The 9 Best Handheld Carpet Cleaners
A Brief History Of Carpet Cleaners
The methods involved in shampooing carpets have stayed relatively the same since the 1950s, although the chemicals used have advanced greatly.
Thousands of years ago, one of our ancestors, tired of walking across the cold cave floor every night, threw an animal pelt on the ground and noticed how good it felt on his bare feet. He didn't realize it at the time, but he'd just invented carpet.
OK, so maybe that's not exactly how it happened, but it's probably pretty close. The first floor coverings were animal hides that were laid down on the ground for warmth and comfort. They were ideal for early nomadic peoples, as they could be easily transported, making each new camping spot feel like home.
As civilization grew more advanced — and stationary — carpets evolved to match. Just about every region of the world developed its own rugs and carpets, with cultures in modern-day Afghanistan, Armenia, and Iran becoming notable for their efforts.
Area rugs would eventually give way to more extensive carpeting. In the United States, the first carpet mill was founded in Philadelphia in 1791, and the industry would be revolutionized a few decades later with the invention of the power loom, which allowed manufacturers to double their output. While previously a luxury available only to the rich, this newfound ability to make lots of carpet meant that it was more accessible to the average American. Of course, that also meant that more people were faced with a new problem: how to clean their carpet.
Stain removal processes varied widely. Since the state of your carpet was seen as a status symbol, housewives jealously guarded their cleaning secrets. One method involved scrubbing with lemon juice and then attempting to soak up the stain with hot bread.
In the 1860s, a carpet sweeper that used a brush and bellows for collecting dust hit the market, followed by a crude vacuum cleaner called "The Whirlwind." This vacuum, the brainchild of Ives McGaffey, had a complicated hand crank and a whopping $25 price tag. It wasn't terribly effective, and its success was hampered by the fact that most of them were lost in the Great Chicago Fire, but the idea set the wheels of the vacuum industry in motion.
A gentleman named Hubert Booth created a vacuum called the "Puffing Billy," which was the first electrical model. It worked well, with the only drawback being that it required a team of horses to move. A more portable version was patented in 1907 by James Spangler. Spangler sold his invention to a relative, William Hoover, who did alright for himself in the vacuum industry.
After WWII, merely pulling up dust was deemed insufficient for thorough cleaning, and the process of flooding fabric with water and chemicals to deep-clean it became popular.
The methods involved in shampooing carpets have stayed relatively the same since the 1950s, although the chemicals used have advanced greatly. Today, you can get your carpets clean enough to eat off of (trust me on this), and you don't even need a team of draft horses to do it.
Choosing The Right Handheld Carpet Cleaner
Most carpet cleaners work using a method known as hot water extraction. This involves blasting your carpet with hot water and chemicals, and then vacuuming up the particles that are dislodged during impact.
Obviously, the more water the machine holds, the heavier it will be, but the less often you'll have to refill it.
However, there are some steam cleaners available. With these, you're dealing with much hotter water — which means that you increase the risk of burning yourself or your fabric. Also, although you'll find a few exceptions to the rule, steam usually isn't as good at deep-cleaning as a jet of hot water can be, so if you have a heavy-duty job, you'll likely want to stick to hot water extraction.
That brings up the first issue that you'll face when choosing a cleaner: how much water do you want to lug around? Obviously, the more water the machine holds, the heavier it will be, but the less often you'll have to refill it. This ultimately comes down to how much cleaning you expect to do. If you only want a machine for spot-cleaning, then a smaller model will work fine, but if you need to go wall-to-wall, it might be worth investing in a larger option.
Before buying, take some time to appraise the state of your carpet. If it's in pretty good shape, you can likely get by with a cheaper, less powerful unit, as it's easier to prevent damage than undo it. However, if it has more scars than an MMA fighter, you're likely going to need some powerful carpet-cleaning artillery.
Tips For Effective Carpet Cleaning
If you're ready to restore your carpet to the same glory it had when you moved in, there are a few steps you should take to ensure that your cleaning efforts are successful.
First, you should always vacuum before using the steam cleaner. A high-quality HEPA vacuum can do a great job picking up dust and allergens, removing the top layer of grime and allowing the cleaner to better penetrate.
First, you should always vacuum before using the steam cleaner.
If it's your first time using your cleaner, you should spot-test it in an inconspicuous area before you do the whole house. While most modern cleaners are suitable for all types of carpet, you don't want to find out the hard way that you're the exception to the rule.
The actual cleaning process for most models is virtually identical to vacuuming. The primary difference is you'll want to go slower with the carpet cleaner, especially over stains. Many models allow you to see the water that's being sucked up as it goes into the dirty tank, so you can watch it as it cleans. Once the water stops looking dirty, you know it's time to move on.
Carpet cleaning is a simple process that can pay big dividends, both for your health and the appearance of your home. With the right handheld cleaner, you can keep your carpet looking spotless all year-round.
Or at least until you let the kids and dogs back in the house.