When you have a big family, multiple pets, or tenants, keeping a carpet clean is no small (or cheap) feat. And, sometimes, even a top-notch vacuum cleaner cannot handle the job. That’s when a devoted carpet cleaner comes in handy.
Although they often look like vacuum cleaners, carpet cleaners serve a different function. While vacuums use suction to remove already loose particles from your carpets, rugs, and other flooring, a carpet cleaner goes much further by using not only suction, but cleaning solutions and rotating brushes to actually remove particles and stains from the carpet fibers.
Hiring professionals for a carpet cleaning can cost a couple of hundred dollars or more. By contrast, renting a carpet cleaning machine — which costs perhaps $30 for 24 hours — can seem like a bargain. However, if the size of your home makes it impractical to complete the job in that short amount of time, or if you have to deep clean the carpets regularly, buying your own carpet cleaner might be a good investment. While some heavy-duty carpet cleaners are priced at over $500, or even over $1,000, other models can cost less than $100.
Most residential carpet cleaners can’t match the power of the equipment professionals use (and really tough staining might require a call to the pros). Even so, carpet cleaners readily available to consumers can handle routine jobs quite effectively, provided you follow manufacturers’ instructions carefully and pair it with a good vacuum.
Best Carpet Cleaners: Dry vs. Wet
There are two main types of carpet cleaners — dry and wet. Which method cleans your carpets best?
The dry method involves spreading a cleaning powder that absorbs or loosens dirt accumulated in the carpet fibers. After the powder sits for around 10 minutes, you use the machine to dislodge and vacuum the dirt and powder residue.
While this method is convenient for its quick drying time, it’s not powerful enough to deep clean and eliminate the really stubborn stains and smells. It’s also not an effective way to remove allergens and, in fact, can trigger some allergies due to the residue left by powder cleaners.
Because of this, our top picks are all wet cleaners (or steam cleaners). In most cases, these provide the most effective cleaning, although they do require more time and effort. To get started with a wet carpet cleaner, you’ll need to pre-treat the carpet with a specialized shampoo, which will help dissolve any stains and loosen dirt from the fibers. Once that step is complete, you can use the carpet cleaner to spray yet another cleaning agent, and then the machine’s vibrating brushes and suction features will clean it all up.
The wet cleaning method can get deep into the carpet fibers and lift allergens, dirt, and dust mites. However, applying moisture and heat to a carpet does involve some risk.
To start, over-shampooing or over-wetting the carpet can be a recipe for mold. Even if you apply just the right amount of moisture, it can take up to 24 hours for the carpet to fully dry.
Additionally, this type of cleaning should be done no more than three or four times a year, as the heat can deteriorate the fibers and shorten the life of your carpet.
Finally, it’s important to first move your furniture out of the way, as some furniture material — like varnished wood or painted metals — can stain your carpet if they’re exposed to moisture.
Carpet Cleaners and Allergies
While carpets can give your home that warm, cozy feel, they can also trap dirt, dust mites, pet dander, and even mold. Unsurprisingly, this means they can also trigger allergic reactions or asthma.
Most experts recommend that allergy and asthma sufferers choose hardwood or laminate flooring instead of carpeting; however, if you’re renting or you just really love your carpet, vacuuming weekly and deep cleaning it regularly could help reduce your symptoms.
Carpet Cleaner Buying Guide
There are a few things to keep in mind when shopping for carpet cleaners.
• Weight. A machine that’s too heavy may be difficult to maneuver, and could wind up hurting your back or arms. Additionally, make sure to take into account the extra weight a full water tank can add to the unit. While these machines do have wheels, if you have a sensitive back, even rolling them along the floor can be enough to exacerbate any issues.
• Tank capacity. Generally, carpet cleaner tank capacity ranges from a few ounces to multiple gallons, depending on the unit’s size. A larger tank makes the job easier by letting you clean a larger area more quickly, by reducing the number of times you have to empty or fill the tank. It does, however, add a significant amount of weight to the machine and can make it harder to manage.
