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Is it possible to actually disinfect carpet after a small amount of (technically) dirty water exposure, either by applying something to the carpet or using an upright carpet cleaner and mixing something into the water?

I searched but couldn't find much on this - small amount of dirty water (sewer ejector backed up and emptying laundry machine caused overflow) seeped out of the utility room and into the carpet - less than a couple square feet. Pulled up the carpet, cut away the wet padding and removed it, got the carpet dry using upright cleaner and dehumidifier. By the end of the day, entire basement was dry.

Question: is the carpet salvageable? How can I disinfect it?

I would like to use some kind of disinfectant, either applied directly or by using the carpet cleaner, but not sure what would do the job. Was thinking about using something like Microban Disinfectant Spray (https://www.prorestoreproducts.com/Content_003.aspx?cid=1157) or maybe a bleach-water mixture.

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Bleach is king for disinfection. But you have to be careful using bleach as it can bleach the carpet (of course). For general cleaning 5% dilution of household bleach is generally recommended (so, 6.75 fl. oz. household bleach plus one gallon of water). But for the carpet, I wouldn't do it- or I would try starting with a lower (1% or 2%) concentration of household bleach.

Since bleach is kind of sketchy, benzalkonium chloride or n-Alkyl (40% C12, 50% C14, 10% C16) dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride would be the next best thing. These antibiotics are the active ingredients from many lysol and clorox products (like wipes, 409, and hand sanitizers). I would recommend the same usage level (for these antimicrobials) for cleaning and disinfecting the carpet, as around the same levels that are used in wipes and 409 (that's 0.3%). In fact, I think that pouring 409 over the spot and then using a wet vac or steam cleaner to clean the spot would work perfectly well.

Now there are a ton of disinfecting carpet cleaners (antimicrobials require EPA registration) so, generally speaking, they are more likely to work. Some antimicrobial carpet cleaners might contain some form of benzyl ammonium chloride... whole others only contain alcohols (like phenophenol or phenoxyisopropanol)... and some contain both.

That being said, some companies like Bissel are able to sell 4.67% hydroxgen peroxide as a disinfecting carpet cleaner... if you poured that straight onto the carpet it should work, but I can't see how you could really dilute it and still expect it to work. So obviously, the EPA lets some stuff slide. I think that Bissel's banking on the fact that people rarely shop for disinfecting cleaners... and plenty of people opt for the good looking packaging. On that same note, I ran across a product called Microban... which contains: o-Phenylphenol 0.22% and Diisobutylphenoxyethoxy ethyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride monohydrate 0.70%. Pretty good looking stuff, but the package is ugly as sin and the price is too high compared with say 409 (actually named CPPC EVEREST epa# 67619-10... Clorox tries to hide their products with names like Boris and Blondie), which contains 0.3% n-Alkyl (40% C12, 50% C14, 10% C16) dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride.

enter image description here

For any product that claims to be antimicrobial, you can find the label here: USEPA Product Label Search.

Also be skeptical of instructions online for using all kinds of stuff- especially the one that pops up first on google which includes about 1/2 cornmeal. Using cornmeal isn't a good idea for disinfection. Borax... not really. Vinegar... a little. Vinegar with bleach... oh yes- but that could also go deadly wrong.

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  • Ben, thanks for this detailed reply. I also found the Microban products and inadvertently ordered one that's a "quat-based" disinfectant. My chemistry is rusty (by decades) and didn't realize what this meant, but the pH is way up in the 12 to 14 range. What you've linked is water-based and probably the better choice, but I was concerned about the flammability and MSDS warnings (I have two young kids). I hate storing stuff like this around the house and hate even more to buy it, use a bit of it, and dispose the rest. I like the H2O2 or 409 suggestion since I can buy just as much as I need. – Tom Jun 23 '16 at 14:40
  • @twbriggs Can you specify which microban product? Yeah $3 for a bottle of 409 is a way better price. Regarding H2O2, it's a great disinfectant, too, but be sure to clean it all up. H2O2 could also potentially "bleach" the carpet. I meant to say something about H2O2, but Ed posted it a moment later and I had to run after posting this. – Ben Welborn Jun 23 '16 at 14:52
  • Ben, exactly the Microban product in your image - the water-based, disinfectant "spray." Frankly, this carpet is a light-colored Berber and I care more about making it safe than any potential discoloration (again, I have kids, so the carpet will eventually need replacing - just hoping not to do that now!) – Tom Jun 23 '16 at 15:23
  • Sorry, I think I misunderstood - this is the MSDS for the Microban I accidentally ordered - the "germicidal cleaner" - prorestoreproducts.com/Uploads/Document/1420/… – Tom Jun 23 '16 at 15:24
  • @twbriggs okay, MICROBAN QGC. Use 2oz - 8oz per gallon. That's actually not the same product that I posted a picture of, but it should work well for disinfection; use a wet or steam vac to clean up after. But if you ordered too much- or don't want to store it, then perhaps you could call and cancel the order (within 24hours?) or just have it returned (asking for return shipping might be an issue though). – Ben Welborn Jun 23 '16 at 16:34
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You only have a few square feet to deal with. Get a gallon of hydrogen peroxide and if it is stronger than 3% dilute with water. test on a small area to make sure it doesn't take the color out if the color is good saturate the entire area that was wet and you have just killed every organic gunkie that could be living. This is how some hospitals clean and you don't smell like bleach / chlorine. If you are not sure and want a warm fuzzy do it again it will kill all the organics that can grow making sure to wipe the surfaces below the carpet also.

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  • +Ed, you beat me to it... I meant to say something more about H2O2. – Ben Welborn Jun 23 '16 at 14:55

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