Why Does my Carpet Have Ripples after Cleaning? (Causes and Concerns)

Have you ever had your carpet professionally cleaned and saw waves and ripples all over your home or business afterward? It's a scary sight and looks way worse than what it really is. In fact, carpet ripples can be caused by a wide variety of factors.

As professional carpet cleaners who have cleaned many homes over the last 12 years, it's an issue we run into every once in a while. The good news is that it is a temporary condition that typically returns to normal after complete drying.

No need to panic, it's normal

There is no need to panic. This is what we in the trade call differential expansion. Differential expansion is best described as your carpet temporarily becoming bigger. I know this sounds very strange, but allow us to explain.

A carpet is made up of several layers of fiber (what you walk on) and fabric held together by a latex glue that is designed to stay flexible. When your carpet gets professionally cleaned, moisture is used to rinse the soil out. Certain types of latex and padding tend to absorb some of that moisture and expand in size. This expansion can cause carpet ripples.

Proper installation is key

If the carpet has been properly installed and is less than ten years old, nothing happens. Your carpet is clean, dries beautifully and everything is hunky-dory. However if the carpet has not been properly installed, all kinds of issues can surface after the carpet gets professionally cleaned. We like to call this a Pre-Existing Condition or PEC.

Acclimation and power stretching

Carpet needs to be acclimated to the ambient temperature of the rooms it is being installed in due to the fact that it will relax quite a bit to its environment. If the carpet is installed before fully relaxing there may be extra slack after install. Also, properly installed carpet should always be power stretched, and not knee-kicked in. When carpet is not power stretched in, it has a certain amount of slack left in it that will not be visible to the naked eye.

Poor installation problems

The issues mentioned before are not something that you will be able to see with your visual inspection after the installation. And more often than not it will not be an issue for the first couple of years of carpet ownership or forever. However, a small amount of carpet differential expansion can be quite severe. And in an even smaller number of cases the issue can arise that the carpet stays a little rippled after it completely dries.

Pre-existing conditions

Your first thought after experiencing carpet ripples will be to blame your carpet cleaner. It seems logical because you didn't have this problem before getting your carpet cleaned. However, you would be wrong. It indeed is an installation related issue. Unfortunately, by the time you experience the problem it will be years removed from the original installation and your chance of getting the company who sold you the carpet to come back will be slim to none.


Another pre-existing condition that may cause ripples in your carpet is called de-lamination. As the name implies, it's the separation of two surfaces that are laminated (bonded) together. In the case of carpet it is when the primary and secondary backing separate. The primary backing being the one that holds the carpet fiber and the secondary backing being the one that gives your carpet it's body and stiffness. This is definitely a more serious issue than differential expansion and may be a sign of a carpet that is at the end of its useable life.


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