The 4 Best Upholstery Cleaners, According to Our Testing
We tested 12 upholstery, carpet, and steam cleaners in our Lab and evaluated them based on their effectiveness at removing stains from upholstery, as well as their portability, versatility, noise level, and overall value.
Our top pick, the Bissell Little Green Portable Carpet and Upholstery Cleaner, was the most effective portable upholstery and carpet cleaner when it came to removing stains. Plus, it's lightweight and easy to maneuver around hard-to-reach areas.
Below you'll find more of our best upholstery cleaner picks, as well as tips on how to shop for and use upholstery cleaners.
Our Top Picks
- Best Overall Upholstery Cleaner: Bissell Little Green Portable Carpet and Upholstery Cleaner
- Best Budget Upholstery Cleaner: Hoover CleanSlate Pet Carpet and Upholstery Spot Cleaner
- Best Upholstery Cleaner for Pets: Rug Doctor Pet Portable Spot Cleaner
- Most Versatile Upholstery Cleaner: Costway Heavy Duty Multipurpose Steam Cleaner
Who it's for: People who want a portable upholstery cleaner for effectively treating occasional spills and stains.
Who it isn't for: People who want a wider cleaning path for big messes.
This tiny but mighty upholstery and carpet cleaner is among the most lightweight of all those we tested. This feature, combined with the cleaner's impressive performance in our stain removal testing, makes it our favorite for cleaning all sorts of upholstered surfaces, including furniture, car seats and interiors, draperies, and more. In our testing, it completely removed the wet pot soiling in just over a minute, and was able to get up almost all of the set-in ketchup with a little scraping—the best out of all the portable upholstery cleaners we tested.
This device works by simply spraying the stain using the 3-inch stain tool, and then dragging the same tool over the stain to shampoo and suction. Testers particularly appreciated how easy this machine is to handle, thanks to its lighter weight, compact build, and easy-to-grip handle. Plus, the 15-foot long cord means you can rest the tank on the ground from a comfortable distance. It's also easy to store—according to the manufacturer, it can even be stored when it's filled with water and cleaning solution so it's ready to use whenever there's an accident.
In spite of its small size, it features a dual-tank design, meaning it has separate tanks for dirty and clean water, so you don't have to refill nearly as often. Our only complaint is that we wish this device came with more attachments, particularly a tool with a wider cleaning path for larger messes. But given its price and performance, the Little Green Cleaner is an excellent choice for parents or pet owners who need to tackle frequent spills and stains.
- Weight: 9.7 pounds
- Tank Capacity: 48 ounces
- Cord Length: 15 feet
- Surface Type: Upholstery and carpet
- Included Accessories: Spot & Stain cleaning solution, HydroRinse self-cleaning tool, 3-inch tough stain tool
Who it's for: People who want an upholstery cleaner for large items, such as sofas.
Who it isn't for: People who don't want to regularly purchase cleaning solution.
The CleanSlate rivals the Little Green in terms of performance, but at a slightly lower price point. The 7-inch wide cleaning path can tackle large stains in fewer passes than that of many competitor machines. Testers noted that it released a large amount of solution, which really helped in removing both the ketchup and potting soil stain. One tester even compared the amount of suds to that of a car wash: "It's like a car wash for a cushion." Although, this does mean you'll end up using more cleaning solution in the end.
This is the lightest unit of those on our list, and we found it easy to maneuver and lift. It features a 15-foot long cord so you can easily move from one area to the next, as well as a dual-tank design to keep dirty and clean water separate. In addition to the WidePath tool, it also features a TightSpot tool for navigating hard-to-reach areas, with both a rubber insert and a brush insert.
This upholstery cleaner is designed with pet owners in mind, and includes an Oxy Concentrate cleaning solution for eliminating pet stains and odors. Although this machine isn't quite as fast as the Little Green when it comes to removing stains, it's extremely effective for the price and is more adept at cleaning larger messes.
