What is the Best Carpet Cleaning Method?

Quinn | Dec. 27, 2022, 6:29 p.m.

All across the internet - on blogs, carpet cleaning company websites, carpet cleaning forums and the comment sections of carpet cleaning YouTube videos - there has been an endless amount of digital ink spilled about the best way to clean carpets. Debates that rival the intellectual rigor of the great symposiums of the Ancient Greeks have been raging since the invention of the portable carpet cleaner on all matters of carpet cleaning, from how much water should be used, and what type of cleaning agents and so on. Like any debate, everyone involved seems to throw out the same word salad, making the entire topic a mine-field of buzzwords and jargon that can muddy the waters, and worse, leave you with a sub-par carpet cleaning experience. 

So today, I am going to cut through the nonsense, try and define all the jargon and hopefully leave you with a better understanding of how carpet cleaning works, all the different methods for cleaning a carpet, and help you choose the best carpet cleaner for you.

Part 1 - The Buzzwords

If you have spent any time looking up carpet cleaning on the internet, which if you are reading this I’m certain you have, then you will be familiar with certain words that tend to get thrown around in this industry. I’m sure you’ve seen ads and website copy and google search results with something along the lines of “Truck Mounted Deep Steam Hot Water Enzyme Shampoo Green Chemical Free Carpet Cleaning Deluxe A+”, and it can be difficult to make heads or tails of all of this jargon. Here’s some of the most common terms, and what they mean.

Steam Cleaning/ Hot Water Extraction

Over the past half century, “steam cleaning” has been the go-to term to describe carpet cleaning. It has become so ubiquitous that many companies even include “Steam” in their name. Steam cleaning is actually a bit of a misnomer for several reasons, and at Decker’s Carpet Cleaning we prefer to use the term “Hot Water Extraction”. 

For one, the name steam cleaning implies that merely applying hot steam to a carpet with a carpet cleaning vacuum wand will clean the carpet. It also implies that anyone is actually cleaning with just pure steam. Trust me, if they were cleaning with steam only, their machine would break down before they finished the first room. 

The reason we prefer the term “Hot Water Extraction” is that it is a much more holistic description of what is actually happening. When done properly, this process is broken down into a few simple steps. For a detailed description of how our method of Hot Water Extraction works, click here. In short, after dry soil removal, a cleaning solution is applied to the carpet (more on this later), given time to dwell, agitated either by hand or by a mechanical scrubber, then extracted using pressurized Hot Water and high vacuum power with a carpet wand and a truck mounted cleaning unit with a rinse agent to make sure no sticky residue is left behind. All of these elements, Cleaning solution, Heat, Agitation, Time, must be present to ensure a proper execution of this method of carpet cleaning

Deep Cleaning

“Deep” is essentially the most overused and thrown around term in the Carpet Cleaning industry. It has no technical meaning and is not always, but mostly used as a pointless adjective for flair. Usually when a carpet cleaner decides to employ this type of language, it is meant to imply that they are cleaning further down into the carpet, or pad, than somebody else might. This, however, is not always a good thing. 

Generally speaking, you do not want to be getting any part of the carpet wet beyond the base of the fibers as it will lead to extremely slow drying times and something called “wickback”. Wickback is a process where dirt and soil from underneath the carpet travel up to the surface through capillary action and cause a spot on the carpet, usually caused by over-wetting and slow drying. Plainly put, if a carpet cleaner is saying that their methods will clean the padding or subfloor of your whole room, they are lying to you. 

There are certain scenarios that you would want to clean beneath the surface of the carpet, such as our “Subsurface Treatment”, but these are generally reserved for deep cola, wine, coffee or tea spills and heavily repeated areas of pet urine saturation. This process is best kept to a localized area, and involves special tools and precautions to make sure that the area is dried to its fullest capacity, and definitely not meant to be done over full rooms of carpet. 


Enzymes are generally referred to in the context of pet treatment, especially by store bought stain treatment products, as a one and done magic solution to any pet urine issue, or other form of accident. While they can be a powerful tool for killing bacteria and treating odors from various forms of pet accidents, they are only one piece of the puzzle, especially when it comes to urine. 

For pet urine, there are really two problems that cause stains and odors in the carpet. For a more detailed description of how pet urine treatment works, you can visit our page on pet urine remediation here. In short, the main issue is the fact that although urine goes down acidic, it dries as an alkaline salt deposit. This salt deposit acts as a food source for bacteria, causing an odor. The enzymes will do a good job of killing the bacteria currently present, however if the underlying issue of the salt deposit is not taken care of, bacteria will continue to be attracted to the area. 

Our urine treatment solutions are focused on breaking down the urine salt deposit altogether, therefore taking away the food source for the bacteria, then applying a deodorizer (some of which are enzyme based) when necessary. For other pet accident situations, enzymes are an important part of our toolbox, but not the extent of it. 

Another type of enzymes are grease-eating enzymes. These are used to break up greasy deposits from food, dog oils, or body oils. 

Truck Mounted

Truck mounted cleaning machines are used in Hot Water Extraction cleanings, and are the preferable tool as opposed to a portable cleaning machine in most scenarios. Invented in 1969, and popularized in the 90’s-2000’s, they have become an industry standard in Hot Water Extraction carpet cleaning. This is due to the fact that they can achieve more vacuum power and higher pressure than a portable machine because they are small engine machines built into a carpet cleaning truck as opposed to smaller electrical machines that plug into the walls in your home. Some methods of cleaning, like Low Moisture Cleaning, or Encapsulation Cleaning, do not require these machines, but more on that later. 

