Best Carpet Cleaners of 2020

Renew your carpets with a carpet cleaner. Be sure to use our shopping guide and product recommendations to find the right one for you.

The Best Carpet Cleaners for Tough Stains

Purchasing your own carpet cleaner gives you the most control over how often and how thoroughly your carpets are cleaned. You can perform the work at your leisure, and you don't have to worry about the carpet-cleaning machine's history like you would rental devices. But finding the best carpet cleaner for your needs is a job in itself.

At BestReviews, we've done the legwork for you. We performed dozens of hours of research in this product category, identifying the top carpet cleaners and testing them on the carpet of our headquarters. And because we never accept free samples from manufacturers, you can rest assured that our carpet cleaner review is honest and free of bias.

In the product matrix above, we provide key information that distinguishes our chosen devices from the rest of the crowd. Please read on to learn more about what makes these top-selling carpet cleaners great investments.

Some people use the terms carpet shampooer and carpet extractor interchangeably with carpet cleaner. Another term people use for a carpet-cleaning machine is a steam cleaner.

How a Carpet Cleaner Works

Carpet cleaners aren't superficial cleaners; they penetrate your carpet deeply, removing soil, dust, and allergens the naked eye can't see. Here's a look at the mechanics of a carpet cleaner.

  • The machine sports two tanks: one for cleaning solution and another for the dirty water it pulls from the carpet.
  • The tanks connect to the nozzle via two hoses.
  • The machine pumps water and cleaning solution into the carpet through one hose. This hose connects to one section of the nozzle.
  • The second section of the nozzle connects to a vacuum. This part sucks water, cleaning solution, and dirt through the second hose into a tank.
  • The machine doesn't completely pull all the water out of the carpet during the vacuum phase. The carpet remains damp for a few hours after cleaning. The longer you wait to walk on your freshly cleaned carpet, the better.

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Hot Water

Don't use hot water to clean carpets with natural fibers like wool. These fibers could shrink when exposed to hot water.

Carpet Cleaner Parts

Several key parts contribute to a carpet cleaner's efficiency. Understanding the differences between these parts can help you find the right machine for your needs.

  • Pump: The pump is probably the most important part of any carpet cleaner, as it generates the pressure that ultimately injects water and cleaning solution into your carpet. Without a strong pump, the cleaning solution cannot reach the base of the carpet fibers.
  • Vacuum: The vacuum pulls the soapy, dirty water out of your carpet. A weak vacuum could leave residue on your carpet, not to mention extra water that drags out the drying process.
  • Nozzle/Wand: The wand connects with your carpet as you drag it backward across the floor. The cleaning path of the unit is determined by the width of the wand. Typical residential carpet cleaners have cleaning paths between 9 and 15 inches.
A wider cleaning path cuts down on the amount of time required to clean your carpet.

Other Carpet Cleaner Parts

  • Hoses: As previously mentioned, the hoses connect the tanks to the wand. One hose delivers clean solution to the wand while the other transports dirty water from the carpet to the tank.
  • Solution Tank: The solution tank holds a mixture of cleaning solution and water. (Note: Some carpet cleaners have separate tanks for water and cleaning solution.) Solution tanks for residential carpet cleaners typically hold one to two gallons of fluid. A larger tank weighs the unit down even more, but it enables you to clean for longer periods of time.
  • Recovery Tank: With about the same fluid capacity as the solution tank, the recovery tank holds the water, dirt, and soap that the vacuum pulls from the carpet. As you would guess, this tank is quite filthy by the end of a cleaning session. It requires a thorough cleaning after use in order to prevent odors.
  • Accessories: If you'd like to use your machine to clean furniture or hard floors, you'll need accessories. Look for a unit with the extra parts you'd need for non-carpet cleaning jobs. You may have to purchase these parts at an additional cost.

To clean upholstery with your carpet cleaner, you just need the right attachment.

Carpet Cleaner Costs

Here's a look at what you can expect to pay over the lifetime of your carpet cleaner.

Upfront Cost

You could spend anywhere from $200 to $400 for a residential carpet cleaner of a regular size. Smaller carpet cleaners designed for at-home use run between $100 and $250.

