for carpet. Dirt in your carpet has usually been there quite some time and has had a chance to dry out and get ground in and stuck to the fibers.

Both my Kirby and the rental machine lay down the soap at the same time that they suck up the dirty water. Sure, the foam sits on the carpet for about 15 seconds before you go back over it again, but that's not long enough to penetrate the dirt, soften it up, and get it loose from the carpet fibers.  These machines will get the surface dirt — hence my black water — but there is plenty of grime left underneath.

Also, soap is sticky. It has to be to attract the dirt to itself.  That means, though, that if there is any soap left behind after cleaning something, the soap residue will just attract more dirt — and then you're back where you started.

When using DIY machines to clean carpet, it is basically impossible for them to remove all the soap.  They are spraying soap into the carpet the entire time you are using them.  There is no rinse cycle.  And have you EVER gotten out even close to the amount of water that was put in?  The water/soap left in the carpet fibers means that although the surface dirt has been removed, the grime underneath will just travel up the fibers to the top, where the soap is. AND more dirt from the outside will stick to the carpet, as well – hence carpets that become dirtier after cleaning than they were before.

So when it became time to think about how our ten-year-old carpeting was going to look during house showings, our realtor suggested a professional carpet cleaning. And since we have hired the realtor because she's supposed to know what she's doing, we followed her advice.

Y'all, I am embarrassed to admit now that we had never done professional carpet cleaning before. We have had multiple pets (four dogs at one time, for awhile), small children, diesel vehicles (if you've ever owned one you know about the diesel grime that gets tracked EVERYWHERE), a wood stove (can you say ashes and wood chips raining onto the floors) – basically a rural life with all sorts of reasons to realize that the carpet cleaning job was really beyond us… but we never did figure that out.  So we were very interested to see if this was really going to be any more effective than our own efforts.

Boy, were we surprised. The guy came in a van, the entire back end of which was his water tank and his recovery tank and his suction motor. So the guy NEVER ran out of water, and I'm telling you what, that hose had some suction power! Here's what he did:

First, he came in with a sprayer and sprayed the cleanser onto the carpet — all over the entire carpet in a given room. This obviously took a few minutes each time, thus allowing the shampoo to soak into the dirt and help it soften up and release from the carpet fibers.

(The cleanser he used, by the way, did not have sulfates in it.  Sulfates are what cause suds, but they actually have no cleaning power.  When you remove the sulfates from the shampoo, according to our guy, you can use that savings to get better cleaning agents.  Hmmmm….)

Then, AFTER the cleanser had sat on the carpet for several minutes, he brought in his suction attachment to rinse and extract all of the soap and dirt.  And I was AMAZED at what I saw as he was working.  Do you see that line in the picture below? I had never seen one like that using either my Kirby or the rental machine!

Have you ever had professional carpet cleaning? Read my experience having it done for the first time and whether I think it's worth the money.

Ok, I know you're wondering about cost.  Well, we paid $280 to have all of our carpets cleaned.  Yes, that is over four times what I paid for a rental machine.  But I was renting that machine several times a year and having to do the work myself. This cleaning should last 12 -18 months, and I don't have to lift a finger.  Seems like a no-brainer to me!

Now it's been over a month since he was here, and the carpets still look great.  And I am a convert to professional carpet cleaning.  My Kirby will be used only as a vacuum, and those big buggers at the store can stay where they are.  This is one case where it makes sense to me to leave the job to the professionals.

What do you think? :-)

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19 thoughts on “Carpet Cleaning: DIY or Professional?”

    1. Yes, after reading your article I realized I forgot to mention the temp of the water, and I didn’t even know about the pressure… all I do know is I will never go back!! :-) Thanks for stopping by!

  1. Wow, that picture is incredible! No need to be embarrassed though–I think we all neglect certain aspects of caring for home. At least I do! People think that vacuuming is enough, but I think of it as maintenance that needs some professional help every once in a while. I’m glad you had a great carpet cleaning experience. It looks better and it’s easier? What could be better than that?

    1. “Maintenance that needs professional help every once in awhile…” I like that, Jane! I think I’ll look at it that way now myself. Thanks for stopping by!! :-)

    1. Well, when I was doing it myself, I used the stuff that I bought in a gallon jug at the home center store. I don’t know what the guy that I hired used. Whatever it was, it was effective! Thanks for stopping by, Margie! :-)

  2. Love this post, Ann. We’ve owned hoover shampoo machine for a few years and honestly, I’ve just never loved it. Our carpet has seen some serious abuse (what with the 5 young kids running around… ahem… potty training…). I’m going to have a chat with my husband this week about scheduling a cleaning. Sharing this!

    1. Kids and pets are the WORST. We had three dogs for awhile… AND five kids… I hope your hubby agrees to the pro cleaning. Thanks for sharing, Janeen! :-)

  3. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I had my doubts about DIY’ing my carpet cleaning, since spot treatments for 2 kids and 1 cat were kind of keeping up, but not really. My MIL has one of the carpet cleaner machines she uses twice a year, but I am not into the labor-intensive job she has to do. Now I know that the results will be worth the cost of the pro job.

  4. These are some great and quite helpful tips. I found few good ideas to try for my carpets. I often prefer to use homemade cleaners at home and your suggestions seem to work perfectly for me. I’m definitely having them on mind for my next cleaning. Thank you for sharing!

  5. Thank you for sharing this. We’ve been using the DIY machine that we rent for years now. Professionals are just way out of our budget on most months but I can believe that they would have the carpets cleaned much more thoroughly than we ever could! Certainly something to think about at some point in the future. ☺

    1. I know it seems expensive up front, but if you can scrape it together somehow, it really is worth it. And then you’ll save the money when you don’t have to rent the DIY machine again! :-) Thanks for stopping by, Natalija!

  6. I love how you explained the difference between doing the cleaning yourself and having a pro do it. It really seems like you’re doing the right thing in saving money and doing it yourself but that only does a mediocre job. Getting them clean by a professional is worth it!

  7. Hi Annie,

    I loved your article. There’s good information for everyone. I have a sister that has a kirby. She loves the suction power but does not like the shampooing part, so I get to do it.

    I am Shane. I’ve been cleaning carpets professionally for 20 years. I have that big machine that sucks out the dirty water into a truck outside. I also have had a small bissell and a professional portable unit.

    My small bissell cleaned as good as my large machine! How is this possible? Knowledge. I admit I did not like the dumping and refilling the water. I also didn’t have a lot of carpet in that house I no longer have.

    You can clean carpets faster and the drying will be faster with a large machine. My experience is I clean better than 98% of my colleagues. I have clients that have used professionals and have the same problems you were experiencing with your bissell and a rental.

    Knowledge, good equipment that doesn’t cost a fortune and professional cleaners is all it takes.

    If there was a way to clean your carpets yourself with professional results, would this interest you?

  8. Great article! I understand your position of wanting to do things on your own, but there are times where someone’s expertise are required. Carpet professionals also have equipment and cleaning solutions that are more expensive and more effective than what we can ever get as well. Sometimes we have to go through the experience to understand. The carpet cleaning industry also has certain standard they find acceptable. Thank you for sharing!

  9. As a professional carpet cleaner I want to thank you for a great article, and you were fortunate to have hired a “good” professional, unfortunately, there are many who are substandard in out industry and so you may have ended up with a wetter, soapier carpet than when you had serviced them yourselves, you would be out the $280.00 or more, and left, wrongly, with the impression that ALL professional carpet cleaners / cleaning will obtain the same substandard results.

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