Best Carpet Steam Cleaners

6 Best Carpet Steam Cleaners

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Pets, enthusiastic children, bumbling adults, all of which could make a mess of your carpet. Yes, you can go to your nearest big box store and rent a carpet cleaner when the need arises, but how practical is that?

Carpet is a fantastic flooring choice as it is soft and comfortable underfoot, takes pressure off your feet and knees, and comes in a huge variety of colors and textures to help you achieve your favorite look. However, there is no denying that carpet is high-maintenance.

Carpets capture dust and debris, which means they need to be vacuumed regularly. Liquids and other dirt can leave behind unsightly staining and bad smells, so carpets also need to be steam cleaned regularly over their roughly 10 year lifespan.

When it comes to steam cleaning your carpets, you can hire a machine. But this can be expensive and can add up quickly if you steam clean as often as manufacturers recommend. For that reason, a steam cleaner can be a very worthwhile investment.

Not only should you recuperate your annual rental fees pretty quickly, but it also means the steam cleaner is on hand to deal with nasty spills as they happen. No need to wait for your next big carpet clean.

But, there are hundreds of home machines on the market, so how do you know which one to get?

Today, we answer that question with a list of the 6 best carpet steam cleaners available to buy for domestic use. We will also go through exactly how steam cleaners work, the main features to consider when evaluating carpet steam cleaners, and the questions you should be asking yourself to make your final decision. Finally, we’ll share a few top tips on steam cleaning your carpets.

Spoiler Alert! We recommend the Bissell Proheat 2X Lift-Off Pet as the best overall carpet steam cleaner that you can get. But that is not our only recommendation. We also recommend the best models for dealing with small spills, if you are on a budget, or if you need something heavy duty for high traffic areas.

Bottom Line: We feel a carpet cleaner is a worthwhile investment. Below are our top picks and detailed reviews to help you find the best carpet cleaner.

Quick Overview
TO MAKE THINGS EASIER for you, we’ve already tested and compared the best products available to narrow the field down to these top choices.

6 Best Carpet Cleaners


Best Overall Carpet Cleaner: Bissell ProHeat 2X Lift-Off Pet Upright Carpet Cleaner
  • Model 15651 | 24.25 lbs. | 22′ cord | 0.75 gal tank capacity | 3 year limited warranty
Best Carpet Cleaner for Small Areas, Pets: Bissell ProHeat 2X Revolution Pet Pro Carpet Cleaner
  • Model 2283 | 17.5 lbs. | 25′ cord | 1.0 gal tank capacity | 5 year limited warranty
Best Carpet Cleaner for Area Rugs, Budget Pick: Hoover Power Scrub Deluxe Carpet Cleaner Machine
  • Model FH50150NC | 18.1 lbs. | 20′ cord | 1 gal tank capacity | 2 year limited warranty
Best for Pro-Level Cleaning: Bissell Big Green Machine Professional Carpet Cleaner
  • Model 86T3 | 42 lbs. | 25′ cord | 1.75 gal tank capacity | 5 year limited warranty
Best For Apartments and Condos: Hoover PowerDash Pet Compact Carpet Cleaner
  • Model FH50700 | 12.5 lbs. | 25′ cord | 0.5 gal tank capacity | 1 year limited warranty
Best For High Traffic: McCulloch Deluxe Canister Steam Cleaner
  • Model MC1385 | 13 lbs.. | 18′ cord | 0.5 gal tank capacity | 2 year limited warranty

Scorecards


Best Overall: Bissell ProHeat 2X Lift-Off Pet Upright Carpet Cleaner

Bissell ProHeat 2X Lift-Off Pet Upright Carpet Cleaner

Our Rating:
  • Ergonomics: B+
  • Cleaning effectiveness: A-
  • Drying effectiveness: A
  • Noise: C
  • Accessories: A-
Cleaner Specs:
  • Manufacturer: Bissell (founded in 1876, HQ in Grand Rapids, MI)
  • Model: 15651
  • Weight: 24.25 lbs.
  • Cord length: 22 feet
  • Tank capacity: 0.75 gallons
  • Warranty: 3 years

While we researched many carpet cleaners, we found this Bissell carpet cleaner to be the most effective at picking up dust, hair, and removing tough stains. In addition, this cleaner dries your carpeting well and reduces your keep-off time, making it our all-around favorite carpet cleaning pick and best buy. Added benefits include a Lift-Off portable pod which can be used as portable carpet cleaner on stairs, upholstered furniture, or in the car, just as if you had a second but smaller spot treater. We found the construction to be solid and the supply an dirty water tanks come on and off easily.