• Accessories and attachments. A carpet cleaner’s versatility depends on its attachments. Most machines feature a hose and different types of brushes. Some brands have brush attachments designed to help pet owners remove pet hair and urine stains. Others include nozzles and crevice tools for cleaning hard-to-reach areas.
• Hose length. A carpet cleaner’s hose length varies widely by model, from 5 feet up to 12 feet. While a longer hose might seem like an asset because it can reach even those difficult corners when needed, it can sometimes also be awkward and hard to manage.
Best Carpet Cleaners
1. Best for Tough Stains: Rug Doctor Mighty Pro X3 Commercial Carpet Cleaner
Tank Capacity: 3.9 gallons | Warranty: 2-year limited | Dimensions: 21”L x 12.5”W x 27.5”H | Weight: 39.5 lbs. | Model: 90010
If you have tenants, Airbnb guests, or live in a household with exceptionally heavy traffic, your carpet might need more powerful cleaning than a run-of-the-mill residential carpet cleaner can provide.
Commercial-grade Rug Doctor machines are readily available as rentals across the country, but if you need to do deep carpet cleanings more than twice a year, it could be a good idea to invest in a machine of your own.
The Pro X3, which usually retails for $529, was awarded a gold rating from the Carpet and Rug Institute for soil removal, water removal, and gentleness on carpet. With a 3.9-gallon tank, it has twice the capacity of most machines out there, cleaning up to 147 square feet in one pass. Powerful suction and vibrating brushes can loosen even deeply impacted dirt and grime from carpet fibers.
The machine does have some drawbacks, mainly due to how large and heavy it is: 40 lbs. when empty, and more than 60 lbs. once you fill the water tank. Although it has wheels that help move it around, it can definitely be a challenge to manage and store.
Additionally, because of its size and motor, it’s very loud — ear protection is highly recommended.
2. Best for Low Prices: Hoover PowerDash Pet Compact Carpet Clean
Tank Capacity: 0.5 gallons | Warranty: 1-year limited | Dimensions: 15”L x 10”W x 44”H | Weight: 12.5 lbs. | Model: FH50710
Consistently retailing for less than a $100, the Hoover PowerDash combines the benefits of a compact and lightweight design with exceptional power.
The PowerDash is equipped with two features that really make it stand out. The first one is an antimicrobial PowerSpin brush roll designed to help prevent odors and bacteria from developing, and also removes pet hairs and other particles, including dander. The second is its Heatforce technology, which speeds up drying time by applying hot air to the carpet as you clean.
One potential drawback, however, is that it lacks a hose attachment, meaning you won’t be able to use it for cleaning upholstery or similar surfaces.
3. Editor’s Pick: Bissell ProHeat 2X Revolution Pet Pro
Tank Capacity: 1 gallon | Warranty: 5-year limited warranty | Dimensions: 14”L x 18”W x 45”H | Weight: 17.5 lbs. | Model: 1964, 1986
Many pet parents are familiar with the name Bissell. Known for manufacturing a variety of cleaning machines specifically for households with pets, Bissell even uses part of the revenue from those products to support their foundation combating animal homelessness.
You don’t have to live with pets, however, to reap the benefits from the Bissell ProHeat 2X Revolution Pet Pro, which is among the brand’s most popular and highest-rated carpet cleaners.
This model comes with an one-gallon tank capacity and an 11-inch wide cleaning path, ideal for covering a large area in a single pass. It also features a CleanShot Pretreater pedal that, when pressed, sprays cleaning formula from the front of the brush roll cover, reducing the need for bending down.
The Bissell ProHeat has two cleaning modes, Max Clean and Express Clean. The Express Clean mode can deliver dry, clean carpets in about 30 minutes, compared to a good 24 hours for carpets to fully dry after a normal deep cleaning. (Note, however, that deeply soiled carpets will probably need more extensive cleaning than the Express Clean provides.)
Because the ProHeat is meant for pet owners, it includes a 2-in-1 pet upholstery tool to remove fur, stains, and odor in both wet and dry mode.
