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How to Shampoo Your Carpets, Including a Troubleshooting Guide

Managing the household, from minor repairs to clearing rain gutters and general household cleanup all fall within Liz's responsibilities.

This article will break down the best tips for shampooing your carpet.

This article will break down the best tips for shampooing your carpet.

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.

Move Stuff

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.

Most shampoo machines have dual tanks

Most shampoo machines have dual tanks

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.

The switch has settings for wash and auto-rinse, or rinse only

The switch has settings for wash and auto-rinse, or rinse only

The hand grip includes the switch to dispense water and shampoo when depressed

The hand grip includes the switch to dispense water and shampoo when depressed

Safety Note:

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.

Shampooing Pattern

Divide your carpet into an imaginary grid as shown above with the A,B,C areas.

Divide your carpet into an imaginary grid as shown above with the A,B,C areas.

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.

Helpful Tip

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.

It is recommended to empty the dirty water into the toilet to avoid clogging sink drains.

It is recommended to empty the dirty water into the toilet to avoid clogging sink drains.

Finishing Up

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.


You would be surprised how many problems are caused by simple things that can be easily overlooked when we are busy or in a hurry.

ProblemCheck ThisOr This

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

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

Question: 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?

Answer: 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


Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on September 04, 2014:

Thank you, aerospacefan! I'm glad you found the article useful.

John Lannoye from Chicago on September 04, 2014:

I liked this hub a lot. I shampoo my carpets 2x a year. Your pattern graphic was really informative!

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on August 31, 2014:

Hi there, Glimmer Twin Fan,

Oh, I know what you mean. We have only cats, who are indoor-only. However, the house is older, not exactly 'hermetically sealed,' and on almost 3/4 of an acre with sandy soil, plenty of dirt and dust gets both dragged and blown in. So our shampoo water gets plenty nasty looking, no matter how much I vacuum.

I'm pleased the hub was able to offer you some useful tidbit! Thanks so much for your comment and sharing your experience.

Claudia Porter on August 31, 2014:

With 2 dogs we shampoo more than I wish we had to and I'm always surprised and embarrassed at how dirty the water gets. I haven't done your diagram method though and we will be doing that next. Useful hub.

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on August 24, 2014:

Oh, dear--leave it to a critter to be perverse and be attracted to a repellant. LOL I'm sure he won't like the baking soda.

The other thing I sometimes do for a very big mess (like when my other senior kitty spews vomit), is to clean up the big stuff, then flood the area with water (perhaps as much as a quart) to dilute the odor, then sop it up with an absorbent cloth so it doesn't stay in the carpet or padding, and cause mold or mildew, and possible damage to the sub floor.

I only take this step immediately before I'm going to shampoo anyway, so the vacuum setting on the shampoo machine will pull up all the excess water.

Nancy Tate Hellams from Pendleton, SC on August 24, 2014:

I have used the Urine Gone Spray and Nature's Miracle but he seems to be attracted to it. I will give the baking soda a try tomorrow. Thanks.

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on August 24, 2014:

Hello, OhMe,

Poor doggie. Have you tried baking soda, while it's still wet, and let that sit until it dries, or mostly so? Then, you can vacuum up the soda, and shampoo afterwards.

There is also that "urine gone" spray. We find it works quite well. Our senior kitty is epileptic, and if she has a seizure, she loses bladder control. Cat pee can be extremely potent, but that takes most of the smell away. The stuff costs about $10 a bottle, which we can't afford, but we found a knock-off that works just as well at the Dollar Tree store, for yes, just one buck. You might try that as well.

Thanks so much for your comment, and I'm glad you found the article useful. I hope Bruno gets better soon.

Nancy Tate Hellams from Pendleton, SC on August 24, 2014:

Great advice. Our bulldog, Bruno, has had a bladder infection and can't control himself so I have been cleaning the carpet daily with our Bissell Carpet Cleaner which I love. Of course, he continues to go to the same spots now even though I have tried several brands to remove the urine smell.

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on August 18, 2014:

Hello, KawikaChann,

Thank you so very much. I'm pleased you liked the article and found it helpful. Aloha!

Kawika Chann from Northwest, Hawaii, Anykine place on August 17, 2014:

Congrats on the HOTD! Thanks for pointing out that I've been doing it all wrong all these years - shampooing that is. Peace. Kawi.

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on August 17, 2014:

@ ChitrangadaSharan--Thank you very much! Yes, a vacuum cleaner can only do so much, before ground-in dirt takes its toll on the look of the carpet, or if you have pet messes to clean up, or major spills, then the vacuum cleaner is out of its league. Thanks so much for the kudos and the vote!

