My Carpet Smells After a Cleaning

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Did you just pay for a professional carpet cleaning service and feel like your carpet smells worse than ever? There's nothing more frustrating than feeling like you've wasted money. But it's common for carpet to smell immediately after being professionally cleaned, and there are some tricks to help the odor clear up quickly. If your carpet continues to smell long after it has been cleaned, it may need to be completely replaced.

My Carpet Smells After a Cleaning
Image Credit: KatarzynaBialasiewicz/iStock/GettyImages

What Causes Carpets to Smell After Cleaning?

In carpets that have just been cleaned, the odor almost always comes from the materials underneath the carpet fibers. The carpet backing and padding can hold moisture and odors from old spills, stains or ground-in dirt. When these materials become wet from deep-cleaning, the smell resurfaces stronger than ever. Until it dries, that persistent "wet dog" smell will linger.

Common mistakes can be made when cleaning a carpet that result in those unpleasant smells. These include using too much shampoo, using too much water and not applying a deodorizer afterward. Still, with enough drying time, these rookie mistakes should not leave you with lasting odors. Give it some time, and then evaluate whether the smell persists.

Let It Dry

A professional carpet cleaner should leave you with detailed instructions about how to take care of your carpet immediately after a cleaning.

The carpet needs ample time to dry. Open windows if the weather is nice, and point fans directly at the carpet to speed things along. If you put furniture directly on wet carpet, you run the risk of creating the perfect mold or mildew habitat under the furniture. Wooden furniture legs can also damage freshly cleaned carpet because the wood stain bleeds into the carpet fibers when it comes into contact with the wet chemical cleaner. The wet carpet can also damage the wood. To avoid these complications, it's best to wait until the carpet is completely dry before returning furniture to the room.

Baking Soda Trick

The smell should dissipate with the excess moisture. If not, there are additional steps that can be taken, such as sprinkling baking soda onto the carpet. This serves two purposes, absorbing both odor and moisture. Let it sit on the carpet for one to two hours before vacuuming it up.

Even just sitting an open box of baking soda in the room can absorb some of the smell. Letting an open box of unscented cat litter sit in the room has the same effect. You could also sprinkle litter on the carpet as an alternative to baking soda. Using clay-based cat litter is the most effective at odor control and even helps with stain removal, and the non-clumping variety is easiest to vacuum. Note that it's best to do this only if you do not have cats, as they may take it as an invitation to urinate on your carpet.

But My Carpet Still Smells

If your carpet continues to emit disgusting fumes, there's a good chance that there is damage below the carpet. Anything that has penetrated to the subfloor cannot be reached by even professional cleaners and will continue to smell despite your best efforts to clean it.

For example, one or two accidents while house training your puppy should not linger, but regular accidents create lasting odor and moisture problems that can potentially sink all the way into the wood below your carpet. Pets' vomit stains can generate lingering odors that resurface every time the carpet gets wet during cleaning.

Likewise, if your carpet has sustained any type of water damage, the moisture that is trapped between the subfloor and the carpet backing becomes a prime breeding ground for mold and mildew. Because mold can cause allergic responses and other health concerns, it's especially important to remove mold-damage carpet and flooring sooner rather than later.

Smoke is another culprit. The smell of cigarette smoke tends to penetrate every surface, including carpet. But if the house has sustained any type of fire damage, even if it did not directly affect the carpet, that smoke smell can also settle deep within the carpet and other materials in the house.

Carpets that have been used and abused can hold onto stubborn smells. Anything that has been spilled on the carpet without having been cleaned up right away will settle into the carpet backing, far out of reach of a cleaner. Milk products can turn sour in your carpet, for example.

In short, damaged carpet backing and subfloor cause a persistent smelly carpet despite your best efforts to clean and dry it. The only way to free yourself from the stench is to completely replace the carpet.


Cathy Habas enjoys distilling even the most complicated home improvement tasks into bite-sized pieces. She believes in empowering homeowners one article at a time.

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