Today, I’m writing and homeschooling in a corner of our kitchen surrounded by furniture that is supposed to be in the living room/family room, all because we’re finally putting in hardwood floors to replace the carpet that was there when we moved in.
Even though I’m no fan of carpet (especially white carpet, with kids), we’ve put this project off for over a year and were finally able to get a company to replace our floors…. when I just happen to be super-pregnant. Here’s hoping they get the flooring installed before this baby decides to arrive!
Cleaning Carpet Naturally
While that piece of white carpet covering the main walkway of our home has pretty much been the bane of my existence for the past several years, I realized while rejoicing it’s demise that I had never written about how I (attempt) to keep it clean with five kids, one husband, and a dog traipsing across it hundreds (thousands!?) of times a day.
In fact, in almost a decade of marriage, we’ve lived in a place with white carpet the majority of the time. For the first five years, we lived in apartments with white carpet (with toddlers… that was fun). We didn’t have the option of replacing the carpet so I got to practice and experiment with natural ways of cleaning it.
With our first home, we bough it at a great price but it needed a lot of work. We spent months replacing pretty much everything (we did almost all the work ourselves to save money). Since we had the choice on this one, we opted for hardwood floors from the beginning and that was one of my favorite things about that house.
When we moved into our current home, it already had white carpet in the living room but all the surrounding areas were hardwood and the kitchen was tile. After this week, everything should *hopefully* match and the carpet is gone, but for many years, getting rid of carpet was not an option, and I know many people in the same situation.
I have a few friends with some supernatural ability to keep their carpet from ever getting stained (and with children who are naturally spill-immune), but for us mere mortals, stains are a fact of life in carpeted areas of the home.
Over the years I’ve found some ways to treat stains naturally by creating my own carpet cleaner. These methods have worked for me, but I haven’t tested them on every kind of carpet, so you should check to make sure all the ingredients are safe on your own carpet and spot test a small patch before using on yours.
Homemade Carpet Cleaner Recipes
Just like with treating laundry stains naturally, there is a little chemistry involved in treating carpet stains. Don’t worry, no need for nightmarish flashbacks to high school chemistry, just a few basics…
Pre-Treating Wet Stains
For stains that you catch right away while they are still wet (such as pet urine, kid urine, ketchup, wine, chicken soup… don’t ask), you can help remove the liquid by immediately sprinkling baking soda directly on the affected area. The methods below will help remove the actual stain but often the stain is made worse by the dirt that gets tracked on it while it is drying, so the baking soda can help solve this problem.
What I do: Sprinkle liberally with baking soda to completely cover the stain. If the baking soda gets completely wet, sprinkle more until a layer of dry baking soda remains on top. Let rest for about 5 minutes. Vacuum up. (TIP: change vacuum bags and filters often if you vacuum up baking soda. To minimize the amount in the vacuum, I keep a small hand-held broom and dustpan exclusively for sweeping up baking soda from the carpet. This also helps loosen the stain, too.)
For Urine Stains: For really stubborn urine stains or to get rid of the smell, you can add borax powder to the baking soda (1 part borax to 3 parts baking soda). Borax is somewhat controversial (here’s why I feel safe using it), but it does help neutralize the smell of urine in carpets which may also help keep pets from deciding to re-wet the area.
Why Not Vinegar?
When attempting to figure out what worked on wet stains and pet stains, I tried vinegar but it didn’t work. At all. I researched and realized why (this is where the chemistry comes in). The highly alkaline urine reacts with the highly acidic vinegar and if not done in the exact ratios needed, this can actually create more of a stain. Also, when vinegar is added directly to the stain when still wet, it can further soak the carpet and pad, making the stain worse in the long run. Vinegar can be an effective way to help remove the odor and the stain after it has dried, but it never worked for me as an initial treatment. Vinegar should also be used with extreme caution undiluted on carpet or upholstery as it can cause discoloration.
