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Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

Can I Add Clorox to the Steam Cleaner I Rented?

By Dr. Laundry April 20, 2017

Q. Can I add Clorox to the steam cleaner I rented?

—Anonymous

A. Hi There!

I know you can mix up a bleach and water solution for a power washer, but I am not so sure about steam cleaners. I have never tried it. It would be especially problematic if any bleach carried over to the next user and he is washing a wool carpet or rug.

What stain are you trying to clean? And are there any guidelines from the equipment manufacturer?

It would be good to know if any of the sprayer mechanism parts have metal components that are not safe for bleach; if that’s the case, they could react with the bleach and actually discolor your carpet!

The way these machines work, they spray a cleaning solution onto the carpet and then suck it back off again almost immediately. But a little cleaning solution does get left behind, so you would definitely need a separate rinsing step.

If you do decide to give it a try, first make sure it is safe for your carpet (you can’t bleach wool). Dilute the bleach with water before adding it to the machine (never use bleach full strength!).

For basic cleaning, use a 200 ppm available chlorine solution, which you make by mixing 2 teaspoons bleach with 1 gallon of water. Test a small discreet part of the carpet first to decide if you should continue. It’s pretty likely that the spot you clean will get super clean, so you probably need to clean the entire room. Make sure the room is well ventilated and you wear safety glasses, gloves, and clothing you don’t mind getting bleach on. You also need to pace your work so you don’t let the bleach and water sit on the carpet for more than 10 minutes, after which you should go over the carpet again, to rinse it. You will want a different solution to rinse the carpet; a 1:10 solution of hydrogen peroxide and water will both neutralize any bleach solution remaining on the carpet and rinse it. Then you need to make sure the carpet dries quickly so setting up some fans to circulate air will help.

I can’t confirm that is a good idea — there are so many factors to consider. If the alternative is replacing the carpet, then you certainly have nothing to lose. If you are trying to clean a carpet that was heavily soiled by recent floods, at a minimum the carpet pad will need to be replaced and the bottom of the carpet and subfloor cleaned as well.

Feel free to share a little more about your situation, and let me know if you have other questions. Good luck, and let me know how it goes.

—Dr. Laundry