Dry Carpet Cleaning vs. Steam Cleaning

Two ways to deep clean your home’s carpet. Which wins for your household?

July 23, 2019


This is a shallow DOF and copy space of shag rug.

Photo by: GettyImages/Bryngelzon


When your home’s carpets are in need of a good cleaning, which powerful cleaning system should you select? We take a closer look at the pros and cons of dry carpet cleaning systems and steam cleaning systems to help you get a sense of what work best for the condition of carpets in your home.

Advantages of Dry Carpet Cleaning

A dry cleaning (very low-moisture) solution for carpet maintenance goes a bit beyond your typical vacuum cleaner routine. Dry carpet cleaning offers deep cleansing power by supplementing with compound cleaning agents to pre-treat fibers and break down dirt prior to the actual machine cleaning. The cleaning agents are brushed or buffed into the carpet, and then are removed during cleaning, along with all of the dirt, oils and other sediments that loosen when the cleansers are embedded between the fibers. The cleansers can also add protection to carpet fibers to prevent future stains, much like you might apply a stain shield spray to furnishings.

The system is more conventionally used for residential purposes when homeowners are seeking spot treatment, but it's also ideal in scenarios when you would have a harder time limiting traffic on the carpet (such as at the entryway or hallway in a commercial space). Dry cleaning systems are less expensive than steam cleaners, and because they use less moisture, leave homeowners with a faster dry time. The treated rooms are typically only out of service for 30 minutes to an hour.

If renting the machinery isn’t right for you, there are many store-bought powder cleaners that simulate the dry cleaning experience. These products contain ingredients that absorb smells and actively cleanse the fibers of a carpet, and then easily vacuum away after setting for a short period of time.

You can also opt for a simple DIY carpet cleaning powder. One of our favorite homemade blends uses a mix of baking soda, borax, cornstarch and cornmeal, as well as cinnamon and bay leaves to offer a refreshing scent. The disinfecting and cleansing properties of all ingredients make it a welcome addition to your cleaning cabinet and an easy material to sprinkle on the carpets before a vacuum cleaning.

Advantages of Steam Cleaning

For individuals and families who struggle with allergies or sensitivities to scents, steam cleaning can be the best way to deep clean or spot clean carpets in the home. The water vapor produced contains no smell, and it’s an effective way to kill bacteria and lift dirt that contributes to other bothersome scents.

Unlike sprays and dry cleansers, steam cleaning a carpet won’t inject substances that would leave residue on the carpet fibers.

Steam cleaning is a really effective and efficient way to lift build up from the carpet fibers, including mold and pet scents. It also is effective at improving the appearance of carpets that have been neglected over time. The restorative effects can almost always be seen in high traffic areas, such as on hallway carpets on which foot traffic creates a compressed “path” over time.

When all other cleaning attempts fail, steam cleaning is often a “last chance” solution that will offer results.

Steam cleaning does inject moisture into the carpet fibers, but much less moisture than if you were to shampoo your carpet by hand to disinfect and refresh it.



This carpet wand is releasing hot water onto the carpet and then vaccuming it up.

Photo by: GettyImages/Bryngelzon


Disadvantages of Dry Carpet Cleaning

Dry carpet cleaning systems do work well, but when you’re in need of a deep rejuvenation, it’s usually not powerful enough of a process to revitalize and disinfect a carpet.

Dry carpet cleaners can inject chemicals that leave residues on carpet fibers or scents that trigger allergies in some homeowners, and it's just another thing to consider if you have toddlers or babies who spend a lot of time on the carpet.

Residue build-up can actually age a carpet over time, as it’s more likely to collect dust than an untreated and regularly vacuumed cleaner.



A Soft Landing: A clean carpet that is soft enough for babies to play on yet tough enough to withstand wear and tear from toddlers can be an invaluable addition to a baby-proofed nursery. A strong water and stain resistant underlayment may save money and frustration over the years.

Disadvantages of Steam Cleaning

The most obvious disadvantage of steam cleaning carpets is that it typically requires powerful rental equipment, heavier and more inconvenient to transport compared to dry cleaning units.

In the days and weeks following a steam clean, the dirt extracted from deep in the fibers may seem to re-emerge; it’s possible that a secondary steam clean would be necessary to have the best results.

When it comes to relying on a steam cleaner for lifting stains, it’s still necessary to take into account the age of the stain, how deep it has penetrated the fibers and what caused it. Steam cleaners work well, and perhaps better than dry cleaners, but aren’t always totally effective at removing deep, tough spots.

Steam cleaning is a method that can be used periodically but should not be used regularly, as it can wear on the carpets unnecessarily.

Finally, steam cleaners can often leave moisture in the carpet, which can take upwards of 24 hours to dry.

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