The Difference Between a Vacuum and a Carpet Steamer

Understanding cleaning appliances

Germany, Baden-Wurttemberg, Stuttgart, Man vacuuming carpet, low section
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Think of a vacuum cleaner as your regular go-to appliance that keeps your carpets looking sharp. A quick pass weekly or even more often does the trick. It is a rare home that doesn't have a vacuum cleaner in it.

Carpet steamers are specialty units that come out of the closet much less often. They are used on stubborn stains in high traffic areas or to remove spills. They aren't as quick to set up and run as vacuum cleaners, but the results are worth the time.

 Because carpet steamers are only used occasionally, many people prefer to rent them than own them.

Although some carpet steamers and cleaners have a suction mechanism to remove the cleaning fluid and water from your carpet after cleaning the area, they should only be used for steaming or cleaning a carpet and never used as a vacuum cleaner.

Vacuum Cleaner

The familiar household vacuum cleaner uses suction to remove debris, dirt, hair and any other loose particles from carpets. It isn't used with water or with any type of cleaner. A regular vacuuming keeps carpet looking fresh. Eventually, though, you may notice dingy traffic areas or pet stains that a vacuum just can't handle. Then it is time to get out (or rent) the carpet steamer.

Carpet Steamer

The terms "carpet cleaner" and "carpet shampooer" used to relate to types of carpet cleaning appliances that did not have a water tank. They cleaned using a cleaner in conjunction with brush action.

The cleaning fluid stayed in the carpet to protect the fibers and was not removed, nor was any water applied.

Nowadays, the terms refer to any appliance that is used to clean a carpet—including those with water tanks. Carpet cleaners have changed considerably in the last few years.

Most modern carpet cleaners are steamers.

They apply hot water or steam along with a liquid cleaning solution to the carpet. Brushes rotate to lift the rug fibers and loosen grime. Then, the water and solution are extracted into a waste water reservoir on the appliance. The carpets are deep cleaned, and the cleaning solution is removed by the same machine, which allows the surface to dry quickly.

Spot Cleaners

Spot cleaners are small portable carpet steamers popular with pet owners. They work the same way as large carpet steamers. They apply a solution of cleaner and water to a spot on a carpet. The appliance sites in one place and rotating brushes do all the work. Then, the solution and cleaner (and grime) are extracted from the carpet into a waste water reservoir. These small steamers are also useful on carpeted staircases, where the full-size units don't fit.

Vacuums and Steamers Work Together

Before you steam your carpet, always do a thorough cleaning with a vacuum to remove pieces of debris. After the steaming process and after the carpet dries completely, re-vacuum the area to lift the fibers and remove any detergent residue.