The ProHeat has one minor drawback — its lack of a water heater. This means that you will need to heat water yourself before adding it to the tank. Note that it’s important to use water that’s hot, but not boiling, as this could damage the tank.
4. Best for Allergies: Dupray NEAT Steam Cleaner
Tank Capacity: 54 oz. | Warranty: Lifetime on boiler and 2-year limited | Dimensions: 10.5”L x 10.5”W x 9.5”H | Weight: 9 lbs.
If you or someone in your household suffers from allergies or asthma, consider getting a steam cleaner like the Dupray NEAT.
Steam cleaning carpets is a recommended method for reducing allergens because it kills dust mites. It’s also useful for removing stains, dirt, and grease from multiple surfaces.
The Dupray NEAT generates steam of up to 275 degrees Fahrenheit and kills 99.9% of bacteria, viruses, and mold from any type of floor and furniture.
While it is most effective on hard surfaces, the Dupray NEAT can be used to disinfect and deodorize carpets without the use of chemicals. It’s important to note, however, that this machine won’t deep clean them like carpet cleaners do since it doesn’t feature a suction system.
Nonetheless, this steam cleaner is very versatile. It comes with 18 accessories — including a rectangular floor tool, three microfiber pads, one window tool, two extension tubes, one steam lance (for better precision), and one microfiber cloth — to help clean floors, grouts, kitchen appliances, bathrooms, car interiors, mattresses, and furniture.
One potential drawback is that you have to wait for a little over 8 minutes for the unit to heat a full tank of water, and an extra 20 minutes to let it cool down before being able to refill the water tank again when it empties. Additionally, the steam could damage your carpets if you hold it too close to the fibers or use it for an extended period of time.
5. Best Cordless Carpet Cleaner: Bissell Pet Stain Eraser Advanced
Tank Capacity: 8 oz. | Warranty: 2-year limited | Dimensions: 6”L x 19”W x 10”H | Weight: 4.6 lbs. | Model: 2054
If what you need is a quick solution for small carpeted areas, rugs, upholstery, or car seats, the Bissell Pet Stain Eraser can easily do the job. This handheld cordless unit is designed with a spray, scrub, and suction system that removes old and hard-to-clean stains, including all types of pet messes.
The Stain Eraser is lightweight — only 4.6 pounds — and doesn’t require water. Instead, it uses Bissell’s ready-to-use cleaning formulas to shampoo the spot before scrubbing and activating the suction.
It features a rechargeable lithium ion battery which, when fully charged, offers up to 15 minutes of continuous use, and takes about four hours to recharge. Select models also come with a window cleaning attachment that works on other glass surfaces as well, such as windows and mirrors.
However, due to its size, the Stain Eraser only has an 8 oz. tank capacity. Additionally, one of the most common complaints we found from customers was that the tank can leak from the back, which in some cases has to do with the security cap being loose.
6. Best Hands-Free Carpet Cleaner: Bissell SpotBot
Tank Capacity: 32 oz. | Warranty: 2-year limited | Model: 33N8A| Dimensions: 16.93”L x 9.06”W x 12.52”H | Power Cord Length: 16 feet | Weight: 12.5 lbs.
The Bissell SpotBot Pet 33N8A is all about simplicity. You just need to place the unit over the spot, push the desired setting button, and it’ll take care of the rest.
This hands-free carpet cleaner features an automated scrubber with two preset cleaning cycles — Quick Clean (3 minutes) and Deep Clean (6 minutes). It also comes with a five-feet hose tool for cleaning hard-to-reach areas.
The SpotBot uses Bissell’s Pet Stains & Odor + Pet Oxy Boost formula to remove a variety of stains, including wine, olive oil, grease, and pet-related accidents.
Because of its design, the SpotBot is limited to cleaning one spot at the time. Covering a larger area would require you to kneel down on the floor to use the hose attachment.
Some customers report that the tank gasket or seal wears out, leading to some leaking over time. However, the brand does offer a two-year warranty for defective or malfunctioning parts, and tank replacements are available for an additional cost.
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