How to Clean a Carpet on the Stairs

Carpet is a big investment for a homeowner. Taking good care of your carpet is vital to keep it from becoming stained and soiled. Deep cleaning carpet also helps keep your home free from dust, allergens, and other irritants.

Carpet cleaning can be a challenging task even on a level floor, but balancing on stairs adds a whole new level of difficulty. Whether you have full stair carpet or a simple carpet runner, keeping carpeted stairs clean is probably not your favorite task.

Fortunately, there are plenty of tips and tricks to make carpet stair cleaning easier. Here are some of our favorite ways to clean carpeted stairs—with and without machines.


It’s nearly impossible to explain how to clean carpet on stairs without mentioning a vacuum cleaner. While you can sweep a low-pile carpet with a broom and dustpan, you really need the power of suction to remove all the soil that gets embedded in carpet fibers.

Most vacuum cleaners come with an attachment for stairs, corners, and crevices. Other manufacturers sell stair attachments that must be purchased separately. If you have carpeted stairs, an attachment is a small investment that will make cleaning much easier.

You might find a small, hand-held vacuum cleaner easier to operate than a big vacuum cleaner, even with the right attachment. The Black and Decker Max Cordless Lithium DustBuster Hand Vacuum is an excellent cleaning tool for carpeted stairs. Other models might be cheaper, but this one has a 16-volt lithium battery that holds a charge for up to 18 months. It has three times the suction power of other models and is cordless and lightweight for easy operation.

Owning a hand vacuum is great for many reasons. Not only will it help keep your stair carpet clean, you can use it to vacuum your vehicles and furniture. Try to use your vacuum cleaner on the stairs at least once a week. Twice a week—or even daily—is ideal if you have a lot of foot traffic in your home.

Man cleaning carpet on stairs

Carpet Shampoo

A good carpet shampoo and scrub brush are essential tools for anyone wondering how to clean carpet on stairs. Carpet shampooing can be done by hand or with a carpet cleaning machine. If you own or rent a carpet cleaner, use the type of shampoo recommended by the manufacturer. If you plan to shampoo the stairs by hand, you have a choice of different carpet cleaning products to try.

Any liquid carpet shampoo can be diluted and placed in a spray bottle to use for hand-cleaning stairs. Folex Instant Carpet Spot Remover is a spray-on shampoo that can also be used in a machine. Although the label on this rave-reviewed product says “spot remover” it can be used to clean a larger area by following these steps:

  1. Vacuum the stairs to remove loose dirt and dust.
  2. Starting at the top of the staircase, spray the first step with Folex.
  3. Rub it in with gloved fingers.
  4. If necessary, scrub the carpeting with a cloth or brush. There’s no need to rinse.
  5. Allow the carpet time to dry before walking on it.
  6. If stains remain, repeat the process, saturating any tough stain with Folex cleaner.


Green Carpet Cleaning Solutions

Many homeowners prefer to use nontoxic products to keep their homes clean. If you’d rather not buy a carpet shampoo with perhaps questionable ingredients, turn to your kitchen and laundry room for several good cleaning options.

Laundry Detergent

Laundry detergent isn’t only great for getting stains out of your clothing. It also works as a decent carpet cleaner. Simply stir a quarter cup of liquid laundry detergent into a gallon of warm water. Dip a scrub brush into the solution, and clean stairs with a circular motion.

Soak an absorbent rag into another bucket of clean water and wring it out. Wipe each step to remove the laundry detergent completely. Repeat with each stair and let them dry overnight, if possible. Plan to clean after everyone goes to bed so they have all night to dry. If you’re in a bind and don’t have laundry detergent, liquid dish soap can work as well.

Baking Soda

Baking soda is an excellent natural carpet cleaning solution. It’s also great for eliminating carpet odors. For a liquid cleaning solution, dissolve a quarter cup of baking soda in a quart of warm water and place it in a spray bottle. Spray vacuumed carpeted stairs with the solution and scrub lightly with a brush. Let the carpet air dry.

Dry baking soda is another answer for the problem of how to clean carpet on stairs. The dry cleaning method is good for cleaning carpeting installed on expensive wooden stairs, as it is less likely to damage wood stairs than a wet cleaning method.

You will need a vacuum cleaner, a spray bottle, and a large box of baking soda to clean carpeted stairs by this method. For extra odor elimination, stir a few drops of your favorite essential oil into the dry baking soda before sprinkling it on your carpet.

