5 Carpet Cleaner Alternatives That Actually Work

By Marilee Nelson |

5 Carpet Cleaner Alternatives That Actually Work

Carpet has always been a flooring favorite! The love? It’s soft on feet, more baby and toddler-friendly regarding falls, and dampens noise throughout the home.

The challenge? Keeping it clean and stain-free as well as free of bacteria and other contaminants! 

In this article, you’ll learn how to maintain and clean your carpet, four non-toxic cleaner alternatives for carpet cleaning machines, spot cleaning, and deodorizing you can use to get your carpets squeaky clean, stain-free, and smelling great.

For basic carpet maintenance, HEPA vacuum once a week to maintain your carpet. Carpets are a sink for dust, SVOCs, and other contaminants. Use a sealed canister HEPA vacuum. 

Note: Always HEPA vacuum before cleaning your carpet, making three passes over all areas of the carpet before any cleaning procedure.

The Best Natural Carpet Cleaner Alternatives 

1. Branch Basics 

Branch Basics was created as an all-in-one cleaning solution designed to replace every cleaner in your home—including carpet cleaning solutions and spot cleaning!

Here’s how to use it.

What You’ll Need

How to Use Branch Basics in a Carpet Cleaner

  1. HEPA Vacuum  your carpets thoroughly before you begin.
  2. Test Branch Basics in a hidden area for colorfastness and compatibility. Pre-treat stains by spraying All-Purpose directly on the spot and allowing it to sit for 1-5 minutes. Agitate with a brush or cloth until the stain disappears. Note: Pre-treatment is optional as the carpet cleaner may remove the stains. 
  3. To make the non-toxic carpet cleaning solution, dilute Branch Basics Concentrate using 1 - 2 teaspoons of Concentrate per gallon of  water.
  4. Use in carpet cleaner per the manufacturer’s instructions.

      See: Branch Basics Ultimate Guide to Non-Toxic Floor Cleaning for more tips on deep cleaning all types of floors.

      How to Use Branch Basics To Spot-Treat Carpet Stains

      Branch Basics can be used in many ways to treat carpet stains.

      Always test a hidden area first for colorfastness and compatibility.

      For general stain removal: 

      • Spray Branch Basics All-Purpose directly on the stain. 
      • Allow to sit for 1-5 minutes. 
      • Agitate with a brush until the stain disappears.

      New to Branch Basics? Learn more about our all-in-one non-toxic cleaning system in: How Branch Basics Is A Healthy & Sustainable Cleaning Line.

      2. Vinegar + Dish Soap

      Did you know you can make your own DIY carpet cleaner for use in carpet cleaning machines or as a spot treatment?

      All it takes is some distilled white vinegar, your favorite non-toxic dish soap and water.

      First HEPA Vacuum your carpets thoroughly.

      Test the solution in a hidden area first for colorfastness and compatibility.

      How To Make DIY Carpet Cleaner

      1. Heat enough water to fill the reservoir of the carpet cleaner (typically a little less than a gallon) on the stove or kettle until warm.
      2. In a large stainless bowl or bucket, combine half a cup of distilled white vinegar and one tablespoon of non-toxic dishwashing liquid.. 
      3. Add the warm water and stir to mix. 

      Add this mixture directly to the carpet cleaner per the manufacturer’s instructions.

      The vinegar combined with the dish soap will help dissolve dirt and grime and have a mild sanitizing effect. 

      For non-toxic dish soap, we recommend:

      How to Make a DIY Vinegar-Based Spot Cleaner for Carpets

      A similar combination can work wonders on spot-treating carpet stains. 

      To make:

      1. Combine 1 cup of distilled water with one cup of distilled white vinegar and 1 teaspoon of dishwashing liquid in a spray bottle.
      2. Shake to combine.
      3. Use directly on carpet stains, allowing 1-5 minutes dwell time before agitating with a brush until the stain is gone.

      Discover more ways to use vinegar for non-toxic cleaning in: 12 Ways to Use Vinegar In Your Home.

      3. Baking Soda As A Carpet Deodorizer

      Baking soda is an excellent and affordable natural deodorizer to use on carpets or rugs.

      How to deodorize carpets naturally using baking soda:

      1. Vacuum, preferably using a HEPA vacuum, carpets and/or rugs thoroughly.
      2. Sprinkle baking soda on the affected area. Using a sieve can be helpful. For large areas, you can work the baking soda into the carpet using a clean push broom or brush for large areas.
      3. Let dwell for several hours or overnight.
      4. Vacuum up thoroughly and clean the vacuum filter thoroughly after use.

      Get more tips on non-toxic cleaning with baking soda in: Cleaning With Baking Soda (Sodium Bicarbonate): 12 Surprising Uses.

      4: Use Dry Steam Cleaning to Multi Treat Your Carpet

      We consider Advap Ladybug Dry Steam Cleaners the gold standard for chemical-free disinfecting and cleaning.