Its Dual Dirt Lifter power brushes and pet hair collection basket set it apart, and if you use Bissell’s proprietary antibacterial carpet cleaning formula, it can even eliminate pet urine stains that otherwise would set. We also recommend Bissell’s pet urine eliminator formula.

This carpet cleaner is easy to maneuver (24.25 lbs) and simple to use, even if it uses a lot of water to deep clean. With the right cleaning solution, it’s particularly effective to address those pet stains and odors on both carpets and furniture. Stairs are also easy because of the lift-off cleaning pod.

Several cleaning tools and accessories such as the stain trapper tool or the deep reach pet stain tool are available. No significant complaints about design and manufacturing were noted, and the vacuum comes with a 3-year warranty. This Bissell has all of the best bells and whistles of the brand with the pod system as a special bonus.

While this carpet cleaner is our top pick, below are a couple minor complaints we had:

  • The tank capacity is a bit small at 0.75 gallons
  • Minor assembly was required and you will need a thin screwdriver (here is an assembly video to help you out)

For support questions, you can reach Bissell Customer Support at 1-800-237-7691. The user guide can be found here.

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Best For Small Areas, Pets: Bissell ProHeat 2X Revolution Pet Pro Carpet Cleaner

Bissell ProHeat 2X Revolution Pet Pro Carpet Cleaner

Our Rating:
  • Ergonomics: B+
  • Cleaning effectiveness: B+
  • Drying effectiveness: A
  • Noise: C
  • Accessories: A-
Cleaner Specs:
  • Manufacturer: Bissell (founded in 1876, HQ in Grand Rapids, MI)
  • Model: 2283
  • Weight: 17.5 lbs.
  • Cord length: 25 feet
  • Tank capacity: 1.0 gallons
  • Warranty: 5 years

We rate this Bissell Proheat 2x Revolution carpet cleaner as a great buy for those who need a lightweight, easy-to-steer vacuum, this Bissell carpet cleaner covers about 32 square feet on one tank, which is a lot of space. The hose length falls in the mid-range at ten feet, but since it’s light even when full, it can get around to the places you need to deep clean. Another bonus of this Bissell carpet cleaner is its heating technology, keeping your clean water at a temperature that makes steaming it effective.

Users and the pros generally rate this carpet cleaner as the best for those of us with pets, despite the pet-friendly names of some of our other listings. It has the Dual Dirt Lifter brushes and Heatwave Technology to keep your water hot similar to our top pick. A selection of accessories ensures you have the right tool for almost any job.

One feature unique to this carpet cleaner is the Express Clean Mode. This carpet cleaning mode is for small areas with lighter staining, and the big advantage is that it dries in an hour. If you want to make a small impact on your problem but can’t wait for a longer drying period, this setting makes that easy. That’s like having two carpet cleaners for the price of one.

Below are a couple complaints we had:

  • Storage tray is easy to knock off
  • No switch to turn off brush when using the hose

For support questions, you can reach Bissell Customer Support at 1-800-237-7691. The user guide can be found here.

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Best For Area Rugs, Budget Pick: Hoover Power Scrub Deluxe Carpet Cleaner Machine

Hoover Power Scrub Deluxe Carpet Cleaner Machine

Our Rating:
  • Ergonomics: B+
  • Cleaning effectiveness: B+
  • Drying effectiveness: B+
  • Noise: C
  • Accessories: B
Cleaner Specs:
  • Manufacturer: Hoover (founded in 1908, HQ in Charlotte, NC)
  • Model: FH50150NC
  • Weight: 18.1 lbs.
  • Cord length: 20 feet
  • Tank capacity: 1.0 gallons
  • Warranty: 2 years

Compared to our previous listings, this Hoover carpet cleaner is a budget-conscious choice while being a well-functioning vacuum on all levels. It cleans about 33 square feet per reservoir with a hose length of eight feet. Its weight when full still makes it easy to move to those places a shorter hose can’t reach.

Heating air to aid drying is part of the suction process, so in addition to good water extraction, it speeds up evaporation of the remaining dampness. That’s a big difference from other models, and it means you’ll be able to replace your furniture faster. Users like the separate detergent tank, allowing the vacuum to mix the correct amount of solution to the water for application.

Proprietary SpinScrub brushes lift deeply embedded dirt and stains from all directions, packing a lot of power into its cleaning cycle. The major complaint is an issue with a component in the brushes system rusting from contact with water. It appears that if the vacuum is left in a position to allow this area to dry, it’s not a problem, but it is a consistently reported complaint.