- Weight: 9.4 pounds
- Tank Capacity: 40 ounces
- Cord Length: 15 feet
- Surface Type: Upholstery and carpet
- Included Accessories: Oxy Concentrate cleaning solution, 7-inch WidePath tool, TighSpot tool, hose rinse tool
Who it's for: People who want an upholstery cleaner with strong suction for everyday pet messes.
Who it isn't for: People who want to clean set-in stains.
Thanks to its ultra-powerful suction and rubberized pet tool, this upholstery cleaner not only lifts pet stains and odors, but pet hair too. In our testing, it was able to quickly and easily remove the potting soil, but struggled a bit more on the dried ketchup. For this reason, we think it might be better suited for wet stains, including most everyday pet messes. Its suction was the most powerful of all those we tested, and left the area completely dry after cleaning, another reason pet owners will appreciate this device.
We found the controls simple and intuitive to use. Although it's a bit heavier and bulkier than some of the other portable upholstery cleaners we tested, it has a rolling suitcase-style design, so you don't have to worry about lifting it from one area to the next (but you can use the handle to carry it up and down stairs). Plus, the dual tank design keeps dirty and clean water separate.
The dual-action pet tool has a unique brush with rubber bristles that help to grip pet hair while tackling stains and odors. Although this unit didn't perform as well with set-in stains, it's an excellent machine to have on hand for immediately tackling pet accidents.
- Weight: 15.5 pounds
- Tank Capacity: 64 ounces
- Cord Length: 15 feet
- Surface Type: Upholstery and carpet
- Included Accessories: Dual-action pet tool
Who it's for: People who want a steam cleaner that can clean both hard and soft surfaces.
Who it isn't for: People who want an upholstery cleaner primarily for spot treating.
Unlike the rest of the machines on this list, this unit is a steam cleaner as opposed to an upholstery/carpet cleaner, meaning it doesn't use a cleaning agent—only steam. In addition to hard flooring, glass, tile, and appliances, it's also safe to use on soft surfaces like upholstery and carpet.
In our testing, this steam cleaner was very quick to heat up and was able to remove the ketchup in 90 seconds and the potting soil in just 30 seconds. Like other steam cleaners, it features numerous attachments for floor-to-ceiling cleaning, making it a great choice for deep cleaning your whole home. The attachments all fit neatly in a front storage compartment for easy storage. And, unlike some other steam cleaners, this one was practically silent while running.
Although it's relatively lightweight and compact, this steam cleaner is not as easy to maneuver as the portable upholstery cleaner cleaners we tested, and didn't pivot very easily. Therefore, it may not be quite as convenient for everyday spot treating. But for the occasional deep clean, this all-in-one steam cleaner will allow you to clean just about any surface in your home without spending a lot on a steam cleaner.
- Weight: 11 pounds
- Tank Capacity: 52 ounces
- Cord Length: 10 feet
- Surface Type: Upholstery, carpet, glass, flooring, curtains, tile, appliances, bathroom surfaces, etc.
- Included Accessories: Tension tubes, glove, ironing brush, big nozzle, floor brush, carpet glider, glass brush, measuring cup, cord rewinder, hanger, stainless steel round brush, nylon round brushes, floor brush towel, ironing towel
The Bissell Little Green Portable Carpet and Upholstery Cleaner is our top pick because it was the most effective at picking up stains of any of the portable upholstery cleaners we tested. It's also extremely lightweight and easy to maneuver, making it ideal for treating small areas on furniture, car interiors, and draperies.
Our Testing Process
We spent three days testing 12 upholstery, carpet, and steam cleaners side-by-side in our Lab to determine the best ones for cleaning upholstery. To start, we followed the assembly instructions for each device, timing how long it took to put together and heat up.
The day before our stain testing, we stained light-colored cushions with both ketchup and wet potting soil and let them set overnight. The next day we used each machine to tackle its own stained cushion, timing how long it took to remove the stain and noting whether the material suffered any damage.
