How to Clean a Smelly Carpet The Easy Way

Uh-oh! Your pet is at it again, and now there’s a stain on the carpet and an eye-watering stench in the air. This would have been fine if it hadn’t been the umpteenth time this week and now the whole house smells like a kennel.

This could be the case, or it could also be house guests who think it’s the 1970s and that indoor smoking is ok. The end result is a carpet that smells to high heavens and you have to clean it.

I’ve been there and I know it can be a chore, but learning how to clean a smelly carpet is a skill I’ll forever be thankful for. Keep reading for all the tips and tricks that will make your carpet smell fresh and clean for days!

a woman and a smelly carpet

How to Clean a Smelly Carpet or a Stained Carpet

Carpet is made of fibers that attract particles and trap them. Then, bacteria does its thing and turns everything into a dirty sock kind of stench.

To know exactly how to get rid of that smell, you need to address the root cause. There are a few usual suspects here:

1.   Pet Urine

If you know about this, you know. Urine is mostly urea + water, and urea is ammonia + water. Once you take the water out of the equation, you’re left with a pungent, unmistakable ammonia smell that takes over the whole house.

How to Prevent It

It’s advisable to blot away any “accidents” as soon as they happen. You’re basically taking away most of the stink-causing particles before the water evaporates, leaving a concentrated essence of pee.

How to Treat It

A good old-fashioned enzyme cleaner/odor eliminator is the way to go here. The enzymes in the cleaner break down the ammonia and organic compounds that give the urine its smell, completely eliminating it. 

  • Use the cleaner as per the manufacturer’s instructions, whether you choose a spray or powder formula.
  • Just make sure to test it out on a hidden area to make sure it’s safe on your carpet. Simply apply the product to the carpet and blot it away. If it doesn’t stain or affect the colors, go ahead and use it on the dirty spot.

2.   Smoke

a man smoking

Smoke can make its way to your carpet in a multitude of ways, from having a smoking guest over to burning dinner in the oven.

Either way, the smell tends to stick around because the partially-burned carbon molecules are the epitome of airborne and are fine enough to linger.

How to Prevent It

If you can, try to keep your carpeted rooms well-ventilated to save yourself the trouble of having to deodorize the carpet. However, if the deed is done, you can still save your carpet.

How to Treat It

Smoke can vary in pH, from mildly acidic cigarette smoke to more alkaline forms that are less common inside the home. To nudge those particles away from carpet fibers, you’ll need a more acidic compound that would neutralize them.

Enter plain old distilled white vinegar! Although it’s not the most flavorful addition to a salad dressing, white vinegar works wonders for cleaning!

  • You can use a spray of equal parts water and vinegar to mist your entire carpet lightly. The vinegar could smell strong at first, but by the time the water evaporates, you’ll completely eliminate the smoke and vinegar smell from your carpet.
  • Just avoid soaking the carpet with the solution, as it can lead to the padding retaining water. You don’t want this to happen because it encourages mold and mildew growth. We definitely don’t want to create a new problem while solving an old one!

3.   Sweat/Dirty Feet

We all know the “dirty sock” stench some carpets have. Unfortunately, if you walk around barefoot on your carpet, it’ll eventually smell like feet.

Not to mention those of us who like to work out and a couple of stray beads of sweat make it onto the carpet, making it smell like the gym.

How to Prevent It

If you don’t enjoy wearing slippers or house shoes, I get it. I was averse to the idea until recently when I found a comfortable pair. Just keep in mind that your carpets will continue to smell the way they do if you don’t do something to prevent it.

How to Treat It

So inconspicuous, hanging around our pantries like nothing is happening. It’s baking soda, guys!

While a great leavening agent for cookies and muffins, baking soda is also an amazing weapon to have in your cleaning arsenal.

Besides its ability to neutralize acidic compounds, baking soda is also amazing at deodorizing fabrics without introducing water to the equation.

a girl walking on carpet with dirty shoes
  • All you have to do is sprinkle it on the carpet in one even layer. I use either a mesh strainer or an old powdered sugar/baby powder shaker that I fill up with baking soda to make the process easier.
  • If the smell is faint, leave it on for a couple of hours, if it’s strong, overnight is best. All you have to do is keep your kids or pets away from it as it sits, and vacuum clean the carpet the next day.
  • If the smell lingers, repeat for a second time, leaving the baking soda on for longer. Some people add a few drops of essential oil to the baking soda, as well, to provide a clean, fresh smell. Just be sure you’re not using anything toxic to your pets.

4.   Mold and Mildew

Water damage is the worst; I know that from experience. Apart from the immediate overhauling of the room it attacks, everything in that room smells like mold and mildew for months after.

How to Prevent It

Since no amount of cleaning product will fix the smell of an ongoing mold problem, the right course of action starts with targeting the damage and fixing it. Any faulty pipes or flooded areas need to be repaired first before you tackle the carpeting.

How to Treat It

The only way to stop mold and mildew from stenching up your carpet is to completely dry the whole thing.

  • If it’s a rug you can remove, take it out and leave it somewhere sunny for a couple of days until it’s bone dry. Then you can proceed to sprinkle it with baking soda, preferably mixed with essential oil.
  • If it’s an installed carpet, you can use a carpet cleaner with some carpet shampoo. The good thing about carpet cleaners is that they suck up all the water they introduce, leaving the carpet almost completely dry.
  • Use a couple of fans directed to the floor or a dehumidifier to complete the drying process. Then your carpet will smell as good as new.


Living in a home where the carpet doesn’t smell the best makes it feel less like home. That’s why knowing how to clean a smelly carpet is essential.

Think of the comfort and freshness you’ll feel! Not to mention, it can save you a lot of unnecessary anxiety when you have surprise guests coming over.

Taking some household items like baking soda and white vinegar and repurposing them as carpet deodorizers isn’t just nifty, it’s also effective! Just know that sometimes you’ll have to throw in the towel and get some enzyme cleaner or carpet shampoo.

Joe Carrow

Reno addict, keen gardener, and baker. I  started blogging in 2012 and have been hooked ever since!

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