best carpet cleaners
Credit: Tamara Staples

The 6 Best Carpet Cleaners, According to Our Testing

We like the Hoover SmartWash PET Complete Automatic Carpet Cleaner for its versatility and ability to remove tough stains with ease.
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For people cleaning up after pets or kids, or anyone with high traffic carpeting, investing in a carpet cleaner gives you the ability to clean your carpets and rugs on your own schedule, without the hassle of renting a machine or hiring a professional.

To determine the best carpet cleaners, we rounded up 24 of the most popular carpet cleaners on the market and put them through thorough testing in our Lab, evaluating them on their ability to remove various types of stains, as well as their noise level, design, and overall value. Each carpet cleaner was used to clean medium-pile carpet samples stained with wet potting soil, orange juice, ketchup, and fresh coffee. We also consulted David Ragsdale, production manager at SERVPRO, for expert tips on how to choose the best carpet cleaner for your specific needs. 

Our top pick, the Hoover SmartWash PET Complete Automatic Carpet Cleaner, was extremely effective at removing stains in our Lab tests, and it features a number of attachments that make it more versatile for both wall-to-wall carpet cleaning and spot treating.

Read on for more of our best carpet cleaner picks, as well as tips on how to choose the right carpet cleaner for your home. 

Our Top Picks

Hoover SmartWash PET Complete Automatic Carpet Cleaner
Credit: amazon.com

Best Overall Carpet Cleaner: Hoover SmartWash PET Complete Automatic Carpet Cleaner

View at Amazon ($320)

Also available at The Home Depot and Target.

Who it's for: People who want an upright carpet cleaner with attachments for spot treating stains.  

Who it isn't for: People who are looking for a lightweight carpet cleaner. 

You don't need to have pets to make use of this versatile upright carpet cleaner—although pet owners will certainly appreciate its ability to tackle pet stains and odors. It received high marks in our testing for its ability to remove tough stains, in part thanks to the included pre-treat wand: "This Hoover carpet cleaner really impressed me, and it was one of the best at removing stains," says one tester. "The pre-treat wand was easy to use and really helped the machine remove most of the deep stains."

This carpet cleaner comes with a number of special features that sets it apart from the competition, including an automatic cleaning solution dispenser that mixes and dispenses the cleaning solution as you go and a detachable pretreat stain remover wand for removing set-in stains. Plus, it automatically switches between wet and dry cleaning—simply push forward to wash, pull back to dry. You can also give it a few more passes with the "dry only" setting to remove as much moisture as possible, which is particularly useful for area rugs that can hold onto a lot of water. Finally, the dual tank system keeps the water and cleaning solution separate from the dirty water tank, so there's no need to constantly empty and refill. 

In terms of attachments and accessories, this carpet cleaner comes with an eight-foot hose and a pet tool for spot treating stains or tackling hard-to-navigate areas such as stairs or upholstery. (Note: Our testers found the hose attachment to be a little difficult to set up on the first try.) 

Keep in mind that it's on the heavier side of those we tested, as it is a full-size upright carpet cleaner. But for households with wall-to-wall carpeting, the trade-off is well worth it for its ability to wash and dry large areas in less time. 

Product Details: 

  • Weight: 20.5 pounds
  • Cord Length: 22 feet
  • Hose Length: 8 feet 
  • Tank Size: 128 ounces
  • Cleaning Path: 12 inches 
  • Noise Level: 83.4 decibels

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Hoover SmartWash Automatic Carpet Cleaner with Spot Chaser Stain Remover Wand Shampooer Machine for Pets
Credit: Tamara Staples
Hoover Spotless Portable Carpet & Upholstery Spot Cleaner
Credit: amazon.com

Best Budget Carpet Cleaner: Hoover Spotless Portable Carpet & Upholstery Spot Cleaner

View at Amazon ($110)

Also available at Walmart.

Who it's for: People who want a more affordable carpet cleaner that has separate tanks for clean and dirty water. 

Who it isn't for: People who want a carpet cleaner with an extra-long hose attachment for hard-to-reach spots.

