The History of Floor & Carpet Cleaning

Modern housecleaning consists of plugging in an electronic appliance that systematically removes dirt, grime, and stubborn stains from carpets but it has not always been so simple to clean away the evidence of a day’s activity.

19th Century

Historical evidence suggests that carpet cleaning procedures emerged during the 19th century. The Industrial Revolution inspired new ideas of cleanliness in Europe and North America. Before the advent of the Industrial Revolution, people protected their carpets by covering them with druggets, or thick, heavy woolen goods that spread underneath tables and other exposed areas. Druggets protected against spills and other stains. Wealthy individuals used canvas cloth to cover carpet while away on vacations and during social events held in their homes. The lack of ventilation caused houses to fill with dust, dirt, and soot, which prompted people to search for ways to clean their homes. Societies placed significant value on their homes at that time, which sparked an innovative mindset to clean houses more efficiently. One of the most common techniques for cleaning carpet involved beating rugs with brooms to remove sand, dust, and soot; however, this method did not remove stains.


Effective stain removal methods did not emerge until the 1830s, when creative housewives recorded their secrets for the removal of ink, grease, and oil. One stain removal method involved scrubbing carpet with lemon juice and a hot loaf of bread. Next, the cleaner rinsed the carpet thoroughly with fresh water and then left it outside to dry. Over time, people adjusted their cleaning techniques with more effective methods. For instance, housewives used straw brooms to preserve the carpet’s color. Published magazine articles revealed the necessity of sweeping carpets to prevent run-out and ripping.


During the late 1860s and 1870s, carpet cleaning techniques took a leap for the better with the advent of the first manually-operated vacuum cleaner. The vacuum cleaner made it easier for people to manage their daily housecleaning. Ives W. McGaffey invented the “Whirlwind,” or the first manually-operated vacuum cleaner in 1868. The “Whirlwind” was lightweight, compact, and difficult to operate. Other inventors designed their own manually-operated vacuum cleaners in the United States and Europe.


By the 1880s, readers could find an array of professional cleaning advice in various publications. One carpet cleaning method involved mixing water and bull’s gall before scrubbing it with a flannel cloth and then rinsing it with cold water.

Most people used machines to beat carpets clean of dirt. Newer techniques emerged to restore carpets back to their former glory. One of these methods involved redying carpet; however, this often shrunk the carpet. Other recommended carpet cleaning techniques involved mixing clay paste with water and then leaving the compound on the carpet overnight to dry. In the morning, people would sweep the paste away to find stains and soil removed. Many people used chloroform as an alternative to clay paste; however, this would sometimes cause color fading. In addition, chloroform negatively impacted the body’s nervous system, making it far too risky to become a common carpet cleaning technique.


In 1900, Corrine Dufour invented the first electrically-powered “carpet sweeper.” Hubert Cecil Booth invented the first electrically-powered cleaner that followed vacuum principles in 1901. He designed and tested this device by laying a handkerchief on top of a dining room chair and then attempt to suck up as much dust into the handkerchief as possible. His experiment proved that his idea could possibly work after all. As a result, he built a large device called the Puffing Billy, which operated off oil before switching over to an electric motor.

In 1905, Walter Griffiths Manufacturer sold a manually-operated cleaner that removed dust from carpets in Birmingham, England. This manually-operated vacuum cleaner was portable and easy to store. It was one of the first cleaners to look similar to the modern vacuum. James Spangler built an electrically-powered vacuum cleaner from three parts: a fan, pillowcase, and box in 1907. Spangler’s design consisted of a suction device and a rotating brush to loosen dirt, dust, grime, and grease stuck on fabric. Spangler’s vacuum cleaner, also known as the “Model O,” cost about $60 on the retail market. In 1908, Spangler patented his rotating brush design before selling it to a relative.

The vacuum cleaning industry went silent during the 1920s and 1930s, because carpet had become unfashionable during this time. However, most people acknowledged that rugs needed vacuuming before shampooing. During the Second World War, inventors shifted their perspective to chemicals, which evolved into modern-day carpet cleaning. In fact, carpet cleaners still employ the same basic principles developed after 1945 in today’s industry. Over the years, the carpet cleaning and flooring industry has improved its system and chemicals to clean more efficiently.