The Best Carpet Cleaners, Tested by HGTV Editors

From deep cleaning to spot cleaning, our editors share the best carpet cleaners for every lifestyle after testing top-rated machines.

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August 23, 2021

Our Top Carpet Cleaner Picks

Even if you don't have kids or pets, carpets and rugs get dirty quickly, and, what's worse, it's hard to really get them clean. (Hello, any renters out there living with nasty, old carpet?!) While renting a carpet cleaning machine is certainly a great option for once-a-year deep cleans, if your whole house is carpeted, or a large portion is at least, purchasing a carpet cleaner is a worthwhile investment. You should still get carpet and rugs professionally cleaned once a year, but residential machines do a wonderful job of tackling stains and messes in between deep cleans. Regular vacuuming will also help keep carpet fresh so that you don't have to shampoo it as frequently.

We tested upright and portable carpet cleaners in a variety of settings and on a variety of surfaces to determine which one is worth the splurge. Our testers all have pets, most have kids, and busy households where daily wear on carpets, rugs and upholstered furniture is commonplace. Below, we picked the best carpet cleaners for any lifestyle, taking into consideration performance, tank size, cord length, maneuverability, ease of use, price and online reviews.

What to Consider Before Buying

If you plan to use a carpet cleaner regularly and most of your home is carpeted, then an upright cleaner, while pricier and bulkier, will be your best option. Upright machines, like vacuums, have larger tank sizes and more power. However, they're also noisier and more awkward to use than a smaller machine. If you just need to treat occasional stains on rugs and furniture (or even in the car), then a portable machine will be plenty.

Keep in mind that the weight of the machine will increase as the tank fills with dirty water which makes it more difficult to carry up and down stairs and through the house. However, in our testing, we didn't notice a difference in maneuverability on flat surfaces when the dirty tank became full.

Extra tools, like a brush and crevice attachment, come with most upright models which are helpful for deep cleaning corners, cushions and car seats.

Drying time will vary depending on how thick your carpet or rug is and how long you cleaned. Generally, though, expect to wait a few hours for the surface to be dry enough to sit or walk on.

Some machines pre-mix cleaning solutions in the tank and then pump it into the carpet as you push. Others have a trigger to release the solution as you clean. We prefer machines that mix the solution for you.

As far as maintenance, you'll need to rinse out the dirty water tanks and remove dog hair or rug fibers from the brush after use. Our testers preferred machines with a brush cover that pops off (no tools required) for easy access to the brush.

Best Overall Carpet Cleaner

$249.99 $197

For less than $200, this relatively affordable upright cleaner checks all the boxes for us: ample tank size, powerful cleaning capability, simple assembly, automatic shampoo release and mixing, and easy to clean. While it's not the lightest of cleaners, it handles like a standard upright vacuum, although its size may not be ideal for those with limited storage space. Dual tanks, a half-gallon dirty water tank and a one-gallon clean water tank, were large enough for our tester to clean upholstery and an 8-by-10-foot rug without emptying or adding more water. We loved being able to add cleaning solution directly into the machine's pre-measured tank for automatic mixing and dispensing. (No trigger, here!) We were also won over by an additional dry-only feature that allows you to push and pull the machine without dispensing water or cleaner to help speed up drying time. A removable nozzle gives easy access to brushes for de-gunking. Overall, we were really impressed by the design and effectiveness of this machine, and believe it's a solid choice for most households.

Our Editor Says: "I really appreciate when machines are engineered so that simple and regular cleaning and maintenance can be done without tools. I'm very happy that was the case with this machine."

Buy It

Best Portable Carpet Cleaner

$123.59 $109

We tested Bissell's larger Spot Clean Professional model and cordless Pet Stain Eraser, but Little Green was the perfect in-between in terms of size, tank capacity and price. It was a really close call between the Spot Clean Pro and Little Green, but ultimately, Little Green's smaller size makes it easier to move around the house and use in the car. Because the tank size is smaller, we recommend using it just for spot treating or cleaning upholstery as water and cleaning solution ran out quickly when we tried to clean an entire rug. Our tester loved the hydro rinse tool for cleaning out the hose, a feature that's not available with the Spot Clean Pro. Removable clean and dirty water tanks make it super easy to dump and refill as needed. If you're looking for a small but mighty machine that tackles tough stains, this is our pick.

Our Editor Says: "I was super impressed with this machine. I just passed over the stains, and they disappeared. I waited for it to dry in case I was just not seeing it clearly, but the stain is truly gone, and it couldn't have been easier."

Buy It

Best Carpet Cleaner for Pet Stains

$279.99

Designed with pet owners in mind, our tester, a parent of two border collie mixes and two young adults, has relied on this machine for years to remove stubborn stains and general dinginess from her carpets and rugs. Weighing in at 18 pounds with two gallon-size tanks for clean and dirty water, this is the second-largest machine on our list, but it's not unmanageable. In fact, our tester noted that it's easy to maneuver and reaches underneath furniture and beds with no problem. A nozzle and brush cover pop off with ease so you can remove built-up pet hair, a huge pro for our tester who said combing out fur and dirt is essential to keeping the machine running smoothly. Now, a few downsides: there is no hook to keep the power cord out of the way, a minor detail, but still annoying; the dirty tank has a very small opening, making it difficult to fully rinse out; the upholstery nozzle isn't great – it's finicky and uncomfortable to use.

Our Editor Says: "There are a few spots of general dinginess where my dogs sleep that have never been able to get completely clean. But when I do use this machine on those areas, it does pull up dirt and dander because the dirty water tank is muddy and brown, so I know it's working."

Buy It

Best Budget Carpet Cleaner

For quick cleaning in small spaces, this compact upright machine gets the job done. It's sturdy while still being lightweight and agile, perfect for a home with stairs or a carpeted apartment. While the trigger function for releasing the cleaning solution isn't ideal, it did at least feel well-made. We liked that clean water and a cleaning solution could be mixed in the same tank. The smaller tank size means more frequent emptying, but that's also what makes this machine lighter than other models. We were able to clean an 8x10 rug with one full tank. Emptying dirty water was a no-mess affair thanks to the Easy Pour Spout. We also appreciated the drying feature which helped speed up drying time. Accessing the brushes for cleaning and maintenance was troublesome since a screwdriver is required to remove the cover. All-in-all, though, we feel that this is a solid pick for infrequent cleaning or smaller homes.

Our Editor Says: "Construction felt solid, particularly at this price range. [And it was] lightweight, though the handle doesn't collapse, which might be a useful feature for a machine marketed as compact."

Buy It

Best Commercial-Style Carpet Cleaner

$399.99

This is a big, serious machine for big, serious cleaning jobs, and it won't be the right choice for everyone. But if you want perfect results every time and have the space to store a machine this large, then we can't recommend Big Green enough. The hefty price and size (It weighs 40 pounds!) are intimidating, but the suction power is unrivaled. Despite the weight, our tester remarked at how effortlessly it glided across her carpet. This machine is perfect for very large, open rooms with wall-to-wall carpet or area rugs and for homes with accident-prone pets or kids. Because the tank is so large, it doesn't fit under furniture, but the hose attachment is nine feet long – plenty long enough to reach stairs, tight spaces and upholstery. If you frequently rent commercial machines for deep cleaning, this will be a worthwhile investment.

Our Editor Says: "I could see a huge difference, where I had shampooed, it was a completely different shade of beige. It didn't remove all the stains, but it looked a whole lot better!"

Buy It

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