Why Carpet Can Look Worse After Cleaning

Updated May 31, 2022
Shag rug with carpet cleaning equipment

Cleaning your carpets can be exciting. However, when your carpets suddenly have bald spots and new stains, you can feel defeated. Explore the top reasons for why your carpet looks worse after cleaning.

Why Does My Carpet Look Worse After Cleaning?

You have a big event coming up. Perfect time to clean your carpets, right? Wrong. After a good shampooing, your carpet looks even worse. It's every homeowner's worst nightmare. But why do some carpets look worse after cleaning? There isn't just one different reason they look worse, but typically you can attribute it to the carpet age and deep stains. To answer the question of why your carpet looks worse after cleaning, you'll need to look at wicking, residue, and worn pile.

Carpet Wicking After Cleaning

Wicking sounds like an ominous name. However, it's actually when stains and dirt in the padding and subfloor come to the surface after the pad becomes wet from steam cleaning a carpet. These aren't new stains, but rather old stains buried in that plush beige pile now coming to the surface as the carpet dries. There is nothing you can do for these stains beyond vacuuming and cleaning the surface dirt off the pile (fabric loops). Wicking is a sign of a more serious problem that might call for a professional carpet cleaner.

dirty doormat with stain

Residue Stains

Unlike wicking, residue stains are pretty shallow and are caused by residue left on the carpet from cleaning shampoos. Here's how it works: After you clean, a little residue gets left from the soap. Well, dirt loves residue. So every time any dirt comes into contact with the sticky residue… boom, stain. To help with your residue issue, white vinegar can be your friend.

  1. Use a towel to soak up the residue on the carpet.
  2. Then spray the area down with white vinegar.
  3. Press the towel to absorb the vinegar and more soap residue.
  4. Repeat as you need to.

Worn Pile

Another problem is your carpet might just be old or in a high traffic area. Just like your favorite shirt, over time, your carpet gets worn, faded, and frayed. Before cleaning, this worn pile is lying down. However, after you steam clean, you're pulling those bad boys back up to attention. When the pile is pulled up, those different lengths of the pile and worn fibers really show. In some areas, your carpet might even look like it's balding. Not to worry, once your carpet lays back down from traffic, this will not be as noticeable.

What You Can Do If Carpet Looks Worse After Cleaning

You were ready to post those beautiful carpet cleaning before and after photos on your Instagram, but it just looks like a mess. What do you do now? There are a few things you can try to deal with this carpet cleaning fail.

  • Allow your carpet to fully dry before taking action.
  • Try steaming your carpet with just water.
  • Try vacuuming your carpet after dry.
  • For worn pile, wait for it to lay back down.
  • Spot clean any stains you've pulled up with cleaners or white vinegar.
  • Call a professional cleaner to assess the situation.
  • Remedy any carpet discoloration after cleaning with a bit of baking soda and dish soap. Let it sit for a few hours and wipe away.

Why Does My Carpet Smell Worse After Cleaning?

If looks weren't bad enough, now your carpet also smells. The reasoning behind this isn't as murky as it looks. Smells coming from the carpet are from the padding of the carpet getting wet. This can leave a distinctive mildew or wet dog smell. Again, this has to do with stains that have penetrated your carpet. As the padding gets wet from cleaning, smells from old stains come to life again. To get rid of the smells, you'll, unfortunately, have to wait for the padding to dry.

Avoiding Dingy Carpet

The best method to ensure that your carpet looks amazing when you clean it is to ensure that you clean up wet stains immediately. Additionally, avoid using too much water when you are cleaning up a stain. You want to avoid the stain penetrating into the padding and subfloor beneath your carpet. It's also important to keep a routine cleaning schedule for your carpeted floors.

Cleaning Your Carpets

Everyone has been there. You clean your carpets for a huge family event only to have them stained and balding. Rather than cry, figure out why your carpet looks worse after cleaning and how you might fix it. It's also a smart move to clean your carpets a few weeks in advance, just in case. Next, learn how to clean a shag rug.

Why Carpet Can Look Worse After Cleaning