How to Shampoo Your Carpets, Including a Troubleshooting Guide
Start With a Clean Carpet
What?! You're about to shampoo the carpet anyway, and here I am telling you to begin with a clean carpet! "What kind of backwards double-speak is that?" you may ask.
Simply put, a carpet shampoo machine uses water. If it is not your intention to create mud pies, you need to do a very thorough vacuuming job before using the shampoo machine.
While the shampooer does have a vacuum function, it is pretty much limited to sucking the water and fine dirt particles out of the carpet, and is not designed for picking up larger things, such as clumps of pet hair, the infamous dust bunnies or bits of leaves, string, twist-ties, or whatever else may have been dropped, spilled, or dragged in on someone's shoes.
It is much easier if you move all the furniture and decorative items out of the area to be shampooed prior to starting. In fact, moving all this before you vacuum is even better.
Having to continually stop to move furniture or what-have-you out of the way makes for more work and frustration. Clear it out first, and then you can vacuum and shampoo with a clear area to work, and you will finish faster.
Have You Ever Had to Shampoo a Carpet?
Know the Machine
Read the directions. I repeat: read the directions! I know this is a seriously challenging thing for many; dare I say, especially for many men!
Whether you have your own machine, or are using a rental model, it is very important to know what the machine does, and how it operates.
The three main components of a shampoo machine are the two water tanks, (one for clean water; one to hold the dirty water; see photo above), and the smaller tank for the shampoo solution. (Some smaller machines, intended for spot-cleaning little spills may have the shampoo simply added to the fresh water tank, instead of a separate tank.)
Pay attention to the switch(es) and the settings. Different machines may have different switches to set the functions. There may be separate switches for wash/rinse or rinse only in addition to the power on/off switch. (This is what my own machine has.) There may or may not also be a setting to allow the scrubber brushes to be active or not, depending on the floor or carpet type.
As the dirty water is picked up, it is stored in a dedicated tank, which will be equipped in most cases with a float valve. When it is full, the float rises, shutting off the suction. When this happens, the pitch of the motor will change very noticeably, and it is time to shut off and unplug the machine, empty the dirty water and start again. At this time, it is also very likely that the clean water tank will need refilling.
These machines will come with a three-pronged grounding plug which must be plugged into a properly-grounded three-hole receptacle. Or, use a grounding adapter, properly connected to the outlet.
Never, ever, under any circumstances, cut the grounding prong from a power cord! That is a dangerous thing to do, and can damage the appliance, or cause electric shock, or even short-circuit and cause a fire.
The Shampooing Action
It is important to work in a specific pattern in order to do a complete and proper job. You can't just go randomly working in circles or haphazard zig-zags, or you will lose your place and also be stepping excessively in already-cleaned areas while missing other areas.
The easiest way to work is much like vacuuming. Divide your carpet into imaginary grids, and work in a side-to-side pattern, overlapping strokes with each pass. Don't try to do the whole length or width of the room or hallway all at once. Use shorter push-pull strokes that do not exceed a comfortable reach with your arms, and require no walking to follow.
You can either proceed going forward, or backing up, whichever is more convenient and comfortable for you. If you go forward, you will be stepping/standing on already cleaned areas, and you may not want to do that.
By going backwards, you avoid walking on freshly cleaned areas, but you may also risk tripping on the cord, so be careful. If you want to go backwards, simply reverse the start/end points and direction of sideways travel in the above illustration.
(Personally, I prefer to move forward, as I have well-documented klutz tendencies.)
Depending upon the size of your room(s), you may need to refill the fresh water and empty the dirty several times to complete the job. This also depends upon the capacity of the machine. A commercial-grade machine that can be rented may have a bigger capacity.
Don't Try to Rush
This is not a job that can be hurried. Move the machine slowly through your pattern. This gives plenty of time for enough water and shampoo to be dispensed, then rinsed, as well as vacuumed back up again.
In fact, it is best to go over the cleaned area several times with the vacuum-only setting activated. This will pick up the maximum amount of liquid, and ensure faster drying time.