This lightweight and portable carpet cleaner is well under the average price of those we tested, yet its performance and design resemble that of a much more expensive unit. We found it to be extremely effective at spot treating stains, second only to the Bissell Little Green. But unlike the Little Green, it features a dual tank—one for dirty water and one for clean, so you won't need to stop and refill. To use, first push the nozzle of the tool onto the stain while slowly pulling it towards you to suction up any excess liquid before spraying the stain with a cleaning solution. Finally, scrub the carpet clean by pushing the nozzle pack and forth over the stain. 

One tester described this carpet cleaner as "cleverly designed," thanks to its compact size, easy-to-carry center handle, and wraparound hose—although we wish the hose was slightly longer. Emptying and cleaning the tank is an easy, mess-free process in part due to the self-cleaning hose that flushes after each use. This spot cleaner is not meant for use on wall-to-wall carpet, but it makes an affordable option for spot treating small patches of carpet, furniture, car interiors, and more. 

Product Details: 

  • Weight: 9 pounds
  • Cord Length: 14 feet
  • Hose Length: 5 feet 
  • Tank Size: 51 ounces
  • Cleaning Path: 4 inches
  • Noise Level: 84 decibels

RELATED: The 10 Best Upholstery Cleaners to Tackle Every Spill and Stain, According to Reviewers

Hoover Spotless Portable Carpet Upholstery Spot Cleaner
Bissell Little Green Portable Carpet Cleaner
Credit: amazon.com

Best Portable Carpet Cleaner: Bissell Little Green Portable Carpet Cleaner

View at Amazon ($124)

Who it's for: People who want a carpet cleaner for spot treating spills and messes.
Who it isn't for: People who want to deep clean large carpeted areas. 

This tiny but mighty carpet cleaner has a cult following for a reason. In addition to its adorable turtle-shell appearance, it's extremely effective at removing stains. In our testing, it lifted the coffee and orange juice stains without leaving behind any trace, while the ketchup and potting soil were very faint after just a few passes: "The ones that remained had been sitting for quite some time and had definitely set in, but if I'd been able to clean right after the stain hit the floor I have no doubt they would have come right up," says one tester. 

Although the base itself is fairly lightweight at just under 10 pounds, you'd mostly be maneuvering the stain remover tool, which connects to the eight-foot hose. The Little Green's compact size makes it easy to store, and according to the manufacturer, it can even be stored with water and cleaning solution inside, so it's ready to go whenever you need it. 

Our testers found this portable carpet cleaner easy to empty and clean, and it comes with a self-cleaning tool so you can rinse out the hose after each use. We'd highly recommend this machine for spot treating stains on carpet, rugs, upholstery, and car interiors in between deep cleanings. 

Product Details: 

  • Weight: 9.7 pounds
  • Cord Length: 15 feet
  • Hose Length: 4 feet 
  • Tank Size: 48 ounces
  • Cleaning Path: 3 inches
  • Noise Level: 80 decibels

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Bissell Little Green Multi-Purpose Portable Carpet and Upholstery Cleaner
Credit: Tamara Staples
Bissell JetScrub Pet Carpet Cleaner
Credit: amazon.com

Best Carpet Cleaner for Pets: Bissell JetScrub Pet Carpet Cleaner

View at Amazon ($267)

Also available at Target and Walmart.

Who it's for: People with pets or kids who want an upright cleaner for tackling big messes.
Who it isn't for: People who want additional attachments for cleaning small crevices or upholstery. 

Gone are the days of getting on your hands and knees to scrub pet stains out of the carpet—this spot cleaner is designed to tackle tough stains from an upright position, making it ideal for pet owners or parents who find themselves frequently cleaning up large messes. 

This carpet cleaner requires almost no assembly, and is very easy to fill. Our Lab testers were blown away by its ability to lift tough stains in just one to two passes: "Wow! I wasn't sure we were going to meet any [carpet cleaners] that really got up all the stains, but this one proved me wrong." 