For support questions, you can reach Hoover Customer Support at 1-800-944-9200. The user guide can be found here.

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Best For Pro-Level Cleaning: Bissell Big Green Machine Professional Carpet Cleaner

Bissell Big Green Machine Professional Carpet Cleaner

Our Rating:
  • Ergonomics: B
  • Cleaning effectiveness: A
  • Drying effectiveness: C
  • Noise: C-
  • Accessories: B+
Cleaner Specs:
  • Manufacturer: Bissell (founded in 1876, HQ in Grand Rapids, MI)
  • Model: 86T3
  • Weight: 42 lbs.
  • Cord length: 25 feet
  • Tank capacity: 1.75 gallons
  • Warranty: 5 years

Think of this as the professional level carpet cleaner made for homes with large spaces that need to be cleaned often. It’s big, it’s heavy and it’s high-end, better than what you can rent at your local big box store. Cleaning on both the forward and backward passes, it pleases its customers on cleaning effectiveness, making deeply discolored carpets look like as clean as the day they were installed. We liked that the carpet cleaner comes with a clean and dirty water tank which makes cleanup a breeze. Some people call this machine a steam cleaner, but there is no actual steam used.

Users comment that years of grime, cooking and body oils, and sticky dirt are no match for the Big Green Machine. A wide head with powerful suction ensures it works fast without shortchanging the carpet cleaning process, and it is surprisingly maneuverable for its size. A 10-foot hose makes reaching the more difficult spots easier and keeps the heavy machine in one spot while you do it.

The major compliant of this carpet cleaner is that it is big, the power can be considered very noisy, its hose and accessories take up even more storage space, and it isn’t the lightest choice. It doesn’t seem to dry as effectively as its competitors, and it makes even more noise while it’s trying to do so. If your needs are pro-level, you might be able to overlook these issues.

For support questions, you can reach Bissell Customer Support at 1-800-237-7691. The user guide can be found here.

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Best For Apartments And Condos: Hoover PowerDash Pet Compact Carpet Cleaner

Hoover PowerDash Pet Compact Carpet Cleaner

Our Rating:
  • Ergonomics: B+
  • Cleaning effectiveness: B+
  • Drying effectiveness: B+
  • Noise: C
  • Accessories: C
Cleaner Specs:
  • Manufacturer: Hoover (founded in 1908, HQ in Charlotte, NC)
  • Model: FH50700
  • Weight: 12.5 lbs.
  • Cord length: 22 feet
  • Tank capacity: 0.5 gallons
  • Warranty: 1 years

We really like the weight of this carpet cleaner, both in pounds and in price. Maneuvering it around is easy, and the smaller, narrower head reaches under furniture and into tight corners without trouble almost giving you the feeling that you are using a portable carpet cleaner. Storage space isn’t a problem because of its compact size and light weight.

Its clean water tank size is about three-quarters of a gallon, which cleans about 8 square feet per cycle. That’s a drawback for many, along with the small head size. However, it is easy to use – no measuring of cleaning solution because marks on the tank tell you how much to put in.

A couple of downsides to this carpet cleaner are the lack of a hose and attachments, so you won’t be using this for the furniture or crevasses on the staircase. The short reach of the power cord means you might be moving that around quite a bit too. Available settings cover basic needs, best for use when you don’t have big spaces to clean.

For support questions, you can reach Hoover Customer Support at 1-800-944-9200. The user guide can be found here.

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Best For High Traffic: McCulloch Deluxe Canister Steam Cleaner

McCulloch Deluxe Canister Steam Cleaner

Our Rating:
  • Ergonomics: C+
  • Cleaning effectiveness: A
  • Drying effectiveness: A
  • Noise: C-
  • Accessories: A
  • Empty weight: 13 lbs.
Cleaner Specs:
  • Manufacturer: McCulloch (founded in 1943, Milwaukee, WI)
  • Model: MC1385
  • Weight: 13 lbs.
  • Cord length: 18 feet
  • Tank capacity: 0.5 gallons
  • Warranty: 2 years

This canister steam cleaner from McCulloch is as close as you can get to a professional commercial steam cleaner that you can easily fit in your closet and don’t need a week of training to learn how to use.

It is powerful enough to leave high traffic areas looking and smelling fresh, but it is chemicals-free, so doesn’t leave behind anything dangerous for you, your kids, or your pets.

The canister is able to hold a large capacity tank of 64 ounces, which heats up quickly in about 12 minutes. You can expect the machine to then provide effective steam cleaning for around two hours, which should be more than enough to do most homes.

