There are probably few homes that would not benefit from a portable or spot carpet cleaner. Small carpet shampooers can be a lifesaver for wine or other spills of colored liquids, pet accidents or for tracked in mud. However, they can't handle big jobs or whole house cleaning, for that you need a full sized carpet cleaner or a commercial grade rental carpet cleaner, both of which are discussed elsewhere in this report.
"Small but mighty" is how we've seen dozens of reviewers describe the Bissell SpotClean Pro 3624 (Est. $120). Owners love its portability and versatility for cleaning RV carpeting, car interiors, area rugs, stairs and upholstery. This Bissell cleans with attachments that fit onto a hose, otherwise it works just like a full-sized model. It includes a 3-inch stain tool and a 6-inch stair tool. It also comes with a bottle of a well-reviewed cleaning solution, Bissell 2X Professional Deep Cleaning Formula (Est. $20 for 48 oz.). Other attachments are available for optional purchase, including an assortment of brushes, some powered and some specifically for pet messes.
Like all of the Bissell carpet cleaners in this report, the SpotClean Pro is reported as extremely durable, and Bissell gets very good reviews for customer service. One particular feature that many owners mention positively is how easy it is to thoroughly clean out the tanks when you're done using this machine, a task that can be difficult and unpleasant on full-sized cleaners. The Bissell SpotClean's cord is 22-feet long and the hose is 5-feet, giving it a good reach. At just 13.2 pounds, it's considered highly portable by most reviewers, although a few still complain that it's heavy, especially when filled with water.
In fact, the only complaint we saw about the Bissell SpotClean Pro is that some reviewers wish it had wheels to make it easier to move around. To them we say, never fear, Rug Doctor is here! The Rug Doctor Portable Spot Cleaner (Est. $130) is nearly as well-reviewed for cleaning performance as the Bissell SpotClean, but it also has wheels and a retractable handle to make it easier to transport. Rug Doctor also includes a power brush for tough stains.
The downsides to the Rug Doctor are its shorter cord, only 15 feet, and higher weight of 15 pounds. However, it does have a slightly longer hose at 5.5 feet. The only real complaint we saw about the Rug Doctor is its awkwardly shaped tank. It's rounded on the bottom, so you have to continually hold it when you're filling it at the tap, something that several reviewers say is difficult to do if you have issues with hand or arm strength. The Bissell's tank is square with a flat bottom.
Of course we know that not every pet is named Spot, but regardless of what kind of critter you have you'll be able to make use of the Bissell SpotBot Pet Carpet Cleaner 33N8A (Est. $120). It's quick and easy to set up and use. It also has something you won't find on any upright model: Its automated cleaning mode is universally adored by users, and is particularly helpful for those with mobility issues. Just set the SpotBot down, add water and detergent, press the button and walk away. The machine will automatically inject the water and detergent into the carpet, scrub, vacuum the dirty water back out, then turn off when it's done. The entire process takes about 3 minutes. If the stain is still visible, you can run the cycle again, and it's easy to move around if the stain is larger than the 7-inch diameter cleaning area.
The Bissell SpotBot has a couple of settings for different types of stains, one for fresh stains, the other for set-in stains, just in case they've had a chance to dry before you can get to them. The SpotBot is a very popular choice with reviewers for upholstery and area rugs, as well as traditional carpeting. It also converts to a portable carpet cleaner, with a hose and snap-on attachments, making it a highly versatile machine.
Although owners say the Bissell SpotBot does the best job of scrubbing out stains no matter what their source, the Bissell Little Green (Est. $100) is even easier to haul around. The Little Green is almost 4.5 pounds lighter than the SpotBot -- 9.65 pounds when empty, 12 pounds when full -- and its 15-foot electrical cord is just 1 foot shorter than the SpotBot's. You'll have to pay for that light weight with some elbow grease, though, because the Little Green has no automated cleaning cycle. You must scrub stains manually with the included wand and 3-inch nozzle.
However, the Little Green has heated water technology, which is a definitely selling point for some. Owners say the machine works well on small stains, and is easy to assemble and use. Some owners say the suction on this machine is weak, leaving the carpet too wet. A few also find it difficult to clean, and say it's prone to leaking from the hose or the bottom of the machine. Still, when compared to other handheld carpet cleaners, the Bissell Little Green gets excellent feedback. It's also made of at least 50 percent recycled plastic, a notable feature for some owners.
One caveat about any spot cleaner is this: It leaves clean spots in your carpet. This is a problem for some reviewers, who say they have to rent a full-sized upright so the rest of the carpet will match the spot-cleaned areas. If you have that issue, see our discussion of rental carpet cleaners elsewhere in this report, or, if you prefer to own your own, check out our recommendations for full-sized carpet cleaners.
Elsewhere in this report:
Best Reviewed Carpet Cleaners: Whether you need a full-sized carpet cleaner, a portable or spot cleaner, or want a great rental, these are the best carpet cleaners for any task.
Best Carpet Cleaners: Full-sized carpet cleaners give you the ability to clean your carpets any time you need to. These are the best carpet cleaners that will renew your tired, old carpets.
Best Rental Carpet Cleaners: Renting a carpet cleaner is a highly affordable option for cleaning all of the carpets in your home. It may even save you from having to buy new carpeting. These are the best choices.
Buying Guide: These are the top considerations you need to think about before buying a carpet shampooer. We even offer tips on hiring a professional carpet cleaner.
Our Sources: These are the expert and user tests, comparisons and reviews we used to determine the best carpet cleaners. They are ranked in order of their credibility and usefulness.