We particularly loved the LED headlights that illuminate hard-to-see stains and the CleanShot Pretreater that made a difference in the machine's ability to remove stains. Plus, the rotating brush helps to lift embedded stains and solids. This carpet cleaner also features an Express Clean Mode, which dries in 30 minutes, so you can do some last minute carpet cleaning prior to company arriving. Even better? The carpet cleaner itself is lightweight enough to carry up and down stairs with ease when there are accidental spills and messes, and the collapsible handle makes it easy to store. 

On the downside, this carpet cleaner didn't do as well at picking up hair, so you're better off using a regular vacuum first for that purpose. It also doesn't come with any additional attachments such as a hose or crevice tool. But for the pet owner who finds themselves constantly tackling stains and odors, this powerful carpet cleaner allows you to clean large stains without even bending over. 

Product Details: 

  • Weight: 12.3 pounds
  • Cord Length: 20 feet
  • Hose Length: N/A
  • Tank Size: 48 ounces
  • Cleaning Path: 9.5 inches
  • Noise Level: 75 decibels

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BISSELL JetScrub Pet Upright Carpet Cleaner
Credit: Tamara Staples
Hoover PowerDash Pet Compact Carpet Cleaner
Credit: homedepot.com

Best Carpet Cleaner for Small Spaces: Hoover PowerDash Pet Compact Carpet Cleaner

View at The Home Depot ($103)

Also available at Bed Bath & Beyond and Target.

Who it's for: People who have minimal carpeting or who are looking to clean area rugs. 
Who it isn't for: People who need to clean large carpeted areas. 

This compact, upright carpet cleaner performs better than most of the competition when it comes to removing stains, which is impressive considering its price and size. For small, carpeted surfaces, such as a single room, a small apartment, or an area rug, it's the perfect middleground: It makes an excellent alternative to more cumbersome, full-size carpet cleaners, yet it still provides a larger cleaning path than those of portable carpet cleaners. 

The Hoover PowerDash lost points in our testing for versatility, as it doesn't come with additional attachments for spot treating small stains. But the carpet cleaner is lightweight enough to carry up and down stairs so you can use it wherever you need, although navigating around crevices can still be a bit difficult. The included pet roll brush helps to lift stubborn stains and the HeatForce technology helps to dry the carpet more quickly. 

This little carpet cleaner does come with a dual tank system so you can keep clean and dirty water separate; however, we found the dirty water tank to be somewhat difficult to clean after use. In the end, we think it makes an inexpensive and easy-to-store option for those with minimal carpeting. 

Product Details: 

  • Weight: 12.5 pounds 
  • Cord Length: 20 feet 
  • Hose Length: N/A
  • Tank Size: 64 ounces
  • Cleaning Path: 10 inches
  • Noise Level: 83 decibels

RELATED: The 9 Best Steam Cleaners for Every Type of Surface, According to Customers

Hoover PowerDash Pet Compact Carpet Cleaner Shampooer Machine Lightweight with Storage Mat
Credit: Tamara Staples
Rug Doctor Mighty Pro X3 Commercial Pro
Credit: amazon.com

Best Commercial-Style Carpet Cleaner: Rug Doctor Mighty Pro X3 Commercial Pro Carpet Cleaner

View at Walmart ($600)

Also available at Amazon.

Who it's for: People who find themselves renting carpet cleaners often. 

Who it isn't for: People who want a small and quiet carpet cleaner. 

Out of all the commercial-style carpet cleaners we tested, this one was the most effective at removing stains and the easiest to maneuver. With a dual-tank design and a whopping 3.9 gallon capacity—over double that of the carpet cleaner with the next highest capacity—it's ideal for a home or business with large amounts of carpeting. In our testing, it was able to remove all the stains on the first pass, except for the ketchup, which came up after a few additional passes. 

It's also one of the most expensive carpet cleaners we tested. But if you find yourself frequently renting a carpet cleaner or hiring a professional carpet cleaning service, this machine might just save your money in the long run. 

Features include powerful jets that inject cleaning solution into the carpet, vibrating scrub brushes to lift dirt and stains, and pro-grade suction power that helps to aid in stain removal and drying time. But keep in mind that with all this cleaning power comes more noise—this carpet cleaner had one of the highest decibel measures of all those we tested. 

