Not too long ago, I cleaned my studio apartment’s carpeting and even used stain remover near the front door. I was expecting to see the nice, light, fluffy carpeting that it was when I first got my place.

Instead, it looked like hot garbage. I freaked and started to wonder what I did wrong. If my dilemma sounds familiar, then great! I’m not alone in this respect, and I actually found out what’s going on with this issue.

There are several reasons why your carpet can look worse after cleaning. The most common culprits include exposing underlying carpet problems, cleaning chemical residue, and wicking. Knowing how to avoid these issues can help you have a nicer home, and also understand why your carpet might look worse for the wear.

When this happened to me, I was livid. I needed to know how to fix it, and I know that you probably are feeling the same way too. Wondering what gives? Here’s what my research revealed about this surprisingly common cleaning issue.

Why Does My Carpet Look Worse After Cleaning?

Generally speaking, carpets are one of those things that can look worse the more you try to make them better. It’s weird like that. In most cases, a carpet will look worse if any of the following are true:

  • You used the wrong method.
  • The chemicals used were too strong or incongruent.
  • You haven’t cleaned your carpets in ages.

Before you call up the cleaning supply company and hurl abuse at them, it’s a good idea to take a step back and figure out what you can do to ameliorate the situation on your own.

Why Using The Wrong Cleaning Method Can Mess Up Your Carpet

Not all carpet fibers are made equal, nor are all carpets equally responsive to cleaning methods. Some methods can be rougher on fibers than others. Others may have less-than-stellar side effects. We’re going to go over the two biggest problems that can happen with cleaning styles, and break down what’s going on.

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Traditional Cleaning

Some carpet cleaning methods, most notably traditional chemical cleaning methods, have a tendency of leaving residue from detergents after the cleaning session is done. Residue can be grimy, discoloring, and sticky. This makes it easier for dirt to cling to carpet, and for your carpet to look discolored. That’s why a lot of carpets get dirtier, faster after a chemical cleaning.

Extraction Cleaning

Extraction cleaning uses hot water that’s sucked up through the fibers to get rid of stains and other dirt. It’s a chemical-free method, but it’s also one that can have a major drawback. Sometimes, a stain will be deeper than the fibers. It’ll reach into the underlay and padding. When this happens and you use an extraction cleaning method, the carpet will act as wicks and draw the stain upwards.

This problem is known as “wicking” in the professional cleaning world. When this happens, you might see a “new” stain appear or an old one reappear. Worse still, it can be hard to fully remove the stain.  Going for multiple passes can help.

Using Bad Cleaning Chemicals

Not all carpets will be made out of the same material, and some are just not made for any cleaning chemical other than water. Silk, for example, can get seriously harmed by using modern carpet cleaners on it. Sometimes, even just using the wrong type of shampoo can lead to a carpet looking bad.

Depending on what you use, your cleaning agents can cause any of the following:

  • Stains. At my former home, I used an orange-colored carpet cleaner on a white carpet. Lesson learned.
  • Discoloration. Certain carpets are also more sensitive to bleaches found in stain lifters, as well as fabric softeners. This can leave your carpeting looking discolored or unusually light in spots.
  • Rot. Though I’ve never seen this in person, I’ve heard of people who used the wrong cleaner on a specialty carpet, only to see the fibers rot away afterwards.
  • Texture Changes. Ever notice how some carpets feel a little stiffer and frayed after a cleaning? This is a sign that the fibers in the carpet were damaged by the cleaners.
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Long Term Neglect

The other big “carpet killer” that can lead to a carpet looking more shabby than “shabby chic” is long-term neglect. We’ve all heard about it happening in other homes, and it’s true. The longer that you leave something uncleaned and neglected, the harder it will be to lift out stains. This is true about almost anything, carpets included.

With carpet fibers, neglect and heavy traffic can easily turn into a double whammy. The more traffic your carpet has, the more likely it is that neglecting your carpet cleaning schedule can cause the carpet’s fibers to become permanently discolored. Depending on how long stains sit, it can become a permanent part of your carpet’s appearance.

How To Prevent Carpets From Looking Worse After Cleaning

An ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure in this case, especially if you have a white carpet. These tips below can help you avoid the mistakes I made:

Choose your carpet cleaners carefully. If you aren’t sure what carpet cleaner to pick, ask some top-rated professionals in your area. They’ll be able to tell you which carpet cleaning methods jive with the kind of material you have, and which won’t.

Avoid chemical cleaners if at all possible. With many carpet fibers, chemical cleaners can do more harm than good. This is especially true if you don’t have typical stains. Heck, even with stains, it’s possible to get your carpet steam cleaned and get great results. In fact, it’s a great way to freshen up most carpets.

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Maintain your carpets well and avoid heavy traffic. This is the best way to keep your carpets looking stylish for longer. The less stress you put your carpets through, the better off you’ll be. If you can’t avoid heavy traffic, make a point of asking people to take their shoes off and to clean your carpets regularly.

Our Final Take

Carpets are a lot more fragile than we like to think they are, and that’s even true of the “durable” types. There are a lot of reasons why a carpet could look worse for the wear after a wash. Most of the time, it either has to do with wicking, bad carpet cleaners, or just using the wrong method to clean said carpet. No carpet is immune to rough cleanings, even if it’s sturdy.

To make the most of your carpet cleaning endeavors, it’s best to ask a professional what they would suggest and stick to that type of treatment. When you’re not splurging on professional carpet cleaning, making a point of regularly vacuuming your floors can help prevent your carpets from looking cruddy post-cleaning.

If your carpet ends up looking worse after a cleaning session, the best thing you can do is call in a professional and explain what happened. They may be able to offer up some advice, or better still, figure out how to make the situation a little better. After all, they tend to know what to do better than most of us in these situations.