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How to Clean Carpet with Vinegar and Nothing Else

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You have probably heard whispers about people using vinegar to clean carpets. Maybe you grew up in a household that ​loved vinegar and all of its uses. No matter what you know about it, there is always more to learn how to clean carpet with vinegar.

How to Clean Carpet with Vinegar

​Vinegar can be used in so many different ways. You can cook with it, toss it in your laundry to keep colors bright, obliterate shower rust, decalcify coffee makers and cleaning almost all of your surfaces.

When it comes to cleaning carpet, vinegar is a great stain removal, as it kills bacteria, and refreshes your carpet. While there are a few nay-sayers who claim that it’s the worst thing ever to put on your carpet, however, it is a proven disinfectant for many household uses and is able to get rid of messes when used properly.

Vinegar has become a must have cleaning product due to it’s ability to sanitize multiple surfaces and because it is inexpensive. You can usually purchase a store brand gallon sized jug for roughly three dollars.

Vinegar with knee pads

How Did Vinegar Become a Cleaning Agent?

White distilled vinegar became a cleaning sensation about sixty years ago when people had trouble when their cleaning soaps left an alkaline residue after cleaning in wash tubs.

Vinegar was added to the rinsing water (not hot water) and a new cleaning agent was born. Using it became popular, not just because of how great it was at cleaning, but also due to its ease of access and low price.

Is Vinegar Safe for Kids and Pets?

​Yes, yes, yes! One of the best overall benefits of using white distilled vinegar as a carpet cleaner or base cleaner is that it is 100% safe around kids and pets. There are no harmful fumes (although kids may complain it smells funny) nor is there any issue if someone decides to take a swig from the bottle.

You may not realize it, especially with four legged family members, but when you’re cleaning with harsh cleaning agents, the toxic fumes that are still in your carpet may not seem as concentrated to you five feet away from the area. However, pets are much lower to the ground than we are and will come into contact with the harsh leftover fumes in a more concentrated pattern than we will.

Vinegar, while leaving a smell, will not cause any harsh breathing environments for pets or small children that can’t wait to play on the carpet once it is clean.

Can Vinegar Sanitize While Cleaning?

​Vinegar is also good for killing bacteria. However, it is not listed as a disinfectant due to the fact that it only kills about 90% of bacteria and not the required 99.9% of qualified disinfectants.

To use it as a disinfectant you would use straight vinegar. Diluting it with water makes it less effective. Also when you mix it with baking soda then it loses its ability to disinfect.

If you add baking soda while carpet cleaning then you will need to blot the area with clean water after and then re-apply only vinegar for disinfecting.

While it is not a great overall disinfectant, it still has the ability to clean and destroy most bacteria, including mold. This gives your carpet cleaning routine an added boost, especially when you are dealing with food or fluid messes that can contain bacteria.

Is Vinegar Safe for all Surfaces?

​While it is safe for a lot of your surfaces, vinegar can be very harmful to certain surfaces.

It can damage almost all stone surfaces including:

  • ​Marble
  • ​Granite
  • Limestone
  • ​Travertine

Even a small amount in short contact can begin to etch away at these calcium-based surfaces. Instead use a safer carpet cleaner such as dawn dish detergent to scrub these surfaces.

You will also want to avoid using straight vinegar on any wax sealed surfaces such as sealed wood furniture. Instead opt to use a diluted 50/50 vinegar and water solution to clean any stubborn grime from these surfaces so that the vinegar won’t strip the wax.

When it comes to cleaning these surfaces you will want to avoid any cleaners that have highly acidic properties, such as vinegar.

Cleaning Mixes

​Because of its high acidity properties, vinegar can break through stains and bacteria. While it can be harmful to some calcium based surfaces, it is safe to use to clean stains on all types of carpet and does not always have to be diluted or mixed with other ingredients.

Some fresh spills and stains such as white wine will benefit better with undiluted vinegar sprayed onto the area and then blotted up.

Also, when you use only vinegar to clean stains, you do not have to follow up with a cold water rinse. You still can, if you want to get rid of the smell, but it is also able to be left to air dry once you blot up most of the moisture. Vinegar alone will also deodorize the area while it is air drying, so there are added benefits.

Vinegar and baking soda make a powerful cleaning combination

However, when you mix other items with white vinegar such as Dawn dish detergent, baking soda or essential oils, then you will need to follow up with a clean water rinse and vacuuming to get up any leftover suds and residue.

These mixes below will give you more options on how vinegar can clean messes and stains on your carpets with added ingredients.  


​Water plus vinegar is a complementing combination. The water hydrates the area while the vinegar goes to work devouring the stain. If you have a simple stain or area that you need to clean, then this is where you will want to begin.

Mix up a spray bottle with 50/50 water and vinegar or in a situation where you don’t have access to a spray bottle you can pour the two into a bowl or dampen a paper towel with one and then the other (this is one of my own personal tested carpet cleaning methods that worked in a pinch!)

While these two ingredients work well together to create a great carpet cleaning base, sometimes you will need or want to add something else for a little more of a complex stain fighting power.

Dawn Dish Detergent

​Add a few drops of Dawn to the water and vinegar mix to create a foaming carpet cleaner. The added Dawn dish detergent works as a degreaser and additional stain fighting cleaning agent.

Vinegar alone won’t get rid of grease, so adding Dawn will give your vinegar carpet cleaning solution the punch it needs to cut down and get rid of grease on your kitchen surfaces as well as any greasy spills on your carpet.

