Steam Cleaner vs Carpet Cleaner | What is the Difference?

Your home has at least one room with a carpet or rug – and like most things in the home carpet needs to be cleaned. The most common ways to clean carpet are with a carpet cleaner or a steam cleaner. However, both push water into the carpet to clean it, so what is the difference?

The difference between a carpet cleaner and a steam cleaner is the method used to remove dirt. Carpet cleaners rely on detergents and bushes to clean your carpet, using lukewarm water. Steam cleaners use heat and pressure to clean the carpet, not an added detergent.

Steam Cleaners

Steam cleaners are a more recent addition to the household repertoire and have been reserved for professional cleaning services in the past. Recently cost-effective designs and a growing awareness of hygiene have made steam cleaners a staple in the private sector.

What is a Steam Cleaner?

A steam cleaner is a device which pushed heated water and steam into a surface at high pressure in order clean it. The heat sterilizes the surface while the moisture loosens dirt and stains. Various models have key differences such as which way you drag them across the carpet, and whether you can add a cleaning solution for added stain lifting power.

What are the Best Steam Cleaners?

Here you will find some of the most often recommended steam cleaners, as well as the pros and cons of each.

1. Wagner Spraytech AutoRight SteamMachine

Wagner Spraytech C900054.M, 905e AutoRight SteamMachine Multi-Purpose Steam Cleaner, 12 Accessories Included, Steamer, Steam Cleaners, Steamer for cleaning, Power Steamer, Color May Vary

The Wagner model is priced similarly to other units on the market with similar features. It has twelve attachments including a set of small brushes and a floor attachment. It is marketed for cleaning car upholstery but can be used to clean all the usual steam cleanable surfaces. Some reviews state that the unit takes longer than average to reach temperature, so you should be mindful that it reaches temperature before you start using.

2. Dupray Neat Steam Cleaner Dupray Neat Steam Cleaner Powerful Multipurpose Portable Heavy Duty Steamer for Floors, Cars, Tiles, Grout Cleaning. Chemical Free, Disinfection, for Home Use and More. Kills 99.99%* of Bacteria and Viruses.

The Dupray Neat Steam Cleaner is of average price with a sleeker, more modern design. It prides itself on a larger tank and light weight. This model would be suitable for those who many multiple floors to clean and no desire to drag around a heavy unit. However, it does not appear that there is any storage for the nineteen attachments included with the steam cleaner which is inconvenient.

3. COSTWAY 2000W Multipurpose Steam Cleaner COSTWAY 2000W Multipurpose Steam Cleaner with 19 Accessories, Household Steamer with 1.5L Tank for Cleaning, Heavy Duty Rolling Cleaning Machine for Carpet, Floors, Windows and Cars, Red

The Costway 2000W unit is the most family friendly of the units. It includes an automatic shut off if the pressure is too high as well as a child lock to prevent accidental powering on of the machine. The size and capacity are average, and the price tends to be a little lower than most machines. However, this price difference is not so great that you should choose this machine for the price tag alone. The nineteen accessories fit nicely inside the machine in a little compartment.

Can You Clean Carpet with a Steam Cleaner?

A steam cleaner is very versatile, but there are some surfaces you should not use a steam cleaner on. However, carpet is not one of these. Steam cleaners are highly effective on carpet to clean deeper than traditional methods like vacuuming.

Does Steam Cleaning Carpet Remove Stains?

When you steam clean your carpet, you are loosening up anything that might be caught in the fabric with heat and moisture. This typically does a fantastic job cleaning carpet, but what about tough stains? Steam cleaners have some natural stain lifting power, but you can also help by pre-treating the stain. This can be achieved by using a carpet safe spot treatment spray, and or using a scrub brush to break up particles.

What Else Can You Clean with a Steam Cleaner?

A variety of surfaces can be cleaned with a steam cleaner. In fact, about anything that can tolerate the heat and a little moisture is safe for a steam cleaner. 

  • Carpets
  • Leather And Cotton Upholstery
  • Sealed Floors Like Tile and Stone
  • Shower Stalls
  • Window Screens

How Often Should You Steam Clean Your Carpet?

