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Dry Cleaning vs Steam Cleaning – What Do The Experts Say?

Posted on April 1, 2022

One of the unfortunate things about carpets is that they’re going to be walked on all the time. It would be nice to simply install a pretty carpet and then hover over it at all times. You could get some levitating furniture, a flying dog, and some rocket boots for your children, and you’ll be good. No one will ever make your carpet dirty again.

Unfortunately, we’re not in this Jetsons-like future yet. In reality, you need to clean your carpet regularly. In fact, the US Carpet and Rug Institute recommends that you deep clean your carpets every 12 to 18 months. And you have a few options when it comes to how you want to do it: namely, steam cleaning/wet carpet cleaning or dry cleaning.

Some swear by steam cleaning, while others claim that dry cleaning is the way to go. The merits of dry vs wet carpet cleaning has become a hot debate in the realm of floor cleanliness.

Steam cleaning, also known as wet cleaning or hot water extraction, uses heated water to penetrate deep into a carpet and pull up grime. Dry cleaning, on the other hand, uses powdered chemicals to remove dirt. But which one is better? How do you decide between dry vs wet carpet cleaning? And what does the research say about both?

Here is an overview of dry vs wet carpet cleaning:

  1. Steam Cleaning Overview
  2. Steam Cleaning Science
  3. Steam Cleaning Misconceptions
  4. Dry Cleaning Overview
  5. Dry Cleaning Science
  6. Dry Cleaning Misconceptions

Steam Cleaning

Steam cleaning is the process of injecting carpets with hot water combined with detergent to remove dirt within the carpet’s fibers.

Steam cleaning can reach much deeper into the fibers than typical vacuuming and pull out dirt that otherwise would have built up in your carpet. The heat of the water mixed with the detergent can eliminate stains effectively.

After steam cleaning, you must wait for your carpet to dry due to all of the moisture it makes. The dry time depends on the type of carpet – some dry faster than others. It can also vary based on methods: an experienced cleaner will have a shorter time to dry vs wet carpet cleaning done by someone inexperienced. This drying process should not take more than a day, though.

One other thing to note is that steam cleaning is pretty harsh. It’s perfectly fine for most carpets, but if you have a rayon or silk carpet, or any other fragile carpet type, it could damage it. In that case, when it comes to dry vs wet carpet cleaning, you should go with dry.

Steam Cleaning Science

So what does the science say about dry vs wet carpet cleaning? There have actually been several studies showcasing wet carpet cleaning’s effectiveness.

A 2005 study at Murdoch University found that steam cleaning combined with regular vacuuming significantly reduced the level of fungal spores in houses, as compared to regular vacuuming alone. They also found that steam cleaning should ideally be done by experienced and accredited carpet cleaners, to minimize the risk of excessive moisture causing mold growth.

Multiple studies have also shown steam cleaning’s effectiveness against dust mite allergens. One of these studies conducted at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences found a decrease that lasted for up to eight weeks, twice the length of vacuuming.

Another study done in the UK found that this method killed dust mites themselves effectively. A 2009 study in New Jersey found a reduction in dust mite allergens. There was also a reduction in dust itself, as well as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons: toxic chemicals from fossil fuels.

The same group of researchers two years earlier showed that steam cleaning can assist in removing lead dust from carpets when combined with HEPA extra-strength vacuuming.

Not every study shows perfect results, however. One study from the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center compared different types of cleaning against mycotoxins that come from mold growth. Steam cleaning didn’t remove the toxins, and a combination of bleach and detergent was the only thing that worked. You might want to call a cleaner before putting those on your carpet, though.

When it comes to dry vs wet carpet cleaning, however, the studies seem to favor wet carpet cleaning.

One study on a case of bacteria contamination in a hospital found that when the carpets were dry cleaned, bacteria got pushed deeper into the fibers without ever being cleaned up. Steam cleaning was able to solve the epidemic. It’s much better at getting rid of bacteria than dry cleaning due to how deep it goes into the fibers.

Steam Cleaning Misconceptions

There are a few misconceptions that people have about steam cleaning.

The first and most obvious misconception is the idea that steam cleaning uses steam to clean. This is technically not true. Yes, it’s a weird naming choice. The name probably comes from the fact that it must heat up water to operate, which sometimes results in steam.

There’s a conception that wet carpet cleaning uses no cleaning chemicals. This isn’t true: steam cleaning uses a little bit of detergent (and, on top of that, water is technically a chemical). That being said, health hazards are less of a concern due to the minimal use of detergent, and it’s still the much safer option in dry vs wet carpet cleaning.

One common mistake that people make is that, after steam cleaning, sometimes they notice new stains on their carpet and believe that the steam cleaning caused them. Because steam cleaning reaches so far into your carpet to remove dirt, it can sometimes wick up new dirt and have it appear on the surface.

This problem can be fixed by vacuuming or even dry cleaning. Hey, sometimes a carpet is so under-maintained that you don’t need to figure out dry vs wet carpet cleaning, you just need to do both. There’s no need to steam clean all over again, and this is not a sign that the carpet cleaning company ruined your carpet.


  • Cleans carpets deeply
  • Doesn’t use as many chemicals
  • Effective at removing allergens
  • Removes harmful things like fungal spores and lead


  • Takes a long time to dry
  • Can result in wicked up stains
  • Can result in mildew and mold if not done by a professional
  • Not great for fragile carpets

Dry Cleaning

Dry cleaning, or carpet shampooing, is cleaning a carpet using dry powders or foams. There’s no need for fancy equipment with this method: you just place the powder down, scrub it in, let it sit, and vacuum it all up.

