How To Disinfect Carpet

Carpet looking a little worse for the wear? It's probably filled with germs, too. Here's how to clean and disinfect your carpet.

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1 to 3 hours




$120 for the steam cleaner


Carpets and rugs get pretty gross. And why wouldn't they? Their millions of tiny fibers act like a sponge, collecting dirt, pet hair, food crumbs and who knows what else. Vacuuming takes care of the visible stuff, but what about germs you can't see? Can you disinfect carpeting?

It depends on how you define disinfection, according to Allen Rathey, director of the Indoor Health Council. The technical definition comes from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Strictly speaking, Rathey says, "EPA defines disinfection of hard surfaces but not carpet." Carpets and other porous materials are just too thick and dense to completely disinfect in place.

Does that mean you're stuck with a germy carpet? Not at all. In more common usage, Rathey says disinfection can simply mean reducing germs and making your carpets more hygienic, and there are plenty of ways to accomplish that.

First, an EPA-registered disinfectant can reduce germs on carpeting, but Rathey says these can be impractical. You'd have to soak the entire carpet long enough to kill germs, he says, and the use is technically "off-label." But let's say you just have a small space to disinfect — maybe your child is sick, or your pup had an accident. In these situations, a disinfectant can be worthwhile.

Hot water extraction machines, available for rent or via a carpet-cleaning company, provide great results, but can be expensive and cumbersome to deal with. Luckily, Rathey says consumer options, like the Bissell SteamShot and the Bissell Little Green can reduce germs on carpeting, too.

Here, I'll show you how to use the Little Green ProHeat to remove dirt and germs from a carpet that has seen better days, then how to apply an EPA-registered disinfectant for a small space.

Tools Required

  • Home carpet cleaner
  • Room fan
  • vacuum cleaner

Materials Required

  • Carpet cleaning solution
  • EPA-registered disinfectant such as Lysol multi-surface cleaner
  • Hot tap water

Materials for cleaning the carpet

Project step-by-step (5)

Step 1

Prep the space

  • Move furniture out of the way if possible.
  • Vacuum the entire carpet.
  • When using carpet cleaners, open the windows for ventilation or wear a mask.

Step 1 Vacuum Ally Childress For Fhm JveditAlly Childress for Family Handyman

Step 2

Fill the machine

  • Run the hot water. You want it as hot as possible within the manufacturer guidelines.
    • Safety tip: Don’t boil or microwave the water.
  • Fill the machine to the line on the tank.
  • Add carpet cleaning solution to the other fill line, or according to your machine’s directions.

hand Filingl The Machine with cleanerAlly Childress for Family Handyman

Step 3

Clean and sanitize

  • Turn on the machine.
  • Aim the nozzle and spray your carpet with the cleaning solution.
  • Work in small sections so the cleaning solution doesn’t dry on the surface.
  • Pull the wand over the carpet to suction the solution and dirt into the tank.

cleaning carpet with bissell pet carpet cleanerAlly Childress for Family Handyman

Step 4


Step 5

Disinfection for problem areas

Note: Use this option if you’re only trying to disinfect a small space.

  • Read the instructions on your EPA-registered disinfectant.
  • Vacuum the area to remove pet hair, dirt and other debris.
  • Test a small, inconspicuous area for colorfastness.
  • Spray the area thoroughly so the disinfectant goes all the way into the carpet fibers.
  • Let the disinfectant sit for the appropriate time as noted on the label.
  • Rinse the carpet by blotting with water and a clean towel, then blot with a dry towel.
  • Point a fan at the area to dry the carpet thoroughly.