Photo: Debbie Wolfe for Bob Vila
Vacuums might work well for removing dust and debris from rugs and carpets, but they won’t help with spills or stains like a carpet cleaner. Handy portable carpet cleaners are designed to remove stains with hot water, a cleaning solution, and suction power. We tested the best portable carpet cleaners to find out which is best for specific types of situations as an alternative to hiring a professional cleaning service.
While upright carpet cleaners are best suited for deep-cleaning an entire carpet or area rug, smaller and more portable carpet cleaners are excellent solutions for spot-cleaning and stain removal. It’s typically as easy as filling the tank with hot tap water and cleaning solution, then spraying the mixture onto the affected area and scrubbing to lift the stain. The suction vacuum then draws in the dirt and liquid to deposit it into a separate “dirty” tank. Most models are designed to work on both carpet fibers and upholstered furniture.
We spoke to Russ DeLozier, president of The Carpet and Rug Institute based in Dalton, Georgia, about the best ways to keep carpet clean. Besides vacuuming regularly, DeLozier advises that owners “clean spots and spills quickly with products that don’t damage carpet or cause it to resoil quickly.” He also recommends professional deep-cleaning every 12 to 18 months to remove embedded dirt and grime. What’s the worst thing you can do when spot-cleaning carpet? DeLozier says to avoid rubbing or accidentally smearing the stain: “Do not scrub or use a brush on the spot or spill. Bristles and scrubbing can damage carpet resulting in the possibility of fraying and texture change.” And finally, he says to ensure that the cleaning agent is completely extracted from the carpet. “If residue is left on the carpet, the spot can easily become sticky, stiff, or resoil rapidly.”
Keep these tips in mind when choosing the best portable carpet cleaners from among our top picks, all of which tend to be easy to use while also being effective.
- BEST OVERALL: Bissell Little Green Portable Carpet Cleaner
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Hoover PowerDash Go Pet+ Spot Cleaner
- BEST FOR STAIRS: Hoover Onepwr Go Cordless Portable Carpet Cleaner
- BEST PROFESSIONAL: Bissell SpotClean Pro Portable Carpet Cleaner
- BEST STEAM: Costway Heavy-Duty Multipurpose Steam Cleaner
- BEST FOR TOUGH STAINS: Rug Doctor Pet Portable Spot Cleaner
- BEST FOR DEEP-CLEANING: Bissell ProHeat 2X Revolution Pet
Photo: Debbie Wolfe for Bob Vila
How We Tested the Best Portable Carpet Cleaners
We tested each portable carpet cleaner according to an established rubric that included how well it spot-cleaned stains on carpet fibers and other surfaces, its efficiency in suctioning excess water, and the ease of cleaning the tanks and parts. We rated the sprays on a scale of 0 to 4 to determine their score.
First, we filled each cleaner with its appropriate cleaning solution, following the instructions from the manufacturer. We then used the machine and various attachments, if applicable, on different types of stains, noting how well it removed the stain with each tool and how well it suctioned the excess water. Lastly, we cleaned the components to determine how easy it was to clean, reassemble, and store the carpet cleaners.
Our Top Picks
We’ve put some of the top portable carpet cleaners for spot-cleaning through their paces with hands-on testing in real-world applications. The following picks are organized by their performance and are based on factors such as durability, tank capacity, weight, cord length, and suction power.
The Bissell Little Green portable carpet cleaner is a versatile machine. It can be used to clean carpets, upholstery, stairs, area rugs, and auto interiors. It has powerful suction capabilities, efficiently removing stains from the soft surfaces in a home. Bissell’s portable carpet cleaner has removable water tanks that are easy to fill and clean, each of which has a capacity of 48 ounces. It includes a 3-inch tough-stain tool, a HydroRinse tool attachment, and a sample-size bottle of the brand’s cleaning solution.
Bissell is one of the top carpet cleaning brands specializing in pet stain removal. As such, the Bissell Little Green upholstery cleaner is a popular portable carpet cleaner for pet owners due to its cleaning power and ease of use. We liked that the Bissell Little Green has a good-size tank for clean water and wastewater. It’s lightweight, and its 15-foot cord makes it easy to move around. We especially like the HydroRinse self-cleaning tool attachment that allows users to clean the hose without spilling water everywhere. The Little Green is easy to use and clean, making it the top choice for portable carpet cleaning.
