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Updated July 2022
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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We recommend these products based on an intensive research process that's designed to cut through the noise and find the top products in this space. Guided by experts, we spend hours looking into the factors that matter, to bring you these selections.

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Buying guide for Best spot cleaners

Wine, juice, pet stains, and any number of other liquids (and solids, for that matter) can quickly turn your spotless carpet into a big mess. Spot cleaners help you tackle stains and allow you to keep your carpets looking their very best.

Spot cleaners come in different sizes, have varying abilities, and include assorted attachments. You need to take a close look at your most pressing needs to decide which one is right for you. What kind of stains are you likely to clean? Do you have kids who frequently spill juice or food? Do you have limited mobility? All of these questions can help you narrow your search.

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It’s important to have realistic expectations for your spot cleaner. While it can help with small stains, you’ll probably need the help of a professional for tough, ground-in stains that cover a large area.

Types of spot cleaners

Extraction machines

Extraction machines use suction, hot water, and a cleaning solution to remove spots and stains. Most of these machines have two tanks, which allows you to empty the dirty tank without removing the clean one. Extraction machines are only meant for use on carpet and upholstery. Because they don’t have a heating element, there’s no risk of burning yourself with scalding water. Most manufacturers have their own cleaning solution, and each solution may not be safe for all fabrics.

Steam cleaners

Steam cleaners constitute a broad category that includes canister steam cleaners, vapor cleaners, carpet cleaners, portable spot cleaners, and upholstery steam cleaners. The internal heating element in these machines heats water to or close to the boiling point, then forces the resulting steam through a pressurized nozzle. The steam lifts stains, which can then be wiped away with a cloth. Steam cleaners don’t use suction or additional cleaners and have a wider variety of uses. They can be used on tile, slate, and other hard flooring or surfaces. However, because of the hot temperatures, these are far more likely to damage fabrics and upholstery and pose a scalding hazard.

Spot cleaner features to consider

Water tank capacity

Having a large water tank means you won’t have to refill the spot cleaner as often. However, a large, full tank is heavier and harder to carry around than a small one. For those with limited strength, arthritis, or other health issues that limit mobility, a smaller tank means a lighter machine that’s easier to carry.

Tools and attachments

All steam cleaners and extraction machines come with a hose and an upholstery-cleaning tool. Some might include an additional carpet or upholstery tool in a different width to clean stairs. Models with an extendable hose or greater reach give you more versatility when cleaning stairs or large pieces of furniture.

Cleaning ease

Cleaning out the machine after each use can be one of the more difficult challenges. Some machines have removable tanks or tanks with a wide opening, which makes them easier to clean. You need to be careful when removing tanks to empty or clean them because the contents can easily spill. The last thing you want is dirty water on your newly cleaned carpet.

Expert Tip
Clean out your brush’s bristles to make sure they can continuously clean and scrub stains out of your carpets. 
BestReviews Cleaning Expert

Suction and wattage

Suction only applies to extraction machines, but it’s one of the most important factors. Without adequate suction, you risk leaving too much water on your carpet and damaging it. In general, spot cleaners with higher wattage have a more powerful motor and better suction.

Portability

The most portable spot cleaners are handheld extraction models with a power brush. However, the water tanks on these cleaners only hold around 12 ounces, so the cleaning ability is limited. If you want more cleaning power as well as portability, models with wheels are easier to move around, especially for anyone with mobility or strength issues.

Power brushes

Many hands-free spot cleaners have power brushes that automatically turn and scrub during the cleaning cycle. These work better than scrubbing manually with an attachment.

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Expert Tip
Choose a cleaning solution that best fits the spot you need to clean. For example, if you spilled wine on your carpet, you want to use a cleaning solution that targets wine stains. If you’re cleaning out stains with a strong odor, such as pet urine, you want to pick a cleaning solution that targets odor.
BestReviews Cleaning Expert

Spot cleaner prices

Depending on brand and features, you can expect to pay from under $50 to $150 for a spot cleaner.

Inexpensive

For under $50, you can find a handheld spot cleaner that works for the smallest of stains. These are best for people who don’t expect frequent spills, so if you have pets or children, you might need something bigger and more powerful.

Mid-range

Between $50 and $100 are spot cleaners with three- to four-foot hoses and 37- to 40-ounce tanks. Some of these models might have heating elements to maintain the temperature of the clean water for better stain removal.

Expensive

In the $100 to $150 range are machines with longer hoses, hands-free cleaning, and sometimes power brushes. Models specifically designed to tackle pet stains are in this category.

Expert Tip
Emptying your water reservoir tank at the end of each use helps your machine last longer and prevents it from creating a stink.
BestReviews Cleaning Expert

Tips

  • Look for a self-cleaning model. A self-cleaning feature is rare but valuable on a spot cleaner. Some models have a self-cleaning hose that flushes out dirt, debris, and bacteria after each use. While you still want to base your decision on the spot cleaner’s ability to clean, any model with this feature is definitely worth considering.

  • Choose a long cord and hose for hard-to-reach areas. A long cord (up to 15 feet) and hose (up to 5 feet) can make it much easier to clean stains on stairs and inside vehicles. These also enable you to clean a larger area without moving the cord from outlet to outlet.

  • Don’t neglect the water tank. Water tanks that lock in place help prevent spills when moving the spot cleaner. You’ll also need to take care when cleaning the tank to get as much debris out as possible. And to prevent mildew, make sure the tank is completely dry before re-attaching it.

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Machines with large tanks, wheels, and hands-free settings work well for large families and those with pets. If you think you’ll use the spot cleaner several times a week, choose one with more than one cleaning head for large stains or stairs.

FAQ

Q. Which is better for carpet and upholstery, a steam cleaner or an extraction machine?

A. Steam cleaners are far more likely to damage fabric and upholstery due to the high temperature of the steam. Plus, these machines don’t remove stains all that well. Extraction machines can still damage upholstery with water or the cleaning formula, but it happens much less often. Test any machine on a small, hidden area first.

Q. Do extraction machines come with a cleaning solution?

A. Most spot cleaners come with at least a small sample of cleaning solution. While it doesn’t take much cleaning solution to remove a typical stain, you’ll have to keep a regular supply if you anticipate having a lot of stains to clean.

Q. Can spot cleaners get out old stains?

A. While spot cleaners might be able to remove surface dirt and some aspects of an old stain, they aren’t intended for use on embedded stains that reach into the carpet pad or sofa batting.

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