The cleaner is incredibly versatile with 23 accessories for different surfaces and variable steam settings to work effectively on different materials without damaging them.

It is a bulky machine, so it is not as maneuverable as some other options on this list. But you can carry it on your back or wheel around. It has a generous 18-foot power cord for fewer socket changes, and a 10-foot steam hose to let into all the corners.

Made in the United States, the service team works out of Andover, Kansas, and offers a two-year satisfaction warranty. All in all, that makes this an easy investment to justify.

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The Complete Carpet Cleaner Buyer’s Guide

How A Carpet Cleaner Works

If this part of our discussion sends you to snooze-ville, move on to the FAQs and machine characteristics sections of our article and pick your winner. Often, though, it helps to understand how something works so you know why a feature is important. This is where you find out why bigger is better when it comes to carpet cleaning.

Bigger begins with more power. That power takes many forms, from heating to beating, size to suction. Add in drive and durability, and you have the full cleaning package.

Carpet Cleaner Cleaning Effectiveness Drying Effectiveness
Bissell Proheat 2X Lift-Off Pet A- A
Bissell Proheat 2X Revolution Pet Pro B+ A
Hoover Power Scrub Deluxe B+ B+
Bissell Big Green Machine Professional A C
Hoover Power Dash Pet B+ B+
McCulloch Deluxe Canister Steam Cleaner A A

Steam (For Cleaners That Have Steam Only)

Your cleaner will create steam, or as the manufacturers like to call it, vaporized water. Why? I haven’t a clue, but it sounds stronger than steam, doesn’t it? Add cleaning solution approved for your carpeting or rug type and you have an attack plan for the day-to-day dirt your flooring suffers from.

The more effective the heating elements in the water system, the hotter the steam can become (short of vaporizing altogether). Hotter steam does a better job loosening stains and dirt for removal. The more force used in spraying this on your carpet, the deeper the steam can reach, helping you remove even more debris.

The steam is delivered through nozzles that infuse it into your carpet. If the steam is not hot enough, you’ll soak the rug with little effectiveness other than to make a sopping wet mess, a common user complaint about some equipment. You want your machine to make hot steam and keep it that way while it’s being applied and manipulated by our next feature.

Brushes

Back in the day, brushes in vacuums were called beaters, because they beat the fibers to release the dirt. The term beater hearkens back to eras past when annual spring cleaning included hanging the throw rugs over a line outside and beating it with a broom to get rid of the winter’s dirt residue. Take that, dirty carpet.

All manufacturers recommend you give your carpet a good vacuuming before you use your carpet cleaner. You don’t want the machine clogged with loose debris that could easily be removed with suction alone.

Today, brushes come in many forms, including rotating cylinder bars, circular heads, and interlocking spinners. These moving bristles add to the scrubbing power of your machine.

Suction

This is one of the big differentiators between equipment. Once the water loosens the stains, dirt and odors, you’ll want it to be whisked away. The Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) recommends avoiding over-wetting a section as you’re cleaning and spending more time than you think you’d need extracting the dampness through the suction phase. The more you pull out of the carpet, the more of the yucky stuff that will come with it.

Suction power depends on the power of the motor in the machine. That creates noise, which is the chief complaint many people have about their carpet cleaner. You’ll want to pay attention to the noise ratings if that’s something you’re sensitive to.

Carpet Cleaner Ergonomics Weight
Bissell Proheat 2X Lift-Off Pet B+ 24 lbs.
Bissell Proheat 2X Revolution Pet Pro B+ 19 lbs.
Hoover Power Scrub Deluxe B+ 18 lbs.
Bissell Big Green Machine Professional B+ 43 lbs.
Hoover Power Dash Pet B+ 17 lbs.
McCulloch Deluxe Canister Steam Cleaner C+ 13 lbs.

Reservoirs

Some carpet cleaners have two liquid reservoirs, one for clean water and one for the sucked up dirty stuff. The larger the tanks, the longer you can clean before you need to fill or empty them. Some also have a separate tank for cleaning solution which the machine mixes in the correct proportion with clean water during the cleaning setting.

But – and this is important to consider – water weighs something. A gallon equates to eight pounds, so a machine with tanks with a gallon capacity will weigh that much more, and that can make moving the machine around more challenging on some kinds of rugs. Think deep pile or texture and how hard it might be to roll the cleaner along as it weighs more.

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Questions To Ask When Choosing A Carpet Steam Cleaner

Carpet cleaners come in many designs, with some looking like sleek power rockets and others difficult to tell from your average vacuum. What’s the best one for you? The one you’ll use, rather than letting that stain become a permanent feature you attempt to hide with strategically placed furniture.

