Cleaning Guides

Why Do Carpets Smell Worse After Cleaning and How to Fix That?

You noticed or smelled (which is probably worse) that it’s time to free your carpet from the trapped dirt. As any diligent homeowner or renter would do, you decided to give that shaggy piece of fabric a good bath.

You probably rented a cleaning machine or called a professional, moved your pet into another room, and prayed to all the gods you knew that those carpet stains come off with ease.

So far, so good.

A couple of hours later, you got your lovely carpet cleaned, yet your nose receptors were still telling you that something was not right. You sniffed around, only to find out that the rug itself is to blame.

But why does your carpet smell worse after cleaning it?

Let’s see what the causes of that musty carpet smell are and what can you do to fight it.

This post is for you if:

  • You’ve noticed your carpet smells after cleaning;
  • You like to handle carpet cleaning the DIY way;
  • You have a dog (or several) in your home.

Why a carpet smells bad after cleaning?

In order to find the right solution to the problem, you need to understand what’s causing it in the first place. So, let’s look into some of the main reasons why your carpet stinks after washing it.

Improper drying of the carpet

One of the main things that cause that damp carpet smell is the incorrect drying process. If the backing of the carpet or rug has absorbed moisture during the cleaning, chances are it is still wet.

If not dried properly, the material becomes susceptible to water damage and mildew problems, which can cause a musty smell to appear. So, in this case, make sure you dry the carpet well enough and the bad odour should disappear.

If a rental carpet cleaning machine was used for the cleaning, the shop should give you information about how much time it will take for the carpet to dry out completely. Keep in mind that the type of carpet material is also important when it comes to cleaning and drying time. Therefore, here are a few tips to remember:

  • Carpets with hessian backing tend to smell more than foam-backed ones.
  • Drying time depends on how wet the carpet is and how hot/dry the air is.
  • For carpets that are 100% woollen, a wet dog smell is somewhat natural while the item is still wet and the odour should disappear once it dries out.

We suggest you read our post on the most effective and popular carpet cleaning methods to learn which technique is suitable for your textile floor covering.

Also, if the carpet is relatively new, the so-called “wet dog” smell is normal and should disappear after the item fully dries. For older carpeting, this unpleasant smell might be a sign of their underlays breaking down. If so, it might be time to retire your carpet or rug and replace it with a freshly bought one.

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Overwetting the fabric

Another possible reason for a carpet to smell bad even after a professional cleaning is overwetting. The most common causes for overwetting are:

  • The rental carpet cleaning machine was not powerful enough to suck up the moisture from the fibres.
  • The carpet cleaning technician was inexperienced and overwetted the carpeting.
  • The carpet cleaner used too much detergent or shampoo and didn’t rinse the rug well enough afterwards.
  • The drying conditions were poor – high humidity levels or insufficient air circulation, for example, can prevent the carpet from drying fully.

Any reputable carpet cleaning technician should provide you with instructions on how to take care of your carpet right after a deep clean.

Activating old stains

In some cases, removing old dried-on stains will require overwetting certain areas of the carpet. A professional cleaner will do a couple of dry passes afterwards to suck up as much moisture as possible and prevent water damage and a smelly carpet.

When warm water comes in contact with dirt and heavy spillages deeply set into the carpet fibres, it creates the perfect environment for bacteria growth. And while the bacteria are multiplying thanks to the heat and moisture, the odour quickly intensifies. That’s why you may sense the strong smell of urine or sour milk. In this case, drying the material properly is very important to prevent the further spreading of the smell.

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Mould growth

If the carpet smelled musty even before the cleaning procedure, here are the possible reasons:

  • There was a flood or leak in the past that you’re unaware of (check the pipes of the ice maker connected to the fridge, inspect your HVAC system, and look for leaking faucets).
  • Mould and mildew are growing on grip rods or skirting boards, causing the smell.
  • The carpet underlays are old and breaking down.

These three factors are extremely interconnected and can affect your carpet in a truly disastrous way. When in doubt, if possible, lift up a section of the carpet and look underneath. If you notice grey, green, white, or black spots, it’s probably moulded.

Mould or mildew puts your respiratory health at risk. If you think that’s the case, find the moisture source, have it fixed, and consult with a mould removal specialist right away!

