How to Start a Carpet Cleaning Business

Advice for new start-ups, from the founders of three successful carpet cleaning businesses.

Updated July 6, 2021

Written by

Benjamin Davis

Contributor

How-to-start.org

Experts interviewed:

Mitch Allaman – Owner, Allaman Carpet Cleaning in Phoenix AZ.

Patrick Donovan – Owner, Aladdin's Carpet Cleaning in Buffalo NY.

Reuvan Noiman – Owner, NYC Steam Cleaning in New York City, NY.

NOTICE: This is a long article. You can skip directly to the guide if you prefer.

One of the most popular businesses for fast and easy startup is carpet cleaning. I wanted to know exactly how to start a carpet cleaning business – including how much it might cost, how much money is needed, and how to get the customers. I spent over 60 hours talking to successful owners of carpet cleaning businesses, including some who have grown million-dollar-plus businesses.

Here is their advice to anyone who is considering starting a carpet cleaning business.

How much does it cost to start a carpet cleaning business?

The cost to start is around $7,000 to $10,000. Our experts provide more detailed answers.

Patrick Donovan: “If you’re getting into carpet cleaning in houses, you can look at a number of different portable carpet cleaning machines, starting around $3,000. A decent one is probably about $7,000. Chemicals are not going to be expensive – probably around a hundred bucks. Then you could expect to spend about $1,000 in your first month for advertising. It’s not a massive investment – maybe around five grand”

Reuvan Noiman: “If you start with a portable, you could start it off with $10,000 to buy equipment and go in properly with the right machine. The cost to get started is not really high compared to other businesses”

TipMost dealers who sell carpet cleaning machines offer start up packages with low interest rates – sometimes even ZERO interest. This beats using a credit card! Look out for these deals.

With such a low startup cost, I wondered what type of income a carpet cleaning business could earn. Sometimes, a new business can take many years to get to the point where it's bringing a reliable income to its owner. So I asked my experts – could a new carpet cleaning business earn at least $70,000 in their first year?

How much profit and income does a carpet cleaning business earn?

I asked the experts if they think a new operator could expect to earn $70-80k a year in their first year. Here’s what they said:

Mitch Allaman: “I think it’s reasonable that an owner operator could make 70-80 grand a year without too much difficulty, and it’s good work hours. Once you get setup, it’s worth it.”

Patrick Donovan: “I would think it’s fair to say around $6,000 to $7,000 a month. Accounts – ongoing commercial work – will make the biggest difference. Three of my commercial accounts – two restaurant chains and a tax franchise – bring in around $100,000 a year, just from those accounts.”

Reuvan Noiman: “Yes, $70,000 to 80,000 a year is absolutely a reasonable figure for someone starting out”.

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So the startup costs are minimal (so cheap you can either use a credit card or dealer financing), and the three experts say that most people could earn a good income in the first year. So what about training, and qualifications? I wanted to know if someone could literally 'just start', or, do they need some kind of licensing or formal training? I asked my experts.

Do you need to be a carpet cleaning technician to start a carpet cleaning business?

I asked the experts if someone starting a carpet cleaning business should first be a trained technician, or can you start with no experience?

Mitch Allaman: “No, you don’t need to be a technician – but I had worked for somebody doing carpet cleaning from 2003 to 2004, then I did it on the side in addition to my job for a while.”

Patrick Donovan: “No. There are IICRC-certified classes and those classes will teach you a bunch about carpet cleaning. Everything you need to know. It’s going to be good for you to go ahead and take a class so you can know the technical things, like pH and stain removal processes. IICRC has a lot of classes that are not that expensive. Last time I did one it was around $500. Then people will know you’re trained, and you understand your craft – and they’ll trust you.”

Reuvan Noiman: “No, but I would recommend you get certified. Get IICRC certified. It will give you more presence, education, and you’ll learn a lot of things – and you’ll avoid the mistakes down the road, like damaging carpets or fabric.”

With no need for formal training, and the likelihood of earning a solid income working half-days, I wanted to know what type of equipment was necessary. Do you need to spend a lot and get everything? Or can you have just enough gear to get started, and add to it as you go? I asked the successful trio their thoughts on equipment.

What equipment do you need to start a carpet cleaning business? And can you start your carpet cleaning business with a portable extractor?

