Frugal Carpet Care: Using a Steam Cleaner

by Kevin on June 29, 2009

This is a guest post from my wife, Leann.

Hello readers,

You should know that Saturday morning in our house equals cleaning.  Actually any time of the week can mean cleaning.  Kevin often lovingly refers to me as “Monica”, in reference to our all-time favorite show Friends.  She is the compulsive neat freak on the show who characterizes me to a T.  So what better topic for me to discuss with you than carpet care?

Who Should Buy a Steam Cleaner

I remember a few months after we moved into our house some workmen came over to do paint touch ups in the master bathroom.  The contractor (who had kindly taken his shoes off) complimented me on our spotless white carpet and asked how did I keep it so pristine?  I’m sure I was blushing with pride and said “Oh you know, all I do is vacuum.”

However, this was pre-summertime and pre-puppy.  Gone are the days when I could just vacuum and still maintain perfectly white carpet.  After about one year of living in our house I determined that it made good sense for us to purchase a steam cleaner.

But I wouldn’t say that every household requires one.  So here are my criteria:

You may benefit from a steam cleaner if…

  • Your flooring is mainly carpet in a shade of white
  • You have several high traffic areas where shoes track in the dirty outdoors
  • You have pets (even indoor ones; they track stuff in too!)
  • You have children who are prone to making messes (haven’t dealt with this one yet)
  • You suffer from indoor allergies

Our machine does a wonderful job of cleaning up spills, removing pet hair, and getting down to the nitty gritty stuff that lives in your carpet which may be invisible to the human eye (remember those middle school science class videos, yuck!)

You can probably live without a steam cleaner if…

  • You have mostly hardwood floors, tile, or a thick stain-resistant carpet
  • You have several large area rugs (although these will require regular cleaning too)
  • You have no pets and your family is consistent about taking their shoes off inside
  • You are not bothered by stains and perhaps you are planning to replace the carpet anyway

Where Do I Go From Here

So you went down the checklist and decided it may be a good idea for you to buy your own steam cleaner.  But you’re thinking, “those things are expensive, how can this be frugal?”

Before choosing a machine to purchase we did our research and weighed the cost.  Some would argue that it could be just as easy to rent a Rug Doctor from the local grocery store.  But even if you only do that once a year you will easily spend $30 on the rental, and to my knowledge it doesn’t come with the cleaning solution so you may end up paying another $10 for the bottle of solution.

For us, we figured that if we used the cleaner at least 4 times it would pay for itself.  And believe me I’ve used it way more than that!

Steam cleaners can range from about $99-$399 depending on how many settings you want, different kinds of attachments, etc.  We found one on the lower end called the Bissell PowerSteamer Turbo (very similar to this Bissell 9500 available on Amazon, but not quite as expensive). I would also recommend looking at the Bissell and Hoover websites to see what fits your household needs best.

Ours came from Target and cost us $150.  I was a little concerned that it might not work so well because it didn’t have its own heating element — you have to add already hot water.  But it has worked like a charm so far.  Using the steam cleaner isn’t difficult at all. With ours you add the cleaning solution and hot water first, then you vacuum each area while holding down a trigger on the cleaner that dispenses the solution. Make a couple of passes with the vacuum to suck up the water left behind and you move on to the next section of carpet.

The Rewards

Well even if you’re not a neat freak like me you can still appreciate having a clean, healthy place for your family to live.  And as long as you use your steam cleaner once a year (I would recommend at least twice a year) it will definitely be a good investment.

I’ll leave you with this final thought: it might sound weird, but there is something so satisfying about pouring that ugly dirty water down the drain and knowing that the stuff you were once walking on, laying on, and breathing in is now disappeared!


The Happy Rock June 29, 2009 at 7:01 am

We could use one right now. I borrowed a friends about a year ago and it was amazing that after 3-5 passes how dark and dirty the water coming of the rug still was. We originally borrowed it because our 2 year spilled about a quart of paint on our rug. It did a reasonable job of cleaning that up.

Our rugs are a good 10 years old and get heavy traffic, so they are close to end of life, but I would love to give them another cleaning.

By the way. You have a great written style for you first guest post! Excellent job.

The Happy Rock June 29, 2009 at 7:04 am

As a side note. Once/if you have children you will probably lose your super-clean-freakyness or else you will shrivel up in stress, anxiety, and anger.