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How to get rid of the bad smell after carpet cleaning

Here are a few things that can help you get that musty smell out of your freshly cleaned carpet while it’s drying:

  • Open all windows, if the weather allows it, to ensure proper air circulation near the wet carpet.
  • Sprinkle baking soda around or leave an entire box open overnight to absorb the smell, then vacuum it up. Baking soda is fantastic at absorbing unpleasant smells.
  • Pour white vinegar into bowls and place them around the room. The vinegar will absorb pretty much any odour, including the wet carpet smell.
  • Place kitty litter near the carpeted area to soak up the bad smell. Be cautious if you have cats, though, as they will probably treat it as a bathroom.
  • Use Febreze for carpets, but test the product for discolouration first on an inconspicuous area of your rug.
  • Spread Borax over the carpet and gently scrub it in with a broom or dry brush.
  • Place a dehumidifier in the room.
  • Rent or use your own fans and point them directly at the carpet (for example, Fantastic Services provides you with a free Air Mover system that speeds up the drying process up to 3 times).

What not do after cleaning the carpet

As mentioned above, you should receive instructions on what not to do with your carpet from the cleaning company or shop. If you didn’t get any directions for whatever reason, here are the things you should avoid doing while your carpet is still wet:

  • Putting furniture on the carpet.
    This creates a heavenly environment for mould or mildew growth beneath the chairs and sofas. Also, wooden furniture legs can leave dents on wet carpets, so make sure to place protective pads beneath them. The wet carpet fibres can damage the wood itself, as well. Put the furniture back in the room only after the carpet has fully dried.
  • Trying to vacuum the carpet with your household vacuum.
    This is not a good idea because you run the risk of electrocution or serious damage to the machine. The regular vacuum cleaner you use at home is not made to deal with spills and moisture. To pull this off, you will need a wet vacuuming model that is able to soak up the water.
  • Stepping on the carpet while it is still wet.
    This will squeeze the water back up from the backing and re-wet the carpet. Still, if you have to walk over the cleaned area for some reason, always wear protective shoes to keep oils from feet and socks from transferring into the damp carpet fibres.

If you want to learn more about how to maintain your rug properly, check out our detailed post on the topic. It’ll walk you through the different ways to clean your carpet and keep it smelling fresh.

What if the bad carpet smell still persists?

That’s it – you tried everything you could, but the unpleasant damp carpet smell refuses to go away. Well, unfortunately, the odds are that the underlying surface of your carpet is damaged.

If that’s the case, it might be too late for you to save it and you should consider replacing the carpeting (here, you can find the nearest carpet recycler).

Sadly, even professional carpet cleaners can’t help you with this one. This is simply something beyond their expertise and capabilities. However, take note of the following:

  • Frequent pet accidents can create a lingering smell that can potentially soak into the wood underneath the carpet.
    The same applies to pet vomit stains. One or two accidents shouldn’t be an issue, though.
  • Spilt liquids on carpets that haven’t been cleaned right away can settle into the carpet backing.
    For example, milk products can turn sour in your carpet and cause an awful stench.
  • Mould and mildew growth might occur if there is moisture trapped between the carpet backing and the subfloor.
    And mould is dangerous to health as it can cause allergic reactions. That’s why mould-affected carpets should be treated or removed as soon as possible. You can also take a look at our helpful guide to learn how to remove mould from a carpet; your lungs and nose will thank you for it!
  • The smell of cigarettes can penetrate almost any surface, including your wall-to-wall carpet or Persian rug.
    Also, if your home has suffered any fire damage, the smoke smell can establish itself deep within the carpet’s fibres. Cigarette smoking, candles, and fireplaces can all contribute to carpet filtration soiling, resulting in dirty edges around the baseboards.

Play it safe, choose the carpet cleaners at Fantastic Services!

If you don’t want to spend so much time and effort on cleaning carpets, give us a call! Why you ask? Because all carpet cleaning technicians working with Fantastic Services are diligent and experienced in their field. Each job starts with a preparation and a quick viewing of the carpet to prevent any damages, such as overwetting and discolouration during the service.

Dealing with a smelly carpet?

Let the experts handle it for you today!

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  • The main reason a carpet smells bad after cleaning is that the backing is still wet.
  • If the carpet doesn’t dry properly, it becomes vulnerable to mould and mildew, which can cause the musty smell and even be a health hazard.
  • Bad odours should disappear once the carpet dries fully. However, if it’s allowed to stay wet for too long, the problem might already be too severe.
  • New carpets and 100% wool rugs tend to have a wet dog smell when wet – this is normal and the odour should disappear once the material dries fully.
  • Overwetting is a common cause of a smelly carpet after professional cleaning.
  • If the carpet smelled before the cleaning procedure, the causes differ and you’ll need to inspect it.
  • Ensuring proper drying conditions can help you avoid a smelly carpet.


Now that you know why your carpet smells bad after cleaning it, it’s time to resolve this issue! If you have any questions, please do let us know using our comment section.

Image source: depositphotos / Kobyakov, StudioLightAndShade, Patryk_Kosmider

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