What is the Best Method of Carpet Cleaning? 5 Professional Methods Explained!

by Tony Gonzalez

The first question many people ask themselves when it's that time of the year to clean their carpet is: what's the best carpet cleaning method?

And it's a very important question because knowing the different methods will help us get better results. Whether we want to hire a professional or do it ourselves, knowing the different methods is very important.

It can be especially frustraiting because some carpet cleaners claim to have a "unique solution" or a "secret formula".

Let me start by saying that never 100% true. It's the same methods over and over again with just little variations or enphasis on different parts of the process. But the same methods overall.

And it's not just me saying that. The IICRC (Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification) in conjunction with CRI (Carpet and Rug Institute) are the institutions that have tested and classified 5 cleaning methods: 1. Dry Compound, 2. Encapsulation, 3. Bonnet 4. Shampoo and 5. Hot Water Extraction (Steam Cleaning). These 5 methods are the industry standards. The first 4 are maintenance methods, because they only clean the top third of the carpet. The last one is the only deep cleaning method known and used today.

However, the fact that some are maintenance and one is deep clean, doesn't mean that one method is better than the other. They all have their different use cases and some are more appropriate than others depending on the circumstances.

In fact, most carpet cleaners use all the methods. But the basic rule of thumb is that the deep clean is almost always necessary for residential cleaning. Mainly, because that's what most clients want. But also, because not many people have regular carpet cleaning maintenance, and thus need the deep cleaning when they want to clean their carpets.

EDIT! One of our readers wrote to us through our Ask an Expert section telling us that it would be nice to have an infographic with all the different methods. So here it is!

Carpet Cleaning Methods infographic

Professional vs DIY Cleaning

Before we dive in to the different methods, let me say that these are the professional carpet cleaning methods.

Many of you probably want to do it youselves, so I've included a section at the end of this post where I'll explain the best way to maintain and restore your carpet. Check it out here if that's what you're looking for.

Maintenance Cleaning

The 4 maintenance cleaning methods (Dry Compound, Encapsulation, Bonnet and Shampoo) are ment for maintenance only because they only clean the top third of the fibers.

The top 1/3 is usually what get's dirtier (unless you have urine or spills). It's also the part of the fiber that you see the most.

So... usually cleaning top third is enough if you clean it regularly. But you must clean your carpet every 2-3 months if you want the maintenance method to work as well as a deep cleaning method.

Let's take a look at the different maintenance methods and what they're good for.

1. Dry Compound

The first method is dry compound.

Dry Compound Carpet Cleaning Method

It's very simple. How it works is, you put in a powder, let it sit for a couple of minutes and the vaccum it up. And that's it.

It's a non-aggressive cleaning method, especially helpful if you want to clean high traffic areas. It works because it's very fast to apply, and it can keep high traffic areas as clean as other areas in an office. But as a cleaning method, is usually not the best option. It's just helpful as an in between method until the real cleaning happens.

2. Encapsulation & Dry foam Absortion

You may find this method as "Encapsulation", or "Dry foam Absortion". It's actually the same method, but using a slightly different product. But you can consider both to be the same method.

Encapsulation Carpet Cleaning Method

The idea is quite simple too. You put it a product that generates foam, scrub it in with a machine, let it dry and the vacuum.

It works because the product that's being pushed in into the carpet has a liquid polymer. That liquid polymer is very sticky, and will trap the soil it touches. When it's vacuumed, the soil is vacuumed with it.

Many cleaners use it to clean offices, because it's very effective. However, it takes a little bit longer, so it's

3. Bonnet

It's a very simple to understand method. Imagine taking a while towel and scrubing it hard against the carpet with a little bit of shampoo. Bonnet is exactly the same thing.

Bonnet Carpet Cleaning Method

A machine called a scruber is brought in. A cotton pad (sometimes they can be synthetic too) with read or green strips is placed under the scruber and a product is loaded into a tank in the machine. While the scruber rotates, it pours the product to the carpet and forces the soil out. The cotton pad attracts the soil.

Bonnet Carpet Cleaning Method

The biggest problem is that sometimes the pad is not changed often. And so, not the best results are achieved.

4. Shampoo

For the sake of completeness, we have to talk about Shampooing.

It's a technique that was used in the 60's and 70's, but it's rarely used anymore. Unless in conjunction with hot water extraction.

It's a mix between the encapsulation method and the bonnet method. The first step is very similar to the bonnet method, but with brushes instead of a pad. You apply a product with a rotating machine (a shampoo), and that product sticks to the foam. When it's dry, you simply vacuum.

