A great vacuum cleaner is essential, but present it with ground-in dirt, dried-up stains or a persistent odour and there’s only so much it can do. Whether you have pets, kids, short-sighted party guests or messy hobbies, you can bring carpets, rugs, soft furnishings and more back to life with one of the best carpet cleaners.
But how do you choose the one that’s right for you? The market is large and varied, ranging from full-sized, heavy-duty carpet cleaners that can refresh an entire house, down to compact, portable and battery-powered examples, designed for small rooms or localised stain removal.
If you’re looking to banish blotches, snuff out smells, or simply give your floors, rugs and carpets a thorough cleaning, we’ve got exactly the right buying advice. We’ll help you decide the type of model you need, the features you want, and find the ideal appliance for your budget. Below you’ll find how we test, our top 10 cleaners, then our guide on the features and performance to look for in your ideal model.
How we choose the best carpet cleaners
We put every carpet cleaner we review through a thorough series of tests. Where models are designed to also vacuum, we conduct all of our relevant vacuum cleaner tests, which include edge cleaning, powder clearance, hard floors and pet hair.
For all models, we test performance on supported floor types, using the manufacturer’s chemicals where provided, or appropriate generic ones where they aren’t. We check wet-stain performance (how well the cleaner sucks up a spilt liquid) and dry stain performance (how well the cleaner copes once a stain has dried). Where supported, we test stain removal on soft furnishings, too.
We experiment with muddy footprints, sticky fruit juice and – that ruiner of all things carpet – red wine. We also test performance on plain old household dirt. With spot cleaners, we test smaller spills of various household items on pale carpet tiles.
Beyond cleaning performance, we look at practicality: what accessories come with a cleaner, and are they easy to use? Our reviewers will note if a cleaner is heavy, bulky or noisy, and they’ll tell you if there’s a warm-up time, or if the water tanks need frequent top-ups or draining. Finally, we’ll let you know if any hoses or cables are too short, and where there’s a battery we’ll test how long it lasts and how quickly it’s recharged.
1. Rug Doctor Deep Carpet Cleaner
Professional cleaning power in your home
- Excellent cleaning that’s kind to carpets
- Effective dirty water suction
- Easy to manoeuvre, fill and empty
- Great stain/upholstery tool
- Robust build quality
- Folds for easier storage
- Takes a little practice
Rug Doctor is known for hiring out carpet cleaners to spring clean whole houses, but the Rug Doctor Deep Carpet Cleaner is available to buy. It isn’t overly large, but it packs in a 1300W motor, a large rotating brush-bar with cross-action brushes, and a separate row that oscillates back and forth. Clever water tank and handle design makes this easy to fill up and heft about – just as well, as with fresh water on board it weighs an epic 17.5kg.
The Deep Carpet Cleaner uses Rug Doctor’s own cleaning chemicals, and for stubborn stains there’s a Super Spray Boost, which fires down between the rear wheels so you can aim it better. Unlike other cleaners, you pull it backwards towards you, which takes a little getting used to, but it’s a quicker system. The results are outstanding, even on red wine spilled into a cream carpet; it was gone after four passes. The cleaner even sucked out old stains left from previous tests!
The Deep Carpet Cleaner combines great build quality, class-leading cleaning and outstanding vacuuming with brilliant tools and detergent. Its only real drawback is its weight. If you want as-new carpets and upholstery throughout the home, this is the carpet cleaner to choose.
Read our full Rug Doctor Deep Carpet Cleaner review
2. Bissell Stain Eraser Cordless Spot & Stain
Stain-removing convenience, without the wires
- Excellent cleaning chemicals
- Solid suction power
- Effective on range of spills
- Great run-time
- Spray can be a bit heavy
- Could leave “clean patches”
- No charge dock
The Bissell Stain Eraser Cordless Spot & Stain is a rechargeable shampooer with cordless portability. It sprays, scrubs and vacuums up moisture like a full-size cleaner in a convenient hand-held form. It’s never going to be able to cover large areas, but for tackling stains in the car, or urgently sucking up spilled party food, it’s a super-handy gadget.
The Stain Eraser works by shooting a spray of warm water and cleaning fluid onto a target area, waiting for you to agitate it with the brush, then vacuuming everything up into its waste tank. It takes about four hours to fully charge, and we timed 20 minutes suction on a full battery – enough to deal with a stain or two.
It may be small, but this cleaner is capable. Using Bissell’s excellent cleaning fluids, it removed a fresh red wine stain in just two attempts. It’s a breeze to fill, use and clean, although we wish it came with a charging dock rather than a flying cable.
If you’ve ever frantically Googled “what to use on a spill of <highly staining food/drink/cosmetic>”, then the Stain Eraser is for you.