Once you are done, it is helpful to lay old towels down in the traffic areas, so fresh dirt does not get scrubbed into still-damp carpet.
You might as well do this task barefoot. No matter what you do, you are going to end up stepping on finished areas at some point.
If you are stocking-footed, you will end up with soggy socks. While the machines to a pretty good job of picking up the water so the carpet is not drenched, it will be damp, and remain so for a couple or several hours, depending upon room temperature.
What to do With That Dirty Water?
Even with having vacuumed first, there is bound to be lint and bits of carpet fuzz that gets picked up, and this accumulates inside the tank as clumps of 'stuff.' Therefore, it is not a good idea to empty the dirty water tank into the sink, bathtub, or any other regular drain pipe in the house, as it may cause a clog in the line.
Normal drain pipes are only two inches wide. I strongly suggest you flush this down the toilet, which empties into a four-inch drain pipe, and is obviously designed for handling larger material.
Rinse the tank, and dump the rinse also into the toilet. (Save water by not flushing until you are finished.) Depending upon the size of the dirty water tank, the toilet may 'self-flush' when you dump the contents. Don't worry--that's normal. It's how toilets are designed. A certain amount of water causes the bowl to empty. That's why they flush in the first place when you hit the flush lever. Repeat as needed for the size of the area.
Once you are finished, and the tank has its final rinse, empty any water remaining in the clean water tank, and likewise any detergent in that tank should be returned to its bottle. This will also prevent detergent from leaking out, which can sometimes happen. Now, the machine will dry fully between uses, and you won't end up with a mildew-smell lurking about.
Whew! Well, you've done it! That wasn't so bad now, after all. Your carpets are clean, and you can have guests in with pride.
In high-traffic areas, such as hallways, or the middle of the living room, I suggest putting down large, old towels to 'protect the clean' as the carpet dries. This will not slow down the drying time; in fact, it may help, as traffic moves over the towels, it will press on the carpet causing some moisture to wick up into the towel.
Once the carpet is dry, you can move your furniture and accessories back into place. If there is something you need moved back in right away, such as a desk and chair, simply put a towel under the area, so whomever needs to use that furniture can sit there without worry or getting damp feet.
Will not run
Is it plugged in?
Bad Outlet? Power failure?
Does not dispense shampoo/water
Are the shampoo and water tanks filled?
Clogged or broken tubing or valve
Water tank not properly seated
Broken tubing, cracked water tank, or bad gasket
Stops picking up
Dirty water tank full; empty the tank
Dirty water tank lid not on correctly
Not a Difficult Job
There you have it. It is not a difficult task, but it can be time-consuming, depending upon the size of your room(s) and carpet area.
I usually have to allow at least 2 hours, as we have full wall-to-wall carpet throughout the house except kitchen and bathrooms. Most of the time, I'm concentrating only on the living and dining rooms and hallway, as that is where most of the kitty accidents (read--hairball deposits) happen.
If it's a small bit, I can just hand-scrub with a spot remover, or use my small spot-machine. But, if there is a huge amount of food or liquid (my late senior kitty had digestive problems), then it calls for the big machine.
With 6 cats, it made more economical sense to just buy our own machine instead of renting all the time.
Here is My Review of the Machine I Use:
- Hoover Steam Vac Dual V Carpet Shampoo Machine | Product Review
Owner's review of and experience with this carpet shampoo machine
Questions & Answers
My carpet cleaner machine is picking up a lot of dirty water from the carpet, but the dirty water tank doesn't have a comparable amount of dirty water in it. Why might this be?
Have you checked for any leaks?
I am familiar with my own machine, but have not had experience with others. The article was more about how to go about shampooing the carpets.
I know the conundrum I face with my own machine is the annoyance that the dirty water tank does not seem to hold quite the full amount that the fresh water tank does, so it needs emptying before the fresh water needs to be refilled.
Possibly, your machine may have a dirty water tank that is a different shape or configuration than the fresh water tank, and it may only look to be a smaller amount. If the machine is picking it up, it's in there.
© 2014 Liz Elias