Whether you've got children or pets running around or are just tracking dirt from your own shoes into your house, rugs and carpets can trap all kinds of particles that you'd rather not breathe in. And don't even get us started on the stains.
Of course, you don't want your cleaning products to trap more potentially harmful material within the carpets that they're supposed to be cleaning. This is where the appeal of natural carpet cleaning comes in.
We collected both DIY recipes and some ready-to-buy products from the wide world of natural carpet cleaning. Many of these can be made with items you probably already have at home or that are worth purchasing if you don't keep them in stock; if you don't already have white vinegar, investing in a bottle will open up a whole world of DIY natural cleaning solutions.
When it comes to carpets, you should always start with a spot check. Try out a small amount of whatever you're using in an unobtrusive spot to make sure it doesn't discolor your particular carpet fiber combination. If you're buying a product, make sure it can work with your floor's fibers. And always remember to dab or blot, not rub—too much scrubbing pressure can force stains deeper into fibers, rather than pulling them out.
These are some of the best—and simplest, in terms of ingredients used—non-toxic solutions for cleaning your carpet naturally.
1. Steam Vapor
Simple, straight water is certainly the easiest and most straightforward way to keep things clean. No potential chemical reactions or accidental ingestion to worry about, just one ingredient that comes straight out of your faucet.
You likely won't have the tools to try this cleaning method immediately on hand. But if you're looking to make an investment in a new cleaning tool, Advap's Ladybug line of home steam cleaners let you bring professional-level steam cleaning into your home to easily accelerate your home-cleaning game.
The Ladybug uses dry steam vapor to clean, deodorize, and sanitize. Along the way, it also relaxes carpet fibers to help them regain their loft and kills tiny pests like dust mites using the high-temperature steam. Administer the steam by using a towel attached to a large floor brush, which you pass over the carpet in two directions, similar to vacuuming.
2. Water + Vinegar + Salt
Grab a large spray bottle and start with a mixture of water and vinegar using two parts water to one part vinegar. (So if you have one cup of water, you want half a cup of vinegar.) Mix the water and vinegar in the spray bottle, then add one teaspoon of salt per cup of water. It's not for seasoning purposes—the salt helps bind the stain particles[*].
To add a deodorizing effect, add in roughly 10 drops of essential oil per cup of water. Make sure you choose a clear essential oil, rather than one with any color to it, to avoid staining your carpet. Lavender is popular in cleaning solutions, but you can also try something like lime, peppermint, juniper, or geranium, depending on the scent scene you want to create in the room.
Shake to combine, then spray the mixture generously on your stained area or just over the whole carpet. Wait for it to dry, then vacuum over the spot.
If you don't have a spray bottle, you can also dip a cloth into the solution and dab it onto a stain. Again: dab, not rub.
3. Baking Soda + Vinegar + Water
The classic baking soda and vinegar combo is good for so much beyond science fair volcanoes. First, sprinkle just baking soda over the stained area. You can also mix in a few drops of a colorless essential oil if you'd like some extra deodorizing power. Allow the baking soda to sit atop the stain for at least an hour and ideally overnight[*].
Mix vinegar and water in equal parts in a spray bottle, then spray the mixture on top of the baking soda. You should get a satisfying fizzing reaction. After the fizzing has taken place, pat the area with a cleaning rag to blot up the mixture. You may need to repeat the process for particularly stubborn spots.
4. Salt + Borax + Vinegar
Start by combining equal parts salt, borax, and vinegar in a small bowl or another container; the Thriving Home blog recommends ¼ cup of each. You'll end up with a paste, which you then apply to your carpet.
Ideally, you'll wear gloves during this process, especially if you're cleaning up something gross (thanks pets). The gloves will minimize both the spread of bacteria from the stain-causing element (please do not touch bodily fluids bare-handed) and your skin contact with borax, which can be an irritant.
After you've rubbed the paste into the stained area, let it sit for a few hours or at least until it's dried. Make sure any children or pets in your home don't ingest the mixture. Then vacuum it up and away. After the paste is gone, if the stain is still present, you can scrub with a wet rag, which you can rinse periodically if this goes on for a while. After the water dries, vacuum again, just in case.
5. Baking Soda + Cornstarch + Cornmeal + Borax
If you're looking for a dry natural carpet or rug cleaner, try this mix from DIY Network.
Start by combining 2 cups baking soda, 1/2 cup cornstarch, 1/2 cup cornmeal, 1 tablespoon borax, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and 2-3 dried bay leaves in a food processor. Blend them together until the bay leaves have been ground into a fine powder and everything is a uniform consistency. Transfer it from your food processor into an airtight container (a mason jar works fine).
Make sure the surface is dry before application. Then, to use the powder, sprinkle it over the rug or carpet you want to clean. Brush it across the surface with a broom or hand brush for maximum coverage and absorption into the fibers, then let it sit for as long as you can, up to overnight. Again, be cautious about this if you have pets or children in your home, as borax should not be ingested. Then vacuum it up once you've reached the limits of your powdery patience.
These products have been recommended by home bloggers, editorial testers at sites such as The Spruce, and other editorial sources.
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One blogger who praises steam cleaning adds her own mix to her cleaner. Make sure you won't be voiding your steam cleaner's warranty by adding something other than water. Once you've confirmed that you're in the clear, try adding one drop of Dr. Bronner's Sal Suds cleaner per 2 quarts of warm water.
You shampoo your hair, why not your carpet? This cleaner uses concentrated, naturally derived detergents and deodorizers that can be used anywhere you can use water, whether you're putting it in a machine or cleaning by hand. It's even safe for gray water and septic systems.
This concentrated carpet and rug shampoo uses grapefruit seed and orange essence to win praise for its stain-removal abilities and lack of any overpowering odors.
This popular spray is designed to remove both stains and any accompanying smells, whether on carpet, clothing, or athletic gear, using yeast and botanical oils to deodorize. You can use the plant-based formula to pre-treat clothing stains or spray it directly onto your carpet or furniture and blot it up with a damp towel.
The Bottom Line on Natural Carpet Cleaners
Whether you choose to take the do-it-yourself route and scrounge through your own pantry, through your local eco-friendly market's shelves, or through the internet, there's a natural carpet cleaning solution out there for you.
Try out a dry steam vapor machine, make your own carpet volcano, or simply hit the "buy" button and start scrubbing to freshen up your floors.