Green Carpet Cleaning: Going Natural and Non Toxic
If you are preparing to do spring cleaning, you probably have plans for tending to the flooring as well. This is a good time to brush up on non-toxic carpet cleaning. This will not only provide you with a clean carpet that will do you proud, but a household that will be free of the toxic chemicals that are found in most commercial carpet cleaning products that you find at the grocery store.
If your carpeting is made of natural fibers, you are in luck. It will be easier to clean than carpeting made of synthetic materials such as acrylic, olefin (polypropylene) or polyester, which often refuse to give up stains and dirt. Stains come out of natural fibers, such as wool, easier and they respond to green cleaners better, so no harsh chemicals are required. That is not to say you cannot clean synthetics naturally, but that it might take a little more work or a stronger solution.
Natural fibers such as wool do not show the dirt as much, thus they require deeper cleaning less often. Regular vacuuming will keep them looking good for a long time, and when you do clean them, they turn out looking great. Conversely, most synthetics readily show dirt and do not look like new after you clean or shampoo them. However, for naturals, you may have to deal with odors if you do not clean them for a while. See the tip about that later in the article.
While we are on the subject, you might be interested in knowing that synthetic fibers emit more volatile organic compounds (VOCs) than natural fibers do. In fact, both kinds generally have synthetic backing that emits VOCs. To avoid this, you can choose carpeting that has natural latex backing. But expect to pay big dollars for it. Unfortunately!
TIP: If you have new carpet and it smells of chemicals, you can purchase a carpet sealer to spray on it that will keep the fumes in the carpet and not in your lungs. Just be sure to check that the sealant has natural (made from plants, quickly bio-degradable, etc.) ingredients so you are not adding fuel to the fire, so to speak.
Traditional Methods for Cleaning Carpets and Rugs
Of course, vacuuming is the most traditional method, but periodically carpet needs a deeper cleaning. Vacuuming regularly, though, increases the time between cleanings and extends the life of the carpeting. If not vacuumed regularly, dirt particles can penetrate the carpet and destroy the fibers.
Companies and consumers typically use a carpet-cleaning machine that looks similar to a large vacuum cleaner. They are often called steam cleaners, but that is not actually how they clean. They inject water, usually hot or warm, into the carpet and have beater brushes that work the cleaning solution into the carpet. The machine then extracts the water and the solvent along with the dirt.
Some cleaners are better than others are at leaving the carpet dry. Even a unit marketed as a ‘dry carpet cleaner’ will leave an element of moisture in the carpet. Unfortunately, many of the cleaning solutions available for these machines contain dangerous chemicals. Fortunately, most carpet cleaners will work with just hot water, the greenest method, or with an appropriately concentrated non-toxic alternative detergent of your choosing.
Why Use Natural Cleaning Products to Clean Your Carpet?
The problem with traditional carpet cleaning chemicals is that they contain substances that are harmful to people, pets and the environment. They end up in the air, the ground and the water system. If they don’t harm you and your family right away, they get more chances to harm you when they are recycled through the water system and the food chain.
You don’t have to look very far to find statistics that prove that these chemicals can cause birth defects, cancer and learning disabilities in children. In adults, these toxins may cause asthma, heart and respiratory problems, leukemia, breast and other kinds of cancer. It is not hard to see the value of using environmentally safe, green products around your household.
Which Cleaning Products are Safe for You and Your Carpet?
Of course, you should always check with the manufacturer, but one of the most recommended alternative products to use is biodegradable detergent. It is free of chlorine and phosphates that may harm the environment as well as your carpet. Additionally, they will not remain in your carpet and leave a residue as traditional cleaners do. This residue from petroleum based chemical cleaning solutions may lead to the fiber attracting even more dirt.
TIP: Regular soap, even if it is biodegradable, may leave a residue, so use detergent instead. Check out Annie Berthold-Bond’s simple formula to use with steam extraction carpet cleaning machines,
“Basic Carpet Cleaner
¼ cup concentrated all-purpose liquid detergent (perfume free)
4 gallons of water
Fill the machine’s water and detergent dispenser. Follow the manufacturer’s directions.” (p. 53 Better Basics for the Home)
The safest cleaner is plain water. Hot water will extract a lot of dirt, and if you vacuum and use hot water to clean often, your carpeting should stay and look clean. Again, secondary benefit is that it leaves no gummy residual substance to attract more dirt.
Other Green Cleaning Methods for Rugs and Carpet
Give Them a Beating!
You may remember your mother hanging up rugs and beating them with a broom. This is a good method, if you have the energy and somewhere to perform the tas, but it is not good for cleaning large rugs or carpets. You can do well with larger rugs and carpets, though, by sprinkling baking soda on them and then thoroughly vacuuming. This will remove odors. Adding coarse salt to the mix and working it in with a broom before vacuuming will help to remove some of the dirt. Only use mineral cleaners like baking soda and salt with a dry, no water, cleaning method!
Let it Rain, Let it Pour
For area rugs, you can let the ultimate natural cleaner do the dirty work: Place the rug face down on a sheet situated on a flat surface. Hanging it might destroy the backing, so don’t do that. Let a hard rain pour through it all day to wash out the dirt. After the rain stops, move it to a shady spot to dry. Shade drying will help avoid discoloration. Sun is the most natural bleaching agent! If it rains for more than a day (whoops, the meteorologist got it wrong!) move the rug to a clean garage floor to lay it out to dry. Try not to let this happen because you’ll end up lugging in space heaters to dry your rug before it mildews! Before taking it back indoors, shake it hard to make sure no insects are lodged in it.
