Tips for Getting Floors and Carpets Truly Clean

Consumer Reports News: March 10, 2011 10:02 AM

Anyone can vacuum, right? Well, yes. But even the best upright and canister vacuums from the 100 or so models we've reviewed can leave behind dirt, dust, dander, and more if you don't handle the machine properly. Here then are Consumer Reports' ten tips for getting floors and carpets truly clean, which in turn will improve your home's indoor air quality.

Minimize the mess. The less dirt that enters your home, the less your vacuum will have to pick up. Lay mats at entrances and impose a no-shoe policy to prevent filth from being tracked indoors. Also, dust furniture, blinds, and windowsills before you vacuum, so the vacuum will pick up fallen particulates.

Stick to a schedule. Weekly vacuuming is sufficient for most parts of the home. High-traffic areas may need to be hit more frequently, and daily vacuuming is recommended if you have heavy-shedding pets. If that's more than you can manage, consider purchasing a pet-hair tool for spot cleanings. The $6 Pledge Fabric Sweeper proved effective at picking up pet hair in our tests.

Choose the right attachment. Most vacuums come with a few basic tools that suffice for most cleaning jobs: a crevice tool for tight spots, such as under large appliances; a small upholstery brush, good for furniture and mattresses; a round brush for dusting steps and windowsills. Pay attention to carpet-height adjustment, a feature which matches the height of the vacuum to a carpet's pile height for easy movement and thorough cleaning. On canister vacuums, a power nozzle cleans carpets more thoroughly than a simple suction nozzle.

Make multiple passes. In our deep-clean carpet test, Consumer Reports testers make more than a dozen passes to see how well vacuums take up cat hair. You don't have to go to that extreme, but a single sweep will likely leave behind embedded matter. Instead, make several passes before moving on to the next spot.

Steer clear of small objects. It can be hard to resist sucking up pennies and paperclips. But our repair analysis has found that small objects can clog nozzles and hoses, and they can also damage fans, which could lead to an expensive visit to the repair shop.

Don’t overfill bags. On many upright vacuums, the hose feeds into the bag about a quarter of the way from its top. As a result, you're best off replacing the bag after it's one-half to two-thirds full. This will maintain maximum suction and prevent particles from being emitted back into your home.

Use special care with area rugs. To prevent frayed edges, vacuum from the center of the rug out towards the perimeter. You may also be able to machine-wash small rugs, and it's a good idea to occasionally take larger ones outside and beat them with them with a broom.

Spot-treat spills. Speed is critical when treating stains. Blot spills with a clean cloth towel or paper towel. Use carpet-stain remover on stubborn spills. Seventh Generation Natural Carpet Spot and Stain Remover is a CR Best Buy, but Bissell's OxyPro Carpet Spot & Stain Remover did better with red wine. 

Maintain the vacuum. Clean the filter and the rotating-brush supports. Worn brushes tend to stiffen, which can cause texture change to carpets. Inspect the cord periodically and replace it if its cover is damaged. If you're buying a new vacuum, check our reliability data to see which brands are the most and least repair-prone.

Go for an occasional deep clean. Carpet-cleaning machines are better than vacuums at eliminating dirt and oil that clings to carpet fibers over time. Some of the carpet cleaners we've tested were more effective than others, though they all take up extra storage space. You can also rent a carpet cleaner from the supermarket, hardware store, or home center for about $20 to $30 a day.

—Daniel DiClerico

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