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Carpet cleaners can keep your carpets looking new

No matter how frequently you vacuum, carpets eventually show their age. But often, what we consider general wear is just a combination of stains and dirt ground into the carpet fibers. Before you replace that tired-looking carpet, you might consider a thorough cleaning in one of three ways: You could hire a professional carpet cleaning service, rent a carpet cleaning machine or buy your own carpet cleaner so you can haul it out whenever you need it.

Also often known as carpet shampooers, Carpet cleaners are quite simple and straightforward. They all have one or two cleaning tanks. Some have just one for cleaning solution diluted with water, others have two, one for water, and one for carpet cleaning solution. All have a separate collection tank for the dirty water. The carpet is sprayed with diluted solution, that cleaning solution is agitated by power brushes or manually by the user with a hose attachment. Some have an extra step where you can spray clean water to rinse. In the final step, the dirty water is sucked into the collection tank. Within that process, the user often has a lot of control for squirting extra cleaning solution, doing an extra rinse, or taking another pass or to suck up more water.

The inconvenient part of any type of carpet cleaning is having to deal with wet carpeting. Drying times depend upon how powerful the suction action is and how much of the remaining water the unit removes. Our research shows that three hours is about the minimum you can expect from the best carpet cleaners. Some carpet cleaners have heated, forced air systems that will speed that up somewhat.

When you fill the water tank of a carpet cleaner, it's suggested that you use hot water for the best cleaning and sanitizing, but that water will gradually cool down as you work. Some carpet cleaners have systems that keep the water heated, which is a very desirable feature for some.

Types of carpet cleaners

Full-sized carpet cleaners are usually as large as, or slightly bigger than, upright vacuum cleaners, so you have to allow for storage. You also use them like an upright vacuum cleaner, pushing them back and forth along the carpet. A full-sized carpet shampooer is great not only for regularly-scheduled whole-house carpet cleaning, but also for dealing with bigger spills, such as larger amounts of spilled liquids, refreshing heavy traffic areas, and dealing with widely-scattered stains or spots. Some include a hose and attachments for cleaning upholstery or stairs. Depending upon the model and price, features may include forced air heating systems to help dry the carpet more quickly, or heated water systems to keep the water hot.

Portable carpet cleaners are smaller and use a hose with attachments, rather than being pushed back and forth. They are great for stairs, upholstery, mattresses, automobiles and RV's, or just for spot cleaning of spills or pet accidents. Portable carpet cleaners often include just a brush-type attachment, so you may have to do a bit of scrubbing with it, but some have optional power or turbo brushes that will do that work for you for a relatively small additional investment. Some also have heated water technology.

Spot carpet cleaners offer "set and forget" convenience. They are self-contained units with built-in rotating brushes and a timer. You just fill it with water and solution, set it on the stain, push a button, and it will squirt, spin and then suck the water out automatically. These units are particularly popular with pet owners and often have the word "pet" in their name.

Rental carpet cleaners are professional-grade carpet shampooers that you can rent, usually from supermarkets or hardware stores, for about $25 per day, plus the cost of the cleaning solution. These units work very well, as would be expected, and have wider cleaning paths to make the job go more quickly. Some also include a hose and tool attachment for cleaning stairs. The downside is that they're large and heavy, although some have handles on the body of the unit to make transport easier. If you rent a carpet cleaner frequently, buying one might make sense; they're actually pretty affordable and may pay for themselves quickly with regular use.

Do you need additional floor care products?

In this report we recommend carpet cleaners, but before you can deep clean, you need to vacuum thoroughly to remove loose debris for the best results. If you're not happy with your vacuum cleaner, see our recommendations for the best upright vacuum cleaners and canister vacuum cleaners, both of which we cover in separate reports. Alternatively, if you're looking for a way to deep clean your hard floors, check out our separate report on steam mops.

How we found the best carpet cleaners

There are very few expert reviews or professional tests of carpet cleaners; those we found are either quite old, most of the top picks are discontinued, or both. However, owners are very passionate about their carpet cleaners and we evaluated thousands of owner reviews across retail sites to see how the carpet cleaner performs in real-world use. These owner reviews also provide a window into long-term durability, as many users come back months or even years later to update their original reviews. The result of our research is our top recommendations for the best carpet cleaners. As it turns out, it's an apparent Bissell and Hoover love fest, with a soupcon of Rug Doctor; no other carpet cleaners even come close to those manufacturers when it comes to performance.

Elsewhere in this report:

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 Portable and Spot Cleaners: Small spills and pet accidents can ruin an otherwise clean carpet. These top portable and spot cleaners will quickly wipe out with those messes.

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.

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