Make Your Own Rug-sicle
The same natural resource, water, can be useful in its icy form, too. There are two methods:
1) In the winter, roll a rug up and stand it on end in the snow. After it is frozen, you can beat it lightly with a bat or sturdy broom and the dirt and dust will fall off. This is because the frozen fibers cannot hold the dirt well.
2) When it’s snowing, roll the rug up and stand it on end outside in the cold weather. After it reaches a temperature cold enough that it will not melt the snow, unroll it with the backing face up on top of some powdery snow. Use a sturdy broom to beat the rug until the snow beneath it is dirty. Move it to a clean spot and repeat the process. After a few times of this, the snow will stop getting dirty. This works for the same reason as method one.
Natural Ways to Remove Stains from Carpet
The quicker you can get to a stain, the more success you will have removing it. A common mistake, though, is to panic and start rubbing the spot frantically. A better method is to blot it from the outside of the stain working your way to the inside. You can also cover it with a towel until the towel is soaked, remove it and cover it with another towel. Repeat as necessary until no more moisture is absorbed and then vacuum it with a wet/dry vac.
Some stains are tougher and need more attention, however. When that happens, try some of these eco-friendly tips:
Make Your Own Natural Stain Remover for Carpet and Rugs
If you are forever staining your rugs and carpets, or your kids and pets are, you should think about investing in a wet/dry vacuum cleaner. Most of the following stain removing methods and tips involve the use of wet vacuuming for the best results. If you care about your carpets and rugs, you’ll make the investment.
Make your own all-purpose carpet cleaner by using a mixer to beat together 1/2 cup of white vinegar with a tablespoon of biodegradable dish soap until they are foamy. This formula works for mud and general carpet stains.
Apply the cleaner with a soft brush, but don’t force the brush into the carpet as though you are scrubbing. Push the bristles straight down into the fibers, and then wiggle only the brush handle to get the solution to roll off the bristles into the carpet. After that, blot up the solution, and then blot the area again with a dry rag. Vacuum it with a wet/dry vac.
These stains include body oils, feces, many foods and vomit. The first thing to do is remove chunks and solids. Eew, sorry but it must be done. Then, pour 1/2 inch of baking soda over the spot. This will absorb the acids in the stain that may bleach the carpet. Use a towel to pick up the lumps of baking soda. Follow this up by cleaning with a steam cleaner or other more deep cleaning method. Vinegar works well to deodorize protein based stains.
These include coffee, tea and red wine. First, cover the spill with a thick layer of salt. After it absorbs the liquid, sweep it up with a wet/dry vac. (If you don’t have a wet vac, you need to carefully blot up as much of the coffee, tea, red wine as possible before treating with salt.) Then, make a solution of warm water and mild dishwashing liquid or borax. Dip a rag in it and blot the stain until it disappears. Blot the area dry with a dry towel. Repeat the steps as necessary.
TIP: Club soda can also work well at removing these kinds of stains. Just pour it or spray it on and blot. Club Soda works better to remove stains from natural fibers than from synthetic fibers.
Baking soda is the hero here, too. Cover the grease stain with it and then vacuum it up with a wet/dry vac. If the stain still exists, you can try patting it with a rag full of mild dish detergent. Follow this up with steam cleaning or other deep cleaning method.
This one is actually fun to clean up. Place ice cubes on the gum until it freezes. Once it is hard, you can hit it with a hammer and it will break off. There will be some residual gum left, but you can get rid of that by putting a little warm white vinegar on it and rubbing it with a brush. You can then blot it up with a rag. By the way, this method also works with crayons and other waxes. Waxes can be heated with a blow dryer until melty and then wiped up.
TIP: If you have problems with odors in your carpet, or if you just want to make sure you never do, sprinkle a liberal amount of baking soda on it. Allow it to sit for one day and then vacuum it up. It will bring moderate odors up with it.
Hiring a Service that Cleans Carpet Naturally
Thanks to increased awareness and public demand, more companies are offering a carpet cleaning service that uses eco-friendly, environmentally safe products. Most of them use biodegradable detergents, but some offer cleaners of their own creation rather than detergents.
When looking for environmentally safe carpet cleaners, find a company that does not use perfumes, pesticides or brighteners in the cleaning solution. There are exceptions to that rule that are natural, but unless the company states the fact that theirs are natural, avoid them. Do not settle for anything less than full disclosure when it comes to products the company will use in your home.
A good alternative is to find a company that lets you use your own cleaning solution. You can find these cleaning solutions in a health food or natural health store. You can also make your own by purchasing your own additive-free, biodegradable detergent and adding your own safe perfume or fragrance as described in the formula above.
Once your carpet cleaning crew arrives, they will use a commercial-grade cleaner to spray hot water and environmentally safe cleansers that you have okayed in advance into the carpet. They will then extract it all back out along with the dirt. This is typical of ‘steam cleaning.’ Most companies recommend you have this done twice per year.
If your carpet is excessively dirty, stained, or damaged by pets, the company may recommend a shampoo rather than a steam cleaning. In this case, the crew will use a shampoo machine to rub foam into the carpet. The foam captures the dirt and the stains, and the crew will then vacuum the foam and dirt out. This is truly a deep cleaning, and you may never need to have it done if you do regular maintenance.
Whether you decide to do it yourself or hire a green carpet cleaning company, by choosing nontoxic green and natural carpet cleaners, you will get clean carpets as well as contributing to your health as well as that of everyone and everything else around you. These safe cleaning choices are not just about your rug, but everything else in your household – and everything else in our environment.