Vol.2, No.6

Choosing a new carpet cleaner

Thinking about buying a carpet cleaner? Learn what to expect and what features to shop for.

Carpet cleaner
Photo Credit: Kirk Johnson
Tired of lugging that heavy carpet steamer back and forth from the rental depot, paying a hefty bill on your way out the door? Personal carpet shampooers are becoming less expensive and easier to use, and may be a good option.

What can a carpet cleaner do?

If you have fifteen-year-old carpets that have been abused by everything from the neighborhood children to the family dog, no carpet steamer will restore them to their original condition. A home shampooer will be able to remove some of the stains and a lot of the odor, though, and a high-quality machine will do as good a job as a professional.

If you have newer carpets, a carpet cleaner will help you keep them looking newer, longer. Compare a carpet shampooer to your washing machine. If pre-treating and washing would get a spot out of clothing, pre-treating and shampooing will get it out of the carpet. Odors are a bit trickier, though. Any carpet cleaner can only clean the carpet itself, and spills that soak through to the padding can't be deodorized.

What features are available?

The most important feature in a carpet shampooer is its ability to be used alone. Some models have to be attached to a faucet, which limits their range. If you don't have a bathroom or a kitchen in the basement, you can't clean the carpets. These models also have bulky hoses that need to be maneuvered around with the machine. You're better off with a machine that has both clean water and dirty water tanks built in. If your carpet shampooer carries its own water, you can use it in many more places throughout the house.

The size of the water tanks is another important consideration. The most tedious part of shampooing your carpets is emptying the dirty water tank and refilling the clean water tank, and bigger tanks means less emptying and refilling.

Some carpet shampooers have fixed brushes that loosen dirt so the machine can suck it up; others have rotating brushes that scrub even deep-down dirt to the surface. There are advantages to both. Fixed brushes are easier on the carpet, while overusing the rotating brushes can wear out the fibers more quickly. Rotating brushes do a better job of removing dirt and stains, though. A good rule is to purchase a rotating brush model if you only plan on using the shampooer a few times a year, and to get a fixed brush model if you'll use it more often.

A carpet shampooer that has attachments for upholstery or stairs can maximize its usefulness. The kids are just as likely to spill grape juice on the couch as they are the carpet, so if you have puppies or children, the extra attachments are worth the extra you'll spend. Some carpet shampooers are attachment-ready, so if your budget is tight you can buy the attachments later.

A final feature to look for is the ability to control how much cleaning solution you apply. Some machines come with a trigger that you press to release the solution. This is handy when you have stubborn spots that need to be gone over a few times, or if your carpet was wet when you began cleaning.

A basic carpet cleaner costs about $100, and a more sophisticated model usually costs around $200. A professional carpet cleaning can cost more than even the most fully-loaded carpet shampooer, and the results are about the same. Unless you live in a home where messy things happen only rarely, it makes sense to buy a carpet shampooer of your own.