It’s a nice day outside, and you’ve just cleaned your carpets, or had them professionally cleaned. They look great, and they’re starting to dry – but what is that horrible smell?! Oh dear, it’s coming from the carpets themselves… how do we fix this?
Well, the first thing to do is not the how, but the why. There’s more than a few options, so let’s get into them, shall we?
What causes a musty smell in a carpet?
There are several answers to this particular question, but one of them is the most probable cause of the smell. As you know, carpets are fitted to the floor, using a special layer of backing, known also as the underlay. In this case, the layer has absorbed moisture during the cleaning process, and that’s where the damp smell is coming from. But what do we do about this?
If your carpet is not that old, say, between a few months up to around 3 years, the damp smell is likely to go away after completely drying. To that end, you don’t need to do much, just leave your windows open, and switch the heating on in the colder seasons. If you chose to use professional carpet cleaners, you were probably also advised by the customer service assistant to switch on fans or dehumidifiers.
However, if you’ve had the carpets fit in for longer than that, the bad smell may indicate a deeper problem. Their underlay may be too old to carry on, and might be in the process of falling apart. If this is indeed the case, you may need to replace either it, or the whole carpet itself.
Whatever the case, don’t leap to any conclusions just yet, as there are a few more things to consider:
Did your carpet smell before being cleaned?
If you had a damp smell coming from the carpet fibres before the cleaning, that complicates things. If it was there, say, only for a few hours, it might be a rare case of the dog coming in with wet muddy paws. But if it’s been there for a while, odds are you’re looking at one of the below:
- The carpet backing is falling apart.
- You have mould growing in the fibres (or worse, on the underlay).
- There may have been a leak you're unaware of, and it's affected the carpet as well.
- Some spillages have reached the underlay.
For those of you that noticed these issues are, in fact, almost too well connected – congratulations on being astute! We hope it’s not the case, but if you have one of these problems, odds are the other three are not that far off. Let’s look at what you should do in case of each:
If you’ve experienced mould issues in the past, you know that it’s commonly growing in areas with increased humidity. And what could possibly raise humidity better than a pipe leak, or heavens forbid, a flood? Whatever the source, mould is a serious health hazard which must not be left unchecked, as it can lead to even deeper concerns if allowed to do so.
Think your carpet has a mould problem? If you can lift an area off the backing, it’s easy to check that. Do it, and look out for any spots of white, green, brown, yellow or black colour. If you see those, it’s time to brace for a lot of work. Investigate the leak, and get it fixed if it’s still ongoing, then contact a specialist company who deals with mould removal.
As mentioned before, old carpet underlay starts falling apart much easier than newly fitted carpet’s backing. But even brand new carpet is not bulletproof, and not waterproof either. If exposed to enough moisture, it will start falling apart. You need to make sure you limit water contact with your carpet as much as possible, so as to avoid any issues.
However, we’re not advising you to avoid steam cleaning companies, as their water-based method comes with extraction (removal of excess water, together with dirt and stains), which prevents waterlogging. In fact, most carpet manufacturers recommend this type of cleaning service not only for general and deep carpet cleaning, but for carpet water leak issues as well. Always call specialists that provide this type of service as soon as a leak happens, as the longer you leave it, the lower the chances of saving your carpet!
And about some stains, such as milk, coffee, or urine, these have a bad enough smell if they stay on the fibres. However, if you have a sizable accident volume (total amount of what has been spilled), it has a high chance of reaching the backing. Should one of those stains linger there, the smell it left in your carpet may remain after the cleaning. That’s why it’s important to react as soon as possible to stains which also carry smells (which is a lot of spillages).
But what do you do if the carpet had no smell before the cleaning, yet smells like your dog who was just in the rain? Ask yourself the following:
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Was the carpet cleaning done properly?
The number one most common reason for your carpets having a damp dog odour is that the cleaner you ordered didn’t do a bang-up job on them. Now, if you did them yourself, accept my apologies for that, but it’s not just the cleaner that matters here. There are many factors, such as:
The machine did not extract enough due to power limits
When DIY carpet cleaning with a machine, odds are you didn’t buy an industrial one, but you rented a portable one. Thing is, not all the portable models (a la Rug Doctor) come with a strong extraction module, or the recovery tank is not big enough. Even if you have big windows and a dozen fans, a large amount of water will not dry fast enough if you let it sit there.
The carpet was not left to dry as well as needed
Due to bacteria liking warmth and moisture, they start spreading like crazy when exposed to both. And when there’s already dust in the carpet, it is the perfect environment for an army of germs. If it was smelly before being cleaned, it will be even worse when you clean it and leave it too wet. That is why all professional carpet cleaners advise leaving windows open, and in the colder part of the year – using the heating.