I asked the experts if someone could get started with a portable carpet cleaning machine, and what other gear is needed.

Mitch Allaman: “I think people can definitely start with a portable carpet cleaning machine. I started with a truck-mount machine, but there’s some people that won’t ever buy a truck mount – they’ll just use a portable, and absolutely you can go out and earn money”

Patrick Donovan: “You’ll need a carpet cleaning machine – and you can get a portable machine that is a vacuum cleaner also in the same unit. Maybe starting with a pickup truck or a little van and throwing the portable in the back is a good idea. All you’ll need to go clean some carpet is the machine, a wand – around $300, and hoses for the vacuum and pressure line – probably another $200 to $300.”

Reuvan Noiman: “Yes you can start with a portable. You’ll need the portable hot water extractor, a vacuum cleaner, all the hoses, equipment, a couple of handles/wands, and all the detergents. If you want to offer chemical-free services, then you’ll need to get the chemical-free detergents too.”

TipMake a list of everything you could possibly need. Then, ask yourself – “Do I need this for my first job?”. If the answer is no, cross it off your list. It’s better to buy things as you need them, when you’re already earning money. Plus, you can save up to 70% on equipment by buying slowly.

The more I talked to the guys who run successful carpet cleaning businesses, the better it sounded. It seems like an easy business to start, with plenty of work available, and not much capital outlay required for high-performance equipment. Imagining the life of a successful carpet cleaner was next. I asked my experts – what is they day like?

What is a typical day for a carpet cleaner?

I asked the experts what a typical work-day looks like for them.

Mitch Allaman: “I’m up about 6am, and I’ll schedule my first job for about 8 or 9am. I’ll do anything between one and four jobs – five would be rare. I also do two business networking meetings, twice a week – so on those days I’m a little later. I’m home usually around 2 or 3pm, and then I’ll do the other things I need to do, maybe until 4pm. So I probably work from 9-5, maybe 9-4.”

Patrick Donovan: “I’m out doing carpet cleaning most days. I have three trucks on the road, but seeing the customer and seeing them really respond to the fact that the owner is out there is really great. I’m also answering the phones, and even right down to repairing the trucks. I don’t get that many calls in after 5pm, but I might get another 3 or 4, and I like to take calls even after hours – because you never know when the $1,000 job is going to come through.”

Reuvan Noiman: “Generally the technicians will come in early – already in their uniform. They’ll load up with any missing product they need for the day. And now with the coronavirus, they’ll disinfect the equipment in the morning before they leave the warehouse, and we’ll disinfect it again at night. Each employee has their calendar with their daily jobs – sometimes four a day, or six for another. They’ll start their day by heading to their first job, and they’ll call the customer with an ETA when they’re on the way.”

I interview dozens of people every month who run successful businesses. One thing I hear from them quite often is the things they regret doing in the beginning. Often, it comes down to some kind of waste of money – they bought things or spent precious money on things that really weren't needed. I wondered what that looked like in the carpet cleaning business. I asked the trio:

What is the biggest waste of money for a new carpet cleaning business?

I asked the experts what spending mistakes can be avoided.

Mitch Allaman: “Spending money on Yelp. I didn’t have any money at the time, and I thought it was going to get me jobs. I spent just into the thousands, maybe a bit more. People in Phoenix didn’t care about Yelp. I did get work, but the amount I had to pay for it was just crazy”

Patrick Donovan: “The main thing is people calling you to sell you advertising. My biggest piece of advice is – don’t deal with them. There’s a company that called me, and it sounded great – they were going to include my offer in their envelope and send it to all the realtors. It landed flat on its face. A lot of these companies that call you just have a bad reputation – I would avoid them. I also steer clear of Yelp because of their bad reputation”.

Reuvan Noiman: “Anything with advertising or SEO, I would tell people to be wary, especially young guys starting out who have no money. I would say if it sounds too good to be true, it’s not true. And Yelp sucks. They’re the stupidest company in the world.”

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So… they all said to 'avoid yelp'. Whelp.

If you're avoiding yelp, how do you get customers? I see new businesses trying different things all the time, and what I've learned is that something can work very well in one industry, but do very poorly in another industry. For example – realtors tend to do very well with flyers or door hangers, whereas the handful of solar businesses I've spoken to all said that flyers and door hangers did poorly for them.

