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What is the Difference Between a Carpet Cleaner and a Carpet Vacuum?

Carpet cleaners and carpet vacuums serve different purposes in maintaining the cleanliness and appearance of carpets.

Both carpet cleaners and carpet vacuums are used to "clean" carpets, but they employ different techniques and use different methods to clean the carpets.

Published: October 2, 2023.

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Carpet Cleaners vs. Carpet Vacuums

Carpet cleaners and carpet vacuums are very often used at homes and apartments to thoroughly clean carpets, area rugs, carpeted stairs, and even upholstery, and similar surfaces.

While the goal is the same - thoroughly clean the carpet - these two types of carpet cleaning appliances differ significantly. Here are the key differences between carpet cleaners and carpet vacuums:

Primary Function

  • Carpet Vacuum: Designed to pick up dry dirt, dust, hair, and debris from the surface of the carpet. It uses suction to draw these particles into a dustbin or bag.
  • Carpet Cleaner: Also known as a carpet shampooer or carpet extractor, it is designed to deep clean carpets, removing embedded dirt, stains, and odors. It typically uses water (sometimes mixed with cleaning solution) to wash the carpet and then extract the dirty water.

Usage Frequency

  • Carpet Vacuum: Used regularly, often weekly or even daily, depending on the amount of foot traffic and the presence of pets or kids.
  • Carpet Cleaner: Used less frequently, often a few times a year or when significant staining or soiling occurs.

Water Usage

  • Carpet Vacuum: Does not use water. It's for dry cleaning only. Very few wet and dry vacuums or vacuums with water filters are designed for carpet cleaning - they don't use water for cleaning but are able to clean liquids and moist dirt, while vacuums with water air filters also use water for air filtration.
  • Carpet Cleaner: Uses water and often a cleaning solution. After spraying the solution onto the carpet, it's brushed in and then extracted, removing the dirt with it.

Components & Mechanism

  • Carpet Vacuum: Has a motor that generates suction and often a rotating brush to loosen dirt from carpet fibers.
  • Carpet Cleaner: Generally has multiple components – a water/cleaning solution reservoir, brushes or agitators to scrub the carpet, and a powerful vacuum to extract the dirty water.


  • Carpet Vacuum: Ideal for regular maintenance and removing surface dirt.
  • Carpet Cleaner: Essential for deeper cleaning tasks, removing stubborn stains, and refreshing the overall appearance and smell of the carpet.

Size & Weight

  • Carpet Vacuum: Typically lighter and more compact, making it easier to maneuver and store.
  • Carpet Cleaner: Tends to be bulkier and heavier due to the additional components for holding and extracting water.


  • Carpet Vacuum: Generally less expensive than carpet cleaners.
  • Carpet Cleaner: Can be more expensive, especially high-end models with advanced features.

While carpet vacuums are for regular maintenance and surface cleaning, carpet cleaners are designed for in-depth cleaning to tackle deeper grime and stains.

Many households have both, using vacuums for frequent cleanups and carpet cleaners for periodic deep cleaning.

What are the Pros and Cons Of Carpet Cleaners?

Carpet cleaners, also known as carpet shampooers or extractors, are designed for deep cleaning carpets. They offer a way to refresh, renew, and maintain the appearance and lifespan of carpets. Here are the pros and cons of using carpet cleaners:

Pros of Carpet Cleaners

  • Deep Cleaning: They provide a deeper clean than regular vacuuming, reaching embedded dirt, dust, and allergens.
  • Stain Removal: Effective at removing tough stains, including those from food, beverages, pets, and foot traffic.

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  • Odor Elimination: They can remove lingering odors, especially when used with a good cleaning solution or deodorizer.
  • Allergen Reduction: By extracting embedded dirt and particles, they can help reduce allergens in the home, benefiting those with allergies or respiratory concerns.
  • Extends Carpet Lifespan: Regular deep cleaning can extend the life of carpets by preventing excessive wear from ground-in dirt.
  • Cost-Effective: While there's an upfront cost to purchase (or even rent), using a carpet cleaner can be cheaper in the long run than hiring professional cleaning services multiple times.
  • Improved Appearance: Refreshes the look of carpets, making them appear brighter and newer.