In reality, cleaners are divided into two big categories, home (occasional use) and professional (frequent use). Home cleaners usually have smaller reservoirs, fewer features, and less flexibility in cleaning and suction. Professional versions come with more power, features and durability.

That’s not to say you won’t be fully satisfied with a home carpet cleaner. It depends on what you can expect in terms of regular wear and dirt on your carpeting, and on what kind of carpeting you’re cleaning. Let’s look at what you’ll want to consider.

How Much Traffic Does My Carpet Receive?

Imagine an urban house with two working adults and one short-haired cat. The humans are gone for most of the day, and when they’re home, they tend to be focused on relaxation. The cat is, well, a cat all day.

Contrast this with a suburban setting, large yard, and two active kids and a medium-sized dog with those two adults (and maybe even the cat). The opportunity for dirt and accidents goes up exponentially with the number of people and critters and the amount of time spent tearing around. Wear marks can become obvious in a very short amount of time.

If you think you can keep your carpet clean enough with only the occasional spill to take care of, a portable machine designed to fix small messes might be adequate. If you have children with energetic feet and pets to play with, count on needing a carpet cleaner you feel fine whipping out on a very regular basis.

Carpet Cleaner Best for Cleaning Effectiveness Accessories
Bissell Proheat 2X Lift-Off Pet Best Overall A- A-
Bissell Proheat 2X Revolution Pet Pro Best for Small Areas, Pets B+ A-
Hoover Power Scrub Deluxe Best for Area Rugs, Budget B+ B+
Bissell Big Green Machine Professional Best for Pro-Level Cleaning A B+
Hoover Power Dash Pet Bests for Apartments and Condos B+ C
McCulloch Deluxe Canister Steam Cleaner Best for High Traffic A A

What Kind Of Carpet Am I Going To Be Cleaning?

Think pile and texture here. A deeply sculpted wall-to-wall carpet has plenty of cracks and crevices in which to capture every leaf, stray piece of popcorn, and dust and dander. The dog might take care of the popcorn but think about the slobber.

Even if your carpet has a low pile, normal use grinds in dust and debris through the carpet if ignored. Along with capturing cooking smells and hair, rugs are magnets for anything in the air of your home. Think of the mold and allergens left behind.

Clearly you want to maintain wall-to-wall with more diligence than freestanding (what we commonly call ‘throw’) rugs. It’s permanent, for all intents, while you can roll up a throw rug and tote it down to your favorite commercial cleaner. But even throw rugs benefit from regular attention with a good carpet or steam cleaner.

What Quality Of Carpet Am I Cleaning?

Carpet quality equates to things like tightness of the weave and backing, stain resistance, and durable materials. Obviously, higher quality also can mean a bigger investment, and that translates into your need to have a bigger focus on keeping it in shape. You’ll consider two areas when you consider quality, the surface and what happens down below.

Your average carpet responds well to a good vacuum with decent suction and reliable beaters or brushes. If your carpet has a higher stain resistance rating or has been treated for stain resistance, you might be able to sop up the worst of accidents before they become semi-permanent. Something will still seep through, though, which means you want big suction on your cleaner to remove the hidden problems.

How Much Carpet Do I Need To Clean Regularly?

If you’re cleaning throw rugs you use as accents in your rooms, a smaller machine (maybe even a handheld steam cleaner) will probably meet your needs. You can make a few sweeps of the machine over the area and you’ll be done. In a worst case scenario, you can lift the rug to clean underneath, or even turn it over and do the underside itself.

On the other hand, if you have wall to wall carpet throughout your house or condo, that’s a lot of square footage. You’ll want a wider machine (usually found in professional grades) with lots of power to suck up anything and everything. (Okay, everything is impossible, even when renting a commercial pro machine.)

The more area you have to cover, the more emphasis you should place on power and size in your decision. This means bigger reservoirs and tanks too, so you won’t be needing to empty or fill as often. Features such as a heater in the clean water tank and separate cleanser dispenser make shorter work of big areas too.

How Much Cleaning Does My Carpet Manufacturer Recommend?

If your carpeting is relatively new, it probably came with a manufacturer’s warranty. Perhaps your installer offered an additional bump too. Refer to those to determine how frequently they recommend you clean your rug.

Many will also recommend a brand of cleaner, though that is just what it is, a recommendation. We’ve never run across a warranty that demands a brand, but that’s not to say they don’t exist. You’ll want to look at the features of what they recommend, because you want to find something close to those bells and whistles when you’re making your buying decision.