I wanted to know – what is the best way for a carpet cleaning business to get customers?

How do you get customers for a new carpet cleaning business?

I asked the experts what type of marketing or advertising works well for them.

Mitch Allaman: “Google drives the majority of the new business now. I just try to stay on top in Google in the areas I want to work in. I’ve found that it’s worth the money just to pay it.”

Patrick Donovan: “I would avoid the door hangers; I would avoid the flyers that you just randomly throw out there. Right now, one of the best spots is Google Pay-Per-Click. You can go ahead and get new customers without much difficulty. And anyone can go in there. They can throw 200 bucks a month or go crazy and throw in $3,000 a month and get customers. It’s something that the normal person can manage just from their smartphone.”

Reuvan Noiman: “Most of it is digital. Mostly Google. We did TV, but for the most part its digital advertising. My guys will do door hangers to the neighbors when they do a job too.”

TipWhen the phone starts ringing, don’t be tempted to say ‘yes’ to every customer. Some customers need to be rejected. Reuven says “the biggest thing I regret is taking jobs I shouldn’t have taken. I would rather sit at home and make no money than do a job I regret, where I’m dealing with an unhappy customer, and not getting paid, AND getting a bad review.

The general consensus seems to be that Google (and other online) advertising brings in the most business, and is the best bang-for-buck value you can get for a carpet cleaning business.

But what about competition? Most areas will have at least a few carpet cleaners competing for the same business – and customers might call one or two before choosing who to book with. I asked the successful founders what they do about competing against other carpet cleaning businesses.

How do you compete against other carpet cleaning businesses?

I asked the experts if they compete directly with other carpet cleaning businesses.

Patrick Donovan: “Just like there’s always someone smarter than you – there’s always someone richer than you too, and willing to spend that money to get customers! So anytime a customer brings up “Hey, I have your competitors envelope in front of me” or “I have this ad in front of me” I just don’t compete on price – I tell the customer we’re a family owned business, and we’d love for them to give us a shot – but I don’t compete on price. If they convert, they convert.”

Reuvan Noiman: “Really, I don’t compete with anyone. We have our products and our service. We’re pretty good at it. We’ve been featured in almost every single top magazine in the country for a reason, so we really don’t compete. If people call us and say “I got a cheaper price”, we tell them they’re welcome to go there. We’re extremely booked out. Day in, day out, my guys are working fully booked, so we’re not really trying to jump on small jobs who are price shopping around.”

In the race to win jobs, the temptation can be to lower prices or offer discounts – especially when you're starting out and don't have much work on. The problem with that sometimes is that you're attracting the wrong type of customers, and you might end up with more headaches and hassles than if you kept your prices firm and waited for a full-paying customer to come along. I asked the experts what they do to avoid bad customers.

How do you avoid bad customers?

I asked the experts how they avoid bad customers in their carpet cleaning business.

Mitch Allaman: “I think it's just communication. I talk with them, and if they seem unreasonable then they usually are. Some people will yell and bitch and cry – but I just ask, ‘what do you really want?’ It's usually money. They're either manipulating you or they genuinely feel like they're being treated unfairly. But I’ll always try to talk to them beforehand, to avoid any problems.”

Patrick Donovan: “It depends on the situation at hand. If someone is just coming off mean and nasty and you just have a gut feeling that it’s going to be a problem, don’t be afraid to say “I apologize, but my company is probably not the best choice for you”. And I do that – I turn down business. Not often, but I’d say about once a month.”

Reuvan Noiman: “On the phone it’s very easy – you can hear it right away. It’s the questions they ask – like ‘are ALL the stains going to come out?’ or ‘is it going to be as good as new?’. Those are the telltale signs right away. And we’ll just decline them. But if you’re already at a job and the customer is unhappy, just don’t leave the customer unhappy. If you need to eat it, eat it, because eating a $100 job is better than eating a bad review.”

How To Start a Carpet Cleaning Business

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The nice part about having a mobile business – like carpet cleaning – is that you don't need to wait for customers to come to you, you can go to them. You can drive to nearby areas to take on more work than might be available in your immediate area. But there has to be some sense to it – otherwise you can end up spending most of your day driving, rather than earning money. I asked the successful founders how they decided on a territory, and what you should think about when setting work areas.

What is a good service area for a new carpet cleaning business?

I asked the experts how to choose a good work territory.