I puppy is probably decent preparation, but nothing can prepare you for toddlers.

Our hardwood floors probably could use a good sweeping at least every day, if not multiple times a day and that is with having a somewhat laid back attitude about it.

Leann June 29, 2009 at 9:33 am

This is true! I don’t know what having kids is like but I’m sure I will have to let go of a lot of things. My sister-in-law just had a baby 2 months ago and she said for the first 4 weeks or so nothing got done around the house. I guess your priorities change 😉

dawn June 29, 2009 at 9:46 am

You’re right, there is something quite satisfying about watching the dirty water go down the drain. I recently bought a steam cleaner, and while i can’t remember the brand, i dislike using it becus it IS SO FREAKING LOUD! I actually wear ear mufflers, the kind you wear if you’re cutting down a tree u sing a chain saw, becus the noise is terrible. Why can’t they make an appliance with a muffler, for gosh sakes?

Patrick June 29, 2009 at 2:22 pm

Yes, it’s worth it – especially if you have children or pets!

The Happy Rock June 29, 2009 at 6:27 pm

@Leann – Try the first couple years! The amazingly beautiful part of it all is that the sacrifices pale in comparison compared to the rest of the awesome experiences.

MEOIP June 30, 2009 at 11:36 am

I don’t own one… I just borrow my sister in law’s. It’s much more economical, I’ve used it twice this year and now that I’m goign to be having kids I’m sure I’ll use it more.
For area rugs I just go down to the local DIY Carwash clip it to the wall and spray it off then dry it outside for the day. It comes in claen and smell fresh.

Kevin June 30, 2009 at 7:37 pm

@dawn: Ours isn’t all that loud — sounds like your typical vacuum. Kind of shocked to hear it is that loud.

@Patrick: Yea… our dog is an inside dog, and still… wow. Yuck.

@MEOIP: But what if you didn’t have one to borrow? Would you buy then?

Ameraclean Carpet Cleaning July 1, 2009 at 12:06 am

Very logical and no doubt effective. Not always does your house need professional carpet cleaning. I tell all my clients that one of the most important things to do to preserve their carpet is simply vacuum it regularly. Now, if they could steam clean it 4 times a year as well… they would be set!

MEOIP July 1, 2009 at 5:24 am

I think I would buy one. They are expensive to rent so I think I would go buy one, they tend to go on sale around Christmas so I could pick one up then I’d be in a position to lend it to friends and family, somethings can and should be shared.

Jenny July 3, 2009 at 12:56 am

Do you find that steamcleaners get your carpet actually clean?

What I mean by this is that my mom rented a steam cleaner, and the first time she used it in the living room, lots of muck came up and the water was almost mud when she dumped it. She did this again, and the water was still very dirty. After 8 washes of the living room, the water was still coming up pretty dirty. She did even more passes of a smaller section, but the water never did start coming out clean. This was in a house with three kids and a dog, but you’d think that it would have gotten all of the dirt after so many washes. Has anyone else found this??

Holly July 6, 2009 at 7:29 am

Yes, Jenny. The water does come up dirty, but each time just a lighter shade of dirty! It may have something to do with the padding underneath holding on to the dirt. I have a Bissell, too, and am happy w/its performance on our berber carpet. One thing to note is that I have a fairly expensive ($450) synthetic area rug that the dog lays on. It typically costs $120 to send to the rug cleaners–not sure why it costs a lot…the company says it’s because it has a design. I decided to try the Bissell @ home. I can say that I was not impressed since the dog odor became worse even after cleaning it twice (maybe because the fibers were dampened which cause a release of the odor), and the edges and fibers became fuzzy and less distinct. I will likely need to replace this rug. Be careful using the steam cleaner on expensive area rugs.

Jesse July 8, 2009 at 10:16 am

At home we actually bought a very similar carpet cleaner a few days before reading your article. We split the cost with a close by relative so our cost came to 75$ or so plus the cleaning solution.

I was against the purchase at first but after my wife cleaned the carpets and they look really great, I think it was worth it. I also have been toying with the idea of renting the machine out to neighbors for a small fee which would really make me feel better about the cost.

Upholstery Cleaning March 17, 2011 at 1:35 am

Simply awesome… I think Steam Cleaner is the best method of cleaning if you have kids and pets in your home.

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