Read our full review: Bissell Little Green Portable Carpet Cleaner
- Tank capacity: 48 ounces
- Weight: 9.65 pounds
- Cord length: 15 feet
- Generous clean-water and dirty-water tanks provide consistent deep-cleaning capacity
- Powerful suction picks up and removes deep stains, dirt, and debris
- HydroRinse self-cleaning tool included for cleaning hose keeps the system from becoming filthy
- Tanks can slightly leak over the edges of the container if they’re not upright
Get the Bissell Little Green portable carpet cleaner at Amazon.
The Hoover PowerDash Go Pet+ portable spot cleaner features a 4-foot hose and two interchangeable tools: a Spot and Stain Pet Tool that scrubs and lifts away messes and a Rubber Nubs Tool that we appreciated for its ability to clean the carpet without potentially clogging the hose. It also features dual tanks to keep clean solution and dirty water separate, and it comes with a sample-size Hoover Paws & Claws premixed spot-cleaning solution.
Weighing in at 6.5 pounds, this corded carpet cleaner is a compactly designed version of the popular Hoover Onepwr Spotless Go Cordless Carpet Cleaner with a few more features. The product’s light weight made it easy to use, and we found it easy to carry around the house, especially up and down stairs.
- Tank capacity: 8 ounces
- Weight: 6.5 pounds
- Cord length: 14 feet
- Dual-tank system keeps dirty and clean water separate
- Comes with a sample size of cleaning solution and scrubbing pet tool
- Lightweight and compact; can be carried around the house or up- and downstairs
- Small solution tank; might need to be refilled more frequently than comparable cleaners
Get the Hoover PowerDash portable carpet cleaner at Amazon.
Those with carpeted stairs or runners that get lots of traffic might opt for the Hoover Onepwr Go portable carpet cleaner. Weighing in at 7 pounds, it’s featherlight and ideal for carrying up and down steps.
With no need for true assembly, the machine was ready to use in less than a minute from opening the box. All we needed to do was pour in the included bottle of solution, pull the trigger, and get cleaning. Operating it is simple, and we found there was no need to study a product manual. In addition to being ideal for stair maintenance, this is a fantastic choice for quick cleanups and post pet accident triage. This portable carpet cleaner excels for spot cleanups as well as preventing minor messes from becoming major problems.
It’s important for users to keep in mind that the Hoover Onepowr cordless carpet cleaner lacks in power what it gains in portability. We found it worked well on hard-to-reach stains, though it requires a bit of elbow grease to remove deeply set-in stains and dirt. It may not be enough for super-tough messes.
Another issue to keep in mind is that this brand is engineered to work with Hoover’s cleaning solution only. This can be slightly frustrating because owners are later locked into buying a specific product, especially one that has a bit of a chemical smell. Still, it’s an affordable cleaning tool that gets the job done.
- Tank capacity: 8 ounces detergent, 9 ounces dirty water
- Weight: 7 pounds
- Cord length: NA
- It is very lightweight, making it comfortable to maneuver anywhere
- The machine comes already assembled
- It can also be used in cars, on sofas, and on other types of upholstery
- It is only compatible with Hoover’s cleaning solution
- Power is not strong enough for set-in stains or deeply embedded dirt
Get the Hoover Onepwr portable carpet cleaner at Amazon or Hoover.
Bissell is a well-known brand in the carpet-cleaning industry, and this is among the most powerful of its portable models designed for home use. It provides deep-cleaning on carpets, stairs, upholstery, and auto interiors. The SpotClean Pro comes with a 6-inch stair tool, a 3-inch tough-stain tool, and a sample bottle of the brand’s Pro Max Clean + Protect Formula. It has a 96-ounce tank capacity and a handy 20-foot cord. It weighs 13.25 pounds.
We were highly impressed with the Bissell SpotClean machine’s cleaning power. It has a powerful 5.7 amp motor that delivers incredible suction power. It’s easy to disassemble and clean, and we especially loved the extra-long hose and power cord that made maneuvering the machine a breeze. The carry handles on the tanks were a nice bonus, too. It’s a heavy machine and one of the most expensive on our list. However, for those who live in a multiple-pet household or have young children, this machine can help battle those frequent stains on carpets.
- Tank capacity: 96 ounces
- Weight: 13.25 pounds
- Cord length: 20 feet
- Extra-long hose and power cord allow for ample reach
- Generous water/solution and wastewater tank for large or small cleaning jobs
- Tanks have carry handles; can be taken around the house or up and down stairs
- Heavyweight design; might not be ideal for those with limited mobility
Get the Bissell pet stain remover at Walmart.