Steam cleaning falls under the “professional cleaning” category because it is terribly like what a professional would use on your carpet. As such, you can expect to steam clean your carpet approximately once a year. You may need to do it a little more often if you do any of the following.

  • Have Young Children
  • Have Furry Pets
  • Have a Household Member with Allergies or Asthma
  • Wear Your Shoes Inside

How Do You Clean a Steam Cleaner?

You may notice over time that the performance of your steam cleaner decreases. This is often because it needs to be cleaned. Any cloths or attachments should be cleaned with hot water (and no fabric softener) after each use, but you also need to clean the inside of the machine.

What Should You Use?

This process is usually called descaling and consists of removing mineral buildup from the boiler. Some machines come with a descaler, but others do not. You can buy a variety of descaling agents at a home supply store. You can also use baking soda.


1. First, mix water and your cleaning agent according to the directions of the descaler

2. Pour the mixture into the steam cleaner tank

3. Seal the machine and turn it on (let is stay hot for about two hours)

4. Use the steam cleaner for a couple minutes to move the substance through the hoses

5. Turn it off and let it cool down for a few hours

6. Empty the machine and rinse clean water through it to remove any residual cleaner

Carpet Cleaners

Carpet Cleaners are the traditional carpet cleaning devices, and use scrub brushes, detergents, and water to clean your carpet. They can be rented or bought for use in your household. They are not much more difficult to use than a vacuum cleaner, and most work in a comparable manner.

What is a Carpet Cleaner?

A carpet cleaner is an upright machine with a water tank and detergent tank. The water and detergent are mixed inside the machine and then pumped onto the carpet. The scrub brushes on the bottom of the machine are used on the soapy carpet to loosen dirt, and then a reuptake suction section sucks the excess water out of the carpet and back into a waste tank.

What are the Best Carpet Cleaners?

Here you will find some of the most often recommended carpet cleaners, as well as the pros and cons of each.

1. BISSELL Little Green Multi-Purpose Portable Carpet and Upholstery Cleaner BISSELL Little Green Multi-Purpose Portable Carpet and Upholstery Cleaner, 1400B

The Little Green is a popular portable carpet cleaner. It excels at spot treatment but lacks the larger attachment to easily clean an entire room. The price is much lower than your typical carpet cleaner – probably due to the overall simplicity and smaller size. The cute color and the pet-oriented design are a plus, but it best works as a companion to some larger machine. Reviews seem satisfied with the product, and I would use it in conjunction with a larger steam cleaner.

2. Hoover SmartWash Automatic Carpet Cleaner

Hoover SmartWash Automatic Carpet Cleaner Spot Chaser Stain Remover Wand, Shampooer Machine for Pets, with Storage Mat, FH53050

This Hoover carpet cleaner is my personal choice for a workhorse carpet cleaner. It will handle about any size mess, is lightweight, and yet still large enough to easily clean entire rooms. It is pricier than the Little Green, but also seems to have a much greater variety of attachments. As a plus, it comes with a spot treatment tool for those stubborn stains.

3. BISSELL® SpotClean Pro™ Portable Carpet Cleaner

BISSELL® SpotClean® Pro Portable Carpet Cleaner, 3194

The BISSELL SpotClean Pro is another smaller carpet cleaner machine. It is somewhere between the Little Green (the cheapest of the three carpet cleaners I am reviewing) and the SmartWash (by far the most expensive). Like the Little Green, it seems most suited to spot cleaning, which is unsurprising given the name. You would need another machine to do an entire room.

The capacity is a little higher although there remains just one attachment. It includes a window on the attachment however, so you can see when your carpet cleaner is no longer pulling dirt from your carpet – a nice feature.

What Else Can You Clean with a Carpet Cleaner?

Many carpet cleaners are equipped with upholstery attachments but are more limited in what they can clean than a steam cleaner. You can clean pillows, mattresses, area rugs, upholstery, and of course carpets.

How Often Should You Use a Carpet Cleaner?