Ongoing Costs

You'll need to purchase cleaning solution for your machine on a regular basis. This adds up to anywhere from $20 to $80 annually. The amount you spend depends, in large part, on how much carpeting you have and how often you clean it.

If you're debating between renting and purchasing a carpet cleaner, it's worth noting that if you rent a machine, you're expected to buy your own cleaning solution.

Accessory Costs

Using your machine to clean upholstery and hard floors is possible, but you may need to purchase extra accessories for these surfaces.

Money-Saving Tips

Follow these tips to enhance the longevity of your investment.

  • Clean your machine after each use.
  • Make sure the unit is completely dry before you store it. If moisture gets trapped within certain parts of the cleaner, you could shorten the lifespan of those parts.
  • After a dozen uses or so, begin inspecting your cleaner's parts regularly. Pay particular attention to the condition of the hoses, wand, bristles, belts, and filters. All may degrade over time, requiring replacement.

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Cost: Rent vs. Own

Did you know that purchasing your own carpet cleaner can save you money in the long run? When you factor in professional cleanings or renting equipment twice a year, you can recoup your upfront costs after a couple of years when you buy your own carpet cleaner.

The Best Carpet Cleaner Brands

We recommend that you choose a carpet cleaner from a known brand. That way, it will be easier to find replacement parts as your machine ages.

The best brands for residential carpet-cleaning machines are listed below in alphabetical order.

  • Bissell
  • Hoover
  • Kenmore
  • Oreck
  • Rug Doctor
  • Shark
With the right attachment, some carpet cleaners also work on hard floors.

Tips for Using Your Carpet Cleaner

  • For a more effective cleaning, place heated water inside the cleaning tank. In most cases, hot water from your tap provides an adequate temperature.
  • That said, you should never use hot water to clean carpet made of a natural fiber like wool. These fibers could shrink when exposed to hot water, damaging your carpet.
  • For a more thorough cleaning, you might choose to pretreat parts of your carpet with cleaning solution. Of course, you should always consult the directions on the bottle before applying cleaning solution to your carpet.
  • One of the biggest mistakes people make when cleaning their own carpets is using too much cleaning solution. Follow the directions on the bottle, and measure the water/cleaner mix properly.
  • Don't place furniture back in a room until the carpet has completely dried. Some furniture materials, including wood and some metals, can discolor or warp if they stay in contact with damp carpet for too long.
  • If you choose not to move your furniture when you shampoo your carpet, take care to keep the areas that touch your furniture free of soap and water.

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Upkeep

To keep your carpet cleaner in tip-top shape, make sure its wand and bristles are as clean as possible before and after each use.

Carpet Cleaner FAQ

Q. How often should I use a carpet cleaner?

A. It really depends on how much soil is in your carpets. If pets live in your home, you may want to clean your carpets two to four times per year. High-traffic areas may require multiple cleanings too. Rooms that see little foot traffic can be cleaned once every 12 months.

The store where you purchased your carpet may also provide a recommendation on cleaning frequency.

Q. Should I move furniture before cleaning the carpet?

A. Most professional carpet cleaners move furniture before cleaning a room. However, you probably don't have to move the furniture each time you use your machine. If you clean your carpet two or three times a year, consider moving the furniture once per year for a thorough cleaning. After all, the areas under furniture don't see as much traffic, and they're probably not as soiled as your heavily trafficked areas.

Q. Will a carpet cleaner remove odors from my carpet?

A. A carpet cleaner can remove odors from your carpet by removing the soil that causes the odor. Depending on the type of odor, you may need to use a special cleaning solution. For example, if the odor stems from pet urine, you'll need a cleaner with bio-enzymes. Read the label to discover which odors a specific cleaner brand can handle.

Q. I vacuum regularly. Why would I also need to use a carpet cleaner?

A. Regular vacuuming helps maintain the cleanliness of your carpet, but a vacuum alone cannot provide the thorough cleaning your carpet needs for enhanced longevity. Residential vacuum cleaners just don't have the power needed to reach soils at the base of your carpet's fibers. By injecting water and cleaning solution at a high-pressure level, a carpet cleaner can successfully loosen this hard-to-reach soil.

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