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Carpet Cleaner 101 - How to Find the Best Carpet Steam Cleaner

Carpet Cleaner - From Buying to Caring for a Carpet Cleaner

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If you have carpets in your home, you'll either need to rent a carpet steam cleaner occasionally or have someone in to clean your carpets, or buy your own carpet cleaner, if you want to keep carpeting looking good and smelling nice.  Accummulated dirt, grime and pet stains will cause a nasty odor to emit from your carpet, making the whole room smell unclean.  And stains that linger around for awhile, will set and be more difficult to remove. While renting a carpet steam cleaner does save on storage space, steam cleaning machine rental fees can add up quickly and after a few rentals, you could have bought your own carpet cleaning machine and be enjoying the convenience that brings.

There seems to be a lot of confusion as to the difference between a vacuum and a carpet cleaner.  Even retailers often incorrectly include carpet cleaners in vacuum categories, but these two floor care appliances are not the same type of cleaning machine.  While both will clean your carpet - a vacuum removes dust, dirt by dry suction; a carpet cleaner sprays hot water and solution on the carpet, scrubs and then removes the dirty water and solution.  A vacuum will not remove stains; that's a job for a carpet cleaner.

A carpet cleaner, also called a carpet steam cleaner or carpet steamer, is sometimes also confused with other types of steam cleaners, as well as  steam mops and hard floor steam cleaners.  This article deals with (home) carpet cleaners and not general steam cleaners.  In other words, these tips apply to machines designed for home use, to clean rugs and carpets.

1. Types of Carpet Cleaners

There are basically only two main types of carpet cleaners for home use.  Because these two carpet cleaners have different functions, it can be very convenient to have both.  Each type has a purpose therefore they can both be used to effect a carpet cleaning.  You would use a compact portable carpet spot cleaner to remove stains as they happen, which can delay a full carpet cleaning to a more convenient time.  When the whole carpet needs cleaning, you would use an upright carpet steam cleaner. With both in the home, you can use the portable unit to concentrate on stains, while you do the entire carpet with an upright carpet cleaner.

The main difference between a compact portable spot cleaner and a handheld unit - you can place a portable spot cleaner down on a stain, to which it can effect a scrub and they also have more features.  A handheld spot cleaner is smaller with limited features and you have to hold it and direct the cleaning, which can be tedious. Both of these spot cleaners can be handy in their own right; it's sometimes difficult to decide which would be better and price often rules.

Carpet Steam Cleaner - Upright Models

Pros:   Designed for cleaning the entire carpet, convenient, more effective, better even coverage, more features

Cons:  More costly, bulky to store

Carpet Spot Cleaner - Portable and Handheld

Pros:   Spot cleaning , convenient, cheaper, compact; handy for auto/RV carpet mats and upholstery stain removal

Cons:  Not designed for entire carpet, tedious if several stains, uneven cleaning, time-consuming

2. Important Carpet Cleaner Features

Gone are the days of dragging a carpet cleaner water line/hose from the kitchen sink faucet through the entire area being cleaned. Today's carpet cleaners are more user-friendly and easier to handle with on-board water tanks and tools. 

And while earlier carpet cleaner models used the word 'steam' in their title, it was mostly to emphasise that the cleaner used hot water to clean; it's not likely that steam is generated even with most of today's models.  Creating steam would require achieving higher water temperatures and though some models have on-board water heaters, many models are called carpet steam cleaners. 

A carpet cleaner with an on-board water heater does keep the water hot, which helps to dissolve the cleaning solution and usually does a better job of cleaning carpets.

As for size, carpet cleaners are generally slightly bigger than an upright vacuum, but often just as easy to handle.  While features vary with different brands, these are the best features.

  • Dual water tanks or separation of clean and dirty water
  • On-board water heater
  • Portability - non-bulky design (upright)
  • Spray trigger - to regulate how much water/solution is used
  • At least two rotating floor brushes (upright models)
  • Light (upright)

3. Carpet Cleaner Bells & Whistles

Though a basic carpet cleaner will often be adequate for those with limited carpets or the budget shopper, additional tools and features can make a carpet cleaner more versatile, than merely for cleaning carpets.

  • Built-in spot cleaning - you can spray cleaning solution on spots; must have a separate solution compartment
  • Powered hand tool - rotating brushes and solution spray for cleaning home and auto/rv upholstery
  • Enhanced number of rotating floor brushes, rows - more effective
  • Enhanced power
  • Wider path design - get the job done more quickly
  • Easy to fill/remove water tanks and to clean them after carpet cleaning
  • Enhanced suction for better water/dirt removal

4. What Not to Buy When it Comes to Carpet Cleaners

Avoid buying a large heavy carpet cleaner with lots of frills, if you only have a small carpeted area and cleaning upholtstery is not something you plan on doing or you will need to transfer it to another level.  A large model is also not a good idea if you lack storage space. You'll save quite a bit of money and will be more satisfied with your purchase.