Read our full Bissell Stain Eraser Cordless Spot & Stain review
3. Polti Vaporetto Go
Steam clean like you’re a Ghostbuster
- Powerful steam in a small package
- Lots of tools included
- Onboard storage for tools
- Modular steam lance
- Slow to heat up
- Must wait to refill water
- Slightly uncomfortable handle
The Polti Vaporetto Go is a pint-sized steam cleaner that looks like a cylinder vacuum. It can follow you around on wheels, or you can wear it like a backpack and pretend you’re in Ghostbusters – don’t cross the steams! You’ll need a separate vacuum cleaner to get dirt and dust up first, after which the Vaporetto Go will do a great job of lifting the remaining grime from hard floors, and getting light stains out of rugs, carpets, or anything else.
For heavier stains, you can fit a brush directly to the Vaporetto Go’s steam lance and contribute a bit of scrubbing. There are seven other tools neatly packed away on board, and the modular lance can be adjusted to three different lengths, making this a very flexible appliance. The results were a revelation, with this cleaner really lifting dirt, rather than just giving floors a polish.
There are some drawbacks. It takes around five minutes for the 750ml water tank to start producing steam, and the safety valve won’t let you refill until things have cooled down a little. We also found the handle slightly uncomfortable. However, at this price this is a fantastic way to tackle small stains and lift the grime out of carpets or hard floors.
Read our full Polti Vaporetto Go review
4. Vax S6S Home Pro Compact Steam Cleaner
Steam + detergent = serious cleaning power
- Powerful steam and detergent
- Glides on carpets well
- Onboard tool storage
- Slow to heat up
- Carpet glider doesn’t attach
- Doesn’t stand up by itself for storage
The Vax S6S Home Pro Compact Steam Cleaner is a cylinder type steamer that follows you around on wheels. It has some neat details, such as a detergent tank in the handle that helps you lift out stains, and an easily accessed set of tools stored on its back.
Like most steam cleaners it’s a while before it’s ready – we timed 12 minutes – but after that it was 40 minutes before we needed to refill the tank. You’ll need to wait 10 minutes for it to cool down, or you can take a shortcut by releasing the remaining steam pressure. You can turn the steam down for mopping, or refreshing furnishing. Teamed with detergent, the brush attachment and some elbow grease, it was really good for lifting ingrained carpet stains.
For less targeted cleaning, the S6S glides over carpets beautifully, although the carpet attachment isn’t clipped on, which caused some frustration. With powerful steam and detergent, this inexpensive steamer does a good job of cleaning anything.
Read our full Vax S6S Home Pro Compact Steam Cleaner review
5. Bissell Vac & Steam
Is it a mop? Is it a vacuum? It’s both
- Vacuums and steams
- Adjustable handle height
- Anti-calc filter
- Quite heavy
- No handheld tools
- Hard-to-see controls
The Bissel Vac & Steam is an unusual combination of steam mop and cyclonic vacuum cleaner. You can use it to vacuum and steam-clean carpets, rugs and hard floors, making it a quick way to get clean and fresh throughout the home. Without handheld tools, however, it’s no use for curtains, upholstery or really ingrained stains.
Vacuuming is instant, while steam is ready just 24 seconds later. Neither high nor low settings produced huge clouds of steam, but the cleaning results were impressive, with the Vac & Steam making quick work of grubby carpets, and easily lifting muddy footprints from a wooden floor. It’s generally easy to use, but the indicator lights are tricky to see, and while it’s good to have separate switches for vacuum and steam, it’s easy to forget to switch the latter off.
The Vac & Steam isn’t the most versatile cleaner, nor will it give you the deepest clean, but if your priority is cleaning a mix of floors quickly then it’s a great, relatively inexpensive choice.
Read our full Bissel Vac & Steam review
6. Bissell SpotClean Pro
A spot cleaner for when you really can’t stand the stain
- Effective spill and stain removal
- Great for stair carpets
- Good on upholstery
- Good-sized tanks
- Powerful vacuum drying
- Rather short hose
- Tricky to fill and empty
- Clean patches might be an issue
- Can’t clean entire carpet
If you want to clean whole rooms then you should look elsewhere, but for zapping spills and stains, or cleaning stair carpets, the Bissell SpotClean Pro is ideal. Highly portable, with a powerful motor, the SpotClean Pro has decent-sized water tanks and dedicated tools for carpet stains and general upholstery cleaning.
A fraction of the size and weight of a full-sized cleaner, the SpotClean Pro is easier to store, and quicker to press into action when that glass of red slips onto the Axminster. Cleaning is a spray and vacuum away; there are no motorised brushes, however, so you’ll have to supply the agitation.
This is a very effective carpet and upholstery cleaner, so much so that we struggled with “clean patches”– areas where we’d lifted a stain, only to emphasise the dirt in the rest of the carpet. There are some drawbacks: the hose is very short, and it’s a pain to fill and empty the tanks. However, if you want a small cleaner on hand to fix minor stains or spills, it’s ideal.