Working from the top down, simply sprinkle a generous amount of dry baking soda on your carpeted stairs. Fill your spray bottle with hot water and mist water over the baking soda. Allow it to sit for three hours, or until the baking soda is dry again.

This method will draw out any lingering dirt and odors. Vacuum each step thoroughly to remove all the baking soda residue.


You can make a great cleaning solution from vinegar and water. Not only does it clean well, it also kills odor-causing bacteria.

Be sure to use ordinary white vinegar and not a specialty vinegar, such as apple cider or wine vinegar. Yes, your house will smell strongly of vinegar while the solution is wet. However, as it dries, vinegar evaporates trapped odors along with its signature smell.

Add ¾ cup of distilled white vinegar to a gallon of warm water and stir well. Some cleaners suggest adding a tablespoon or two of salt to boost the cleaning power. Dip a scrub brush into the solution and work it into the carpet with circular, vertical, and horizontal strokes. Do not saturate the carpet; you just want enough moisture to loosen the dirt.

If the water gets murky, dump it and make a new batch. After scrubbing your steps, dip a clean towel into plain water, wring it out, then wipe each step. Allow the carpeting to dry overnight.


Spot Cleaning

Any of the cleaning solutions recommended above will work for spot cleaning. However, after cleaning a spot, you may notice it and the surrounding area is a lighter color than the rest of the carpet. This often happens with old carpet that hasn’t been cleaned frequently enough.

Apply the cleaning solution to the spot and dab the excess with absorbent towels. Let it dry, and repeat with another cleaning product if the first one fails to remove the spot.

Bissell’s Little Green PROheat Carpet Cleaner is a helpful tool for taking care of spills and stains before they have time to set. It also works well on set-in stains, but may require a bit more elbow grease. The kit comes with Bissell Professional Spot and Stain and Oxy Formula cleaning liquid. Weighing just over 9 pounds, it comes with a stair tool that makes cleaning carpeted stairs easy.

If you don’t want to invest in a spot cleaning machine, you can rent a carpet spot cleaner and stair detailer at your nearest home improvement retailer. Some grocery stores and other retailers rent Rug Doctor carpet cleaning machines, too. Affordable rental rates are based on how long you keep the machine; some allow you to rent it for as few as four hours.


Steam Cleaning

Professional steam cleaning is expensive, but it’s definitely the easiest way to deep clean carpet stairs. After all, you just pay someone to show up and take care of the problem for you.

Even if you’re good about self-cleaning carpeted stairs yourself, it’s wise to invest in a professional steam cleaning at least once a year. There really is no match for their industrial equipment when it comes to removing stubborn dirt and carpet stains.


Stubborn Stain Treatment

The key to preventing stubborn stains is to tackle colorful liquid spills as soon as they happen. So if you trip while carrying up a glass of red wine upstairs to enjoy during your evening bath, you must immediately soak up as much of the liquid as possible.

Use a clean cloth or paper towels to gently blot and dab the liquid. Don’t rub it, as rubbing just pushes the fluid deeper into the carpet fibers. Spray the stain with a carpet cleaning solution and follow the methods outlined above for spot cleaning.

Repeat the process if the stain is still there the next day. If you used vinegar to clean initially, perhaps try baking soda or a commercial carpet spot cleaning product.

If the stain is extra-stubborn and still remains, you may have to hire a professional to steam clean that step.


Pet Messes

Pet stains are common, but they pose problems that spilled drinks or tipped flowerpots don’t. They can be smelly in addition to being unsightly. And if you don’t clean them well enough, your pet may return to that spot to urinate or defecate again.

You must use cleaner specifically designed to handle pet messes that involve urine, vomit, blood, or feces. These products contain enzymes that break down these protein based stains.

Nature’s Miracle Deep-Cleaning Stain and Odor Remover is a bio-enzymatic based solution that eliminates visible stains and the particles that cause pet odors. It can be used straight from the bottle or diluted for use in a carpet cleaning machine. It’s completely safe for pets and humans, and is also great to keep on hand for those inevitable nights when your child has a potty or vomiting accident.

Pet hair can also make carpeted stairs look dirty as it collects in corners and crevices. Frequent vacuuming should keep most pet hair accumulation under control, but if you have a lot of pets or animals that shed a lot, it’s hard to stay on top of it.

Brush your stairs with a stiff brush to loosen any embedded pet hair before vacuuming. This portable, double-sided Lint Remover Tool makes easy work of removing pet hair from carpeted stairs—without having to drag out the vacuum cleaner.