The Best Carpet Cleaners for Busy Households
Ahead, read our top tips and recommendations for choosing the right tool to use in deep-cleaning carpeting besieged by dirt, stains, pet hair, and odors.
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- Best OverallBissell 2X Lift Off Carpet CleanerCheck Latest Price
- Runner-UpHoover Smartwash Automatic Carpet CleanerCheck Latest Price
- Best Bang for the BuckBISSELL Turboclean Upright Carpet CleanerCheck Latest Price
If you vacuum regularly, you naturally assume you’re getting your carpets clean. But carpeting can hold a whopping four times its weight in dirt, and even the best vacuum can only penetrate mid-way through the average carpet, leaving all kinds of gunk and odors trapped within fibers. That’s why it’s important to deep-clean your carpet at least once a year, or more frequently if you’ve got a large, active household with lots of foot (and paw!) traffic.
While vacuums rely on suction and rotating brushes to remove dirt and debris, the carpet cleaners use powerful shampoos, stain removers, hot water, steam, or powerful suction—or a combination of these methods—to draw out grime from a carpet’s deepest recesses while washing fibers free of oils, stains, and smells.
Read on to learn about the various carpet cleaning methods, what features to look for in a model to suit your home and lifestyle, and why the following are our top favorites among the best carpet cleaner options available:
- BEST OVERALL: Bissell ProHeat 2X Lift Off Carpet Cleaner
- RUNNER-UP: Hoover Smartwash Automatic Carpet Cleaner
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: BISSELL Turboclean Upright Carpet Cleaner
- UPGRADE PICK: Bissell Big Green Carpet Cleaner
- BEST FOR PET OWNERS: BISSELL ProHeat Pet Pro Carpet Cleaner
- BEST FOR SMALL SPACES: Hoover PowerDash Compact Carpet Cleaner
- HONORABLE MENTION: McCulloch Heavy-Duty Steam Cleaner
Before You Buy a Carpet Cleaner
Although you may be sure that your carpet needs a serious cleaning, you may wonder if it’s wiser to invest in one of these machines or simply hire a service to do the job. Thorough, professional carpet cleaning costs about $50 per room, so $200 for the average three-bedroom home and between $300-$600 for larger residences. You also have the option of renting a machine and DIYing the job, at an average price of $30 per day.
Either of these routes may make sense if you have just one or two carpeted rooms, but if your entire house is carpeted, you have multiple floor rugs, or you live with furry friends who shed and have accidents, it may be cost-effective to invest in your own unit. Just be sure to purchase a quality model that can compete with the commercial-grade gear pros use—which means spending between $300-$500. The best carpet cleaners have a lifespan between eight to 10 years with regular use, so do the math to figure out what’s right for your home.
Types of Carpet Cleaning
There are various methods that machines use to clean carpet, some more effective than others. While some carpet cleaners use more than one of these cleaning styles, others perform only a single type, so it is important to understand the differences between them.
Hot Water Extraction
More popularly known as steam cleaning, this method uses hot water applied at high pressure to agitate carpet fibers and dissolve dirt. Any remaining debris is pulled from the carpet with a series of rotating brushes and powerful suction. While hot water alone can be effective, most steam cleaners also use detergent to remove stains and odors. This requires a two-step process—a wash with the detergent, followed by a plain water rinse—before the carpet can be left to dry.
This method mixes shampoo with hot water from your sink (rather than heating it in the machine, as steam cleaning does). The solution is pushed into carpet fibers by rotating brushes and lifted out with a powerful suction—a one-step process—and then the carpet is left to dry. An oft-cited problem with carpet shampooing is that sticky shampoo residue remains in the fibers, attracting dirt and debris so that the carpet soon needs cleaning again. To reduce that residue, you can refill the shampooer with plain cold water and repeat the process to rinse. Just be sure to avoid hot or warm water, as this activates the remaining soap rather than removing it.
Encapsulation technology emerged in the 1970s, slowly taking over the market from carpet shampooers. Encapsulation is a two-step process that uses encapsulating chemicals (brand-specific formulas that often include hydrogen peroxide for attracting soil and encapsulating it). The chemicals are sprayed onto the carpet, brushed into fibers with a cylindrical brush, rotary brush, or bonnet, and then the encapsulation chemical and debris from the carpet are vacuumed up.
