The best 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 new Vax Platinum SmartWash carpet cleaner that wins our top spot. That's for its efficiency, ease of use and sheer cleaning power. However, don't rule out the Bissell HydroWave, a lightweight compact option for smaller abodes.
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 £150 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 effectively removed the hideous stain Chaos the labrador made over six months ago. Another key thing is to move relatively slowly when the solution is being dispersed and very slowly when engaging the drying function. Also, use the machine both up and down and across the carpet for better cleaning results.
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
Vax has long been the market leader when it comes to carpet cleaners, and the all-new Platinum SmartWash refines its cleaning skills further by removing the need to squeeze a trigger to clean, and then release it to vacuum up and dry. It's easily the best you can buy without spending a lot of money.
• Read a horrific and true account of how Vax Platinum SmartWash dealt with some of the worst stains a carpet can ever receive (clue: they came from a dog).
•And then read our full review of the Vax Platinum SmartWash
Like most upright carpet cleaners, this award-winning 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˚ SpinScrub 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. Oh, and best do it when everyone in the house is awake because it’s pretty loud.
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, plug in the provided pre-treatment wand and give the area a damp squirt first. The package also includes a hard floor adaptor and a very handy SpinScrub hand tool for cleaning carpeted stairs and some types of upholstery – the 4.6m hose comes into its own here.
In testing, the Vax performed exceptionally well at freshening up a dull carpet and it was effective at dealing with a recent stain, too. Granted, it didn’t make much impression on a six month-old 'dog-induced stain’ but in its defence (the cleaner not the dog), the carpet itself had since faded and taken on a new hue; proof positive that you really do need to tackle stains within minutes rather than hours, let alone days.
If ease of use and efficiency are your main concerns – and you have enough carpet in the home to justify the outlay and possible storage issue – then grab yourself one of these.
The main issue with most upright carpet cleaners is that they’re so darn heavy to push around and carry up stairs. Well this compact carpet washer bucks the trend by being just 5.6kgs in weight – a boon for the majority of users who don’t require a bulky pile scrubber. However, its clean and dirty water tanks are smaller than the competition so you will have to visit the sink to empty them a little more often.
The HydroWave’s clean 1.7-litre water tank comes with two filling guides, one for carpets and the other for hard surface cleaning. The front revolving brush, meanwhile, has ten rows of bristles and it does an exceptional job of lifting dirt from deep within the pile. Despite its powerful dirty water suction, it does leave the carpet feeling a little damper than other models we’ve tried so figure in a few hours of drying time before you walk on it wearing just socks.
On the control front, it has buttons for ‘Express’ and ‘Deep Clean’, plus a 'Clean Shot’ function for deep stain scrubbing. It also comes with a clean out tool for removing pet hair and a unique cleaning tray that sucks up fresh water, cleaning the front brush housing in the process. The included 750ml bottle of Bissell cleaning solution should be enough for several sessions on the pile.
For those with smaller abodes, the HydroWave is a shoo-in – it’s relatively quiet, easy to store, not too heavy and it cleans carpets and hard floors very effectively indeed.
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 exceedingly well.
This model’s not especially easy to stow for those who are tight on storage space, but it’s an exemplary performer nonetheless, even if it doesn’t come with a hose for detailed spot cleaning.
Most carpet cleaners require hot water to work efficiently but this model is able to keep the water at optimum temperature using its Heated Cleaning technology. It also features two levels of cleaning power: Deep Clean and Express Clean.
The ProHeat 2X Revolution uses two rows of rotating brushes to lift the pile and remove ingrained dirt. Both water tanks (clean and dirty) are the same size and both are very easy to remove. However, you will need to measure the detergent before pouring it into the clean water reservoir so don’t lose the provided measuring cap.
If you have yards of carpet that requires cleaning on a regular basis and you don’t need a hose for spot cleaning purposes then this model is well worth consideration. The fact it keeps the water warm is a major bonus but we do warn you that it’s loud – as in aircraft-taking-off loud.
Unless you have swathes of carpet throughout the home that requires constant attention, your best bet is a spot cleaner like this easy-to-store cordless model from Vax.
Given that accidental stains are among the most common issues with carpets, who wants to unleash the monster from the cupboard under the stairs when you can reach for this compact, easy-to-store cordless model and efficient spot cleaner instead?
The Vax SpotlessGo is light in the hand and battery-powered for added convenience. True, the battery only lasts about 15 minutes but that’s more than enough time to tackle several stains at once or a cluster over a period of time.
There’s nothing to taxing here because all the parts are self evident. Simply fill the tiny clean water tank with water and the provided solution, remove the 80cm hose from its housing, clip one of the supplied cleaning brushes into the nozzle (one for all-purpose cleaning and the other a rubber toothed attachment for pet mess), hit the on button and press the trigger to eject the spray. After some rigorous back and forth movement, release the trigger and push the nozzle into the carpet to remove the dirty water.
We only found one issue with this cleaner – the brush pops out of its housing if you push down too hard. This happened more frequently when pushing the nozzle down to suck up the dirty water. Solution? Unclip the brush.
Other than that small design fault, the SpotlessGo performed the task very well, leaving a damp but clean section of carpet in its wake. Although you need to put your back into it when scrubbing away stains, the end result is worth the hassle. Handy for the car, too.
Most carpet cleaners are unattractive but this one really has been thrashed soundly about the head and neck, with the ugly stick.
The Rug Doctor has 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 ‘grooms and polishes the carpet fibre’. Onerous stains can be tackled more easily by engaging the rear-mounted Super Boost spray which gives the carpet an extra dousing in readiness for a gentle reverse suck sweep.
The Rug Doctor comes with a 3.8 litre clean water reservoir and 4.2-litre dirty water tank which means you don’t have to empty it too frequently. A relatively short 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.
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 (the construction industry’s favourite vac), 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 stuff up, wet or dry. He’ll empty a blocked sink in no time and he’s even been known to serve as an effective bilge pump on boats.
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.
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.
As standard, this 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, but it not only cuts the mustard, it'll also suck it out of any soiled pile. Incredibly easy to use, too.