In order to keep your carpet in the best shape possible, experts recommend having your carpet cleaned every 12 to 18 months. If you have children or pets, you'll want to clean your carpet even more frequently to ensure spills, pet dander, and pet hair don't get ground deep into the fibers. However, the cost of hiring a professional cleaner this often can really add up. One way to save money is to clean the carpet yourself, using a home carpet shampooer that you either buy or rent. You can get a good, thorough cleaning with this type of system—as long as you follow these tips.

Use the correct shampoo for your unit.

Your carpet shampooer's instructions should tell you what shampoo to use. Make sure you use a recommended shampoo and not one made for another brand of carpet cleaner. Generally, you'll add shampoo to the carpet-cleaning machine, and the machine will dilute that shampoo with water before spraying it out onto the carpet. It's important to have the right ratio of shampoo to water. Different shampooing machines dilute the shampoo with different amounts of water, so using a shampoo that's not designed for the machine you're using (one that's too high or low in concentration) could result in too strong or too weak of a shampoo solution being sprayed onto your carpet.

Let the water warm up.

If a professional were to come clean your carpet, the service they'd offer is one called "steam cleaning." This service does not actually use steam to clean your carpet, but it does use very hot water. Hot water is better at loosening grime from the carpet. Your home carpet shampooer is not likely to be capable of heating water to as high a temperature as the high-powered equipment a professional uses, but it can come close. Sadly, many people don't get to reap the advantages of shampooing with hot water because they either don't put hot water in the unit or don't let the shampooer warm up for long enough before using it.

When you fill your shampooer's water tank, make sure you do so with the hottest water your tap will dispense. (Don't actually boil the water. This may melt your unit.) Then, follow the shampooer's instructions to let the shampooer heat up before using it. Most will tell you to turn on the shampooer and let it heat up for 10 to 20 minutes before you begin to shampoo.

Go heavy on the suction.

Most carpet shampooers have two modes. One mode squirts soapy water onto the carpet while also sucking it up again. The second mode only suctions up dirty water. After you've gone over the carpet once with it on the first mode, go over it several more times with it on the second, suction-only mode. This will ensure you suck up as much water as possible. And since the water you're sucking up contains the carpet's loosened dirt and grime at this point, it's essential to remove it thoroughly.

Dry the carpet as quickly as possible.

If your carpet takes too long to dry, all of your work will be for naught as the carpet will develop a musty odor and may even begin to mold. Try to shampoo your carpet on a warm, breezy day so that you can open the windows for increased ventilation after shampooing. You can even set up fans in the windows to blow in some fresh air. Keep doors to the room open, and don't put any furniture back onto the carpet until it's completely dry. (The furniture will trap moisture underneath itself, slowing the drying process).

Every few years, it's a good idea to spring for a professional cleaning to ensure that the deepest, most ground-in dirt is removed from your carpet. But most years, you can get away with home carpet shampooing if you follow the steps above for effectiveness. Click here for more information about carpet cleaning.