Is Dodging Furniture And Getting Tight Against Walls A Factor?

The downside of bigger cleaners is that you give up some maneuverability. Do you need to clean under low clearance sofas or tables? Wider heads and bigger machines make that harder to accomplish, which means you’ll want to pay closer attention to the accessories and attachments to reach those unreachable places.

Think too about how close you’ll need to come to walls, and how many transitions between flooring materials you’ll be coping with. Again, you might be able to suck right up to the baseboards if you have the right small-headed attachment to add on for the task.

What’s The Klutz Factor In Our Household?

This one’s easy. How often do you or someone in your household spill something – over the carpet? Or how frequently does a pet have an accident?

If you believe you’ll be pulling this carpet cleaner out on a daily basis to keep up with messes, consider two machines, or a big machine with a lift-off smaller cleaner. You’ll need a full-sized carpet cleaner to keep the whole space healthy. Even if your big machine comes with a spot treater attachment, you might not be as willing to pull it out and use it because it is attached – yes, you guessed it – to the big bulky behemoth.

For those little spots you want to tackle before you’ll be thinking of them as part of your décor, buy a portable machine defined as a spot treater. We’ve compared those elsewhere on this site.

How Much Storage Space Do We Have?

If your household is like ours, you put things like the carpet cleaner in the basement, only to see the light of day when there’s a pressing emergency need or when cleaning the rugs is on the regularly cycled to-do list. If you have a place to put the machine and all the things it came with and space is not an issue, you’re lucky.

Let’s say you live in a condo or apartment. Do you have a closet with enough room to house the monster when it lives in its cage?

What Healthy Household Issues Do We Face?

This is a biggie for many people, because carpeting attracts irritants, and I’m not talking about the material here. Pet dander might seem more plentiful than people dander, but what about pollen, mold and other nasties you can’t easily see? These microscopic motes and flakes gravitate to carpet like meat bees to your favorite steak.

If someone you care about suffers from allergies, you’ll want a more powerful machine to capture even more out of the carpet. The same could be said for those of us with pets that spend time outside, since all sorts of little hitchhikers come back in no matter how hard you try to keep that dog or cat clean. And if you happen to walk or jog on a public path or street, think of what your shoes track in unless you shed them at your front door.

In short, we all need to clean our carpets to keep the bad stuff out of our homes. Think of it this way – the fewer toxins, dust particles and germs we’re exposed to, the greater our chances of staying healthier. Even the healthiest among us don’t need the aggravation of an intruder we often can’t see.

How Frequently Will I Be Willing To Clean The Carpet?

Come on, be honest now. Unless we’re obsessed with keeping our white rugs brilliant or have pressing health issues that require a Class 100 Clean Room environment, we won’t clean the rugs as often as we believe we will. It’s a fact of life that cleaning the carpet falls behind other priorities, like bathing the dog or having that root canal.

Longer periods between cleanings means more dirt and allergens accumulate. Stains set. Odors become ground in along with the dust and silt of everyday life.

You’ll need more power to clean it up, or more patience and fortitude to go over the same area multiple times. Even then, machines have their limits. It’s a good idea to buy as much power as you can afford (and then use it) to maximize the life of your carpeting.

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Our Selection Criteria For Carpet Cleaners

There are plenty of features to think about when you buy your carpet cleaner, and which model works best depends on your specific conditions. When you select a machine that better matches your needs, you’re more likely to use it, and that means you’ll enjoy cleaner carpeting and rugs in your home. Here are the features we analyzed in our comparison.

Ergonomics

Many comparisons wouldn’t put ease of use and machine ergonomics first, but we include it first here for a good reason. If you find it difficult to use, you won’t use it. Why buy something you won’t use?

The amount of suction a powerful machine generates is great for removal of the wet stuff but can make some machines try to adhere to the carpet and therefore be unwilling to move.

Depending on their size and placement, wheels might work more effectively on one height of rug than another. Add in differences in brush heads, and you’ll understand why not all machines are as easy to move as others, depending on what you’re cleaning.

Ergonomics is a combination of multiple factors, including head width, reservoir sizes and others. We note if users generally found the selected machine as user-friendly as they would have expected. Here are the data points to consider.

Reservoir Size

We’ve already discussed how size matters for reservoirs. Manufacturers also note that some machines have indicators to let you know when you’re running out of clean water or when your dirty water tank is full. That dirty water side is nice if you go over the carpet more than once in an area to suck up debris.

