best in class

The 5 Very Best Carpet Steam Cleaners

Photo-Illustration: The Strategist

While a good vacuum cleaner can get rid of most dust and dirt, some stains will be too stubborn for even the strongest models. Area rugs and carpets alike require a deep clean every couple of years. This can be done either by a professional service or with a steam carpet cleaner yourself. Paul Iskyan, president of ABC Rug & Carpet Cleaning Service, told us in previous reporting that “the biggest problem that we have in the industry is that people don’t clean, period. And then they don’t clean frequently enough, then they wonder why their carpet doesn’t look good, or they wonder why their kid is at the doctor with big allergy problems.”

According to Iskyan, you should be getting your area rugs professionally cleaned every year or two, especially if they’re in high-traffic areas like living rooms or if you have pets or kids. But there are a few things you can do to keep carpets clean like a professional carpet cleaner, including getting an at-home steam carpet cleaner.

When choosing our best steam cleaners, we referenced our previous reporting and pulled some finds from Strategist contributors. Then we consulted thousands of reviews from across the internet to find the best models out there, including the best compact cleaners and the best automatic ones. We’ve opted not to include a model that’s best for pet owners because every steam cleaner we considered has rave reviews from pet owners, making it hard to distinguish which one was truly the best. Instead, we considered the extra tools and functions that may make raking up cat or dog hair a lot easier. You can learn more about our selection process below.

Best overall | Best less expensive | Best portable | Best automatic | Best multipurpose

What we’re looking for

Capacity: The capacity you need will depend on the size of your home. A carpeted home will require a larger-capacity cleaner, but if you have only a couple of area rugs (and wood floors) you may be able to get away with a smaller model. We have listed each cleaner’s total volume.

Weight: If the cleaner is too cumbersome to carry from room to room, you probably won’t want to take it out of the cupboard and clean. Steam carpet cleaners are often bulkier than vacuums, so we’ve listed the total weight, which is a good proxy for ease of use, and sought out customer reviews that highlight ease of use, too.

Attachments: Like vacuum cleaners, some models feature extra nozzles and attachments to help remove pet hair or triangular brush heads for awkward corners. We’ve listed every extra attachment that comes with each model.

Best overall carpet steam cleaner

One gallon capacity | 18 pounds | Includes tough-stain and pet-hair attachments

Bissell’s ProHeat carpet cleaner gets top marks for three reasons. First, it’s one of the best-rated models on Amazon, with over 23,000 reviews — 80 percent of which are five stars. Second is the popularity: It’s the best-selling steam carpet cleaner on the Strategist overall, which convinced us that a lot of people stand by this Bissell. Finally, Strategist contributor Stacey Dee Woods wrote a convincing ode to her model, which she bought after consulting private upholstery cleaners and looking at professional options: “The Bissell Proheat 2x Lift Off ticked all the boxes, but ultimately I pulled the trigger on it because every Bissell purchase helps save homeless pets. I figured if I was going to gamble, at least someone would win.” Thankfully, Woods’s gamble paid off: “After filling the tank with water and the restrained yet pleasant-smelling cleaner, I glided the sleek, light machine across the carpets and couches and marveled as stream after black stream of dirty liquid bloomed in the canister like so much squid ink. Not only did it clean as well as the pros for a lot less money, the Bissell is mine to keep and use to my heart’s delight.”

Best (less expensive) carpet steam cleaner

0.5 gallon capacity | 12 pounds | Includes Hoover nozzle

If we’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that price rarely determines quality. That has been proven once again by this steam cleaner — one of the most affordable on this list — which has more five-star ratings on Amazon (over 47,000) than any others we found. We were impressed with both its capacity and the fact that it’s lighter than the Bissell. Reviewers agreed: Over 1,000 customers call out how lightweight this cleaner is. At about “the same size as a Shark vacuum,” it’s not as bulky as some other carpet steam cleaners, but one customer says the smaller size doesn’t affect its power. “The amount of cat hair this thing sucks up is insane,” she says. “I freaking love this thing. It’s small but extremely powerful. It snaps together easily to fill and change the water.”

Best portable steam carpet cleaner

48 oz. capacity| 15 pounds | Includes tough-stain and self-cleaning attachments

If you have a smaller space, consider a portable cleaner, which will take up less room in your cupboard. This Bissell model came recommended by two experts when we looked at the best cleaning products for pets (and pet mess). Former New York Magazine newsletters editor Kelsi Trinidad got hers because her couch hadn’t had a good, deep clean since she bought it five years earlier. “Now that I’ve adopted a dog, it felt like a good time to be a bit more on top of cleaning the couch,” she said, adding that seeing the grime it pulled out of her couch made it all worth it. Justin Renard, the VP of growth and marketing at cat-food start-up Smalls and a dad to one long-hair cat, is another fan. “It pushes the water through the fabric and then sucks it back up again, taking all the particles the fabric might have absorbed, like cat hair balls,” he explains. Although it is more portable, note that the Bissell is heavier than the Hoover PowerDash — with a much smaller capacity. But if you’re looking for something neater (or just don’t require an upright cleaner in your home), we still think this is the best option.

Best automatic carpet steam cleaner