The Difference Between Dry Cleaning and Steam Cleaning Carpet

by Lawton Brothers | Feb 11, 2021


When it comes time to deep clean your carpets, there are two main options: dry cleaning and steam cleaning. The primary difference is the use of chemicals vs steam to remove dirt and debris from carpet fibers. 

Dry Cleaning

There are three main methods for dry cleaning carpet: powder, encapsulation, and bonnet cleaning. Powder, however, is widely considered to be the one true dry-cleaning method, as the other two use liquid at some point in the process. 

Powder dry cleaning is a great way to avoid putting moisture into your carpet, and is very similar to vacuuming, with added chemicals and steps. Once an initial pass with the vacuum is performed, a dry compound cleaning agent is applied to the carpet. This, typically white and somewhat chalky powder, breaks down oil that causes debris to stick in the fibers of the carpet. The cleaning agent may be buffed into the carpet to ensure that the compound penetrates through to the bottom layer. After a short time (usually 30-60 minutes), the room is vacuumed again, this time lifting the dislodged soil and any remaining compound. 

This method does allow immediate use of the carpet, which makes it a favorite for commercial buildings and areas where it is hard to limit foot traffic. However, it may be difficult to remove all residues and stains. This means that allergens and discoloration could cause problems if left unchecked. 

Steam Cleaning

Also referred to as the hot water extraction method, steam cleaning requires an industrial vacuum that uses hot water in place of air. In the case of steam cleaning, it is best to vacuum up any dirt and debris beforehand, to prevent dry soils from turning to mud. Once this is complete, it’s time to pre-treat. 

The entire surface of the carpet should be sprayed to break up the surface tension, with special attention on any stains or stiff patches. After the allotted time, the steam cleaning begins. This involves injecting extremely hot water (steam) into the carpet with high pressure, then extracting it. Thanks to the pre-treatment, all dirt and debris should lift along with the water. 

The benefit to this method is that it provides a deeper clean, removing allergens and killing bacteria. Steam cleaning is typically considered to be the ‘last ditch effort’ when cleaning a carpet as it removes spills deep in the pile, preventing re-appearing stains. However, many find this method a nuisance mainly due to the drying time. This is the most wet method of cleaning your carpet and will need to be free of use for at least 24 hours; depending on how well the water was removed, you may need multiple days for the rug to dry completely. Even still, this is considered the most effective method by many.

Making a Decision

While there is a lot of information to consider, there is no perfect cleaning method for everyone. Consider what you prefer and what is most important to you. If an absolute clean is what you want, you may have to sacrifice time and money for a professional steam cleaning. No matter what you decide, Lawton Brothers is here to lend a hand. Give us a call with any of your carpet questions and ask about our rental equipment: 800.432.0813.

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