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How to Remove Odors from Carpets and Rugs

Stinky carpets and rugs are pretty nasty to live with. A deep professional cleaning is a good long-term answer, but if you can’t afford those as often as needed, there’s quite a bit you can do yourself to remove the odors yourself.

And you might be surprised to learn a professional cleaning may not remove all odors, especially pet odors. These tend to keep coming back over time.

If the odor is really bad or really persistent, the only real long term solution might be to replace the carpet and padding completely. But that may be an expense you can’t afford right now, and a huge inconvenience.

So in the meantime, you’ll need a few tools for deodorizing your carpets and rugs. The first step is to make a carpet sprinkle: it can be as simple as baking soda, or it can mix a few ingredients together.

Vacuum on carpet near woman's feet

Odor removing carpet sprinkles

I’m all for making my own, but I have found commercial sprinkles can be easier on my vacuum cleaner. Some of the homemade ingredients can choke newer vacuums, especially the ones with HEPA filters. And you may just prefer to buy a ready-made product.

I use and recommend Arm & Hammer Pet Fresh Carpet Odor Eliminator. I’m also a fan of Arm & Hammer Odor Eliminator Vacuum Free foam. You just spray it on and let it dry, and it does wonders.

You may have to use these twice or even several times. But over a few sessions with the vacuum, they get out a lot of odor.

Recipe #1

Simple baking soda can do wonders.

Recipe #2

Mix a cup of Borax with 2 cups of cornmeal. Better for small spots and minor odors.

Recipe #3

For particularly stubborn odors, mix 3/4 cup of baking soda with 2 tablespoons of corn starch and 1/4 cup of talcum powder (you can use perfumed talcum powder to give it a fresh scent, but unscented works well too).

Vacuum being used on carpet

Using your homemade carpet sprinkle

Now that you’ve made your sprinkle, here’s what you do with it:

  • Sprinkle it over a particular spot (if that’s the only area where the smell is coming from) or entire rooms full of carpet, as needed.
  • You want to leave it on as long as you can. Overnight would be a good minimum. Two days would be even better. The longer you leave it, the better this will work. If your family can avoid a room for a couple of days, they’ll be rewarded with a big improvement in the smell.
  • Do not vacuum it up yet! Some of the ingredients you’ve sprinkled on your carpet, including the baking soda, could choke up your vacuum and do permanent damage. Take a stiff broom and sweep up as much of the sprinkle as you can.
  • Now run the vacuum to get out the remaining particles

Troubleshooting the Method:

  • If any particles of sprinkle remained on the carpet, use a scrub to get them up.
  • If there’s still some smell lingering, do it again. This is especially necessary when you’re working on a room your family can’t avoid for two days: if you can only leave the sprinkle on overnight, doing it two nights in a row enables you to get similar results to if you’d left the sprinkle on for a day and a night.
  • If you still have stink after doing this a couple of times, or see no improvement after the first time, you may have deeply embedded stuff in your carpet – or worse, in the carpet padding. Using dish washing liquid can help, at least temporarily, if the smell is in the carpet fibers. But if it’s in the padding, where pet pee likes to sink in, the problem is bigger than that.

Replacing carpet or padding

If you’ve done all this and are still having trouble, you’re going to have to either rent a steam cleaner and give the carpet a deep cleaning, or hire a professional carpet cleaning service. In my experience, if the above methods have failed, DIY steam cleaners won’t help much.

Since renting one can cost nearly what hiring a pro can, I would suggest just getting in someone who has multiple cleaning methods they can try that shouldn’t damage your carpet.

However, sometimes carpet or padding simply needs to be replaced. A pro may be able to help you isolate a small section of padding that something nasty has sunk into.

The carpet can be lifted, the small section of padding replaced, and the carpet stapled back down for not a lot of money. Carpet can also be replaced piecemeal, if you’ve got a small section that’s got a particularly nasty odor.

If the job is done right, you’ll never notice where the new carpet is (unless the rest of your carpet is so worn, new carpet stands out like a sore thumb).