What is the difference between a steam cleaner and a carpet cleaner?

Both steam cleaners and carpet cleaners can clean carpets, sofas, and other furnishings (such as curtains). But what is the difference between them, and which do you need to use to clean your carpet?

A steam cleaner, as the name suggests, uses steam to hygienically clean, without the use of chemicals. The steam can fight bacteria and other invisible germs, as well as lingering bad smells.

Steam cleaners can be handheld, tackling smaller areas around your kitchen or bathroom, or they can be carpet steam cleaners. A carpet steam cleaner will come with additional attachments which are safe on upholstery.

The high temperature of steam is great for tackling pests such as flea infestations and their eggs, or bedbugs, which are often embedded into carpets and other furnishings.

Steam can also loosen a stain, meaning it fades or is easier to vacuum afterwards. You’ll need a suitable flooring attachment to steam a carpet.

A carpet steam cleaner uses a combination of water and steam. These will be two tank machines, which collect water too. These are often better at stain removal than models which purely use steam.

A carpet cleaner, on the other hand, uses water and carpet shampoo to remove a stain or general dirt.

The water and shampoo solution is dispersed, and a brush bar or rotating brushes work this into the fibres. The cleaning solution helps bring embedded dirt to the surface. This loosens the dirt. The extraction then removes it, leaving you with dirty water.


Do I Need a Steam Cleaner or Carpet Cleaner?

You probably need to utilise both carpet cleaners and steam cleaners throughout the year to fully clean and sanitise your carpet, and tackle both visible grime and stains, and invisible dirt and germs.

We will go into more detail below.


Carpet cleaner

A carpet cleaner can deep clean your carpets, removing old or stubborn stains, with the help of the carpet shampoo solution.

The head of a carpet cleaner is often larger than a steam cleaner, as they’re designed just like vacuum cleaners, so are simple to clean an entire floor with.

Because they use water rather than steam, carpets will become wet. You’ll need to give them time to dry before using the room, so bear this in mind if you’re cleaning a busy room.

It could be a good idea to hire a carpet dryer to speed up drying, especially in larger rooms.

Carpets should be cleaned with a carpet cleaner every 12 months on average. This could reduce to every 6 months if you have pets or wear shoes indoors. It could be extended to every 18 months if you have no pets and the carpet is in a spare, rarely used room.

Read our article on how to use a carpet cleaner.



Steamers are best for a hygienic clean, removing invisible dirt and allergens. They can loosen fresher stains on a carpet, too.

They are often smaller and easier to use. This makes them great for a quick refresh or targeting smaller zones such as high-traffic areas if you don’t need to do a full deep clean.

They use less water than carpet cleaners too, which means faster drying times. This allows you to use the carpet and room soon after.

Steam cleaners can also clean other parts of your home, using various attachments. They can clean grout between tiles, your oven, or your bathroom. This makes them a really practical multi-tool.

If using a carpet cleaner every 12 or so months, a steamer could be used in-between times to refresh and sanitise carpets.


So, which should you choose to clean your carpet?

Choose a carpet cleaner if:

  • You need to extract deeper stains, and tougher stains (such as wine or coffee)
  • Your carpet is visibly grubby and dirty
  • You need to cover larger areas with ease




Choose a steam cleaner if:

  • You need to hygienically refresh your carpet and use high temperatures to fight bacteria and germs
  • You want to fade the appearance of a stain
  • You want to try to spot clean a newer stain before hiring a carpet cleaner
  • You want your carpet to smell a bit nicer




We advise that you utilise both over the course of the year if you have a carpet to clean hygienically and to battle dirt.


What can I use to clean upholstery?

Both carpet cleaners and steam cleaners can clean upholstery, such as curtains and cushions. Always patch test beforehand, and check labels and manufacturer notes to ensure it is safe to use high temperatures or cleaning solution.

Steam cleaners can clean fabrics without removing them, which is great for something like curtains. They will be better at hygienic deep cleans on mattresses and sofa cushions, too, as they won’t oversaturate the material.

Carpet cleaners may be best if you need to remove stains from something like a sofa or mattress, though.



Where can I hire carpet cleaners and steam cleaners?

Speedy Hire, the UK's leading tool hire company, have a range of cleaning equipment available nationwide, including carpet cleaners and steam cleaners.

Speedy has more than 200 service centres across the nation, hire counters in selected B&Qs and nationwide 4-hour delivery. So, if you need to do some emergency cleaning, we are on hand.

Open a Speedy account today online for quicker checkout and access to our full range.

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