The chemicals crystalize around soil particles and attract other soils so that dirt can be removed during vacuuming. Any moisture released by encapsulation cleaning dries within two hours, (after steaming or shampooing, the carpet can take up to 24 hours to dry). Just keep in mind that this method won’t provide the deepest cleaning; it’s fine for a dirty carpet but not a truly stained or grimy one that warrants a proper steam cleaning.
With this method, a cotton, rayon, or polypropylene pad called a bonnet is soaked in a cleaning solution and affixed to a heavy-duty, motorized shampooer. Bonnet cleaning can also be done with a series of rotating brushes that use water and cleaning solution to attract dirt in a similar fashion. The machine rotates the cleaning pad or brushes, agitating the top layer of carpet and collecting loose dirt. It’s perhaps the least effective method of home carpet cleaning, but it can be a quick option for spot cleaning if you don’t have time to do the entire room.
Dry Carpet Cleaning
Also known as compound carpet cleaning, dry carpet cleaning arrived in the 1980s and, unlike all other techniques, it’s totally moisture-free. The cleaning compound, typically in a powder form, is brushed into carpet fibers with a motorized, counter-rotating brush machine. This machine “opens up” the carpet so that the compound can settle to the very bottom. After waiting between 30 minutes to an hour, the cleaning compound and collected dirt are thoroughly vacuumed up. You can walk on the carpet immediately afterward, so while not as effective as steam cleaning, dry carpet cleaning can be a boon for busy families who have trouble keeping a damp carpet free of foot traffic until it dries.
What to Consider When Buying a Carpet Cleaner
Consider these key factors when shopping for a carpet cleaner to use in your home, office, or workspace.
Spot Cleaning vs. Whole-House Cleaning
Spot cleaning machines are lightweight, portable, and less expensive than whole-house cleaners, but their suction abilities aren’t as strong as larger units. They’re great for use on stairs, as well as in homes with just one or two carpeted rooms or area rugs.
Whole-house carpet cleaners have robust motors capable of producing powerful suction while rotating thick cleaning brushes. These machines may also have the versatility of performing more than one cleaning method. They’re costlier than spot cleaners, and use more cleaning products, so are best suited to larger homes with many carpeted rooms that see heavy traffic.
Weight and Portability
In general, the heavier the machine, the more powerful its suction motor and rotating brushes will be. Portable units are lighter and are easily maneuvered into any position. There are also mid-weight carpet cleaners that may not be capable of heavy-duty cleaning but do a better job than small handheld machines. Consider your physical limits, the amount of carpeting, and the number of levels in your home when making a decision. For example, if you live in a townhouse with a basement, main floor, and two additional levels of carpet to clean, an easy-to-tote portable model may be your best bet. It’s important to also keep in mind that the weight listed for each machine does not include the added weight of water.
Carpet cleaner hoses are attachments that generally max out at 10 feet, yet some units have no hose at all. A cleaner with a 10-foot hose affords great range, but the longer the hose, the further the water and/or cleaning solution has to travel to reach the carpeting to be cleaned. During this travel, the water temperature cools, reducing the effectiveness of the carpet cleaner. One handy attribute of a hose attachment is that it allows access under heavy pieces of furniture like your bed or sofa.
Carpet cleaner accessories are generally attachments that can be added to a hose or intake port for cleaning different materials, reaching difficult areas, or dealing with pet hair and odors. Some of the most common types include upholstery tools, crevice cleaning attachments (handy for tight spots like the indent created where the baseboard meets the carpet), or spinning brushes that lift tough, stuck-on stains. Pet attachments include special brushes, guards, and even isolated tanks for trapping fur to prevent it from getting caught in the machine’s inner works.
Our Top Picks
1. BEST OVERALL: Bissell 2X Lift Off Carpet Cleaner
Two machines in one, the Bissell 2X Lift Off Carpet Cleaner functions as both a whole-house carpet cleaner and a portable spot cleaner. While the entire machine weighs 24 pounds prior to water being added, the spot cleaner can be used independently, with a 6-foot hose and 3/4-gallon tank. When the spot cleaner is attached to the upright machine, it serves as a water tank while the powerful dual cleaning brushes deep clean using hot-water extraction, bonnet cleaning, and shampooing. This model also features quality accessories for difficult stains and the brand’s “heatwave technology” to keep the water tank heated during use.