Although most carpet cleaners on the market are extraction-style cleaners that use hot tap water, some people prefer the performance of a steam cleaner. Standard carpet cleaners do a great job of removing stains; however, they cannot disinfect. Steam cleaners, meanwhile, eliminate most bacteria, viruses, pathogens, bed bugs, and mold. Another key benefit of a steam cleaner is that it can be used on both hard and soft surfaces.
The Costway heavy-duty multipurpose steam cleaner can clean tile, glass, and metal surfaces as well as carpets. This portable carpet cleaner has a 16-foot power cord, a 51-ounce tank, and comes with 18 handy accessories for cleaning different types of surfaces. We found that it took between 8 and 9 minutes for the water to heat up to the maximum temperature of 226 degrees Fahrenheit, and once the water was hot, the machine operated for up to 40 minutes.
While this 10.8-pound machine is not designed to remove stains from the carpet, the cleaner’s high-steam temperature and pressure up to four bars allowed it to efficiently remove dirt and disinfect various surfaces. During our testing, we found that the cleaner did in fact not remove stains. However, it did a good job removing dirt and otherwise performed well as a steam cleaner, making it a suitable choice for general cleaning and disinfecting any soft or hard surfaces without chemicals.
- Tank capacity: 51 ounces
- Weight: 10.8 pounds
- Cord length: 16 feet
- Compact design rests on smooth-rolling wheels for excellent mobility
- Features numerous attachments for various cleaning needs: mophead, extension wands, nylon brushes, carpet glider, and more
- Produces superheated, low-moisture steam; will not damage carpet or upholstery
- Not as user-friendly as some comparable models; no visual indication of water level
- Mophead doesn’t swivel; this tool’s limited mobility may be hard for some users to maneuver
Get the Costway portable carpet cleaner at Amazon or The Home Depot.
The Rug Doctor was designed to tackle the toughest stains, especially pet stains. Featuring a Dual-Action Pet Tool with rubberized bristles, the machine easily tackles loose pet hair on carpets, area rugs, stairs, furniture, upholstery, pet beds, and mattresses while removing pet stains and odors. It has a generous 64-ounce tank, which means less refilling through big or multiple jobs. The Rug Doctor also has twice the suction power of other comparable portable spot cleaners.
In our testing, we found that The Rug Doctor outperformed most other cleaners in suctioning and removing tough stains. The powerful motor delivers extended runtime and extra suction power, making it ideal for many spot-cleaning tasks. It is a heavy machine, though, and because it’s front heavy, it’s awkward to carry around. However, the machine features wheels and a carrying handle to help make it easier to maneuver and move between areas. And while it’s an expensive machine, for those who have multiple pets, this may be an excellent addition to a cleaning arsenal to remove tough stains.
- Tank capacity: 64 ounces
- Weight: 18.34 pounds
- Cord length: 28 feet
- Retractable handle and plastic wheels add to handiness when moving around the house
- Long hose provides extra reach under furniture or in tight spaces
- Powerful motor delivers extra suction power and an extended runtime to tackle tough stains
- Sprayer may drip after cleaning; may leave some drip marks on the floor while being put away
Get the Rug Doctor portable carpet cleaner at Amazon, The Home Depot, or Walmart.
Pet owners and anyone who wears shoes indoors know that carpets can become filthy and stained with dirt. Fortunately, the Bissell ProHeat 2X Revolution Pet lives up to its name. It has the revolutionary power to get that deep-down embedded dirt that even washing rugs in the washing machine can’t seem to lift out.
This machine weighs a hefty 17.5 pounds, so if the dog or cat has an occasional accident or kids’ boots get a little muddy in the winter, pulling out this carpet cleaner is probably going to be overkill to rid carpet of those occasional stains. However, if a carpet is difficult to clean or there’s a lot of built-up dirt, users will find that cleaning it with the Bissell ProHeat 2X Revolution Pet won’t disappoint.
Both powerful (we really felt the motor on this one) and smartly designed, the Bissell ProHeat has a Max Clean Mode that did an admirable job removing dirt and stains as well as allergens. We especially appreciated the Express Clean Mode that cleans in a way that allows the carpet to dry in 30 minutes. Although it’s heavy, it worked well for a quick touch-up before having people over for a family dinner.
The other thing we liked about this carpet cleaner was that it has a hose and two attachments—one for pet stains and one for tough stains. Although it is a large machine, it can get into tight spaces such as corners and stairs with ease. The Dual Dirtlifter Powerbrushes have a generous 12 rows of bristles to remove stuck-on dirt.
The only thing we didn’t like is that it’s difficult to maneuver the Bissell from one type of flooring to another; users will need to angle it up on the wheels to move it from hard flooring to carpet. Still, once it is on the carpet, it moves around with ease.