The cleaner used too many products and/or didn’t rinse them out, or used too much water to clean
As mentioned previously, this is the number one reason your carpet smells like a wet pet after the job’s done. When using carpet shampoos, they need to be rinsed out with clean water after they’ve done their work. This can take from a few seconds to a few minutes depending on the product itself.
However, if this is not done properly, there may be product residue left inside. If that’s the case, not only are you looking at nasty ring marks, but there will be more dirt attracted to the fibres as well. When using a machine yourself, it is very important to make enough dry passes while cleaning. This means that you’re just using the extractors, without adding any new water in, to remove the products and the dirt from the carpet.
When over-wetting the carpets, it is even more important to make sufficient dry passes after you do your wet passes. Without proper air flow and extraction, you’re looking at water damage and a stinky carpet. Worse yet, you may end up giving your flooring a fungus infestation.
Yet bear in mind that you can’t always avoid over-wetting your carpet fibres. When the stains are dry, you do need to use more water so as to remoisten them – which eases their removal. Always do at least three times as many dry passes as you do wet passes, and do not go quickly when doing the former. Haste makes waste, or in this case, haste makes wet.
Read also: How to Clean Wool Carpets Yourself?
How do I get rid of the wet carpet smell?
There’s a few things you can always do to get rid of the smell. Before you try anything, keep in mind that the smell is almost to be expected when cleaning woollen carpets or rugs with water. Additionally, if the underlay happens to be Hessian, the smell is a bit more pervasive compared to foam backing. In all cases, the drying time depends on the air humidity levels, ventilation, the weather outside, and of course – how wet the carpet is.
If you’ve been following us for some time now, you know we like giving tips on what NOT to do in a given situation. Here’s what you should not do when your carpet is soaking wet…
- Hoovering it with a dry vacuum cleaner
- Walking on it
- Placing furniture over it
Now to elaborate on each in order:
If you hoover water with a dry vacuum cleaner, the options are three, and they’re all bad. Either you electrocute yourself (not a fun experience), or you could ruin the machine’s motor – or worst case scenario, both at the same time! There’s a reason hoovers come in two types (dry and wet), and the wet ones are the only ones suitable for soaking up water. On a side note, a wet hoover could help you out, but it will take lots of work to dry out your carpet that way.
I know what you’re thinking about the second one. “I’ll just take my shoes off and put on a clean pair of slippers”. While walking on wet surfaces with shoes on does indeed attract more dirt, that’s not why we advise to avoid stepping on it until it’s dry. The real reason is that the underlay turns into a sponge.
I’m sure you’re confused, so let me elaborate – you know what happens when you squeeze a sponge, right? The water comes right out (and all over your hand, and the sink, etc.). In this case, the water will come out of the underlay, and right back into the carpet fibres.
Regarding furniture, it’s very important to not put it back in until after the carpet has dried. If you have beds on legs, that could cause dents in the carpets (sorry for the terrible rhyme). And if you have sofas or divan beds, putting those back in would almost guarantee mould growth underneath within a matter of 24 to 48 hours. I’m sure no one wants to trip over their footstool and plant on the floor in the hallway, but I’m also sure you don’t want to call mould removal specialists because you put your furniture back in too early.
Now that that’s over with, keep reading to find out:
What's the best way to fix a soaking wet carpet?
Without further ado, here are some tips on dealing with the smell of a cleaned carpet:
- Leave your windows open throughout your home, and don’t close them until the carpets are fully dry. You should ideally open at least two opposite windows, as that way the air current will take the humidity out as quickly as possible. The best way to go about it is to line up a fan blowing over the carpet and towards the windows.
- If the smell persists, you can’t go wrong with baking soda. As our avid readers know, this home remedy is one of the best at absorbing odours of any kind. Sprinkle a stable amount over your fibres (try to go for a thin but even layer on top) and let it sit overnight. All you need to do in the morning is hoover it out, and if needed, repeat the process.
- Should you desire to use products to remove the smell, be careful! Not every cleaning solution is safe for every type of carpet, so remember to do patch tests before you spray the whole room.
Will a damp smell go if you don't wash the carpet?
Honestly, it all depends on how fast your response time is once the carpet was damp initially, and also, what the source of the water was. If you want to get rid of a damp smell caused by cleaning, by all means, don’t hesitate to use baking soda (as advised just now). You don’t need to insert any water to remove the soda, just hoover it right out.
However, if you had a pipe leak or sewage accident, I’m afraid it can’t be fixed by dry cleaning. You will need to fight fire with fire, or water with water in this case. Forget the soda and call the carpet professionals to extract as much of the water ASAP. We mean it – if you leave a flooded carpet for too long, it may need replacement, which costs a pretty penny. And even when just extracting, the specialist will need to spray some clean water and disinfectant, and extract that out at least once, to make sure there’s no bacteria left in your flooring’s fibres.
Well, that about wraps up this week’s post. Do you have any questions or any topic you’d like us to write about? Contact us any time, and we’d be more than happy to advise! See you next time!
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