One of the important parts of adulting is knowing the how, when and why of keeping things clean. When I recently posted to Facebook about steam cleaning my sofa I got an incredulous reply from a friend exclaiming that they didn’t even know you could do such a thing, and please would I explain how.
So let’s start with the fact that all fabric things around your house get dirty. Or at least dusty. Here at House O’ Fits, things such as curtains, throw cushion covers, table runners and bed spreads get laundered on a quarterly basis. I use the change of season (solstices and equinoxes) as my calendar guide. Linens that are more delicate or harder to dry, especially if they don’t come in direct contact with skin/hair or pets (things such as pillows, feather duvets and feather or wool mattress pads) generally get washed annually. (Yes, I said washed… I totally wash my feather linens and put them in a dryer – they turn out fine.)
But what about carpets, rugs or fabric-covered furniture?
Dudes, these should also be cleaned. Not constantly, but at least somewhat regularly.
House O’ Fits is also House O’ Allergies, so by some people’s standards, we might be overdoing it, but we generally vacuum all traffic areas 5 to 7 times per week. Not every day, but close. Note that we have wall to wall carpeting in most rooms and this is a rental so there is no option of ripping up the carpet. On the same quarterly system used for washing linens, we also vacuum underneath/behind things like sofas and beds.
On top of the vacuuming, every room gets traffic areas steam-cleaned once a month. We probably don’t need to do it this often, and the habit dates back to a time when we had two smelly dogs, but our 10-year-old carpeting looks mostly brand new. So there is an upside. Carpets in the behind/underneath, “moving of furniture required” areas get cleaned twice yearly because dust gets down there even if you can’t see it, yo.
Furniture covered in fabric gets steam-cleaned quarterly, because even if stuff looks clean, trapped farts are a serious business.
Your mileage may vary in terms of how often you clean these items in your own home, depending on the number of people and pets and how spilly/messy they are. But as a general rule, annually is a good minimum, semi-annually is better.
Things You Need:
Carpets and rugs need to be vacuumed, and despite it being a painful event when you calculate how much other cool and interesting stuff you could get with the money a good vacuum costs, I would suggest doing the grown-up thing and buying the best quality machine you can afford. The cheap ones from department stores tend to break in under a year, making the more expensive machine a better deal in the long run. Not to mention the better quality machine will do a better job.
While canister vacuums do an overall better job of cleaning, you may prefer an upright model just for comfort. Look for a model that has a crevice attachment, an upholstery attachment and a pet hair attachment if you have pets. Those robot ones are cute, and are fine if you’re busy/seldom home, but are not an option for deep cleaning.
Steamers run the gamut from cheap and sleazy to serious luxury models. For cleaning just carpets, an upright model is fine. If you’re also cleaning upholstery, you’ll need to either splurge on something with upholstery attachments, or also buy a small portable cleaner.
Heat or no heat? That is the question, as both upright and portable steamers come in two varieties – the kind where you fill the machine with hot water from the tap, or the kind where the machine heats the water for you. Machines with on-board heaters are heavier and more expensive, but they’re better at dealing with heavy stains. Determine what you should buy by honestly figuring out how often you’re willing to clean – if you’re dedicated to treating stains when they happen and then cleaning regularly, you can easily get away without a heater in the machine. If you’re only going to clean your stuff once a year, buy a machine with a heater to help deal with the serious build-up of gunk you’ll be facing.
Steamers, like vacuums, often come with pet-specific attachments, for dealing with things like hair. Many portable machines, the kind of thing you’d pull out for dealing with a single spot where a pet has had an accident, even offer an additional attachment with a barf receptacle so if you’re cleaning up pet puke, you’re not running the worst of it through the full machine. (This is a great feature because many of the small portables are a pain in the butt to clean, with the dirty water residue in the hose taking on a mildew-like pong if the machine is not cleaned well after use.)
Many brands of appliances recommend using their own cleaning products, and companies like Bissell sell a variety of liquid solutions for carpets, furniture and pet-specific cleaning. I once killed a Bissell steamer by using a non-Bissell product in it, so if you don’t want to use the brand-specific cleaning solutions (and be warned – they all reek), you can just run clean water through the machine and apply the cleaner to the carpet or furniture with a separate spray bottle. (We use a solution of 1 part water to 1 part citrus vinegar plus a wee bit of liquid soap to clean pretty much everything in our house – the added bonus for cleaning pet stains is that the vinegar will neutralize the proteins in barf or feces stains. Our dog once ate raccoon poop and threw it up all over our dining room carpet, so I can testify to the efficacy of this solution because that carpet is still there and looks pristine.)
How To Do It
Okay, you’ve got your steam cleaner of choice, and your cleaning product of choice. For carpets, vacuum the area you want to clean thoroughly, using the crevice tool to clean along baseboards. Fill your steam cleaner according to the instructions and work in small areas of no more than a metre square at a time. This is to keep your back and shoulders happy because this work can be painful if done incorrectly. (Also, take breaks every 10 minutes or so, or whenever you have to refill/change the water. Stretch lots.) For bad stains, pre-treat with your product about 15 minutes beforehand. Stubborn stains might take a couple of attempts before they are out completely but they will wash away with persistence. Yes, even a poop/barf combination.
Steam cleaners work by spraying out a water solution while also sucking the dirty water back into a separate tank. Once completed, the cleaned area should be wet to the touch but not soaking. If it’s squishy, run the machine over it some more with just the suction on. If the carpet seems soapy, you’ve used too much cleaning solution.
For furniture – first, spot test your cleaning solution on a non-visible part of the item, as some products can stain or bleach. Once this is okay, vacuum the whole piece thoroughly, using your vacuum’s crevice tool and upholstery tool to pick up all the crumbs, pet hair and accumulated debris.
Spot treat any areas with tough stains. Working in small sections, use the upholstery tool to clean each area, being sure to get as much water as you can out of the piece and into the dirty water tank. Stop for a moment to be shocked and horrified at just how gross the dirty water is. Yes, you were sitting on that. Ewww.
If your furniture has seat cushions, prop them up once you’ve cleaned them to ensure air flow on all sides – you want these to be fully dry before you put them back in the sofa as they can attract mildew.
Carpets should take a few hours to dry, while furniture can take longer. I tend to do furniture in the evening and it is always dry by morning.
As mentioned above, clean the machine thoroughly before putting it away. Empty out and rinse dirty water tanks, clean pet hair from any brushes or parts that come in contact with the carpet. Most machines will sort of come apart for easy cleaning, although this varies by brand and make. Note that most lower-end brands are not worth repairing if they break, so do consider buying a higher end machine that will last a decade or more, especially if you plan on using your appliances often. And once you see how clean, attractive and great-smelling freshly-cleaned carpets and upholstery can be, I’m betting you’ll want to take care of them regularly.