Best carpet cleaner machines in 2023
Why bring in the professionals or rent one, when you can buy?
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Let’s be honest, unless your carpets are dark grey and constructed for what manufacturers call “heavy traffic,” i.e. a lot of wear and tear, you’re probably going to need a carpet cleaner. Whether it’s a glass of red wine, a mishap with some makeup, or a pet accident, carpet stains and messes are going to happen, and that’s where a carpet cleaner comes in.
But, if you’re reading this and thinking “not my problem, no carpets in my home,” bear in mind that the best carpet cleaner will also tackle stains on upholstery and on car interiors—so if you’ve got fabric, and you’ve got stains, keep reading.
- Best commercial: Rug Doctor Mighty Pro Commercial Carpet Cleaner
- Best for pets: Bissell ProHeat Lift Off Pet Carpet Cleaner
- Best portable: Bissell Spot Clean Professional Portable Carpet Cleaner
- Best cordless: Bissell Pet Stain Eraser Cordless Portable Carpet Cleaner
- Best budget: Hoover Spotless Portable Carpet & Upholstery Spot Cleaner
How to make sure you get the best carpet cleaner machine for you
There’s a dazzling array of machines on the market, so how can you work out which is the best carpet cleaner for you? If you’re two pretty careful adults living in a carpeted space, you’ve got to think about how frequently you’re likely to want to clean your carpets and weigh that up against the cost of hiring a machine on an ad hoc basis, versus the cost of buying a carpet cleaner and finding somewhere to store it year round.
But if you’ve got kids and pets, and you’ve also got carpets, or sofas, or cars… it could be a very sensible investment. We’ve got the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions which, hopefully, will help you work out the best carpet cleaner for you and your home. We’ll talk about the differences between a domestic carpet cleaner and a commercial carpet cleaner, between a portable carpet cleaner and a cordless carpet cleaner, and much more besides.
How do domestic carpet cleaners differ from commercial carpet cleaners?
There’s nothing to stop you from buying a commercial carpet cleaner rather than a domestic carpet cleaner. After all, as you might expect, they’re designed to cover large areas quickly, so, in many ways, they are more efficient than domestic machines.
But there are a few things that you should probably know before buying one. First of all, they’re pricey. You can expect to pay a lot more for a commercial carpet cleaner than you would for a domestic one. They’re also a lot bigger and heavier, so if you’re going to want to clean carpets on the top floor, you might want to think twice about storing one in the basement.
On the upside, a bigger machine usually means a bigger engine—which means more suction power. It also means bigger tanks—both for cleaning fluid, and for waste fluid—so you can clean a larger area in one go without stopping.
Best commercial: Rug Doctor Mighty Pro Commercial Carpet Cleaner
This commercial carpet cleaner’s spraying system injects cleaning solution deep into the carpet, which helps begin the process of detaching dirt, stains, and odors. Next, the Rug Doctor’s triple-action vibrating brush works on all sides of each carpet fiber, before professional level suction is applied to remove dirt, odors, and solution, leaving a clean carpet that dries quickly.
Should your pet influence your choice of carpet cleaner?
Let’s be honest, one of the reasons that you’re probably thinking about getting a carpet cleaner in the first place is because you have a pet and want to be able to deal with their accidents, so yes, it makes sense to factor that in when you’re looking. That said, most carpet cleaner manufacturers know that their market is often pet-owners so a lot of that functionality is pre-packaged into a machine, even if it doesn’t specifically say it’s a carpet cleaner designed for pets.
What you might find when you buy a pet-specific carpet cleaner is that it comes with a few additional tools or features. That might include a pre-treat function, a separate tool designed to remove pet stains, hair, and mess, with a separate tank that keeps this debris out of the main tank. This makes cleaning the machine easier, and also gives the ability to spot treat, rather than treat an entire area.
Best for pets: Bissell ProHeat Lift Off Pet Carpet Cleaner
When it comes to an effective carpet cleaner, pets and pet hair can make deep cleaning more difficult. This Bissell carpet cleaner has a powerbrush that has ten rows of bristles designed to loosen dirt and odors in combination with a cleaning solution, before sucking them into a waste tank. It can be converted to a portable and comes with two specialized tools to tackle tough stains and crevices.
Do you have to clean the whole carpet?
In a word, no! While you might want to clean an entire carpet as part of a regular cleaning and maintenance schedule, many carpet cleaners are designed for what’s known as spot cleaning. Either they’re an upright machine that has a lift-off section (like how a vacuum can be converted from an upright to a hand-held) or they’re designed to be handheld devices. These types of cleaners tend to be known as portable carpet cleaners, and they’re ideal for you if you don’t have a carpet, but you do have a rug, sofa, or car upholstery that you want to remove stains from at your discretion.
