Does Steam Cleaning Carpet Remove Stains?

Image showing a steam cleaner removing a stain from the carpet.

Steam cleaning can definitely help remove stains, however, it’s not a 100% effective method. Old dirt that gets left and deeply embedded inside your carpet can be hard to remove even with a steam cleaner. That being said, it can certainly make the stain-removal process easier.

You should also keep in mind that steam cleaning isn’t always the most effective method to remove certain types of stains from the carpet. Additionally, steam cleaning can be quite risky, especially if done too often. Getting your carpet wet all the time can damage the fibers or even lead to mold and mildew. If done improperly it can also shrink or discolor the fabric.

Regardless of the risks, many professionals recommend steam cleaning as a way to keep your carpet looking fresh. Some say it’s their favorite method of dealing with deeply embedded dirt, thanks to its simplicity and quick drying time.

A side note: Carpet steam cleaning can be often mistaken for a “hot water extraction method”. The second one uses water instead of vapor, mixed with a cleaning solution. This makes it fundamentally different from standard steam cleaning.

Can steam cleaning remove carpet stains?

What is steam cleaning?

Let’s start by specifying what actually is steam cleaning. It’s a method of cleaning different surfaces that involves high-temperature vapor which kills bacteria and germs. Steam cleaning also helps loosen up dirt and grime, especially in hard-to-reach areas. The ability to regulate the temperature makes this method applicable to all kinds of fabrics and materials.

Many people mistake this method of cleaning for “hot water extraction”. The extraction method works by shooting high-temperature water mixed with the solution into the carpet, and sucking back the dirty water. This makes the method less environmentally friendly and requires longer drying time.

Steam cleaning a carpet can definitely help you remove stubborn stains. The high-temperature vapor helps loosen the dirt and grime that have been sitting on the carpet for a long time. When combined with vacuuming and other cleaning methods it’s even more effective and allows for true deep cleaning.

Risks of steam cleaning a carpet

While steam cleaning carpet can be a great way to thoroughly clean the fabric, it comes with a few risks. Before we give you any actionable tips on how to actually use this method correctly, it’s important to address the possibility of an unfortunate outcome.

The most common risks when steam cleaning a carpet are:

  • Overwetting. Overwetting refers to a situation when the carpet soaks up too much water due to an excess of steam. This can lead to mold, mildew, and other issues if not addressed in time. 
  • Shrinking. Incorrect temperature of vapor can lead to shrinking, especially if the carpet is made out of natural materials. When those get exposed to moisture and heat, they can rapidly shrink and become weaker.
  • Discoloring. Carpets that have low-quality dyes are predisposed to discoloring when exposed to water and heat. Using vapor by itself with no cleaning solution, and setting the right temperature can help you prevent this occurrence.
  • Delamination. It’s the act of separating different layers of carpet due to weak adhesives and the high temperature of the vapor. The fibers start to pull away, making the carpet lose its shape and fit poorly.
  • Fiber damage. Weak fibers can get damaged during the steam cleaning process, especially if combined with a harsh cleaning solution. It’s recommended to read the label and adjust the temperature with a cleaning solution accordingly.
  • Not a one-size-fits-all solution. As we mentioned earlier, steam cleaning is not effective at removing every stain possible. Some dirt may require a completely different cleaning method.

Very important: Steam cleaning shouldn’t be done on carpets that are old or thinning, have very sensitive fibers, have existing damage, and have low-quality dyes.

Benefits of steam cleaning a carpet

Steam cleaning is a great way to remove stains if done properly. Besides the deep cleaning function, it actually comes with its own set of benefits, some of which can’t be found in any other carpet cleaning method.

The most important benefits of steam cleaning a carpet are:

  • Deep cleaning. Steam cleaning a carpet allows one to truly deep clean the carpet by loosening the dirt and debris deeply embedded in the fibers of the material. This method is also effective at removing various odors and stains.
  • Disinfecting. Steam cleaning allows you to kill all germs and bacteria very quickly. This is the perfect method for disinfecting surfaces, killing mold and mildew, or even dust mites.
  • Allergy-free cleaning. Since steaming doesn’t require any cleaning solution, it’s the best option for people with allergies. What’s more, steam cleaning is very environmentally friendly, as opposed to the majority of other cleaning methods.
  • Low cost. The fact that you can use just water can save a lot of money. Many manufacturers require special cleaning formulas, designed specifically for their products, which can cost quite a bit.

How to remove stains from the carpet using a steam cleaner?

Since you already know all the possible risks and benefits of this method, we can now give you actionable tips. Be sure to set the temperature and take your time if you don’t have any experience. Pretreating stains may also be useful if they are old or very stubborn.

Infographic showing step by step how to remove a stain from carpet using a steam cleaner.
How to remove stains from carpet using a steam cleaner – Infographic

Here is a short list of steps to take when removing stains from the carpet:

  1. Prepare the area. Start by moving any furniture that can restrict your movability. This also prevents other furniture from accidentally getting damaged.
  2. Fill the tank with water. The water tank in your steam cleaner should have a line indicating how much water to pour. If one doesn’t exist, try to find more information in the user’s manual.
  3. Pretreat stains if necessary. Very stubborn stains may require additional treatment with a cleaning solution. You can create one out of water and vinegar or buy a professional stain remover. Be sure to test one on an inconspicuous area of your carpet first.
  4. Start cleaning. Set the temperature on your steam cleaner (the lower the safer) and start steam cleaning. Do a few passes but remember to not overwet the carpet, as that weakens the fibers.
  5. Air dry. Air drying is the safest option after cleaning your carpet. The process shouldn’t take too long, especially if you create airflow by opening windows or placing fans around. The drying can take anywhere from 8 to 24 hours.

When steam cleaning carpet won’t be enough?

There are a few instances when steam cleaning may not be enough. This usually relates to carpets that are contaminated with a lot of dirt and debris. Old stains that have already bounded with fibers will also be difficult to remove, and the same goes for odors. Strong mold and mildew may also be too much for steam cleaning alone. To make your odds better, we highly recommend combining different cleaning methods. 


In summary, steam cleaning carpet can definitely help you remove stubborn stains. That being said, this method is not 100% effective, and sometimes may not even be optimal. You need to know that there are risks associated with steam cleaning your carpet, nonetheless, it’s a great way to refresh the material.

If you would like to learn more about removing various stains from carpet, we recommend reading our other articles on this topic – How to remove chocolate milk stains from carpet?, Does bleach stain the carpet?, Does water stain the carpet?.