@ Sunshine625--Thanks very much! I find that the grid pattern keeps me from losing my place, as well as not getting tangled up in the cord from going the length of the room and back again…I do have, as I mentioned, well-documented ‘klutz’ genes. ;-)

@ heidithorne--LOL! I wish I could call in the experts, but it’s not in the budget, so I drag out may machine and have at it. But I don’t have the strength anymore to move any but the smallest furniture (coffee table, end tables and such), so I just do the center of the room up to the big pieces of furniture, and if I’m feeling very tired or stressed that day, then I just do the actual messy spots or the main traffic patterns. I would say that any kind of purpose-made machine counts as carpet cleaning. ;-) I use the little spot-cleaner machine for small messes, but it does have the drawback of not having a rinse feature.

Thanks much for the kudos!

@ PegCole17--Thank you very much! I’m glad you enjoyed the article. I was very surprised to get the e-mail notification when I turned on the computer today! I know what you mean about stepping on freshly cleaned areas; it’s one reason I just go barefoot for this job. It’s about the only thing besides showering or swimming that I do barefoot, as I have very tender feet, and anything sharp within 7 counties is sure to find MY foot! LOL We have 6 kitties in the house, and one is a ‘geriatric’ kitty, and the next in line is a ‘senior catizen,’ so we have probably more messes to look forward to in the future! :(

@ teaches12345--Thank you very much. I’m delighted that you enjoyed this article. I’m all about making unpleasant chores as painless as possible. ;-)

@ Thelma Alberts--Thank you very much. I’m glad you liked the article, and I appreciate your comment and the kudos!

Thelma Alberts from Germany on August 17, 2014:

Congratulations on the HOTD! This is a great advice on how to shampoo a carpet. Thanks for sharing.

Dianna Mendez on August 17, 2014:

Congratulatios on the HOD. Your post certainly deserves the reward. You have a very informative, creative and well written post. I love the pattern chart and your suggestion to do it barefoot.

Peg Cole from North Dallas, Texas on August 17, 2014:

Congratulations on the Hub of the Day award for this entertaining and useful hub. I like your drawing of the pattern to use, although, I move in the opposite direction (starting at the end point) to avoid stepping on the freshly cleaned and wet areas, moving in the direction toward the kitchen lineoleum. I did this fairly often at my Mom's house where they had two dogs and a cat.

Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on August 17, 2014:

Ugh! I just let the Stanley Steemer guys do this for me recently in our downstairs which is the only fully carpeted area in our house. (And they moved the furniture!) But we've done this for our homes and former rental properties. Today I primarily use my Bissell Little Green Machine for pet cleanup issues. Does that count as carpet cleaning? :)

Congrats on Hub of the Day! Well deserved.

Linda Bilyeu from Orlando, FL on August 17, 2014:

I like the diagram grid, I never cleaned carpets in that way...I usually go forward and backward, that might explain why my carpets never come out looking very clean. I have my own machine, but don't find the time to use it. I do spot cleaning often :) Excellent tips and Congrats on HOTD!

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on August 17, 2014:

Congratulations for HOTD!

Nice hub with great suggestions ! I have to do this at home and I will follow your instructions. Usually I do it with vacuum cleaner.

Thanks for sharing this useful hub! Voted up!

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on July 23, 2014:

Hello there, Dirt Farmer--

I'm glad I was able to provide some levity to this indeed, boring, task. I just had to do it AGAIN yesterday, thanks to senior kitty... :: sigh ::

Thanks much for stopping by; I'm glad you enjoyed the article, and thanks for the share!

Jill Spencer from United States on July 23, 2014:

Did this a few weeks ago. You make a boring task sound positively fun! (: Enjoyed reading your hub.

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on July 20, 2014:

Hi there, FlourishAnyway!

10 cats??!! Wow!! You have me beat! If I were filthy rich, I'd have a whole flipping cat rescue sanctuary here, but with 7, we are 'full-up,' in both space and budget.

Thanks for your suggestion; I'll do that. I'll have to read a review or two, as I'm not 100% happy with my machine. It works well enough, but putting the fresh water tank in is very tricky--it doesn't want to "catch" and in the process of several tries, the release valve gets bumped, and I end up with water spilled on the floor, so I have to put it on a towel to catch the resulting puddle. Other than that, I'd recommend that machine as it does do a good job.

FlourishAnyway from USA on July 19, 2014:

Oh, yes. With 10 cat I own my own machine and do this regularly. I used to rent one but why? Its not worth the expense or lugging the thing to and from the store. You might consider putting an Amazon capsule for a recommended machine?