If you want to use vinegar, especially on set-in stains, try a mixture of 3/4 cup warm water and 1/4 cup white vinegar sprayed on the area. Use old towels to absorb the liquid and repeat until the stain is gone. I would still follow this with the baking soda and vacuum treatment to remove excess moisture. Vinegar can set some stains in, so definitely spot test and proceed with caution on this one! (Something to consider: you’ve probably used vinegar at some point to set stains with easter eggs or even dying fabric so it really may not be the best option for carpet.)
All-Over Natural Carpet Cleaning
This will be very anti-climactic for a post about natural homemade carpet cleaning, but in many cases, warm water in a steam cleaner will work for stains and overall cleaning. My parents have a steam-cleaner machine which I’ve borrowed on many occasions for carpet cleaning. Warm water works well and doesn’t leave any residue, which is a plus, but it won’t take out really tough stains.
If you have a carpet cleaning machine of some kind, there are three important caveats before you try any of the following tips:
Make sure using these methods won’t void the warranty on your carpet cleaner as many of them require you to use their formula to keep the warranty valid
Spot test and make sure these won’t harm your carpet
Do not add more of any ingredient than listed as leaving residue in carpet is a surefire way to make stains worse!
Ok, now that we got that out of the way, here are the methods that got nasty, dirty, apartment carpet back to white and that I have used to keep my sanity in our house until now:
Natural Carpet Cleaner Recipe
The most effective recipe I’ve ever found is incredibly simple with only two ingredients and one of them comes from your faucet. This is the most effective all-over carpet cleaner I’ve ever used and the one I use when we move into a new place to make sure the carpet is clean for my kids to crawl around and play on. This is meant to be used in a carpet cleaning machine of some kind (I used an old school Thermax but a friend has this professional type carpet cleaner and loves it).
2 quarts warm water
1 drop Sal Suds Liquid (not a typo- that says one drop- don’t add more!)
Use the above ratio to make as much or as little cleaner as needed for your steam cleaner or vacuum. Do not add more Sal Suds! It is tempting, but more does not equal cleaner in this case! It will leave residue on the carpet if you add too much soap.
A Note About Sal Suds:
This is by far the most effective carpet cleaner I’ve found and it is completely natural and receives an “A” safety rating from the Environmental Working Group (it is also Green Certified). The only concern listed on its safety sheet is that because it is such a strong cleaner, it should not be used on skin. It is also incredibly cost-effective. Though it can be used for many things around the house, if you just got one bottle it could be used for over 18,000 carpet cleanings at that dilution ratio. It can also be used to clean virtually anything around the home and even (diluted) as a very effective stain treatment for laundry. I’ve also used it to mop floors and clean grout with great results.
I also find it important to note that Sal Suds contains Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) but I don’t find this concerning for several reasons. For one, it is not being used on the skin. SLS is a highly effective surfactant and is incredible on set-in stains. There is some concern about its safety in beauty products, but for cleaning products it is considered safe. It is often confused with sodium laurethsulfate, which does carry concerns and which has been linked to cancer.
Additionally, the amount used in this recipe is well below the recommended dilution ratio for SLS on skin and the SLS in Sal Suds comes from Coconut Oil. If you have concerns about SLS, this article from Dr. Frank Lipman helps explain the way SLS works and why it is considered safe when diluted in cleaning products but not recommended for cosmetics or skin use.
Does it Work?
In my opinion, it works really well.
The pictures at the beginning of this post are taken one hour apart after my 9-year-old volunteered to clean the carpet. They haven’t been retouched or photoshopped and the one on the right is when it is still wet. I cringe because it shows just how dirty our carpet gets in about a month (five kids and a dog can do that!).
I love that this recipe is super-simple and only two ingredients, and costs less than one cent per use!
If you want, you can add essential oils for scent, though I’ve never found this necessary and would rather just diffuse the oils or make a room spray for scent as the carpet cleaning mixture is essentially washed out of the carpet.
At the end of the day, I’m glad our carpet is on its way out, but wanted to share these tips while they are fresh on my mind since they’ve helped me preserve my sanity over the last ten years!