Own up to it. If you have light-colored carpets and a house full of kids and pets, you may want to purchase your own carpet cleaning system to battle dirt regularly. Ranging from about $80 to $400, home cleaners can actually save you money in the long run compared to hiring a professional when your carpets look dirty. Remember, however, that home units don't have the cleaning power that professional models do.
It's all wet. Most home cleaning systems are water extraction units (also called steam cleaners), that inject a solution into the pile. The dirty solution is then pulled back into the machine. To avoid the hassle of dragging a hose around the house, opt for models that do not require a clean water hookup. Also, choose machines with the most powerful motors to ease extraction. When using a steamer, do not overwet the carpets. Overwetting can damage the carpet backing and underlayment causing shrinkage, discoloration, and odor.
The dry approach. Other home cleaning systems use the dry extraction method. These machines require spreading a dry absorbent compound over the carpets before vacuuming with the cleaning machine. Although they usually work better than home steamers, dry machines and chemicals are more expensive than steamers and wet extraction solutions.
Arrange a rental. Most grocery stores and rental centers rent professional-quality wet extraction cleaners that are more powerful than home units. At about $20 for a rental, plus the cost of cleaning solutions (shampoo, defoamer, spot removers, odor removers, etc.), rental machines can quickly become pricey.
Choose a cleaning pro. With professionals, you'll also need to choose between steam and dry cleaning. Each method -- if handled by a qualified professional -- should do a good job. Not only do professionals have far more powerful equipment than you're likely to buy or rent, they offer stain-removing know-how that you really need. Prices may vary dramatically for essentially the same service, so shop carefully.