Patrick Donovan: “The biggest thing with service area is you need to keep in mind who’s going to be going out there. If you’re having employees driving two hours to a job, they’re not going to be very satisfied. But if you’re hungry enough for the work, then go ahead and do it. If I were starting out now, my radius would be about the same as it is now – but you just got to keep in mind that if the customer is not satisfied, you need to drive all the way back out there. Just keep that in mind.”

Often, a small business can make just as much money (sometimes more!) from add-on services as their main service. A good example is a lawn mowing business that provides garden tidy-up services, and junk removal – many times they're making at least 50% of their income from the additional service.

I asked my trio what other services they offer, and whether it makes sense to consider add-on services.

Other than carpet cleaning, what other services can you offer clients?

I asked the experts what additional services a carpet cleaning business can offer.

Mitch Allaman: “I do carpet and tile and grout – probably do a little more carpet cleaning than tile and grout”

Patrick Donovan: “We do residential carpet cleaning, and upholstery cleaning, and commercial carpet cleaning. We also do tile and grout, and hardwood floors. The split I would say is 75% carpet cleaning, then about 13% upholstery and the rest is between the other ones. Upholstery back in the day used to be difficult – but with modern fabrics I tend to make more money per hour than carpet cleaning, so if someone wants upholstery cleaning, I’ll do it right away.”

Reuvan Noiman: “We offer everything from oriental and fine rug care, we do tile and grout cleaning, hardwood floors, air ducts. We’re a full cleaning service – we don’t do maid service, but we do everything in between.”

Some states impose licensing requirements on small businesses, and other states don't really care about most things. Did you know that in Texas you need a license to call yourself an interior decorator? Mind blowing, I know.

The best idea is for you to Google licensing requirements in your state, but, I asked my trio what requirements they had for licensing in their areas.

Do you need a license or a permit to start a carpet cleaning business?

I asked the experts if they need a license or permit to run a carpet cleaning business.

Patrick Donovan: “In my state – New York – you just need a regular business license, but it’s probably different for every state so people should check their state.”

Reuvan Noiman: “In New York New Jersey, Connecticut, no – there’s no license for it. If you start doing exterminating, then you’ll need a license. But just carpet cleaning, there’s no license needed.”

I like to round out my interviews by asking the experts for their key pieces of advice. Most of the time, they've been through enough battles to know what you should do, and what you should not do. And, most people will give you advice if you ask for it! So, I asked the experts for their most important advice for anyone starting a carpet cleaning business.

Keys To Success For Starting a Carpet Cleaning Business

I asked the experts for their most important advice, for anyone starting a new carpet cleaning business.

Mitch Allaman: “Number one is just get the search engine optimization done. Just do it. The thing that’s integrated with everyone’s phone is Google. So if my car breaks down, I’m going to Google ‘tow truck operator’ or ‘car mechanic’. So it’s very, very important. With the guy that I’m using now, it was only a few weeks before he could prove that what he was doing was working.”“Number two is getting out there. When I first started I was walking neighborhoods, and forcing myself to go into businesses and asking if I could do something for them. It was a little uncomfortable, but it’s more uncomfortable not to have any money!”

Patrick Donovan: “You can make it through – tons of other businesses are doing it, and more than likely you’re even smarter and better than the other businesses. But you’ve got to keep going at it. You never know when you’re going to get that break. If you work hard at it, people are going to notice.”“Second – as far as marketing – the key is knowing your return on investment. You need to track of how much you’re spending, and how much you’re bringing in. Because if you spent $1,000 on advertising, and it only brought 10 jobs in, you’re not making any money.”"Finally – reach out. Don’t be afraid to reach out. There’s plenty of people who are more than happy to answer questions for you. You just got to reach out. You’re not going to be the smartest person right away. You can call other people and say ‘Hey, I got this spot, what would you suggest I do?”

Reuvan Noiman: “When you start making some money, don’t get too excited and start spending it. It has to go back into growing the business.”"Also don't try to scheme Google. Everyone tries to figure out black-hat SEO. Just don’t do it. Because in the long run, you’re going to have a website that only works for a month, then Google penalizes you, and you’ll have to restart and rebrand.”

A carpet cleaning business is one of the simplest and most profitable businesses you can start, based on my interviews with hundreds of small business owners in many different industries.

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