If you only have an area rug, you may want to outsource cleaning at your local dry cleaners, rather than buy a bulky carpet cleaner, which may or may not work well to clean small area rugs, depending on the size and design of the carpets.

Do not buy a commercial carpet steam cleaner, unless you have large carpeted areas and are used to handling these big, bulky machines.  They are generally more powerful and efficient, but you often need another person to help with handling, loading and transfering. They're also much more expensive and take up much more space, than home models.

5. Carpet Cleaner Price Ranges and Compare Prices

Prices of upright carpet steam cleaners tend to vary from the $100 to $600 depending whether powered hand tools and accessories are included.  Other features that influence and increase prices are widepath cleaning, floor brush enhancements, suction performance, dual tanks and water heaters. Major brands include Hoover and Bissell steam cleaners and though Hoover ranks slightly higher in consumer reviews, both brands offer good value and performance.

Compact and handheld carpet spot cleaners also vary somewhat in design and price, ranging from less than $100 to $300. This category can be broken down into two groups: Portable spot cleaners, some of which have deep cleaning and hot water features and the smaller handheld spot remover - which is cheaper and though handy for quick touch-ups, have limited functions and features. Features that influence price:  Dual tanks, water heater, brush enhancement, suction power and accessories.  Major brands include Bissell SpotBot, Bissell Little Green and Hoover with Bissell leading in consumer satisfaction, model variety and performance.

6. Carpet Steam Cleaner Reviews

Market variety of carpet cleaners is limited so that does narrow the search, but each brand has its own design features and performance efficiency.  To find the best one for your home, read carpet cleaner reviews and get acquainted with carpet cleaner features.

To help others make good carpet cleaner buying decisions, if you have or have owned a carpet cleaner or spot cleaner, take a minute and write a review:

7. Carpet Cleaner Care, Use and FAQ's

The most important thing you can do when you first get a carpet cleaner, is read the product manual.  Though there are some similarities, each brand and model of carpet cleaner varies when it comes to design, set-up, operation and care, and the manufacturer will spell out the best way to use the machine.  They will also recommend using a particular cleaning solution and though you might get a good cleaning with other brands, for best cleaning results, you should adhere to these instructions.

Using a carpet cleaner is easy.  First, spray or dab carpet cleaning solution on the worst stains, then clean the entire rug and return to areas that need a second or third pass.  After you've cleaned your carpet, if the rug is very damp, you may have to go over the area again just with suction (no solution), because the most water and dirt you remove from the carpet, the quicker it will dry and the cleaner it will be. And some stains may appear gone when the carpet is wet, but may reappear when dry - this is common.

When using a portable carpet spot cleaner, it's best not to linger too long on a certain area and move the cleaner around to blend in your cleaning so you don't end up with one (round) bright and clean spot, in the middle of a now slightly-dirty-looking carpet. An overly clean spot can make the rest of the carpet look dirty in comparison.

Once you're satisfied with carpet cleaning, empty the water tank(s) immediately, cleaning or rinsing them as needed and follow the manual's steps for cleaning the water and solution lines.  If time allows, try and remove hair and debris from the carpet cleaner floor brushes.  This is a chore in itself, but restoring the carpet cleaner to a clean state, makes it ready for the next carpet cleaning event. And it's easier to remove dirt while wet, than after it dries.  Store your product manual, carpet cleaner accessories and machine together.  Take note to replenish your stock of carpet cleaning solution, to ensure you have enough for your next cleaning.

8. Related Appliance - Vacuums

A vacuum is a home essential whether you have carpets or only bare floors, but there's also some debate as to whether you need to vacuum a carpet before cleaning it with a carpet steam cleaner.  From experience, I've found that you can effect a much better cleaning if you remove loose surface and deep down dirt from within the fibers with a vacuum, before procceeding to clean the carpet with a carpet cleaning machine.

Compare Prices

9. General Appliance Tips

What to do if your appliance has been recalled or you've upgrade to a new model and need to dispose of the old one.  And there are reasons why it's a good idea to inform manufacturers of problems or areas where appliances could be improved.  Remember to review your product manual and keep it handy - it has lots of use information, as well as key tips on how to properly care for your new appliance.

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