How carpet cleaners work
Although carpet cleaners are sometimes called steam cleaners or steam mops, there's no steam involved in the cleaning -- a fact that causes
a lot of confusion and disappointment among user reviewers. These machines
are more accurately referred to as carpet cleaners, deep cleaners or hot-water
extractors. They spray a solution of hot water and detergent onto the carpet,
work it into the carpet fibers with brushes and then use suction to extract
the solution (and with it, dirt).
According to ConsumerReports.org, professional cleaning services do the
best job of getting dirt out of carpets. However, these services can be costly,
especially if performed every 12 to 18 months as experts recommend. Renting
or buying a machine is a cheaper alternative. Take the expected lifetime
of a new carpet cleaner into account when deciding whether buying or renting
is more cost-effective. For example, one machine tested by Good Housekeeping
rents for around about $30 per day. Or, you could buy it for $600, meaning
it would pay for itself in 20 uses. ConsumerReports.org says that the more
carpet you have and the more dirt it's exposed to, the more likely it is
that buying your own carpet cleaner will be a worthwhile investment.
Once you've decided to buy a carpet cleaner, the most important choice is
between an upright and a compact carpet cleaner. Upright cleaners are larger
and typically cost more; they can also be heavy, although not as heavy as
bulky rental units. Compact cleaners are easier to maneuver and, according
to owner reviews, can be very easy to use. They can also fit into smaller
spaces than uprights. However, these cleaners are only useful for spot cleaning;
they can't cover an entire carpet.
Some other factors to keep in mind when shopping for a carpet cleaner:
- Tank size: A cleaner with a large
tank will require fewer refills than a small carpet cleaner; on the other
hand, a big water tank will make the carpet cleaner heavier and harder
to push when full. Some models have two separate tanks for clean and dirty
water, while others use a double-tank design with only one part to remove
and refill. Users say the latter design makes refilling easier, but it
also cuts down on the tank's capacity.
- Tools and attachments: Most models
have handheld attachments for cleaning upholstery, stairs and narrow
spaces. Some uprights also come with an attachment for cleaning bare floors.
features: Think about your personal needs and which of these features
will be most important for you. One feature many users appreciate is an
automatic soap dispenser, which automatically mixes the correct amount
of detergent with water. Other features that may be useful include an internal
water heater, powered brushes to scrub out dirt, indicator lights to tell
you when the tank needs emptying or refilling, and a tank shutoff that
cuts off the machine's suction when the dirty-water tank is full.
- Cord and hose length: Cord lengths range from 15 feet on portable models to 30 feet for some
large uprights. Hose lengths typically range between 5 and 8 feet, although
Rug Doctor machines boast a 12-foot hose.
- Cleaning agents: Most manufacturers
recommend using their brand of cleaner for optimum performance, but
they are usually expensive. Some users say cleansers such as OxiClean or
even a simple mixture of water and white vinegar make good substitutes,
but keep in mind that using a cleaner other than what the manufacturer
recommends may void your warranty.
- The warranty: Many manufacturers post
warranty information for their carpet cleaners on their websites.
- Try before
you buy: Look for a store where trial models are available so you can
test out your chosen machine before laying down your money.