How to Clean Carpet on Stairs Without a Machine

How to Clean Carpet on Stairs Without a Machine? [Explained]

A handheld vacuum cleaner and a small, portable steam cleaner are tools that make cleaning carpeted stairs as easy as possible. However, if you don't have one or both of these machines, you can clean your stairs by hand.

To clean carpet on stairs by hand, give yourself extra time. The work is physically more difficult because it takes longer, too. Some people might need to do some stairs then take a break before doing more.

Even if you have a vacuum or carpet steamer, sometimes it's satisfying to do a thorough hand-clean to get the spots that machines can often miss.

We'll show you how to clean carpet on stairs without a machine and offer some tips on how you can do so with just your own hands and a few materials.

Why You May Need to Clean Carpet on Stairs Without a Machine

Reasons not to use a vacuum or steam machine on carpeted stairs include:

  • A delicate or expensive carpet
  • The machine doesn't fit the stairs
  • Lack of a working machine

If your carpet is expensive or delicate, be gentle when cleaning and ensure any cleaning products you use won't damage it.

How to Clean Carpet on Stairs Without a Vacuum

How to Clean Carpet on Stairs Without a Vacuum

Cleaning carpet on stairs or anywhere without a vacuum requires a broom at a minimum. A straw or natural broom won't work as well on carpeting as a plastic or nylon stiff-bristled broom.

Sweeping a carpet takes more passes than a hard floor to remove all the lint and dirt. If your broom isn't stiff, it'll take even longer.

Sweep Your Stairs

Start at the top of the stairs. Sweep the landing first, always in one direction, then sweep each step on your way down.

Sweeping the stairs this way gives the surface a basic cleaning. It's not as thorough as a vacuum because there's no suction to pull dirt up through the fibers, but it's a suitable quick-clean method.

Use a Brush

If you really want to get hands-on, use a handheld brush with stiff bristles. Start at the top and go down the stairs the same way, always brushing in one direction. Using a brush gives you better leverage to force out the dirt deep in the carpet fibers.

Don't brush so hard that you could damage your carpet, but take advantage of the leverage to clean where the stairs and risers meet. Vacuums often miss dirt on the edges, so concentrate on those areas while you're down there.

If you have carpeted risers, brush each one with a downward motion before cleaning the stair below.

You can use a dustpan to hold the dust and dirt from each stair if you want to keep from having a big pile at the bottom.

Lint Rolling for Pet Hair

Some debris sticks to carpets more than others. If you have pets and sweeping or using a brush doesn't work as well as you want, try a lint roller.

Starting at the top of the stairs, use the lint roller on each stair and riser to pick up pet hair. If you don't have a lint roller, wide packing tape works well to lift off hair and dirt.

You can remove pet fur or hair stuck in the angles and edges with regular-width strips of whatever household tape you have. 

A Toilet Brush

You didn't read that wrong. You can use a new, unused toilet brush to clean hair and pet fur from carpets.

The toilet brush must have stiff plastic bristles. You can find these at dollar stores or any home goods store, often for only a dollar or two. You won't need an expensive brush for this process, so get the cheapest one you can find.

Before you use it, put a label on it. A piece of masking tape wrapped around the handle that says "Carpets" or something similar would work.

The goal is to make sure no one ever uses it in a toilet. Drag the brush over the stairs to gather hair and other debris.

Heavily soiled carpets might benefit from all these cleaning methods. If the carpeting is dirty enough to need a wash, spend extra time cleaning it while it's dry to make the job easier.

How to Clean Carpet on Stairs Without a Carpet Steamer

How to Clean Carpet on Stairs Without a Carpet Steamer

You have two choices about how to wash the carpet on your stairs by hand. You can spot-clean or clean the entire carpeted area.

If the carpeting is in good shape overall with a few spots that need attention, consider spot-cleaning and waiting on the whole surface. A carpet cleaning machine makes the job so much easier. Wait to buy a carpet cleaner or rent one if you can.

A heavily soiled carpet that can't wait will take some work. You can get it clean by hand if you have patience and the right supplies.

You'll need a:

  • Stiff-bristled brush
  • Container of warm water
  • Carpet shampoo
  • Dry towel (you might need several)

Mix warm water with the carpet shampoo in a sturdy bucket or container. Follow the shampoo's instructions to determine how much to use in the amount of water you have.

Be sure to get the ratio of water to shampoo correct.

If you don't use enough shampoo, the water won't loosen as much dirt. If you use too much shampoo, you'll leave soap residue on the carpet. The residue will attract dirt and soil the carpet faster.

Shampoo Your Carpet by Hand

Once you've mixed the appropriate amount of carpet shampoo into the water, start at the top of the stairs and use the brush to work a small amount of water into the carpet. Use circular motions to lift as much dirt as possible.

When the water gets dirty, you can dump it and mix a fresh batch to avoid brushing dirty water into the carpeting. For spot cleaning, only do the soiled areas.

As you work, avoid getting the rug too wet. You have to remove the water later, and if you leave the carpeting too damp, it can mildew.

Rinse Your Carpet by Hand

One big drawback to learning how to clean carpet on stairs without a machine is rinsing.

When you use a carpet steamer, you only need to change the water to rinse. Suction makes quick work of pulling soap and water out of the rugs. When you clear carpet on your stairs by hand, you have to make at least one more pass to remove as much soap as possible.

Rinse your container and fill it with plain, warm water. Dampen a hand-sized spot on a clean towel with the water and rub the carpet to pull out soap and dirt. You'll need enough towels to get as much dampness out of the carpeting as possible.

If you got the carpet too wet while cleaning it, you might need several towels. Too much soap might mean you need to go over the stairs twice or more times to get it out of the carpeting.


Knowing how to clean carpets by hand can be a life-saver if your vacuum or steam cleaner breaks down. You might need to clean before you can replace the broken equipment.

People cleaned all carpets by hand before the widespread use of electricity. It's possible to do a thorough job without machines.

However, modern vacuum cleaners and carpet steamers make the work much easier. You can get your carpets clean in a fraction of the time with a lightweight vacuum and a steam-cleaning machine.

We hope you learned how to clean carpet on stairs without a machine and never have to do it that way unless you want to!