The Best Carpet Cleaners for the Home

Deep-clean your home quickly with the best carpet cleaners for floors besieged by dirt, stains, pet hair, and odors.

By Timothy Dale | Updated Nov 24, 2020 11:25 AM

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The Best Carpet Cleaners Option

Photo: depositphotos.com

Carpeting can hold a whopping four times its weight in dirt and even the best vacuum can only penetrate so far, leaving all kinds of gunk and odors trapped within the fibers. That’s why it’s important to deep-clean your carpeting at least once a year and more frequently if you’ve got a large, active household with lots of foot (or paw) traffic.

While vacuums rely on suction and rotating brushes to remove dirt and debris, the best carpet cleaners use powerful shampoos, stain removers, hot water, steam, and powerful suction 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 in a machine will best suit your home and lifestyle, and why the following models rate as top-notch in their respective categories.

  1. BEST OVERALL: Bissell ProHeat 2X Lift Off Carpet Cleaner
  2. RUNNER-UP: Hoover Smartwash Automatic Carpet Cleaner
  3. UPGRADE PICK: Bissell Big Green Carpet Cleaner
  4. BEST FOR PETS: BISSELL ProHeat Pet Pro Carpet Cleaner
  5. BEST FOR APARTMENTS: Hoover PowerDash Compact Carpet Cleaner
  6. BEST PORTABLE: BISSELL SpotClean Portable Carpet Cleaner
  7. BEST STEAM CLEANING: McCulloch Heavy-Duty Steam Cleaner
The Best Carpet Cleaners Option

Photo: depositphotos.com

Before You Buy a Carpet Cleaner

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 to $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 or you live with furry friends, it may be cost-effective to invest in your own unit. Be sure to purchase a quality model that can compete with the commercial-grade gear pros use—which means spending between $300 to $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 carpeting and some are 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.

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.

Carpet Shampooing

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, the shampooer can be filled 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

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. This method does not provide the deep cleaning needed for a stained or grimy carpet.

Bonnet 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 similarly attract dirt. 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 to 60 minutes, 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.

The Vacuum Black Friday Option

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What to Consider When Buying a Carpet Cleaner

Consider these key factors when shopping for the best carpet cleaner to suit 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 the suction isn’t as strong as larger units. They’re ideal for use on stairs, as well as homes with just one or two carpeted rooms or loose 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 they’re 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.

Hose Length

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 farther 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.

Accessories

Carpet cleaner accessories are 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.

Our Top Picks

The factors detailed above—as well as effectiveness, and brand reputation—informed the selection of these excellent carpet cleaners.

Best Overall

The Best Carpet Cleaners Option: Bissell ProHeat 2X Lift Off Carpet Cleaner
Photo: amazon.com

Two machines in one, the Bissell ProHeat 2X Lift Off Carpet Cleaner functions as both a whole-house carpet cleaner and a portable spot cleaner. While the entire machine weighs 26 pounds before water is 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.

Runner-Up

The Best Carpet Cleaners Option: Hoover Smartwash Automatic Carpet Cleaner
Photo: amazon.com

This high-tech unit makes carpet cleaning incredibly easy with hot-water extraction, bonnet cleaning, and shampooing options. Thanks to motion-sensing capabilities, 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. Hoover’s Auto Mix system combines and dispenses the correct amount of solution for the best cleaning possible. 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 18.5-pounds it may be a struggle to haul the Hoover up and down stairs.

Upgrade Pick

The Best Carpet Cleaners Option: Bissell Big Green Carpet Cleaner
Photo: amazon.com

This heavy-duty carpet cleaner uses hot water extraction, shampooing, and an extra-large rotary brush for lifting dirt to produce results that meet or exceed professional carpet cleaning standards. The 1.75-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.

Best for Pets

The Best Carpet Cleaners Option: BISSELL ProHeat Pet Pro Carpet Cleaner
Photo: amazon.com

Love your pets but hate the mess they can make on your carpet? This powerful machine is designed to banish hair, stains, and odors—it even boasts the ability to remove skunk smell! 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.

Best for Apartments

The Best Carpet Cleaners Option: Hoover PowerDash Compact Carpet Cleaner
Photo: amazon.com

A heavy-duty carpet cleaner in a lightweight design, this model is perfect for apartments. It weighs just 12.5 pounds, yet boasts twice the cleaning power of other leading lightweight carpet cleaners. 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. 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.

Best Portable

The Best Carpet Cleaners Option: BISSELL SpotClean Portable Carpet Cleaner
Photo: amazon.com

Designed for portability, the 13-pound unit with a 3/4-gallon tank can be easily carried around the house by its durable plastic handle. It comes with two sample bottles of pet odor eliminator that are most effective when used with the 3-inch tough stain tool that scrubs and suctions stains on carpeting, upholstery, and area rugs. There’s also a stain trapper tool that prevents liquid messes from getting inside the tank—especially useful for pet “accidents” that could otherwise leave a bad smell after use. Instead of the bottom-mounted cleaning system most whole-house cleaners use, all cleaning is done using the 5-foot hose and the above-mentioned attachments.

Best Steam Cleaning

The Best Carpet Cleaners Option: McCulloch Heavy-Duty Steam Cleaner
Photo: amazon.com

This steam cleaner weighs 12 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. Be sure to fill the 5/8-gallon tank according to manufacturer recommendations for the best results.

FAQs About Your New Carpet Cleaners

Before buying, take a look at these frequently asked questions about carpet cleaners and their answers below.

Q. How much should you pay for the best 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. 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 at the top of the list.