Carpet Cleaner vs Steam Cleaner – Differences + Which to Choose

A carpet cleaner and a steam cleaner are great machines for cleaning a carpet. However, they are different in many ways. This debate on carpet vs steam cleaner is here to help you understand how the two machines work, their pros and cons and more importantly their differences.

Carpet cleaner is a machine that injects and work a cleaning solution and water deep into the carpet fibers, as its strong rotating brushes agitates and loosen any embedded dirt which is then sucked by a powerful vacuum. A steam cleaner on the other hand produces hot steam that breaks down dirt and kills any microbes in the carpet fibers.

Carpet Cleaner vs Steam Cleaner – Differences

Carpet CleanerSteam Cleaner
Requires a cleaning solution which may contain harsh ingredients to the carpet and the environmentUses heated water only to clean thus a safe and environment-friendly option
Uses a lot of water during cleaning which may be damaging to a carpet or underneath flooring.Using a steam mop in low settings of heat and steam is very safe to your floorings. 
Most effective on heavily soiled carpets and removal of embedded stains Suitable for small areas and may need spot treating and vacuuming prior to steaming
Works the cleaning solution deep into the carpet fibers and vacuums all the dissolved dirt.Steam vapor penetrates deeper into the carpet fibers to soften and remove dirt and germs 
May not kill all pests or their eggs and some types of harmful bacteria found in the carpet The high steam temperature kills all the pests and their eggs, mold and other harmful bacteria 
A very heavy equipment that cost more to either hire or purchaseA small device that is lighter and less expensive to acquire
Aggressive brushes can easily damage delicate carpet fibers during the cleaningSafe to use on any carpet fibers. There are no chemical solutions or rotating brushes


A carpet cleaner machine uses a shampoo (carpet cleaning solution) which become harsh on your carpet fibers due to artificial ingredients used. Additionally, the machine uses aggressive brushes that can damage the delicate carpet fibers. You need to test a carpet cleaner on a small area first.

A steam cleaner on the other hand uses heated water vapor only as a cleaning ingredient thus safe on any type of carpet. Further, a steam cleaner has no rotating brushes that can damage a carpet. You are not required to add anything else in a steam mop tank apart from water only.

Drying time

A lot of water is used when shampooing a carpet. This not only escalate your water bills but also a threat to your carpet and the underneath flooring. Steam cleaning a carpet involves use of hot water vapor only. With low steam production setting, it is safe to use without damaging your carpet or underneath flooring.


Carpet cleaner machine is known to effectively tackle all forms of dirt on a carpet. You can use it for cleaning a heavily soiled carpet, removal of stains and general deep cleaning of a carpet. Steam cleaning relies on spot treating of stains and vacuuming which makes it less versatile.


Steam cleaning is one of the effective ways of disinfecting a carpet. The hot steam produced is known to kill 99.9% of microorganisms including germs and bacterial. Shampooing on the other hand may not act against carpet pests or harmful pathogens on the floor covering.


A carpet cleaner machine is a heavy equipment that is expensive to acquire and hire. Additionally, it relies on carpet cleaning solutions which makes it even more costly carpet cleaning method. A steam cleaner on the other hand is a less expensive machine that uses heated water only for cleaning.

How does a carpet cleaner work?

Also called a shampooer or carpet extractor, a carpet cleaner is a special machine that works a cleaning solution and water deep into the carpet fibers, agitate any embedded dirt and stains with strong rotation brushes and extracts the residue with its powerful vacuum. 

A carpet cleaner has solution tanks where water and cleaning solution are added. Additionally, there is an extraction tank that hold extracted dirt, cleaning chemicals, and water. Some models come with a heating unit where water is boiled before it is pumped into the carpet fibers.

On the machine there is also rotating brushes which agitates any sticky dirt and stains out of the carpet fibers. The extracted dirty water and cleaning solution is them vacuumed and stored into an extraction tank. Clean water from one of the tanks will then be applied to rinse the cleaning solution from carpet fibers.

Carpet cleaner Pros

  • Highly effective in deep cleaning heavily soiled carpets
  • Idea for cleaning large carpets or big carpeted rooms
  • Agitates all the embedded dirt and stains out of a carpet
  • Vacuum all the dirty water from a carpet 
  • With upholstery attachment, you can also deep clean upholstered surfaces

Carpet cleaner cons

  • Carpet cleaners are large heavy machines expensive to hire or buy
  • Leaves carpet wet for longer, 24 to 48 hours
  • Too much water can damage carpet backing or promote mold growth
  • Rotating brushes can damage delicate carpet fibers

How does a steam cleaner?