For the price, we would have liked to see included attachments for spot treatment, but you can purchase a hand tool sold separately. If you're looking to regularly deep clean a space with wall-to-wall carpeting, there are few carpet cleaners that can compete with the power of this commercial-style model. 

Product Details: 

  • Weight: 39.5 pounds
  • Cord Length: 22 feet
  • Hose Length: 12 feet 
  • Tank Size: 499 ounces 
  • Cleaning Path: 10.8 inches
  • Noise Level: 87 decibels
Rug Doctor Mighty Pro X3 Commercial Carpet Cleaner
Credit: Tamara Staples

Final Verdict

After several days spent testing in our Lab, we declared the Hoover SmartWash PET Complete Automatic Carpet Cleaner our best overall pick because of its impressive cleaning abilities and its many special features that set it apart from the competition. 

Our Testing Process

We gathered 24 of the best carpet cleaners on the market, including commercial, upright, and portable machines, and spent three days rigorously testing them in our Lab. First, we evaluated the ease of setup by using a stopwatch to measure how long it took to unbox and assemble each carpet cleaner. 

Then it was time to test each machine's effectiveness at removing stains: The night before our stain removal testing, we stained medium-pile carpet samples with wet potting soil, orange juice, and ketchup. We made sure the stains were really worked into the carpet fibers by rubbing them in with rubber gloves. Each stain was then topped with short pieces of wig hair to mimic pet hair, and pushed into the carpet. Everything was left to dry overnight, and on the day of our stain testing, we added a fresh coffee stain to test how effective each carpet cleaner was at removing fresh stains, too. Testers evaluated how well each carpet cleaner removed the stains, and let the clean samples sit out overnight to see whether they were still wet the next morning. During testing, we used a decibel meter to record the noise level of each machine.

We also assessed the design and portability of each machine, the range of attachments, and ease of emptying and cleaning. Finally, our Lab testers decided on overall value, considering each product's price relative to performance. 

bissell little green multi purpose portable carpet and upholstery cleaner
Credit: Tamara Staples

How to Shop for Carpet Cleaners Like a Pro

Intended Use

"You must determine if you are going to be using it for a large area on a regular basis, or if it is only for spot treatments between professional cleanings," says Ragsdale. Do you have pets or kids that make big messes? Look for a carpet cleaner with a powerful motor that can tackle tough stains and a large tank that can cover large areas. 

For cleaning area rugs, it's important to purchase a carpet cleaner with good water extraction so you don't over saturate your rug. Area rugs also have a tendency to hold onto dirt and dust, but a machine with a powerful rotating brush will help to lift these out with ease. 

Finally, if you're shopping for a carpet cleaner for spot cleaning small areas, cleaning upholstery, or car interiors, look for a portable carpet cleaner that is lightweight and easy to maneuver.  

Type

Carpet cleaners generally come in three different sizes: upright, portable, and commercial.

Upright carpet cleaners, which resemble upright vacuum cleaners, are designed to tackle wall-to-wall carpeting. They generally have large tanks with more cleaning capacity and more powerful motors. However, their build and heft can make them difficult to maneuver around small spaces. 

Portable carpet cleaners are much smaller and feature narrower cleaning pathways for spot cleaning carpets, furniture, car interiors, etc. They're lightweight and designed to clean up messes like spills or pet stains in between deep cleanings. Some households may choose to own both an upright carpet cleaner for deep cleaning entire rooms and a portable carpet cleaner for spot cleaning. Some upright carpet cleaners can be used for both deep cleaning and spot cleaning, but portable carpet cleaners tend to be much more convenient to use for small spills and stains. 

Finally, a commercial carpet cleaner is a big machine meant for big cleaning jobs. If you're someone who frequently rents carpet cleaning machines or hires professional carpet cleaners, investing in a commercial-style carpet cleaner can save you money in the long run. However, they're big, bulky, and difficult to store, not to mention pricey. For homes or businesses with a lot of carpet, they can make a great investment, but for the average person, an upright or portable carpet cleaner will be easier to use and more economical. 

hoover smartwash automatic carpet cleaner Machine with storage mat
Credit: Tamara Staples

Attachments and Accessories

Extra tools like an extended hose or a crevice cleaning tool can be helpful for maneuvering around stairs, furniture, car interiors, etc. Some attachments may be included with the carpet cleaner, while others must be purchased separately. More attachments make for a more versatile device, but it also means there will be more setup and cleaning involved. 

