How a Carpet Cleaner Works

A carpet cleaner, also known as a carpet extractor or carpet shampooer, is designed to remove deeply embedded dirt and stains in carpets. For optimal results, the machines work as follows: Users pretreat the carpet by spraying it with a cleaning solution and letting it soak in, or dwell, for about 15 minutes. Then, operators use the carpet cleaner, which pumps water into the carpet and extracts the dirty, soapy fluid with a high-powered vacuum. Some units include components to heat the rinse water, others don't.

Carpet cleaners are sometimes referred to as "steam carpet cleaners," "carpet steam cleaners," or even "steam cleaners." True steam cleaners use dry vapor steam, which is ineffective for general-purpose carpet cleaning. (Read more on differentiating among steam products. Link to steam article)

In general, carpet cleaners come in configurations that allow the user to clean with a large wand. "Walk-behind" carpet cleaners offer wide cleaning paths for greater efficiency when cleaning large areas. In addition to carpets, optional attachments for carpet cleaners allow the machines to be used for other soft surfaces, such as upholstery, wall partitions, and curtains.

Key Components


This component generates the pressure that injects the water into the carpet. Pump pressure levels generally range from 60 pounds per square inch (psi) to 500 psi.


The vacuum in the carpet cleaner extracts dirty water and cleaning solution from the carpet and empties it into an extraction tank. Vacuums are driven by motors that come in a variety of configurations, including: single 2-stage motors, two 3-stage motors, and three 2-stage motors. For optimum performance, choose a motor with at least two stages.

The power of a vacuum motor is commonly measured in airflow (cubic feet per minute, or CFM) and water lift (inches). Airflow refers to the movement of air through the machine and typically ranges from 100 to more than 200 CFM. Water lift measures the suction strength of the vacuum and typically ranges from 100 to more than 250 inches.

Solution Tanks:

These tanks hold the rinse water. Typically, solution tanks range in size from 4.5 gallons to 17 gallons.

Recovery Tanks:

These tanks hold extracted dirt, cleaning chemicals, and water. Typically, recovery tanks range in size from 4.5 gallons to 15 gallons.

Heating Unit:

This component heats the rinse water to temperatures as high as 210ºF in as little as three minutes. Heating elements can range from single tank-heating models, which heat water in the solution tank, to double inline heating elements, which heat water as it exits the machine.


Carpet cleaners usually come with a large floor wand. The wand can range in width from 10 inches to 12 inches and include one or two jets for dispensing and extracting fluids. Upholstery and stair wands are available as options. Vacuum and cleaning solution hoses come in a variety of lengths and can be ordered in custom lengths.

Tips for Using a Carpet Cleaner

  • - Before using the carpet cleaner, vacuum the carpet thoroughly and then apply a cleaning solution, like Daimer's Eco-Green® Carpet Care. The chemicals help dissolve grease and oils so that the final cleaning extracts even more dirt.
  • - Use heated water on stained and heavily soiled synthetics. When used with a cleaning chemical, a heated carpet cleaner can remove stains such as ketchup, coffee, wine, pet urine, and ink.
  • - Do not use heated water on natural fibers, like wool, which can shrink or suffer other kinds of damage at high temperatures.

Related Daimer Links:

Buyer's Guide to Carpet Cleaners.

Non-toxic, plant-based carpet cleaning product.

Difference between various steam cleaning products.

How to use a carpet cleaner.

Benefits of low-moisture carpet cleaning.

Read-up on steam cleaners.

View all types of cleaning equipment.

Five questions to ask before buying a carpet cleaner.

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