A steam cleaner is a device that uses heated water to clean and sanitize surfaces. Steam cleaningis more reliable than most other cleaning methods since it only require water and heat to make your carpet clean and safe.

When steam cleaning a carpet, a hot vapor is produced to break down and lift any sticky dirt. At the same time, the high temperature kills all bacteria, virus and other pests found in your carpet fibers. Since moderate amount of moisture is used, steam cleaning creates a short drying time for a carpet.

Steam cleaning pros

  • Naturally uses water and heat only to clean and sanitize surfaces
  • Does not use chemicals to clean thus friendly to the environment
  • Kills 99.9% of all germs, bacteria and even some viruses found on a carpet
  • Produces moderate amount of moisture this less drying time for a carpet
  • A steam cleaners are usually smaller, lighter and versatile 
  • Effectively kills carpet pests and their eggs such as dust mites and bed bugs

Steam cleaning cons

  • Spot treating for heavy stains and vacuuming have to be done before steaming
  • Not suitable for cleaning heavily soiled carpets and large areas
  • They do not vacuum and debris may remain on a carpet

Which carpet cleaning method is best?

From our observation, steam cleaning seem to be effective, safe and reliable method of cleaning a carpet but you have to do vacuuming and spot treating to remove stains before you steam clean. All the harmful microorganisms are killed by the high temperature and your carpet takes a short time to dry.

Carpet shampooing on the other hand is ideal to use on a heavily soiled carpet but you should during a dry windy day to encourage faster drying of your carpet. You may also be used to explore further options of killing pests and their eggs in your carpet after shampooing. 

How to Clean a Carpet without a Machine

While a carpet can be cleaned without a machine, it is usually a time consuming and labor intensive process. It may take you a whole day to complete a small piece of work. After cleaning, you will have to ensure that your carpet is adequately dried to prevent a growth of mold or dealing with a smelly carpet after cleaning.

Before you begin your task, ensure you have removed furniture and other items from the room, open windows to allow air circulation and gather your cleaning assortments including a nice carpet cleaning shampoo, distilled white vinegar and plenty of towels.

Spot cleaning

This involves removal of stains in specific areas of a material and this case a carpet. It is easy to spot treat stain on your carpet without using a machine. Let’s see how it’s done:

  • Fill a spray bottle with 1/4 cup of distilled white vinegar, one tablespoon dish soap and water
  • Shake it well to form a solution test in a small inconspicuous area, before you generously apply it on the stain 
  • Blot the area with a clean towel until all the stain is gone
  • Alternatively, you can spot treat using a carpet cleaning solution  but be sure to read and follow instructions on the label
  • Once you’ve removed all the stains, let the cleaned spots dry completely before you take your furniture back into the room.

It is recommended you blot spills with soapy water or a carpet detergent immediately they happen or within 24 hours. If left to dry, any spills such as ink, pet urine, red wine or soup will turn into a stain. Fungi and some bacteria thrive on such stains.

A solution of distilled white vinegar is also effective in removing dog urine stains on a carpet. If the affected area smells bad, consider sprinkling the stain with baking soda then vacuum.

Deep cleaning

You’ll need a carpet shampoo, baking soda, a carpet brush, clean water, a spray bottle and several towels. When ready, consider working in small sections if you are dealing with a large room. Choose a sunny dry windy day to clean your carpet so that it can dry completely and faster.

  1. Sprinkle a generous amount of baking soda on the carpet and let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes. Baking soda works to remove odors including pet urine smell in a carpet, cigarette smoke and musty mold odors.
  2. Vacuum your carpet to remove all the baking soda, dust and other loose dirt debris found on the surface.
  3. Add two drops of your carpet shampoo and a cup of warm water in a spray bottle. Spray the solution on the carpet without saturating the fibers.
  4. Use a carpet brush to work the solution into the fibers as it also agitate any trapped dirt.
  5. Blot the carpet using dry towels to remove the cleaner as well as excess moisture from the pile
  6. With fresh clean water in a spray bottle, apply on the carpet again to rinse the cleaner. Again, do not saturate the fibers.
  7. Blot again using dry towels to remove excess moisture from the carpet
  8. Let your carpet air dry completely and then go over it with a grooming brush to make your carpet fluffy again.

Final Though

Carpet cleaning can effectively be done with or without a machine. There is no reason to live with soiled smelly carpets in your home. A dirty carpet is also a home to bacteria, fungi, allergies and other harmful particles. Plan a day and clean your carpet even when you don’t have any carpet cleaning machine. 

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