Your carpet cleaner can be your go to deep cleaner of your carpets. Carpets should be deep cleaned about once a year, but several factors can mean you need to do it more often like if you,

  • Have Young Children
  • Have Furry Pets
  • Have a Household Member with Allergies or Asthma
  • Wear Your Shoes Inside

How Do You Clean a Carpet Cleaner?

Cleaning your carpet cleaner is particularly important because a carpet cleaner uses room temperature water. The inside of the cleaner can remain moist, making it a breeding ground for mould and bacteria. To clean your carpet cleaner, you should,

1. Run clean hot water through the hoses and attachments before setting them out to dry

2. Wash out the tank with hot soapy water and let it dry

3. Remove any dirt or hair from brushes

4. Clean or replace the machine’s filter

This should be done about every three to four times you use the machine.

Is A Cleaning Solution Required for a Carpet Cleaner?

While you can technically use a carpet cleaner without a solution, you will find it does not do much to clean your carpet. This is because water alone is not usually enough to dislodge stubborn dirt and cannot kill spores, viruses, or bacteria. However, there are lots of options for cleaning solution. If you are focused on gentle, single ingredient cleaners then using a 50/50 mixture of vinegar and water is a viable choice for everyday cleaning. You can also buy cleaning solution in bulk online to save money.


Which is the More Powerful Carpet Cleaner?

This depends on what you are trying to clean. A carpet cleaner with cleaning solution will take care of stains and dirt much better than a steam cleaner. However, a steam cleaner is the superior sterilizer. If you are concerned with food allergens, know that steam cleaning will not suffice. Pet allergies are usually managed sufficiently with a steam cleaner. Brushing out the carpet or treating spots before you begin using your steam cleaner can often help clean dirt and stains – obviously at the price of additional work.

Which is the More Versatile Cleaner?

Steam cleaners are unequivocally the most versatile carpet cleaners. Not only can they be used on fabrics but they also clean other surfaces like glass, tile, chrome, etc. Carpet cleaning machines are limited to fabrics and tend to leave surfaces wetter than a steam cleaner which is not good for delicate surfaces.

Which is More Affordable?

A steam cleaner and a carpet cleaner are both large purchases. You can expect a steam cleaner to set you back between 100-200$ depending on the model. A carpet cleaner has a lot more variability with some models coming in at similar prices to steam cleaners while others cost an excess of 300$. Over time, the steam cleaner is more efficient, especially if you are cleaning large areas. This is mostly due to the cost of the cleaning solution used in a carpet cleaner. Unless you have a great need for the increased stain cleaning power of a carpet cleaner, the steam cleaner is usually the better choice.

Related Questions

Does a Steam Cleaner Clean Pet Urine?

If your pet has an accident, especially on carpet, you need to thoroughly clean up the mess before using a steam cleaner on the area. The best way to do this is with an enzyme based cleaner. The heat from a steam cleaner has the potential to bond the proteins from the urine into the surface, making the smell impossible to get rid of. You should never use a steam cleaner as your primary method of cleaning up urine.

What Does Shampooing a Carpet Mean?

Shampooing a carpet refers to pumping cleaning solution and water through carpet fibers, and then sucking the dirty water back out. This is typically done with a carpet cleaner and is an important part of maintaining the cleanliness of your carpet.

Can You Rent Commercial Carpet Cleaners and Steam Cleaners?

Yes, you can often rent commercial carpet and steam cleaners. You will of course need to find a location that provides this service in your area, but a safe bet is a home improvement store that rents out other costly power tools such as sledgehammers.

Are there Any Alternative Ways to Clean Carpet?

Cleaning carpets can of course be done by hand, in this method you use a bucket of soapy water and a scrub brush, then vacuum up the excess water. An area rug can be hung to dry. These are of course labor and time intensive as well as not being as effective as a machine clean.

Final Thoughts

Steam cleaning and Carpet Cleaners are both excellent ways to ensure the hygiene and longevity of your carpet. Which one is right for your home will depend on what types of messes you think you will usually need to clean. Carpet cleaners are useful for stains and pet messes but lack versatility. Steam cleaners are more convenient, affordable, and do a better job sterilizing your home. As always, make sure you use your carpet cleaner or steam cleaner according to the manufacturer instructions for best results.