Read our full Bissell SpotClean Pro review
7. Bissell StainPro 10
A premium carpet cleaner for bigger homes
- Outstanding carpet cleaning
- Easier to move and clean than it looks
- Good vacuum leaves drier carpets
- Functional stain tool
- Class-leading shampoos
- Faff to put it together
- Clean fluid level difficult to see
At more than £300, the Bissell StainPro 10 is a premium carpet cleaner that does plenty to justify its price. It’s a full-size carpet shampooer with an 800W motor and heated cleaning. With dual rotating brushes, an easy-clean floorhead, plenty of suction and huge capacity tanks, this is certainly a cleaner for more sizeable homes. It’s big itself, weighing in at a whopping 16kg loaded with clean water, but most of that mass is low to the ground, making this easier to use than it looks.
There’s a small amount of assembly to do before the StainPro 10 is ready to go. The fluid container is unique, as the clean water goes in a bladder within the waste water tank – it collapses as it empties, making room for waste water. It’s a neat space-saver, but it’s hard to know how much clean fluid remains.
Once you get to know the StainPro 10, though, it delivers on its deep-clean promise with outstanding cleaning results and solid vacuuming, leaving carpets relatively dry. It nearly removed our red wine with a few passes, and we got the remainder out completely with the included hand-held detail tool. It’s a top-notch cleaner.
Read our full Bissell StainPro 10 review
9. Karcher SC 5 EasyFix Premium
An age of steam
- Staggering steaming power
- Very fast hard floor mopping
- Good tool selection with storage
- Great VapoHydro cleaning
- Easy to carry
- High price
- No squeegee window tool
- Cable too short (5.9m)
The Karcher SC 5 EasyFix Premium is the most expensive steam cleaner we’ve tested, but it’s the most powerful, too – plus it packs more tools and features than you can shake a mop at. The huge two-litre tank is split into a 1.5-litre refillable reservoir and a 0.5-litre working tank. You can detach and refill the big one while the machine is still powered up and steaming.
With a heater over 2kW, the SC 5 can produce a whopping 4.2-bar of steam pressure, and it’s ready to go within three minutes. You can dial the steam down for more delicate jobs, or turn the power past maximum for VapoHydro mode, which combines hot water with the steam to give you a kind of jet wash.
This cleaner’s huge steam head promises faster floor cleaning. There are multiple tools for detailing and tougher cleaning, and a concentrated power nozzle. Sadly, there’s no window squeegee, even in a range of optional extras that extends to a clothes ironing station.
The SC 5 excels at cleaning tiles and laminate floors, but clip on the carpet-glider attachment and it will do an impressive job of freshening up your rugs or carpets. As a detail steamer, the VapoHydro mode is unrivalled for shifting serious grime. The only real caveat is its premium price.
Read our full Karcher SC 5 EasyFix Premium review
Those were our picks of the best carpet cleaners. For more information, read our buying guide
Carpet cleaner buying guide
Best carpet cleaner – Spot, shampoo or steam? Choose the type of carpet cleaner to suit your house. Shampoo cleaners tend to be big and heavy, but they’re the best way to lift spills, deep stains or ingrained dirt from soft floor coverings in a single room – or even a whole house. A spot cleaner is for sucking up smaller spills, or dealing with localised staining; you can’t clean a whole carpet with one. Neither type is usually designed to clean hard floors.
Steam cleaners are great at cleaning hard floors, and you can usually turn them to all sorts of other jobs such as window or oven cleaning. They’ll do a decent job of lifting dirt from carpets, but it may take more work, and the carpet could end up pretty damp. If you have a mix of floor coverings, however, they could be ideal.
Best carpet cleaner – How much effort are they to use? The amount of work you’ll need to put in varies greatly. A big shampoo cleaner will be heavy to lift around and push about, but with automatic soapy water dispensing, rotating brushes, and a vacuum to recover the mess, they usually clean well in just one or two passes. With a spot cleaner, a steamer or if you’re using a shampooer’s detail attachments, you may need to manually add detergent, do some brushing, and soak the mess out yourself.
Best carpet cleaner – What accessories do I need? If your focus is carpets, the floorhead of a shampooer will cover most eventualities. Look for detail attachments that help you reach into corners, tackle stubborn stains, or clean soft furnishings. Steam cleaners can be versatile, but ensure there’s a carpet glider included or soft floors will be hard work. Don’t expect lots of gadgets with a spot cleaner, particularly a portable one. In all cases, check the photos with our review – we always show everything that came in the box. Consult the manufacturer if you don’t see everything you need, as some brands do sell additional accessories.
Best carpet cleaner – What else is important? Our reviewers pay a lot of attention to practicality, and our full reviews always mention the particularly good or bad features we discover. Look for hoses that can reach high targets such as a curtain pelmet, and cables at least as long as your biggest room. Water tanks need to be big enough to support a decent run-time – especially in the case of steam cleaners, which may take many minutes to warm up or cool down between fills.
Best carpet cleaner – What’s the best way to use one? If you have a carpet cleaner, it’s wise to use it for periodic refreshes to keep your carpets looking their best, but don’t overdo it – each pass will scrub fibre off your carpets, which could lead to them looking thinner over time. If you’re buying a spot cleaner for emergency spills, consider where you’ll put it: you’ll want it close at hand for when the kids spill Ribena on the sofa.