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Whether it’s dirt brought in on muddy paws or shoes—or errant spills of coffee or red wine—our carpets take a beating over time. And if it has been a while since you last cleaned a high-traffic area in your home, a quick vacuuming job won’t cut it.
To remove embedded dirt and grime, you can rent a carpet cleaner at your local home improvement store for around $20 a day, plus the cost of cleaning detergent. But if you have a busy household with lots of carpet, you might want to consider buying one instead.
For a little more than $100 you can get one of the top performers in Consumer Reports’ carpet cleaner tests. Take note that these machines are powerful—and heavy. The best easily remove embedded dirt and stains without leaving a trail of water and a soggy stretch of carpet behind.
It takes three days to put one carpet cleaner through our battery of cleaning-performance tests. Our engineers soil large swatches of off-white nylon carpet with red Georgia clay. We run a cleaner over the carpet for four wet and four dry cycles, simulating how you’d clean a particularly dirty spot on a well-trafficked carpet. Then we repeat the test on two more swatches.
Before you choose a model, take stock of the area you’ll be cleaning. If you live in a one-story house, for instance, you might not need a model with a long hose. “On the other hand, if you have carpeted stairs, you want a carpet cleaner with a long hose so you can reach up the steps,” says Larry Ciufo, who oversees Consumer Reports’ carpet cleaner tests. “You don’t want to put the cleaner on the top step and tug on the hose; the machine could barrel down on top of you.”
Bear in mind that carpet cleaners are noisy; some are so loud that we recommend wearing hearing protection. And don’t buy by for brand name alone. In our tests, we found big differences among models from the same brand. Bissell, for example, holds the top spot in our rankings, as well as the next-to-last spot.
Keep your upright or canister vacuum cleaner at hand before you tackle a messy rug or carpeting. Carpet cleaner manufacturers typically suggest that you vacuum up loose debris before using a carpet cleaner. This ensures that you’re not wetting the carpet with excess dust or dirt, creating a bigger mess.
And if you’re looking for something smaller in stature, see our review of Bissell’s Little Green carpet and upholstery cleaners, which weigh in under 10 pounds and pack a pretty powerful punch when compared with Resolve sprays in our tests.
4 Top Carpet Cleaners
CR members can read on for ratings and reviews of the four best carpet cleaners, based on our latest lab tests. Below those, you’ll find details on a few subpar performers to avoid. And you can consult our carpet cleaner buying guide for more tips.
CR’s take: Weighing 24 pounds when empty—and 30 pounds when filled with water and cleaning solution—the Bissell ProHeat 2X Lift-Off Pet 15651 is well sized for carpet cleaning. This top-rated machine has a removable tank with a useful carrying handle that makes trips to and from the sink easier; you don’t have to drag the entire machine with you each time you need a refill. But at just over 5 feet, the hose is average length. This model might fit the bill if you have a smaller space in a one-story house; it can cover only 15 square feet on one full tank of solution. (Some machines cover twice that area.)
CR’s take: The Hoover PowerDash Pet FH50700 is lightweight, inexpensive, and a good choice for those who have small carpets or area rugs. When empty it weighs only 12 pounds, and it weighs 17 pounds when full with a gallon of water, making it easy to move around the house as you clean. This model doesn’t come with a hose, so you might not be able to clean tight areas such as stairs as easily, and it lacks an extra carrying handle. Overall, this Hoover earns Very Good ratings across the board in critical performance tests, with one exception: noise. All the machines in this category are quite loud.
CR’s take: The TurboBrush PowerClean 2987 from Bissell is one of the least expensive options in our ratings. It’s fairly light at 12 pounds, comes with separate clean- and dirty-water tanks, and gives you plenty of cord to move around while you clean (20 feet). This model doesn’t have a hose, and its cleaning performance is only so-so, but it earns an Excellent rating in our dryness tests. If you only have a few spots to work out and don’t need a carpet cleaner that digs really deep, this could be the model for you.
CR’s take: If you have a large budget, the Rug Doctor Mighty Pro X3 Commercial Pro Carpet cleaner, although pricey, may be a good fit. The machine’s cleaning is Very Good, and it’s an ace at leaving behind a dry carpet. It has an exceptionally long hose, which makes it easier to clean hard-to-reach spots. But because the tank weighs a hefty 43 pounds when empty—and a whopping 65 pounds when filled with water and cleaning solution—it’s difficult to lug around while you clean.
3 Models Not Worth the Storage Space
Although their names might look similar to the ones that sit near the top of our ratings chart, the following three machines—the bottom scorers in our ratings—are worse than average at cleaning.
The Hoover Power Scrub Elite Pet FH50251 performs at two extremes. It’s one of two carpet cleaners that gets the poorest marks for cleaning in our tests. But it also gets one of the best scores for leaving behind a dry carpet, earning an Excellent rating in that test. It does have some nice convenience features, such as separate tanks for clean and dirty water, a hose that’s more than 8 feet long, a carrying handle, and brush attachments. But bells and whistles don’t make up for poor performance in our ratings.
One of the higher-performing Bissell models on the list of top carpet cleaners has “pet” in its name. So does the Bissell DeepClean Deluxe Pet 36Z9, but that’s where the similarity ends. Unlike the Bissell ProHeat 2X Lift-Off Pet 15651 mentioned above, the DeepClean Deluxe Pet is only so-so at cleaning and worse at leaving a dry carpet behind, earning a Poor score in that test. But it costs about the same as our top Bissell pick, proving that the price-quality relationship doesn’t always bear out.
Another carpet cleaner with “pet” in its name that can’t compete with other models by the same brand is the Hoover SmartWash Pet Complete FH53000PC. This model struggles with both cleaning and drying. The only things going for it are that it has a carrying handle, separate tanks for clean and dirty water, and a long hose.
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