- Tank capacity: 128 ounces (1 gallon)
- Weight: 17.5 pounds
- Cord length: 22 feet
- Handy for deep-cleaning carpets; designed to remove embedded stains and dirt
- 11-inch cleaning path and 12 rows of bristles lift dirt to save time in large areas
- Features Express Clean Mode to allow shortened drying time of 30 minutes
- Difficult to maneuver from one floor type to another without some practice
- Heavy to bring out for quick touch-ups of small stains
Get the Bissell ProHeat portable carpet cleaner at Amazon, Walmart, or Target.
We also tested the Black+Decker Spillbuster Cordless Spot Cleaner. Although it retails for a cost that’s similar to that of our top pick, it did not meet our standards. While the machine does feature a wide nozzle for quick and thorough pickup, we found that the nozzle did not spray in an even stream. Instead, the spray was very patchy, so it was harder to apply the cleaner. Additionally, we found that it did not clean efficiently.
What to Consider When Buying a Portable Carpet Cleaner
Though you might assume that all carpet cleaners work the same way, several characteristics can affect their functionality. Here are some of the most important design features to consider when shopping for the best portable carpet cleaner.
Photo: Amanda Lauren for Bob Vila
Portable carpet cleaners typically have a tank capacity between three-quarters of a gallon and 1 gallon, or 96 ounces and 128 ounces. Some models have just one tank, while others have two tanks: one for water and one for a cleaning formula. A higher-capacity tank allows a user to clean more before stopping to refill it.
Designed to spot-clean small areas, a portable carpet cleaner’s water reservoir capacity probably isn’t a make-or-break characteristic since it’s not likely many home users will go through a full tank of water in one cleaning session. The capacity of the dirty water tank also can matter; if it’s too small, it will need more frequent emptying.
A portable carpet cleaner should be easy to move around a home, so it’s important to consider the weight of the model. The more powerful a portable carpet cleaner is, though, the heavier it tends to be.
Most models on the market weigh less than 14 pounds. That’s the weight of the machine itself and does not include the additional weight of a full tank of water and cleaning solution.
They are not everyday appliances, so portable carpet cleaners usually need to be compact enough to stow away easily in a closet.
Cord lengths for portable carpet cleaners typically range from 14 to 20 feet. Generally speaking, a longer cord is better because it will allow a user to easily maneuver the cleaner without having to search for a new wall outlet.
A cord length of 15 feet or longer is usually ideal. For cleaning hard-to-reach areas and the interiors of cars, a handheld cordless model can be the most convenient option.
Power and Suction
The power rating of a portable carpet cleaner is typically measured in amps. Given that these devices are meant to be lightweight and easy to use, their motors are small, usually between 3 and 10 amps. While one may think that a higher power rating means superior performance, some of the top models on the market are only 4 or 5 amps.
Suction power is an important consideration because a portable carpet cleaner needs to leave as little water on a carpet as possible. Not only is it inconvenient when the carpet or rug takes a long time to dry, but long dry times can also result in the development of mildew.
Portable carpet cleaners are designed to be durable, and because they’re used relatively infrequently, they should easily last for several years. One element that does tend to require replacement is the hose.
Portable carpet cleaners’ hoses occasionally break and leak, so it’s helpful to research which carpet cleaner manufacturers sell hoses as spare parts. Then, it can easily be replaced if it fails.
There is a lot to consider when shopping for the best carpet cleaners for spot-cleaning, so it’s understandable if there are some lingering or specific questions. Below are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about portable carpet cleaners.
Q. Is an upright model better than a portable carpet cleaner?
Upright carpet cleaners and portable carpet cleaners serve different purposes. Upright models are designed to clean entire rugs or carpets, while portable models are designed for spot-cleaning.
Q. Should I clean the tank of a portable carpet cleaner?
Ideally, the tanks of a portable carpet cleaner should be emptied and cleaned after each use.
Q. Do professional cleaning companies use portable carpet cleaners?
Some cleaning companies use more powerful steam cleaners to remove carpet stains, while others use portable carpet cleaners.
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Meet the Tester
Amanda Lauren is an interior design, lifestyle, and cleaning expert who has written for many publications including Forbes, Real Simple, and Better Homes and Gardens. She has tested a variety of products for the BobVila.com including vacuums, mops, shower squeegees, and more. She prefers to clean with vinegar and water whenever possible, and pet stains are the bane of her existence.
Additional research provided by Savannah Sher and Debbie Wolfe.