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Which is best for your home: a carpet shampooer or a steam cleaner?

Carpets may be softer and cozier than hard floors, but they're magnets for dirt and debris, especially if you have pets. Maintaining clean carpets helps your home look and feel fresher, and it removes allergens and odor-causing bacteria for a healthier home.

Carpet shampooers and steam cleaners are both widely available and can easily deep-clean carpets, but they offer different benefits in different situations. Most notably, a steam cleaner may be able to clean more than just carpets.

In this article: Dupray Neat Steam CleanerHoover Power Scrub Deluxe Carpet Cleaner and Hoover PowerDash Pet Compact Carpet Cleaner

How carpet shampooers work

Carpet shampooers, also called carpet cleaners, combine water and specialized soap into a solution that's sprayed into the carpet, then scrubbed and vacuumed away, bringing dirt with it. Carpet shampooers are equipped with spinning brushes that pull up embedded dirt and stains more effectively than a vacuum.

Benefits and drawbacks of carpet shampooing

Carpet shampooers leave carpets looking and feeling cleaner and fresher. They also usually come with attachments that help clean upholstered furniture or difficult-to-reach areas, such as carpeted stairs or curtains.

However, carpet shampooers are usually more effective if the carpet is vacuumed first, which takes additional time. Carpet shampoos often have a strong fragrance, which irritate those sensitive to scent. Plus, carpet shampooers are usually intended for use only with carpet shampoos from the same brand.

How steam cleaners work

Steam cleaners use boiling water instead of soap to clean and deodorize carpets. The heat softens and loosens debris in the carpet fibers so it can be vacuumed away. Steam cleaners can also clean and sanitize appliances, hard floors, tile and other surfaces, making them versatile appliances for almost everywhere in the home.

However, if you want to clean carpets, shop carefully because many steam cleaners are designed only for cleaning hard surfaces. Carpet shampooers are less multipurpose but more widely available.

Benefits and drawbacks of steam cleaning

Since steam cleaning uses only water, it's ideal for those sensitive to the scented chemical solutions associated with shampooing. Its ability to eliminate allergens, mold, and germs also makes it a good pick for those with asthma or compromised immunity. Steam cleaning doesn't leave residue behind, and it generally uses less water than shampooing, which means you won't have to worry about soaking your flooring.

The high temperatures help ensure it kills bacteria, mites, mold, bedbugs and more. However, this depends on how long and how carefully the steam cleaner is used since the steam has to thoroughly penetrate the carpet to eliminate them. And since steam cleaners rely on high heat, they need to be operated with caution to prevent burns.


Q. How long does it take carpets cleaned with shampooers or steam cleaners to dry?

A. It depends on what type of carpet you have as well as the thickness of the pad underneath. Carpets cleaned with both methods can dry in as little as six hours or up to 24 hours. Remember to fully rinse shampoo from carpeting, or it could end up leaving noticeable residue.

Q. How often should I shampoo or steam-clean my carpets?

A. Depending on the number of people and pets in the home, your carpets should get cleaned using either method every six to 12 months. Clean high-traffic areas or rooms where pets and kids tend to cause messes more frequently.

Best steam cleaners

McCulloch MC1275 Heavy-Duty Steam Cleaner

This compact cleaner can easily clean hard-to-reach areas, thanks to its 15-foot cord and 9-foot hose. It weighs 12 pounds, but wheels make it easy to move around the house. It comes with 18 accessories, so it can be used for a variety of chores.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon 

Dupray Neat Steam Cleaner

Lightweight and easily portable, this cleaner can tackle stains in carpets as well as upholstered furniture, appliances and other surfaces. It heats up in about eight minutes and can eliminate carpet stains with its included attachments.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon, Home Depot and Wayfair

Poulan Pro PP270 Portable Power Steam Cleaner with Steam Mop Attachment

This cleaner comes with a variety of attachments, including a steam mop head and squeegee tool, making it well-suited to more than just carpets. The 6-pound unit can clean for up to 30 minutes at a time.

Where to buy: Sold by Home Depot and Wayfair

Best carpet shampooers

Bissell ProHeat 2X Revolution Max Clean Pet Pro Full-Size Carpet Cleaner

This top-selling upright carpet cleaner is popular because it can easily tackle stains, pet messes and more. It has two cleaning modes and comes with tools to help remove tough stains and clean upholstery.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon and Wayfair

Hoover Power Scrub Deluxe Carpet Cleaner Machine

This budget-friendly model offers a 20-foot cable and attachments for cleaning stairs, upholstery and more. Heated elements help speed up the drying time.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon 

Bissell SpotClean ProHeat Portable Spot and Stain Carpet Cleaner

A portable carpet shampooer such as this can address pet messes or other spills with less effort. This powerful model heats water while it works for more effective cleaning. It comes with three tools for scrubbing out tough stains.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Hoover PowerDash Pet Compact Carpet Cleaner

Another budget-friendly yet powerful carpet cleaner, this is especially effective on pet hair. It has an antimicrobial brush roll and heated drying for quicker deep-cleaning, and its compact format makes it a good choice for smaller homes or apartments.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon, Home Depot and Wayfair

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Laura Duerr writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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