Width Of Head

A wider head means you can cover an area faster. If you have a lot of carpeting or rugs to clean, you’ll want something wider to finish faster. The trade-off to size is the places it can’t reach, though, so if you have tight spaces like under furniture or near walls, you’ll need to pass judgement on how wide is too wide.

Power Cord Length

This may not sound like a big deal but consider this – electricity and water do not play nicely together. Consumer Reports recommends you plug the cord into a GFI (grounded) electrical outlet to be on the safe side. It’s a plus if this is somewhere you won’t be cleaning.

Cleaning Effectiveness

How well a carpet cleaner works on your carpeting and rugs is a function of how well you can treat spots without extra effort, and how easy it is to apply the right amount of cleaner. We’ll cover each of these separately here.

Steam Temperature (If Applicable)

You’re looking for hot steam that stays that way, as we mentioned before, because otherwise, you’re only adding water to create a soggy mess underfoot. Not all machines have a feature to ensure clean water stays hot. You’re looking for something that steams as fast as you can move that machine back and forth over the carpeted area.

Cleaning Solution Dispenser

In some machines, you add your cleaning solution directly to the clean water reservoir. While this might seem convenient, it also raises a risk of adding too much, making the carpeting sticky and more likely to attract debris faster.

At the same time, you might not add enough, which reduces the effectiveness of your cleaning process as well. Having a separate dispenser means the machine calibrates how much solution is required and adds it during the cleaning process, plus it shuts off and allows you to rinse with clean water. Make sure you use the type of solution called for by the machine manufacturer in any case.

Spot Treating

Cleaners with separate dispensers and cleaners for spot treating can help you add more solution to those high traffic areas or work on those stubborn stains. You’ll need to be careful to avoid over-applying cleaning solution, though, because you’ll be spending more time applying clean water and suctioning it up to pull out what you’ve added. Still, having an applicator to add more suds when and where you need it is a useful benefit.

One important piece of information many people overlook in spot treating is that CRI and most carpet cleaner manufacturers do not recommend using your big machine to remove pet pee in the carpet. Urine soaks into the carpet and padding quickly.

For this issue, you need a pet-rated machine that has a special attachment for that task (or a small spot-treater machine only for that purpose) and a pet-specific cleaning solution.

Drying Effectiveness

A powerful suction motor is as vital because the longer the water sits on the carpet, the longer you, furniture and everything else needs to stay off it. In addition, too much liquid remaining in the fibers can seep down into your padding and the floor surface below, creating a new set of issues, like mold, and none of want that in our homes. The more powerful the suction capability of the machine, the faster and more thoroughly you can remove the dirt.

Noise

There’s no getting around it, powerful motors in home or professional machines make noise. That’s the suction working for you. Decibel ratings are not always readily accessible for this equipment, and that’s probably no surprise since no machine could be called quiet by any stretch of your imagination.

Carpet Cleaner Best for Noise
Bissell Proheat 2X Lift-Off Pet Best Overall C
Bissell Proheat 2X Revolution Pet Pro Best for Small Areas, Pets C
Hoover Power Scrub Deluxe Best for Area Rugs, Budget C
Bissell Big Green Machine Professional Best for Pro-Level Cleaning C-
Hoover Power Dash Pet Bests for Apartments and Condos C
McCulloch Deluxe Canister Steam Cleaner Best for High Traffic C-

Consumer Reports mentions using ear protection to save your hearing if you plan to use the machine for large areas or long periods. This becomes more complicated if you have small children to protect or pets that hate the whine and whine themselves. If you can put distance and doors between them and the noise, all the better.

Accessories

The selection of accessories is one criterion you’ll need to consider based on your household. Do you have steps, lots of upholstered furniture, or delicate flooring where pets like to loll around? Consider if these reside on the machine or need their own storage area too.

Usability For Carpeted Steps

Sometimes it seems like carpeted steps gather more dust and dirt than any other covered surface in a house. Couple this with difficult in cleaning those kinds of spaces and you can have a real challenge on your hands. You’ll want three things to avoid dragging the machine and balancing it behind or next to you – a long hose, a stair accessory, and a long power cord (pick the first two over the last if you must).

Furniture Accessories

Any horizontal surface in the home can accumulate dirt and odors, and that includes upholstery on furniture. Why not use the carpet cleaner on them too? This is easy to accomplish if you have a furniture attachment (usually a small version of the big head on the cleaner) and a hose long enough to reach the corners.

Other Accessories

Depending on the brand and the model, your system might come with attachments for other purposes. My favorites cover the places my dogs venture, like the SUV seats and cargo area and the cushions on the patio furniture.

