Carpet cleaning options guide

Don't let just anyone loose on your carpets.
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  • Updated:10 Apr 2007

01 .Professional carpet cleaning

Carpet being cleaned

Carpet cleaning brief

  • The carpet-cleaning industry is unregulated and only a small percentage of carpet cleaners receive formal training.
  • If a price seems too good to be true, it probably is.
  • There are carpet cleaners out there who are members of an association, which have a code of practice - look for one of these when choosing a cleaner.

While you're more likely to wait until your carpets are covered in muddy paw prints and unidentifiable splodges before hiring a carpet cleaner, the Australian standard recommends having your carpets cleaned at least once a year to prolong their life.

Carpeting your home is no small investment, costing, on average, between $3,000 and $6,000 - so you want to make sure your carpet cleaner knows what they're doing.

Avoid the temptation to choose a carpet cleaner solely on price. Take into consideration their qualifications, experience and whether they have insurance to cover the cost of any damages done to your home.

Please note: this information was current as of April 2007 but is still a useful guide to today's market.

Checklist - Choosing the right company

Ring at least three companies and ask them these questions to make sure you're getting a professional.

  • Are you a member of an association?
    National trade associations provide training for their members and have a voluntary code of practice. If you're not getting the desired result from your carpet cleaner, you can contact the association that they are a member of for their help. Associations include:
  • What do you charge?
    Price should never be the deciding factor in choosing a carpet cleaner, but generally if they are charging a very low price, be cautious. If you want a high-quality level of service, you must be expected to pay for it.
    • The carpet cleaner should give you an estimate over the phone, but may need to inspect your carpet first. Make sure that you give an adequate description of your entire home, including whether you have pets and if your carpets are stained.
    • Most cleaners charge by the 'standard' room, which can be as low as $25. Others charge by the square meter, starting at around $4 per m2. But as every job is different, there is no one-size-fits-all price.
    • Included in the price should be basic spot removal, pre-vacuuming and moving furniture (with the exception of large or delicate items). The company may offer extras such as deodorising, sanitising (meant to kill bacteria) and carpet protection (which forms a protective but not impenetrable layer on your carpet).  

    Trap: You'll almost certainly come across the old 'bait and switch' technique in the carpet cleaning industry. It happens when a company will charge a low price - as low as $5 a room - just to get their foot in the door. Then once they are there, they try and convince you that you need extras, such as spot removal or sanitising until you are paying well over the original quote.

    • What guarantees do you offer?
      Companies should offer workmanship guarantees in writing so if you are not satisfied with their work, or they damage your carpets, they will be more likely to correct their mistakes.
    • Do you have insurance?
      The company should have public liability insurance to cover the cost of any damage done.
    • How long will it take?
    • This will depend on the size of your home, the method used and how much furniture needs to be moved, but allow at least three hours.
    • Carpet drying time will also vary but for hot water extraction (also known as steam cleaning) it shouldn't take longer than six to eight hours with proper ventilation. If it takes longer than 24 hours to dry, too much water has been left in your carpet.

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    02.An unregulated industry


    Because the industry is unregulated, there is little incentive for carpet cleaners to receive formal training. Most of the time a cleaner will have on-the-job experience and will do a reasonable job - but if they're untrained and inexperienced, problems can occur.

    The NSW Department of Fair Trading received around 50 complaints in the last twelve months about carpet cleaners. The majority of complaints were that the job wasn't done satisfactorily; a smaller percentage were allegations of damage caused during the cleaning process.

    "A lot of carpet cleaners are unaware because they've never had formal training that you can cause a lot of damage inadvertently," says one expert.

    Training is available

    For the past 15 years, the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC) in the US has offered internationally recognised certification for carpet cleaners in Australia.

    Recently, here in Australia the Commonwealth Government certification system (Certificates II and III in Asset Maintenance - Carpet Cleaning ) was introduced. These can be completed at registered training organisations and TAFE.

    Among other things, a qualified carpet technician has been trained in:

    • Occupational health and safety, including appropriate chemical handling.
    • Identifying the appropriate chemical for both the type of carpet and the stain.
    • How to use their equipment effectively to avoid mishaps like overwetting the carpet.