      Dry Steam Cleaning is an easy-to-use, multi-purpose cleaner of your carpet that dries quickly, cleans, deodorizes, sanitizes, and kills dust mites, fleas, and other pests. It also denatures allergens and lifts pet hair, making the hair easily removed by vacuuming. 

      A Ladybug Dry Steam Cleaner delivers  a next level clean especially if there are embedded fragrance chemicals and allergens in your carpet or upholstery. Note that dry steamed carpet and upholstery take minutes to dry whereas a steam cleaned carpet or upholstery may take a few days to fully dry. This is one reason we recommend dry steam cleaning over steam cleaning for porous materials that easily get saturated with moisture like carpets, bedding and upholstery.

      Note:  When cleaning carpets, or upholstery, always test on a hidden area first to make sure the dry steam cleaning is compatible with the fabric.

      1. HEPA vacuum the carpet making three passes on each area.
      2. Spot clean any stains with Branch Basics All Purpose Cleaner. Always test in an inconspicuous area.
      3. Dry steam clean according to website instructions.  
      4. Let the carpet dry for 20 minutes.
      5. HEPA vacuum once again to remove pet hair and previously trapped dirt that has been lifted by dry steam cleaning. 

      Advap offers Branch Basics customers a 20% discount on their Ladybug Dry Steam Cleaner! Use coupon code BRANCHBASICS at checkout for the deal.

      5: Use Steam-Only For Professional Carpet Cleaning

      If you prefer to hire a company to professionally steam-clean your carpets, tell them to use steam-only and skip the cleaning solution!

      Steam is a natural deep cleaner, deodorizer, and sanitizer and will do a great job on your carpets. But be aware that unlike dry steam cleaning, steam cleaned carpet can take time to fully dry. 

      All you have to do is request this before booking to ensure the company will honor your request. Then, re-state your wishes directly to the carpet cleaning techs once they arrive to ensure everything is clear once they arrive.

      We recommend opening windows during and after the cleaning, using fans to circulate the air, and leaving exhaust fans on through the night to help create air movement and completely dry the carpet. 

      Note: Some steam cleaning companies only use steam to clean carpets. However, if toxic cleaning solutions have been used in the steam cleaning equipment, residues may contaminate your carpet. Have them clean the reservoir with a solution of Branch Basics before using it in your home. 

      Chemicals in Carpet Cleaners: What to Avoid and Why

      Synthetic chemical carpet cleaning solutions and spot cleaners contain a cocktail of harmful chemicals that have no place in a healthy home.

      In addition to VOCs and SVOCs, some common examples of toxins in everyday at-home and professional carpet cleaning solutions include:

      • Ammonia: Ammonia is highly toxic and corrosive if inhaled, ingested, or spilled onto skin. Side effects can include wheezing, difficulty breathing, damage to internal organs, blindness, severe burns, decreased lung function, and chronic disease.
      • Bleach: This EPA-registered pesticide is linked to: Severe skin, eye, and lung burns due to the chloramine gas created when bleach is combined with other chemicals or organic matter. Sources 1, 2, 3, 4. DNA damage, cancer, asthma, respiratory problems, headaches, and other illnesses. Impaired immunity due to microbiome disruption. Passive exposure is linked to an increased rate of miscarriage, preterm birth, respiratory, and other illnesses in children.
      • Butoxyethanol: Belonging to the family of glycol ethers, this solvent is added to carpet cleaners to reduce the need for scrubbing. It’s a flammable, corrosive irritant that can cause poisoning, headaches, nausea, vomiting, eye, skin, hypoxia, coronary thrombosis, acidosis, inflammation, and mucous membrane irritation. Limited positive evidence of spontaneous abortions and decreased sperm counts in humans and strong positive evidence of congenital disabilities and testicular damage in animals have been found for all glycol ethers. It’s also highly hazardous for the environment.
      • Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives: These sneaky ingredients go by the names DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, DMDM hydantoin, quaternion-15, 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol (most commonly known as bronopol), and sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, and are carcinogenic.
      • Fragrance: Synthetic fragrances are one of the world’s top allergens and may be made up of dozens to hundreds of undisclosed chemicals, such as asthmagens, suspected carcinogens, endocrine-disrupting phthalates, and obesogens.
      • Hydroxyacetic acid: Also known as glycolic acid, this chemical is a corrosive irritant that can cause mild to severe skin and eye irritation and damage and irritation to the mucous membranes.
      • Naphthalene: Also known as mothballs or mothflakes, this flammable, irritant, health and environmentally hazardous chemical is derived from coal tar or petroleum and is a toxic air pollutant. It is highly toxic and has been linked to several types of cancers, such as nasal cancers, hyperplasia and metaplasia in respiratory and olfactory epithelium, development of hemolytic anemia, glutathione depletion, headaches, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and organ damage. In infants, it can cause brain damage. It’s also highly toxic to aquatic life, with long-lasting effects. Naphthalene is used as a solvent and deodorizer in carpet cleaners. This is a very dangerous chemical that should be avoided at all costs to preserve indoor air quality!
      • Optical brighteners: These chemicals, which are popular in laundry detergents and carpet cleaners, leave a residue on carpets that reflects light, making them appear brighter and cleaner. Optical brighteners can make skin photo-reactive and more sensitive to sun exposure. They can also cause rashes and skin irritation, are toxic to fish, and cause bacterial mutations.
      • Perchloroethylene aka: “Perc”: A chemical commonly used in dry cleaning, the EPA considers Perc a probable carcinogen, and it’s been linked to an increased risk of skin, colon, lung, esophageal and urogenital tract cancers as well as lymphosarcoma and leukemia. It’s also a respiratory and eye irritant that has been shown to cause liver, kidney and lung damage, and has been linked to neurological problems and can negatively affect mood, memory, reaction time, and vision. Per the CDC, it may also be harmful to pregnant women and unborn children.
      • Synthetic surfactants: Not all synthetic surfactants are toxic. However, many anionic surfactants (the category most frequently used in carpet cleaners) are rated F overall for human and environmental safety by the Environmental Working Group. Many are skin, lung, and eye irritants, may produce harmful byproducts, and may persist in the body and the environment. Certain types are also PFAS or “forever chemicals,” cousin of Teflon, which have no place in a healthy home. Get all the details in: Are Surfactants Toxic? The Dangers And Alternatives