Meanwhile, testers took note of each machine's portability and usability, including its weight and whether or not it required frequent refilling. We also paid attention to the noise level of each machine. Upholstery cleaners that could also be used on hard surfaces earned bonus points for versatility. Afterwards, testers were made aware of the price of each device, and were asked to score its overall value.
How to Shop for Upholstery Cleaners
Most of the time, upholstery cleaners are small, handheld appliances designed with the purpose of spot treating stains on upholstered furniture, carpets, and rugs. They work by using a cleaning solution in conjunction with warm water and vibrating scrub brushes to lift dirt and stains, and then remove the liquid using a powerful vacuum suction. Portable upholstery cleaners are typically constructed with a small, easy-to-lift tank that connects to a variety of attachments, usually with more narrow cleaning pathways for spot treating.
You can also find upright upholstery cleaners, which resemble upright vacuum cleaners, and are designed to tackle wall-to-wall carpeting. They also usually have attachments for use on upholstery.
Finally, some steam cleaners may also be used to clean upholstery—although you should always refer to the manufacturer's guidance as to which surfaces a device can be used on. Steam cleaners rely entirely on steam and water to loosen dirt, and can often work on both hard and soft surfaces. They are ideal for disinfecting surfaces and eliminating pests, germs, and allergens. But while steam cleaners can be useful for lifting fresh stains, they may struggle to remove set-in stains as they don't use a cleaning solution.
If you're looking to just clean upholstered furniture, car interiors, and small carpet stains, a portable upholstery and carpet cleaner is probably your best choice. For larger carpeted areas, an upright carpet cleaner with upholstery attachments will offer more functionality. A steam cleaner is the most versatile choice as it can often be used on upholstery and carpets, in addition to different types of flooring, bathroom surfaces, and more. However, it's not always the most effective at removing set-in stains.
Be sure the upholstery cleaner you choose is compatible with whatever fabric type you're looking to clean. The same goes for choosing a cleaning solution, too. Upholstered furniture uses a code system which notes what type of cleaning agents and processes are safe for different fabrics. Refer to the care tag on your furniture for the code:
- Code W: Only water-based cleaning agents should be used.
- Code S: Only solvent-based cleaning agents should be used.
- Code S/W: Both water- and solvent-based cleaning agents are safe to use.
- Code X: Never use water- or solvent-based cleaning agents. Only clean by vacuuming or light brushing.
It's generally a good idea to test a cleaner out on a small, inconspicuous area first, to ensure there's no color running or fabric degradation.
Size and Portability
When it comes to cleaning upholstery, a lightweight machine is going to make maneuvering around furniture and car interiors much easier. Look for a unit with a longer power cord that will allow you to rest the tank on the ground from a comfortable distance, without having to constantly resposition.
Most upholstery cleaners come with at least one additional attachment to enhance the effectiveness and versatility of the product. Portable upholstery cleaners typically include a stain tool as well as a crevice tool for hard-to-reach areas. Steam cleaners are the most versatile thanks to their many attachments, such as brushes, mop heads, squeegees, and more.
Questions You Might Ask
How do upholstery cleaners work?
Upholstery cleaners work by spraying a stain with a cleaning agent and then using a brush to agitate and perform a shampooing action that lifts the stain. The dirty water and solution is then extracted from the carpet using a vacuum suction. Steam cleaners that are compatible with upholstery work by releasing a pressurized steam that loosens dirt and disinfects surfaces. These generally don't feature a vacuum suction because the high-heat steam dries very quickly.
How often should you clean upholstery?
Most upholstery cleaners are designed to spot treat stains as needed, although a general refresh is recommended several times a year (more if you have kids or pets).
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 formulate this list, we tested 12 upholstery cleaners side-by-side over the course of three days. Each model was evaluated based on its ease of setup, effectiveness at removing stains, portability, ease of use, noise level, versatility, and overall value.