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Cons of Carpet Cleaners

  • Drying Time: After cleaning, carpets can remain wet for several hours, sometimes longer if the carpet cleaner doesn't have strong extraction capabilities or if too much water is used.
  • Potential for Mold/Mildew: If carpets remain damp for extended periods, there's a risk of mold or mildew growth.
  • Weight and Maneuverability: Carpet cleaners tend to be heavier and bulkier than regular vacuums, which can make them harder to maneuver, especially when filled with water.
  • Space for Storage: They require more storage space than regular vacuums.
  • Maintenance: After use, they need to be cleaned and maintained to prevent odors and ensure longevity.
  • Learning Curve: Using a carpet cleaner effectively may require a bit of practice. Over-wetting the carpet or not using the right cleaning solution can cause issues.
  • Chemical Concerns: Some cleaning solutions contain chemicals that some individuals might find irritating or harmful. It's essential to choose a cleaning solution that's safe for the household and the environment.

While carpet cleaners have several benefits, especially concerning the deep cleaning and maintenance of carpets, they come with their set of challenges.

Proper usage, maintenance, and storage can mitigate many of the cons associated with these machines.

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What are the Pros and Cons Of Carpet Vacuums?

Carpet vacuums, commonly just referred to as vacuum cleaners, are essential tools for daily or weekly household cleaning. They are designed primarily for removing dirt, dust, hair, and other debris from carpets and various flooring types. Here are the pros and cons of using carpet vacuums:

Pros of Carpet Vacuums

  • Surface Cleaning: Efficiently removes surface dirt, dust, and debris, making living spaces cleaner and more comfortable.
  • Regular Maintenance: Helps maintain the carpet's appearance and extends its lifespan by removing particles that can wear down carpet fibers.
  • Ease of Use: Generally straightforward to operate, with most households familiar with their functioning.
  • Allergen Reduction: By vacuuming regularly, you can reduce the number of allergens like dust mites and pet dander in your home.
  • Versatility: Many vacuums come with attachments that allow for cleaning upholstery, drapes, and tight spaces.
  • Variety: Available in a range of models to suit different needs, including upright, canister, stick, and robotic vacuums.
  • Bagged or Bagless Options: Users can choose between vacuums with bags (which can be better for those with allergies) or bagless designs (which can be more convenient and cost-efficient in the long run).

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Cons of Carpet Vacuums

  • Surface Cleaning Limitation: Regular vacuums only address surface dirt and may not be as effective for deeply embedded dirt or stains.
  • Maintenance: Need to regularly empty the dustbin or replace bags, and filters must be cleaned or replaced to maintain suction.
  • Noise: Vacuuming can be noisy, which might be disruptive in some settings.
  • Weight: Some models, especially upright vacuums, can be heavy and cumbersome to move around, especially when navigating stairs.
  • Storage: Requires storage space, and some larger models can be bulky.
  • Power Consumption: They run on electricity, so frequent usage can contribute to energy costs.
  • Wear and Tear: If not used properly, the brushes or beater bars on some vacuums can wear down delicate carpet fibers, especially if the vacuum is too aggressive or set too low for the carpet type.

Carpet vacuums are indispensable for regular home maintenance. While they have limitations, especially in comparison to deep-cleaning methods, they are generally effective for routine cleaning and upkeep.

Choosing a vacuum model that fits your home's specific needs can mitigate many of the associated cons. Some families prefer multi-floor cleaning systems that are able to clean/shampoo and vacuum both carpets and bare floors - for example, Bissell 2306A CrossWave Pet Pro Multi-Surface Wet Dry Vac.

On the other hand, thanks to the development of lightweight lithium batteries, convertible cordless stick vacuums are one of the most popular carpet vacuum types, sometimes even used as the main vacuum cleaners in larger homes and apartments.

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