While an upright or commercial machine is ideal for covering large areas, a portable carpet cleaner is designed to work on smaller areas, or isolated spots. The cleaning head tends to be smaller, and some of the automated processes that you’d get with a full-size cleaner are manual—for example, rather than having automated scrubbing brushes, you have to scrub manually.
Best portable: Bissell Spot Clean Professional Portable Carpet Cleaner
Weighing 13 pounds and with a 20-foot cord, this portable carpet cleaner comes with two heads, including a six-inch brush designed especially for stairs, and a trial-size bottle of cleaning solution.
What’s the difference between a portable carpet cleaner and a cordless carpet cleaner?
Simply put, while a cordless carpet cleaner is a portable carpet cleaner, a portable carpet cleaner is not necessarily a cordless carpet cleaner. There aren’t a lot of cordless cleaners on the market because using a battery to generate suction power is significantly less efficient—and less powerful—than using plugged-in power. So, broadly speaking, an outlet-powered portable cleaner is going to be the best option.
But, if you want to spot clean car upholstery, for example, and it’s not practical to run an extension cable onto the street, a cordless carpet cleaner could be what you need. Just bear in mind that they’re likely to be less powerful and less efficient, so might not be as productive when it comes to tackling tough stains on large areas.
Best cordless: Bissell Pet Stain Eraser Cordless Portable Carpet Cleaner
A rechargeable lithium battery powers this cordless carpet cleaner that’s ideal for whipping out whenever a spillage happens. The ready-mixed formula is stored in the machine so it’s always ready for use. Just spray, scrub, and suction.
Best carpet cleaner on a budget: What you can get for under $125
The best carpet cleaner machine we could find for less manages to pack an awful lot of punch for its price and size. It’s worth bearing in mind that, if you’re on a budget, you’re better spending your money on a higher-end portable cleaner, like our pick, rather than a lower-end full-size cleaner, as you’ll get more effective cleaning from the portable option.
You might miss some of the features that the more expensive cleaners have, so no “keep warm” facility, which means that they redirect some of the heat from the motor towards the water tank to try to maintain the heat of the water (although you have to put hot water in, as very few machines actually heat the water themselves), no additional tools and tanks for cleaning up solid mess before attacking the stain, and manual rather than mechanical scrubbing (and sometimes even manual rather than mechanical spraying too.)
That said, if you do your research, you can get a very good carpet cleaner for under $200. Just try to buy one from a reputable brand and retailer, ideally with a warranty.
Best budget: Hoover Spotless Portable Carpet & Upholstery Spot Cleaner
Lightweight (just 9 pounds), and compact (15 inches tall), this Hoover carpet cleaner incorporates self-cleaning technology that flushes the hose after each use to help remove dirt and bacteria, keeping the device clean and odor-free. A 5-foot hose gives a long reach and makes cleaning stairs, upholstery, and more easier.
Q: How often should carpet be cleaned?
Obviously, it makes sense to spot treat when there’s an accident but, in an ideal world, your carpets should be cleaned on an annual basis, just to freshen them up and undo the damage that 12 months of daily wear and tear inflicts. If you smoke in your home, or have a lot of pets, you might want to consider doing it every quarter or twice a year.
Q: Is it better to shampoo or steam clean carpets?
None of the carpet cleaners that we’ve looked at in this piece is a steam cleaner—and that’s partly because things have moved on a bit from the choice of shampoo or steam clean. Shampooing used to mean a lot of foam and a lot of damp carpet, while steaming was seen as preferable as it didn’t leave fibers quite so sodden. But the best carpet cleaning machines now don’t churn out a lot of foam and have powerful suction to remove as much water as possible. So really it’s better to use a good carpet cleaning machine rather than a carpet shampooer or steamer.
Q: What is the best way to get stains out of carpet?
How to get stains out of carpets you ask? The best way to get stains out of a carpet is to tackle them when they’re fresh. Use a clean cloth to absorb as much of the liquid as possible and then think about using a special stain remover to tackle the problem. You want to minimize scrubbing as much as possible as you run the risk of damaging the fibers so even if you remove the stain, the carpet may look roughed up. That’s why a machine designed to remove stains is such a good idea. The best carpet cleaners will minimize abrasion while lifting the stain from the fibers.
Related: Best robot mops: Shine your floors without lifting a finger
The last word on the best carpet cleaners out there
Hopefully working your way through these questions has helped you answer that one big question: “What’s the best carpet cleaner for my home?” Whether you’re buying a commercial carpet cleaner that can effortlessly keep acres of carpet stain-free and showroom-fresh, or you simply want a cordless carpet cleaner to spot clean the upholstery in your car, there are pros and cons to them all. This isn’t new technology—but it’s definitely technology that has been refined in recent years, so it’s still possible to get a cheap carpet cleaner that holds its own against more expensive gadgets.