2. RUNNER-UP: Hoover Smartwash Automatic Carpet Cleaner
This high-tech unit makes carpet cleaning easier with its hot-water extraction, bonnet cleaning, and shampooing options. Thanks to motion-sensing capabilities, you simply move the carpet cleaner forward to auto clean and backward to auto dry. (The auto dry function extracts water from the carpet while applying heat for a shortened drying time.) Plus, Hoover’s Auto Mix system combines and dispenses the correct amount of solution for cleaning. The 1-gallon tank provides ample clean water for washing and rinsing, and the unit includes a pet tool attachment for hair and an 8-foot hose, but at 19 pounds (before water) it may be a struggle to haul the Hoover up and down stairs.
3. BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: BISSELL Turboclean Upright Carpet Cleaner
If you want to do a deeper job than a handheld spot cleaner can manage but don’t want to haul around a heavy, bulky whole-house machine, this 12-pound model may be the right solution. Four rows of rotating brushes for bonnet cleaning and shampooing combine with powerful suction to lift stains from the deepest part of the carpet, all at a price that’s hard to beat. The 1/2-gallon tank provides enough clean water for a single room or a few area rugs, and the collapsible handle allows it to be easily tucked away into a closet or cabinet for storage. While the Bissell Turboclean Upright Carpet Cleaner doesn’t have a hose attachment, the bristles on the edge of the intake port can clean along baseboards and under the edges of furniture.
4. UPGRADE PICK: Bissell Big Green Carpet Cleaner
This heavy-duty carpet cleaner uses hot water extraction, shampooing, and an extra-large, dirt-lifting rotary brush to produce terrific cleaning results. The 1-3/4-gallon tank provides more water than necessary for most rooms, and the 9-foot hose can clean under beds, sofas, and other hard-to-reach areas. The hose has its own storage bag, and the model includes accessories for stairs and stains. However, at 48 pounds this machine is difficult to maneuver, not to mention to carry up and down stairs.
5. BEST FOR PET OWNERS: BISSELL ProHeat Pet Pro Carpet Cleaner
Love your pets but hate the mess they can make on your carpet? This powerful machine is designed to help you banish hair, stains, and odors. It comes with samples of pet odor eliminator and antibacterial treatment that target difficult stains directly from the sprayers on either side of the front intake port. There’s also a two-in-one pet upholstery tool for both wet and dry mode to remove odors, stains, and hair from furniture and drapes. Set this model on Max Mode for heavy-duty cleaning or Express Clean for a lighter clean that dries faster. The Bissell ProHeat Pet Pro Carpet Cleaner weighs 17.5 pounds, so it’s fairly manageable for homes with stairs.
6. BEST FOR SMALL SPACES: Hoover PowerDash Compact Carpet Cleaner
A heavy-duty carpet cleaner in a lightweight design, this model is great for small spaces. It weighs just 12 pounds, yet boasts more cleaning power than many similarly lightweight models. The 1/2-gallon tank provides enough water for most rooms, and Hoover’s Heatforce technology heats the carpet as dirty water is sucked into the tank for faster drying. The pet brush roll easily collects hair and helps purge difficult stains. And while the model has no hose attachment, the low-profile intake port lets you get under furniture easily. When you’re done cleaning, the compact machine takes up about as much room as a broom in your closet.
7. HONORABLE MENTION: McCulloch Heavy-Duty Steam Cleaner
This steam cleaner weighs only 10 pounds and provides up to 45 minutes of pressurized steam for reaching the deepest fibers of the carpet. Spray the steam via the 9-foot hose to deep clean carpet as well as tile, wood, upholstery, decking, and stone. At 212-degrees Fahrenheit, the steam is deadly to lice, fleas, bedbugs, and 99.9% of germs and bacteria. The versatile steam cleaner comes with 18 accessories, including a floor mop, scrub pad, and utility brushes for various surfaces.
FAQs About Carpet Cleaners
Before buying, take a look at these frequently asked questions about carpet cleaners below.
Q. How much should you pay for a carpet cleaner?
The typical price range for the best carpet cleaners is between $300-$500. However, the average cost of professional carpet cleaning is about $200 for a three-bedroom home and can be up to $600 for larger homes. This means that after two or three uses your new carpet cleaner will have paid for itself.
Q. How often should I clean a carpet?
If regular vacuuming and moderate care are taken, a carpet can be cleaned once every 12 to 18 months. But in an active household with pets and children, the carpet should be cleaned every six to 12 months.
Q. What is the best carpet cleaner for a home with pets?
The best carpet cleaner for a home with pets is capable of removing pet hair, odors, and stains from even the deepest fibers of the carpet. For this purpose, the BISSELL ProHeat Pet Pro Carpet Cleaner is a top pick.