    03.Carpet cleaning methods


    Hot water extraction

    Hot water extraction (also known as steam cleaning) is what the Australian standard refers to as 'periodic or corrective cleaning,' and is suitable for most carpets. It can be done with a truck-mounted or portable machine. The former is more powerful and will do a more thorough job.

    Manufacturers recommend hot water extraction as the preferred method of carpet cleaning to invigorate and prolong the life of the carpet.

    In the process:

    • The carpet is vacuumed.
    • A chemical is sprayed on and left to bond with the soil.
    • Afterwards water is injected into the carpet with a high-pressure jet spray.
    • Finally the water is vacuumed out.

    Dry cleaning

    'Dry' cleaning (some water is used though less than in steam cleaning), is what the standard refers to as a 'surface cleaning.' It's handy for areas that receive a lot of traffic and need a fast drying time. Dry cleaning can be used as a maintenance clean but it's still best to have hot water extraction done from time to time.

    Bonnet cleaning is the most-commonly used form of dry cleaning. In this process:

    • The carpet is vacuumed.
    • A cleaning agent is applied to the cleaner and sometimes the carpet and then they go over the carpet with the cleaner. The cleaner has a pad (the bonnet), which rubs the carpet, transferring the dirt onto the pad.
    • Finally the carpet is vacuumed.

    DIY carpet cleaning

    You can hire a carpet cleaning machine from most Coles and Woolworths/Safeway supermarkets and some smaller independent stores; they work by hot water extraction.

    Carpet manufacturers often warn against doing it yourself, as there's more chance of overwetting your carpet, but you'll save money.

    • The carpet cleaning machine will cost around $40 for 24 hours.
    • The heavy-duty cleaning agent costs around $11.
    • The spotter spray costs around $8.

    With a DIY job, you are liable for any damages done to your home, so read and follow the instructions carefully. If you're having trouble making the machine work, you can call the machine's supplier to guide you through the steps. The major one we spoke to, Britex, has a hotline that's available seven days a week.

    04.Readers' experiences


    Going the extra mile

    When Ben and his wife Tracey, from Sydney, were preparing to move into a rental property, they noted the carpets hadn't been cleaned by previous tenants. "The carpets had some noticeable pet hair and a pet smell so we insisted they be cleaned," says Ben.

    Their real estate agent organised a carpet cleaner, who arrived promptly and did a very professional job. "I was very happy with the result," says Ben. "He definitely got the pet smell and the hair out, which were our main concerns."

    Weeks later, when their washing machine overflowed and flooded the carpet in the next room, Ben and Tracey were even more impressed. They called the carpet cleaner for his advice and he returned to their house to help them, free of charge.

    "He pulled up the carpet and left us with an industrial-sized fan. We just left that running for a couple of days with the windows open and that dried it out. We didn't hesitate to ring him again the next time we needed our carpets cleaned."

    Two days to dry

    When choosing a carpet-cleaning company to have his carpets hot water extracted (steam cleaned), Tim from Sydney chose a local one he found in the Yellow pages. When they'd finished he was pleased with the job and handed over $200 with their assurance the carpet would be dry in a matter of hours.

    Two days later, Tim's carpets were still wet. "We had to walk around on plastic for two days and use blow heaters to dry the carpets - and dealing with a crawling baby on wet carpet was not easy," he says.

    Unfortunately Tim didn't realise that the company was at fault, thinking his wool carpets were to blame for the lengthy dry time. He only realised years later, when he used another company, that his carpets should have only taken two hours to dry. "I won't be using that company again, I've thrown the card away!" he says.


    Overwetting isn't uncommon and can result in:

    • The growth of mould and a mouldy smell.
    • Water stains and brown stains from the carpet backing.
    • Shrinking or cracking, which in extreme cases will destroy the carpets.

    If your carpet seems overly wet, ask the carpet cleaner to suck more water out if possible, and to lend you an industrial-strength blower to help them dry faster. They may also need to lift the carpet back so the underlay can dry.

    The company that caused the damage is responsible for rectifying the situation, but if you're having problems getting a result, contact your local fair trading or consumer affairs office. If the carpet cleaner is a member of an association, you can also contact it for assistance.