Dawn dish detergent is also just a great all-around carpet cleaner to add to any stain due to its effectiveness as a vessel to trap dirt and other matter into its suds, dragging them off and away from your carpet fibers for an easy stain lifting power.

While you should not scrub your carpets with a brush, due to potentially damaging the fibers. You can use a gloved hand to gentle massage carpets with this cleaner. This will help the cleaner foam up on your carpet to boost it’s stain fighting potential.

Baking Soda

​Another popular mixture is to use baking soda. The best way to use this mixture to clean carpet with vinegar is to sprinkle the baking soda on the stain first. Then you use the spray bottle with the baking soda with a vinegar and water mixture.

Since the baking soda is on the bottom, it can sink into the carpet fibers some. When it is sprayed on, it will begin to foam up. This reaction is great for attacking and clearing stains as well as lifting dirt and debris from carpet.

The addition of baking soda will also help neutralize odors. Just remember if you are carpet cleaning something that needs to be disinfected then you will need to respray it or use a different disinfectant such as alcohol or hydrogen peroxide.

Essential Oils

​If the smell is unpleasant to you then you can add essential oils to the mixture. A few drops of your favorite oil will brighten your carpets and cut the sour smell.

However, if you don’t add in any essential oils then the smell will fade as the carpet dries and the air continues to circulate.

Woman using vinegar to clean her carpet

What Not to Mix

​While there are many thing that you can mix with vinegar to clean, there are also a few products to avoid mixing with vinegar due to potential hazards and fumes. Make sure that you don’t skip over this section so that you can maintain the safe cleaning environment that vinegar gives.

Bleach plus Vinegar

​This is one of the biggest no-nos for cleaning. When you mix the two very powerful cleaners, a highly toxic fume is released as a chemical reaction from the two meeting. This chlorine vapor won’t kill you however, you can get a nasty chemical burn from the vapors in your lungs and eyes.

It’s best to avoid this mixture at all costs. Make sure that any surfaces you normally clean with vinegar have been well rinsed before you bring in any bleach. If you are looking for a great way to disinfect, skip the bleach and use alcohol. Rubbing alcohol or a cheap vodka will get the sterilizing job done without introducing a harmful vapor.

Also, make sure that if you are mixing bleach in with your whites during the laundry cycle, that you skip adding vinegar to the washer. This is one common place that the two chemicals can mix to form the toxic gas. After your whites cycle has finished with an extra rinse, then it is safe to add vinegar to the next load of colors to help keep them bright.

Hydrogen Peroxide and Vinegar

​These two cleaners are great for green cleaning your home, however you will want to avoid storing them together after cleaning.

When sitting in the same jug, over a period of time vinegar and hydrogen peroxide will begin to form a corrosive acid. While it isn’t super harmful to you, this acid can cause irritation to the eyes, skin and potentially lungs if you breath it in.

If you want to clean with hydrogen peroxide and vinegar, then keep them in separate containers, only mixing them on the open surface and rinsing them with cool water once you are done.

How to Clean Carpets with Vinegar

​When you have chosen the right mixture for your stain, then you are ready to clean carpet with vinegar. For spot cleaning you will want to spray the carpet stain with the vinegar solution. If you added foaming ingredients then go ahead and rub it into the carpet.

Again avoid using a harsh scrub brush. This can break apart your carpet fibers and make your carpet look ragged. Rubbing a stain can also cause it to spread.

  1. Spray the solution onto your carpet and rub in if necessary.
  2. ​Let the solution sit for fifteen to twenty minutes. Then take a clean rag and dip it into a bowl of water. Squeeze the rag until it is damp and use it to blot up the vinegar solution.
  3. Once it has been blotted, then stain should be clear or have improved. You may need to repeat the cleaning process for stubborn stains. Before you repeat, finish by using a paper towel to blot up the excess liquid on your carpet.
  4. You will want to dry the carpet as much as you can. A very wet carpet won’t dry properly and can become a breeding ground for mold and mildew.
  5. If you are using steam cleaning, then you can simply add the vinegar mixture into the steam cleaner and go. It is not recommend to use baking soda in steam machines since it can clog the tubes. A simple water, vinegar and Dawn mixture will go through the machine with no trouble.

You can always follow up this process by running a powerful wet/dry vacuum cleaner over the affected area.

Apple Cider Vinegar

​When you are learning how to clean carpet with vinegar then most advice will point you to white distilled vinegar instead of apple cider vinegar. This is mainly because vinegar is not as expensive as the apple cider vinegar.

However, apple cider vinegar is just as effective at powering through tough stains as vinegar is. Apple cider vinegar also has less of an astringent smell than vinegar.

Mix apple cider vinegar half and half with water just as you would with vinegar to cut down the high acidity levels. You can use apple cider vinegar on any color carpet without cause for worry of damage or additional staining.

It should be noted that, while we are discussing cleaning carpets, apple cider vinegar is not a great option for cleaning areas where there is food. This is because the pleasant smell can attract bugs such as ants and gnats.

Add Vinegar to your Household Cleaning Routine

​Vinegar is not the universal answer to cleaning all types of grime, but it is flexible and able to clean multiple stains and surfaces. This is a great natural cleaning solution that is safe for pets and kids to be around.

Lauren Moldvay is a freelance writer from Virginia and the mother of one (not always) sweet little girl. She specializes in trying to help others find easier ways to clean, manage the home and save money with DIY projects.