          As you can see, synthetic chemical-based carpet cleaners are typically highly toxic. 

          This has even been covered in mainstream media outlets as these products present a hazard to unknowing individuals and families, and especially children and pets.

          As previously mentioned, we also caution the use of “green” alternatives made by the same carpet cleaning brands.

          Although these products may be slightly more environmentally friendly (or not!), that doesn’t mean they are human-safe. 

          We recommend using The Environmental Working Group’s SKin Deep database to vet any and all carpet cleaners before purchase. We recommend that all ingredients in a product kept in the home be EWG rated a 1 or 2. 

          How Often Should I Clean My Carpet? 

          How often you should clean your carpet depends on many factors, such as how many people live with you, if you have children or pets, if you wear shoes indoors, and the level of traffic.

          However, given the tendency of carpet to pick up and absorb dirt, bacteria, and other toxins, we recommend erring on the side of more frequent cleaning.

          For example, research has found Clostridium difficile bacteria on shoes, pesticides, herbicides, chemicals, and heavy metals are commonly tracked indoors by shoes and can remain in carpets for months or years (even after vacuuming).

          That’s just one example of many reasons it pays to clean your carpets regularly.

          Generally, we recommend vacuuming several times a week using a certified sealed HEPA vacuum, which removes dirt, dust, and debris without compromising air quality in the process.

          For carpet cleaning, we recommend cleaning high-traffic areas a few times a year and always treating stains immediately. Less trafficked areas typically require deep cleaning once or twice yearly, so long as they are vacuumed regularly. You can also refresh your carpet between deep cleanings using the baking soda method or steam mop with a carpet attachment.

          Many people find purchasing an at-home carpet cleaning machine more economical than having professional carpet cleaning done several times a year.

          That said, we recommend dry steam cleaning your carpet or having a professional clean at least once a year, using non-toxic products, or professional steam-only, as their equipment is more powerful and can get deeper into carpet fibers.

          One of the best things you can do to reduce the need for carpet cleaning is to adopt a no-shoes-indoor policy. Read more on our thoughts on the topic here: Why We Keep a "No Shoes Indoors" Policy At Home

          Toss the Toxins With Branch Basics

          Caring for and maintaining your carpet as described in this article will extend the life of your carpet. 

          It is absolutely possible to keep your carpets clean without resorting to harmful carpet cleaning solutions.

          We also cannot stress enough how much HEPA vacuuming helps remove dirt, bacteria, and toxins from carpets in between cleanings.

          Interested in trying Branch Basics for carpet cleaning and spot treatments?

          Our all-in-one, non-toxic cleaning system was designed to replace every toxic cleaning, laundry, and floor cleaning product in your home with just one Concentrate.

          Check out our Premium Starter Kits to learn more, or if you’re new here, see: How To Get Started With Your Branch Basics Kit for more details.

          Marilee Nelson

          Marilee Nelson

          Marilee Nelson is an Environmental Toxins expert who has spent nearly 30 years advocating for the chemically-sensitive and chronically-ill. She is a Board Certified Nutritionist, Certified Bau-Biologist and Bau-Biology Inspector and specializes in Food As Medicine. She has helped thousands of families and individuals identify, heal and recover from toxic exposures and is on a mission to revolutionize the way American families view their health.