Bacteria are tiny microorganisms that exist virtually everywhere on Earth. The only places devoid of bacteria are the ones that have been manually sterilized by humans. While you cannot see bacteria with the naked eye, they are visible under a microscope. Carpets are one part of the home that’s particularly likely to harbor potentially harmful bacteria, but careful cleaning can help reduce bacteria levels in your carpets and other areas.

What Are Bacteria?

Bacteria are single-cell organisms. Bacteria fall into three different categories according to their shape: round, cylindrical, and spiral. Most types of bacteria multiply via binary fission, replicating their DNA to create new cells. A few types of bacteria reproduce by a process called “budding.” As bacteria reproduce, they usually vary their genetic material for future survival and to enable them to adapt to their surrounding environment.

The Dangers of Bacteria

Some types of bacteria are beneficial, while others are harmful. The human digestive system is home to specific types of beneficial bacteria that help with digestion and help to keep the immune system strong. Other bacteria can be detrimental to human health, causing illnesses and infections. Escherichia coli and streptococcus are among the most common harmful bacteria. Once a bacterium enters a host, it will try to multiply quickly. Sometimes, a person may have immunity to a specific type of bacteria, either naturally or from a vaccine. When immunity is present, the body will eliminate the bacteria without illness occurring, but if it is not, the person will fall ill: The bacteria will multiply quickly, and symptoms of infection will occur. Antibiotics may be necessary to help the body eradicate the bacteria.

Why Carpets Hold Bacteria

Carpets can trap and hold dirt that people track into the house on their shoes, and outdoor pets may also bring in germs on their feet. Bacteria can hide in the carpet fibers, and it may also settle down into the padding and backing of the carpet. Carpets hold much more dust and dirt than hard flooring because they are much more porous. The norovirus is a particularly common carpet-dwelling germ, and it is often responsible for causing gastrointestinal problems for humans. It can remain alive in carpet fibers for up to six weeks, and when people walk over the carpet, the bacteria can become airborne. Salmonella could also be lurking in carpet fibers, tracked in on shoes. If carpets become damp, campylobacter bacteria may fester in the carpet fibers. This type of bacteria is often found in moist environments where mold and mildew are thriving. For this reason, experts usually recommend that anytime carpet, padding, and backing become fully saturated, replacement is necessary.

How to Properly Clean a Carpet

Regular vacuuming is crucial for keeping carpets clean. For best results, vacuum carpets one or two times per week with a vacuum cleaner that has a high-efficiency particulate air filter to capture as many particles as possible. At least one cleaning per week should involve four minutes of vacuuming over every square meter of carpeting. Steam cleaning is effective for removing bacteria from carpeting, and this method is preferred because it does not introduce excessive moisture during the cleaning process, which could lead to mold issues. So-called “dry steam cleaning” is another option for carpets, and this method is beneficial because it saturates the carpet less so that the backing does not get wet. It’s possible to rent steam cleaning equipment, or you could hire a professional to perform the work. Steam cleaning carpets twice each year is the general recommendation to keep flooring clean. Anyone with pets or small children and those with environmental allergies may wish to steam clean their carpets more frequently to reduce the number of allergens and bacteria in the fibers.