Tank Size

Upright carpet cleaners generally have large tank capacities, which means they'll have more cleaning power and require fewer refills. However, this also means they'll be heavier, and the weight will only increase as they fill up with dirty water. Some carpet cleaners feature a dual or two-tank design, meaning there's one for clean water and another for dirty water. This means you won't have to keep emptying and refilling the tank because the water is dirty. 

Special Features

Most quality carpet cleaners come with extra features that set them apart from the competition. These could include things like a cleaning agent dispenser that automatically adds cleaning solution to the water, dry-only settings that suck up water to speed up dry time, an internal water heater to help you heat or maintain the temperature of the water, a rotating brush for lifting dirt, stain pretreatment, and more.

More Carpet Cleaners to Consider

Bissell ProHeat 2X Revolution Pet Pro Deep Cleaner: When it comes to the ability to remove tough stains, this model is up there with our best overall pick. It really stands out for its HeatWave technology, which helps to maintain the temperature of the water you put in the tank. Unfortunately, testers found it bulky and cumbersome to use. 

Bissell SpotClean ProHeat Portable Carpet Cleaner: Testers say this is a great compact option for treating fresh stains and spot treating, but it's nearly the same price as the Bissell Little Green Portable Carpet Cleaner, which performed better in our stain testing. 

Questions You Might Ask

How do carpet cleaners work?

According to Ragsdale, most commercial carpet cleaners use what's known as "hot water extraction" to clean carpets: "To clean carpet, soils must be suspended in a solution and then extracted. Soil suspension is achieved by using heat (hot water), cleaning product, and agitation to separate the soils from the carpet fibers…Once soils are separated from the carpet fibers they can be 'washed' out of the carpet with hot water, leaving the carpet free of soils and cleaning product residues." Many carpet cleaners also feature a powerful suction to remove moisture for quicker drying.  

hoover power scrub deluxe carpet cleaner machine upright shampooer with storage mat
Credit: Tamara Staples

What is the difference between a carpet cleaner and a steam cleaner?

Carpet cleaners are sometimes referred to as "steam cleaners," but this is actually a misnomer. The difference between the two largely comes down to the use of a cleaning agent: "A carpet deep cleaner is going to perform a shampooing action," says Ragsdale. "Shampooing is achieved with aggressive agitation of a product into the carpet which will create a shampoo/foam and that is then extracted." 

A steam cleaner, on the other hand, relies solely on steam and water to loosen dirt, and then vacuums it up into a holding tank. The high temperature can act as a disinfectant and help get rid of pests, germs, and allergens. Some steam cleaners can work on both carpets and hard surfaces, while others might have a steam output that's too powerful and can damage carpet fibers. And, without the use of carpet cleaning solutions, steam cleaners may struggle to remove set-in stains. 

In general, steam cleaners can help to refresh your carpets, but for heavily soiled carpets, a carpet cleaner is the better choice. 

How often should you clean your carpets?

Ragsadle suggests deep cleaning your carpets every six months to a year, depending on the foot traffic of the area. However, owning a home carpet cleaning machine—as opposed to renting one or hiring a professional service—means you can achieve a deeper clean as often as you think necessary, whether it be monthly or even weekly. If you have pets, kids, or other sources of build-up, you may want to do more frequent cleanings. In between deep cleanings, you can use a portable carpet cleaner or the crevice/upholstery attachment on your upright carpet cleaner to spot treat any stains and spills. 

Take Our Word for It

This article was written by Melanie Fincher, associate commerce editor for Real Simple with nearly three years of experience writing product reviews and lifestyle content. To compile this list, we tested 24 carpet cleaners over the course of three days in our Lab and evaluated each model on its ease of setup, effectiveness, versatility, noise level, design, portability, and overall value. For expert tips on how to buy a carpet cleaner, Melanie consulted David Ragsdale, production manager at SERVPRO.