Tally up the many places we sit (dining room chairs), lay down (mattress) and walk (even bare floors) and you’ll realize that the right tools will come in very handy in keeping your environment as clean as the day it was built (maybe better).

Weight

Machine weight is your starting point, and from there, add eight pounds for each gallon of water in the clean water tank. (We’ll assume you’re cycling through from clean to dirty in one pass.) If you have to move the machine between floors in your home or otherwise need to wrestle it around tight spots, consider that maneuverability factor.

Size relates to storage. The machine has a footprint, plus vertical space needed for the upright vac portion. If you don’t have closet or basement space to devote to it, consider where you can put the machine and its accessories.

As a final reminder, when things break down, each manufacturer has their own terms and conditions about the length of a warranty period and what it covers. Study these to determine what added value they bring you. Ditto on regular maintenance the machine may require.

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Top Tips For Steam Cleaning Carpets

While steam cleaning your carpet should be a pretty straightforward process once you have the right tool in your hand, you can make it quite a bit easier on yourself by knowing what you are doing, and using a few helpful tips to get the job done faster and more effectively.

Steam cleaning is a highly effective way to clean your carpets as it does not require any chemicals, though you can choose to use them if you wish. This means nothing nasty left behind on the carpet, or in the air, to irritate skin or eyes. Nevertheless, the heat means you are still disinfecting, killing 99.9 percent of all bacteria and viruses.

The process cleans deeply and dries much more quickly than traditional carpet shampooing, so you can be back using your space quicker than ever.

But to make sure you are doing it properly, follow the tips below.

  1. When you go to steam your carpets, make sure to remove everything from the floor so you have a clear surface to work with. If you are dealing with a lot of furniture, you can move everything into one half of the room, wait for it to dry, and then transfer everything to the other half of the room to finish up.
  2. Also dust and vacuum thoroughly before cleaning, dusting first so the vacuum can pick up any debris that makes its way onto the floor. This is essential, as large particles, hair, and excessive dust can clog up steam cleaners.
  3. If you are dealing with any deep stains, such as wine or pet urine, pre-treat the areas with a stain remover before cleaning. Follow the directions of your selected cleaner.
  4. When you are finally ready to start steaming, start in the corner of the room furthest away from you (and your water and electricity source) and walk backwards across the carpet.
  5. Make sure you go slowly, as you do need to give the steam time to penetrate the carpet to loosen the dirt and remove it.
  6. Let the carpet dry completely before returning the furniture and walking on the carpet. If the carpet is slightly damp, it will be even more prone to picking up dirt from feet, shoes, and anything else.

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FAQs

How Often Should I Steam Clean My Carpet?

Carpets should be steamed cleaned at least once a year, more often in high traffic areas or in households with pets. It is also best practice to vacuum at least twice a week.

Why Do Carpets Get Dirty Faster After Cleaning?

If you clean your carpet with shampoo, and don’t rinse the detergent thoroughly, as it can leave behind a sticky residue. This can attract dust and other particles, which means the carpet gets dirtier faster.

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The Verdict

While carpet is a very popular home flooring choice, especially for those prioritizing warmth and carpet, keeping your carpet looking, feeling, and smelling good takes work. As well as vacuuming at least once a week, regular steam cleaning is a must to prevent stains and odors from embedding themselves in the fibers.

Having your own steam cleaner is infinitely convenient. It also means you can deal with spills and messes as they happen, rather than waiting for the next time you rent a machine. This means more effective cleaning as you catch stains while they are fresh.

Moreover, considering the cost of renting carpet steam cleaners, buying your own should pay for itself before too long.

Choosing the right carpet steam cleaner can be challenging as there are hundreds of options on the market, and you need to consider ergonomics, reservoir size and cord length, available attachments and versatility, price, warranties, and much more.

We have tried to make it easy for you by coming up with our list of the 6 best carpet steam cleaners currently available and what each is best suited for. We have also put together a comprehensive guide explaining everything that you need to know about carpet cleaners, and a little bit more.

But if all this is just a bit much, and you just want a carpet steam cleaner, we recommend the Bissell Proheat 2X Lift-Off Pet as the best option currently available for domestic use.

Do you have experience buying and using domestic carpet steam cleaners? Share your thoughts and advice in the comments section below.

About Yvonne Kohano

Yvonne Kohano never met a remodeling project she didn’t like – almost. Ditto on tools to keep things looking great. She is a fiction author of romantic suspense and psychological thrillers, book/business coach for creatives, and nerdy student of human behavior and the natural world.