A carpet cleaner is a wizardly mix of scrubbing, brushing and water squirting.
If you're looking at the soiled state of your cream Axminster this morning, thinking perhaps it wasn’t the best of ideas inviting obstreperous Ron and his clumsy spaniel over for another evening dinner, a carpet cleaner could be your salvation.
Choosing a carpet cleaner is a lot easier than pretty much any other household appliance, because there is only a handful of manufacturers and models to choose from.
Vax and Bissell are the market leaders, yet although Bissell has won more awards than Georg Solti, it’s the Vax Dual Power Pro Advance that wins our top spot.
That's for its efficiency, size and price.
How to buy a carpet cleaner
Let’s get one thing straight. A carpet cleaner is never going to be your most used household appliance.
In fact, you’ll likely use it less often than the ice cream maker you’ve had stashed at the back of the cupboard for the past six months.
However, if you have a lot of carpets in the home and would prefer to clean them yourself rather than employ the services of an expensive carpet cleaning company, then they're undeniably a better solution than hitting them with a carpet beater in the garden.
Domestic machines range in price from around £200 to over £500. But that’s still a lot cheaper than buying a professional model which starts at a hefty two grand.
Domestic machines don’t have enormous water tanks so expect to make a few trips back to the sink for a refill of fresh water and disposal of the dirty stuff.
Carpet cleaners are perfect for cleaning up odd stains though you will need to act quickly because no domestic cleaner we’ve used has removed the hideous stain Chaos the labrador made over six months ago.
The Bissell, Vax and Rug Doctor we tested are especially great for rejuvenating shagged out piles since all three use spinning brushes that lift the pile during the cleaning process.
You can expect to have a damp carpet that smells slightly of chemicals by the end, but this will normally dry in an hour or two.
Our pick of the best carpet cleaners to buy today
1. Vax Dual Power Pro Advance W85-PL-T
The best carpet cleaner, pound for pound
This award-winning carpet scrubber has two water reservoirs, one for clean hot water (3.5 litres), the other below for collecting the dirty stuff (2.9 litres).
The separate detergent container is an especially useful addition since it negates the need for accurate measurements. With this one you simply pour in the detergent and it’s ready to roll.
For extra cleaning power, the Vax features a 360˚ brush system comprised of a forward rotating main brush that helps lift the pile and a cluster of seven circular brushes that do the scrubbing.
For best results, be sure to stick to slow strokes – cleaning carpets is a calm, methodical process that cannot be rushed.
The most effective technique is to hold in the trigger on the handle while slowly pushing forward – this activates the water and detergent solution which is sprayed onto the carpet. Now release the trigger and pull back slowly while the dirty solution is sucked up and deposited into the filth tank.
For tougher stains, use the thumb-operated Clean Boost trigger for an extra blast of detergent. Stairs and awkward recesses are best left to the included 4.6-metre hose and smaller ‘SpinScrub’ brush attachment.
In testing, the Vax performed exceptionally well at freshening up a dull carpet and it was effective at dealing with a recent stain, too. However, unsurprisingly, it failed to make any impression on a six-month old 'dog-induced stain'; proof positive that you really do need to tackle stains within minutes rather than hours, let alone days.
If ease of use, efficiency and price are your main concerns then grab yourself a Pro Advance – not for nothing does it hit our #1 spot.
It's also not much larger than an upright vacuum cleaner so it’s fairly easy to stow away under the stairs during the long, long periods when you don't want to be using it.
2. Rug Doctor Deep Carpet Cleaner
Effective but more cumbersome alternative
Most carpet cleaners are unattractive but this one really has been thrashed soundly about the head and neck, with the ugly stick.
At least, as aresult, the Rug Doctor looks like it must mean business; and it does.
It’s scooped a Gold Seal of Approval from the Carpet and Rug Institute, and let me tell you, those boys don't p*ss about.
Also receiving near-unanimous praise from its legion of satisfied users this weighty beast uses its heft to ensure the revolving brushes are reaching deep down into the pile. It may be more difficult to manoeuvre but you’re likely to see better results.
The Rug Doctor has two sets of brushes: one agitates the pile while the other, according to the blurb, ‘grooms and polishes the carpet fibre’.
A detergent spray nozzle up front handles onerous stains, and there's a large 3.8 litre clean water reservoir and 4.2-litre dirty water tank.
A long, 2.4 metre hose and removable tool caddy add further convenience.
If you find instruction manuals difficult to follow you needn’t worry with this model since practically every part on the machine is labeled in a gigantic font. Stylish it's not, but effective it is.
3. Bissell StainPro 6 Carpet Cleaner 20096
Top entry from award-winning carpet specialists
Bissell has won more awards than any other carpet cleaner manufacturer here and for good reason: their machines are well designed and they invariably do the job well.
This model’s not especially easy to stow if you’re tight on storage space, but it’s an exemplary performer that functions at least as effectively as the Vax (although that is better value and easier to stow).
Most carpet cleaners require hot water to work efficiently but this model is able to keep said liquid at optimum temperature using Bissell’s HeatWave technology.
Unlike some of its competitors, Bissell has opted for a two-in-one 3.7-litre tank with an inner reservoir for clean water and an outer one for the mucky stuff. As the tank is hidden from view, you can’t see the results as readily as you can with the Vax and that instills a slightly reduced sense of gratification while using it.
More irritating is the need to accurately measure the detergent first before pouring it into the main tank.
The StainPro 6 uses a row of six rotating brushes to lift the pile and remove ingrained dirt. It also comes with 2.1 metres of hose for those hard to reach areas, a spraying crevice tool and a small nozzle head for dealing with tough stains.
No question, the StainPro 6 is an excellent carpet cleaner, even if it doesn’t offer quite the same level of value or ease of use as the similarly-styled Vax.
4. Numatic George GVE370-2
Happy-faced, do-it-all option
When you've just poured custard and Biro ink on your all-wool deep-pile, send for George.
The big brother to the similarly inanely-grinning Henry, Numatic’s George isn’t a bona fide carpet cleaner, but a better all-rounder is hard to imagine.
George’s main aim in life is to suck things up, wet or dry. He’ll empty a blocked sink in no time and he’s even been knows to serve as an effective bilge pump.
This notoriously durable fella also comes with an extraction nozzle for cleaning carpets. Granted, it’s not the widest nozzle in the world but it works very effectively on stains. You could feasibly even use it on a whole carpet, if you're a patient sort.
George isn’t the easiest machine to get a handle on, mind, as it comes with so many attachments and configurations it’s difficult to work out which one is best for the job in hand. Nevertheless, you won’t find a better or tougher multi-tasker.
5. Karcher Puzzi 10/1
Expensive, prosumer option
Teutonic brand Kärcher doesn’t make domestic carpet cleaners but its professional range is so much cheaper than most other pro models that this one is well worth a mention.
Most pro models retail from around £2,000 while the Puzzi 10/1 clocks in at a shade under £550.
The Puzzi 10/1 is of the pull-along variety which some users will find easier to handle. However, because it’s essentially designed for shorter pile office carpets it doesn’t feature a revolving brush attachment.
One is available, but it's, er, 600 quid. Boy, must that kick ass.
Instead, it comes with a flexible 2.5-metre hose and a pivoting floor tool that sprays Karcher’s own-brand detergent solution into the carpet while simultaneously sucking up the grimy sediment and depositing it into the unit’s front tank.
The smaller upholstery tool is a major plus since it produces outstanding results on polyester car seats and soft household furnishings.
Granted, this is not a cheap machine by any standards but it not only cuts the mustard, it'll also suck it out of any soiled pile. Incredibly easy to use, too.