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Use 'Dry' Steam Vapor Treatment for Healthier Carpet, Upholstery

Harness the power of pure steam for cleaning carpets, rugs and upholstered furniture that have a slight musty odor but no visible mold growth. Treatment with steam vapor (SV) is completely different from traditional “steam cleaning,” which uses hot water (not really steam at all) to clean surfaces. An SV machine looks like a vacuum cleaner because it has canister, hose and wand attachment, but that’s where the similarity stops. The canister works like a kettle that boils water under pressure and the only thing that comes out of the hose and wand is steam vapor (along with a little water that has condensed in the hose).


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Traditional “steam cleaners,” the machines that you rent or that professional cleaners use, inject hot water into the carpet, then suck the water out with a vacuum. The carpet and pad can become saturated with water which, if not dried out quickly enough (24 to 48 hours), can lead to mold growth. Steam vapor contains lots of heat energy and very little water. Because SV is a gas, it penetrates deeply into carpets and even into upholstery. After a carpet is treated with SV, it is barely damp and it dries within hours, virtually eliminating the possibility of new mold growth. In addition, because treated surfaces end up so much hotter than they do when cleaned with traditional steam cleaners, treatment with SV can kill all sorts of organisms. Small insects like dust mites, fleas, booklice and spiders are “cooked” instantly. If surfaces are treated slowly enough, mold spores and bacteria may also be killed, and some of the allergens from mites, mold and pet dander may even be destroyed. SV is safe for people because it does not involve the use of any chemicals (like fungicides) and leaves no residues in the carpet.

The only drawback to SV is that because it is so hot (the temperature of steam from a steam iron), it may affect the fibers or dyes in synthetic (not made from natural materials like wool or cotton) carpets or rugs and may cloud the finish on hardwood floors. To prevent such damage, check with the floor covering manufacturer, or before doing the entire surface of a carpet, test a small area in an obscure location (normally behind or under a piece of furniture) with SV to see if the surface appears changed in any way. Rugs should not be treated with steam vapor while in place over a finished wood floor. Instead, hang the rug indoors or outdoors to avoid heating the floor while treating the rug. And be sure to read the manufacturer’s directions for safe use of the equipment.

Since cleaning with SV produces some moisture, do the treatment on a day when the relative humidity is low or on a day when windows can be opened. To speed drying, put a box fan in a window on exhaust or operate a fan in the room where you are working.


Use 'Dry' Steam Vapor Treatment for Healthier Carpet, Upholstery:  Created on August 27th, 2006.  Last Modified on January 21st, 2014


About Jeffrey C. May

Jeffrey C. May is a building consultant, Certified Indoor Air Quality Professional (CIAQP), and author of My House is Killing Me! The Home Guide for Families with Allergies and Asthma(2001) and My Office is Killing Me! The Sick Building Survival Guide (2006), as well as co-author of The Mold Survival Guide: For Your Home and for Your Health (2004), and Healthy Home Tips: A Workbook for Detecting, Diagnosing, and Eliminating Pesky Pests, Stinky Stenches, Musty Mold, and Other Aggravating Home Problems (2008), all published by Johns Hopkins University Press. A former educator and organic chemist (M.A. Harvard University), Jeff is principal scientist of May Indoor Air Investigations LLC in Cambridge, Massachusetts.