Shampoo/ Cleaning Solutions

There are several different cleaning solutions that a carpet cleaner may employ and determining which one is the best, like anything in this murky and nuanced dance through the cosmos we call life, can depend on the situation at hand.

Carpet shampoos - like ill fitting polyester suits - are a relic of the 90’s. The way that shampoo, or soap in general, works is that it is essentially high on the alkaline side of the pH scale, and therefore very sticky. Its job is to have dirt and soil stick to it, and then be rinsed out. This works great for hair, but ends up being a very poor choice for carpet as it tends to not be able to rinse all the way out, no matter how many times the carpet is rinsed! This goes for store bought stain treatments as well. What generally ends up happening is that the shampoo does not get rinsed out thoroughly enough, and leaves a soapy residue on your carpet making it quick to re-soil.
This is why at Decker’s Carpet Cleaning, we prefer to use the term “cleaning solution” to refer to what we use to clean carpets. The solutions we use are 100% free of soaps and shampoos, and actually work through a process called deflocculation. What this means is that instead of sticky soaps that leave a residue on the carpet, the products we use actually suspend the dirt and soils in a solution that is easily rinsed out through Hot Water Extraction, or absorbed by pads in a Low Moisture cleaning scenario. With the help of a rinse aid, this leaves your carpets cleaner, and free of any residue left behind by shampoo. 

Part 2 - Weighing the Different Methods 

So, now that we have a comprehensive understanding of all of the different buzzwords and methods of the carpet cleaning industry, you may be asking yourself “What is the best method for Carpet Cleaning?”. The answer is… complicated, and really depends on the issue at hand, and the material of the carpet. I feel that, to give a comprehensive answer to this question, it is better to explain when each method is at its best, and where it falls short. 

Hot Water Extraction

Hot water extraction has been an industry standard in carpet cleaning since the invention of the portable carpet cleaner. Often called steam cleaning, this method employs a high volume of hot, pressurized water to rinse out cleaning solutions applied to the carpet. This method is best employed for medium to heavily soiled carpets, and is especially good for bulk soil removal and heavy traffic lanes. It is also the preferred method for pet urine remediation and treatment (using different cleaning solutions, of course), as it does a good job of flushing out salt deposits once broken up.

Polyester carpets, which is the most common material of many modern carpets, respond especially well to Hot Water Extraction. This is due to the fact that polyester is an oleophilic, or oil-loving, material, and the added heat from this method is beneficial in breaking up grease and oils that tend to lead to polyester carpets looking soiled. On the other hand, Nylon carpets tend to not respond as well to Hot Water Extraction as Low Moisture Cleaning. Berber carpets have a very low pile that is especially susceptible to wickback when Hot Water Extraction is used exclusively.
This method has its drawbacks, though. Due to the high volume of water needed to properly perform a hot water extraction cleaning, this can lead to slow drying times and spots and stains wicking back up to the surface as the carpet dries. It also requires the front door to remain open to run hoses through the home. Speaking of the hoses, they can be a trip hazard, and can also become very hot to the touch. 

Low Moisture Cleaning / Encapsulation Cleaning

Low moisture cleaning, or encapsulation cleaning is the standard method of cleaning we employ at Decker’s Carpet Cleaning. It is most effective on light to medium soiled carpets, and is the preferred method for cleaning most Nylon and Berber Carpets. Like all of our cleaning processes, we start by removing as much of the dry soil as possible through detailed vacuuming and the use of a counter rotating brush. This method works by applying an encapsulating cleaning detergent to the carpet that breaks down oils, soil, and sticky substances into fine particles that can be removed through the use of absorbent pads on an orbital scrubbing machine, as opposed to needing to be rinsed out. For a more detailed and step by step breakdown of our Low Moisture Cleaning process, you can read all about it here.

One of the many benefits of this method of cleaning is exactly what the name states, it uses considerably less water than Hot Water Extraction. This means the carpets will dry faster, leaving virtually no chance for spots wicking back up after cleaning. We have found that this method is preferable for light to medium soiled carpets of any material as it delivers a better clean in most situations where Hot Water Extraction is not necessary. It is also a less invasive clean due to the fact that the front door will stay shut the entire time, and there are no hoses running through the house. 

Low Moisture Cleaning does have its drawbacks, though. It is not meant for a restorative clean on heavily soiled carpets, or polyester carpets with heavy traffic lanes. It also does not provide a good solution for urine treatment, or pet oils and odors as the heat, pressure, and flushing action of a Hot Water Extraction cleaning are necessary elements in remediating these problems. 

Hybrid Cleaning / Double Decker 

After weighing the pros and cons of both Hot Water Extraction and Low Moisture Cleaning methods, the experienced technicians at Decker’s Carpet Cleaning have developed a revolutionary new carpet cleaning method. We found that the upsides and downsides of each method seem to compliment each other. We call this process “Hybrid Cleaning”, or the Double Decker, and essentially it is a Hot Water Extraction followed by a Low Moisture Cleaning. What this does is it allows us to have the cleaning power of a Hot Water Extraction, while mitigating the slow dry times and wickback using an encapsulating follow up clean. You can read all about the detailed step by step process here.

Being in the carpet cleaning industry for over a decade, we have tried countless different methods and products for cleaning carpet. What we have found is that in any scenario, and with any type of carpet, a blend of Hot Water Extraction and Low Moisture Cleaning is the best process to mitigate any issues with any carpet. The Low Moisture Cleaning helps dry the carpet faster, helps fight any wicking caused by the excess water, and provides a second pass of cleaning leaving your carpets as clean as they possibly be with drying times shorter than a standard Hot Water Extraction cleaning.