Restorative Cleaning

Finally, we arrive at the restorative cleaning method. It's the only one that cleans all the carpet (not just the top third), which is why is sometimes called "deep cleaning" too.

As we said before, it's widely used for residential cleaning. Especially if the owner has pets, because it's the only effective method against urine.

1. Hot Water Extraction

This only restorative method there is, is called hot water extraction. Although most people refer to it as steam cleaning.

That's actuallly incorrect. There's a slight difference between hot water extraction and real steam cleaning. Real steam cleaning uses boiled and presurized water to clean, whereas in hot water extraction only hot water is used.

But don't worry about the difference too much. The real steam cleaning machines aren't portable, so they'll never use them to clean a residential carpet. Those trucks are hot water extractors, not steam cleaners.

But anyway, people like to call it steam cleaning... so no big deal.

Steam Carpet Cleaning Method

The method is very simple too. A product is sprayed first agitated with a groomer. Just miliseconds after it's sprayed, the product is rinsed out with high pressure jet at an angle. The hight pressured hot water with the product help remove all the soil (from bottom to top). There's a vacuum on top of the jet that absorbes the water right up after it's been sprayed. It's one machine doing multiple things at the same time.

There're two types of hot water extractors:

Truck Steam Carpet Cleaning Method

1. Truck mounted: This is the best option if you really want to have your carpet totally cleaned. It's what most professionals use and what's best if your carpet is a complete mess.

Steam Carpet Cleaner

2. Portable Cleaners: Anyone can own a carpet cleaner! There're some very affordable carpet cleaners in the market that can get close to professional cleaning standards. In most cases is the best and most affordable option. We've tested out almost every carpet cleaner in the market and are pretty confident that it can help you get amazing resutls. Check our tests and winners here.

DIY Methods

So far we've talked a lot about the professional carpet cleaning methods.

But is it possible to achieve the same cleaning standards at home?

The short answer is yes! You can achieve the same standards. But you have to work for it.

In order to achieve great cleaning results (and almost never need to call a professional), you need both consistency and great equipment.

1. Consistency. If you want your carpet to be clean always, you should vacuum every day and deep clean your carpet every 3-4 months. If you do so, you're all set. But... how? Simple, you need the right equipment.

2. Equipment. There's two things every carpet owner should have if you want to have your carpets perfectly cleaned:

- Vacuum Cleaner (or robot): Every house needs a vacuum. And you should use it daily. You might not notice it, but using a vacuum everyday makes a huge difference in the long run. In the past we've recommended our article on best carpet steam cleaners in 2021. However, since most users don't use it every day, you should really consider a vacuum robot: best robot vacuums in 2021. They're great because you don't have to worry about cleaning every day. Just program the robot and let it work it's magic!

- Carpet Steam Cleaner: This is the portable hot water extractor we were talking about earlier. These machines are not as powerful as the cleaning trucks we talked about earlier, but if you use it regularly, it will achieve the same cleaning results. You can check out our post on the best carpet steam cleaners in 2021 to find out more about what cleaner you might need. And trust me, in the long run it's way cheaper to buy one of these machines rather than call a professional. You'll have your carpet absolutely clean and you'll save money.


There are 5 methods of professional carpet cleaning, 4 or which are great for maintenance, while there's 1 method (hot water extraction, aka steam cleaning) that's appropriate for restoring or deep cleaning a carpet.

If you need more information about any of these methods, you can ask us a question here, or look for the best carpet cleaners near you in our Carpet Cleaners professionals directory.

However, similar results can be achieved at home with consistency and the right equipment. You mainly have to vacuum daily (or use a vacuum robot and a carpet steam cleaner to have your carpets looking like new!

Tony Gonzalez Picture

By Tony Gonzalez

Carpet Cleaning and Installation

I'm Tony and I consider myself a carpet cleaning expert! I've tried the 5 most common professional cleaning methods myself, and I've reviewed thousands of carpet cleaning & installation companies. I'm currently exploring the DIY Cleaning and Installation world. It's not that hard and it's a lot of fun!

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Tony Gonzalez Picture

Tony Gonzalez

I'm Tony and I consider myself a carpet cleaning expert! I've tried the 5 most common professional cleaning methods myself, and I've reviewed thousands of carpet cleaning & installation companies. I'm currently exploring the DIY Cleaning and Installation world. It's not that hard and it's a lot of fun!

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