This is not for the faint of heart.

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Even if your couch cushions and cloth car seats look clean, there may be embedded stains and debris lurking inside them. One way to find out is to clean these upholstered surfaces with a portable carpet cleaner. By using water and a power cleaning solution to flush out set-in dirt and stains, a carpet cleaner can remove many years' worth of soil. Follow these steps to find out exactly how dirty your sofa, car seats, and area rugs really are. But be warned, you might not like what you find.

How to Use a Portable Carpet Cleaner

Before using a carpet cleaner, such as the BISSELL Little Green Portable Carpet Cleaner ($124, Amazon.com), start by vacuuming up any crumbs and debris using the crevice attachment on your vacuum. Then, fill the basin with water and Little Green cleaning solution, following the guidelines on the tank and the instructions manual. When you're ready to start cleaning, make sure to plug the appliance into a grounded outlet. And no matter what you're cleaning, it's always a good idea to test a small, inconspicuous spot first to make sure the dyes won't run.

How to Clean an Upholstered Sofa:

Get ready to clean stains you didn't even know your sofa had. Use this method on upholstered sofas, but don't try this on velvet, silk, vinyl, or leather.

  1. Start by removing the cushions so you can clean the entire surface of the sofa.
  2. Unwind the vacuum hose, then spray the formula onto the upholstery, using a slow and steady backward and forward motion.
  3. Go over that area, sucking up the cleaning solution and stains along with it. Check out how dirty the water is! Continue this process over the until sofa, working in small sections, or concentrate on specific stained areas.
  4. Wait until the sofa is completely dry before sitting on it (this will take several hours) and point a fan towards the fabric to speed up drying time.

How to Clean Cloth Car Seats:

If you spilled coffee all over your car seat, a portable carpet cleaner can help with that, too.

  1. Pre-treat any serious stains by spritzing on the water and cleaning solution mixture. Let sit for 5 minutes before removing.
  2. Using the brush upholstery attachment, gently scrub any stains or debris.
  3. Pull the tool towards you to suck up the cleaning solution. Repeat this process as needed, working in small sections, until the stain is completely gone.

How to Clean Area Rugs or Carpets:

If you spilled milk on your favorite carpet, save those tears! A portable carpet cleaner makes it so easy to clean this mess and prevent stains and odors.

  1. Clean the spill as soon as possible. Using the hand vac of the carpet cleaner, suction up the spill in slow, overlapping strokes, working from the outside of the spill in toward the center.
  2. For set-in stains, pre-treat the area by spritzing cleaning solution onto the spot and letting it sit for 3 to 5 minutes. You can also gently scrub the area with the brush attachment before suctioning up the liquid, dirt, and debris. 

Once you're done using the appliance, remember to clean the water out of the tank—you will marvel at how gross it is!—and rinse out the tank so the machine is ready to use next time.