This method uses far more chemicals than wet carpet cleaning, but it also uses a lot less moisture. The idea behind dry vs wet carpet cleaning is eliminating dust and other types of grime through mostly non-water-based reactions.

The merits of dry vs wet carpet cleaning are that while it doesn’t go as deep as steam cleaning, it can still deal with more visible problems. It’s much better for surface problems like stains than deep contaminants like allergens. It’ll clean up your carpet just fine, regardless.

Dry Cleaning Science

A study was conducted in the UK where researchers tried electrically charging carpet powders and compared their dust removal to regular carpet powder and no carpet powder. It was found that this electrically charged carpet powder was very effective in removing dust. Even the regular carpet powder was an improvement over simply vacuuming a carpet. 

Not every study was related to cleaning power, however. There were a few harmful effects reported from incorrect dry-cleaning use.

Respiratory problems have been reported as a result of using carpet shampoos wrong. Two cases in an office building and a daycare showed that if a carpet shampoo contains sodium dodecyl sulfate it can cause problems if the person cleaning doesn’t dilute it enough. It can also embed itself into the carpet until it’s steam-cleaned out. This highlights a problem of dry vs wet carpet cleaning.

A paper by the Department of Dermatology of the Royal Infirmary in England found a case of skin problems stemming from allyl phenoxyacetate in dry carpet shampoos. It seemed that the woman using the shampoo accidentally exposed herself to the chemicals for too long.

The National Poisons Information Centre has found that some carpet shampoos can be a muscle relaxant. This can cause problems if used in unventilated areas around people with heart conditions.

In the debate of dry vs wet carpet cleaning, there was an incident that does not do dry powder any favors. One hospital in Cleveland was regularly cleaning carpets with carpet shampoo when they found that the shampoo was pushing bacteria into the fibers and preventing the bacteria from coming up. This made it bacteria saturated. After the carpets were steam cleaned, the rates of bacteria significantly dropped.

Dry Cleaning Misconceptions

There are a few common misconceptions surrounding dry carpet cleaning.

Much like steam cleaning, the name is misleading. Dry cleaning is not actually 100% dry. The powder has some degree of moisture in it to activate the chemicals. This is a necessary part of the process, and dry cleaning is still good for carpets that can’t get too wet. When it comes to dry vs wet carpet cleaning, their dry times are much shorter.

Contrary to popular belief, the use of these chemicals does not present health risks when applied by a professional. As you can see by the studies listed above, there are health risks associated with using them with no experience. However, this risk depends heavily on the kind of powder that you’re using. It’s vital to do a lot of research or hire someone who knows what they’re doing.

The advantage of dry vs wet carpet cleaning comes down to how resistant your carpet is to moisture or whether or not you can wait for your carpet to dry.


  • No need for waiting hours for your carpet to dry
  • Gentler on rayon, silk, and other fragile fibers
  • No risk of mold
  • Removes fungus toxins


  • Does not clean as deep
  • Potentially bad for health
  • Not great at removing bacteria
  • Not always eco-friendly


Is dry carpet cleaning better than steam?

It depends on what you want out of your cleaning. If you’re looking to remove dust and stains, dry cleaning is very good at that. If you need to remove deeper things like bacteria, steam cleaning is the way to go. But if your carpet is fragile or is used often and shouldn’t be wet for long periods, dry cleaning works just fine.

Steam cleaner vs wet vac– which one is better?

Wet vacs are much weaker than steam cleaners. If you want a thorough cleaning with as many microbes removed as possible, then you should go for a steam cleaner.

Is dry carpet cleaning worse for the environment?

Not necessarily. This depends on what dry cleaner you’re using. Some are made to be more eco-friendly than others. Always do your research before buying a product. Dry vs wet carpet cleaning has the potential to be even better for the environment, depending on the chemicals used in the wet carpet cleaning, but again, do your research.

Is dry cleaning carpets completely dry?

Technically, no– although it’s not wet enough to cause any problems. There’s a small amount of moisture used to activate the cleaning chemicals. You don’t risk mold or mildew growth, however. Also, dry cleaning doesn’t take long to dry.

Does steam cleaning take a long time to dry?

This depends on a few factors. What kind of carpet do you have? Something like wool will absorb water better than something like nylon, and as a result, will take longer to dry. If your carpet is particularly dirty, it may have to be rinsed through the steam cleaner several times, making it wetter. Also, what environment is this carpet in? Is it airy or warm, therefore making it dry faster?


When you’re looking for a way to deep clean your carpet, both dry and wet cleaning have their benefits. So how do you choose between dry vs wet carpet cleaning? The answer depends on your circumstances.

Steam cleaning is better for getting those deep cleans you need once a year. Steam cleaning can get allergens, bacteria, and other things that you won’t necessarily see on your carpet out of its fibers and out of your life.

Dry cleaning, on the other hand, is good for those in-between cleaning sessions that you might need. You can use dry cleaning to remove general dust and certain stains (although you might need to pre-treat it first). It’s also good if you have the right carpet for it: one that’s heavily trafficked or fragile.

In general, the question of dry vs wet carpet cleaning is how much moisture you can take. Wet carpet cleaning objectively gets your carpets cleaner, but if you can’t deal with a perpetually wet carpet or have a fragile carpet, then dry cleaning is the way to go.

You can consider both options and, once you decide, call a professional carpet cleaning service in Santa Ana. Both can go wrong if you don’t know what you’re doing, and calling a trustworthy professional is the ideal way to clean your carpets.

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