Carpet cleaner vs vacuum cleaner – which appliance is the better investment for a spotless home?

Experts outline the differences and how to make the right choice for your home

Cordless upright vacuum cleaner placed in the middle of living room
(Image credit: Hoover UK)

When going about the best way to clean carpet, there's no denying that carpet cleaners have become a much more attainable appliance to store in the comfort of your own home. No longer are they those once large and in-charge machines reserved only for professional cleans, but rather a lot more comparable to the size of a standard upright vacuum cleaner.

Therefore, when it comes to weighing out the two, it probably makes sense to only invest in one. As a result, you may find yourself going back and forth on the carpet cleaner vs vacuum cleaner debate, trying to figure out which appliance is the best investment for your home.

Although the best vacuum cleaners are easily the number one staple for a home, if you live in a house that is primarily carpeted then you've probably considered investing in one of the best carpet cleaners to keep your floors looking spotless. However, if you were to just choose one appliance between a carpet cleaner and a vacuum cleaner, which one should you go for? We've asked experts for their professional advice, to help you make the right choice for you.

Cordless vacuum cleaner vacuuming floor

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Carpet cleaner vs vacuum cleaner

Before we begin, it's important to preface that this is more so a match-up to consider if you're looking for the best way to clean a carpet, as it's a given that a carpet cleaner simply isn't necessary if you only need to clean wooden floors.

'A carpet and vacuum cleaner are both great machines to have at home. While a vacuum cleaner is a household staple and is equipped for multiple types of flooring, a carpet cleaner is a reassuring tool to have at home, ready for any inevitable accidents and messes,' begins Liam Cleverdon, flooring trends expert at Flooring King.

So, which machine is the right purchase for you?

Carpet cleaners: what you need to know

We think this goes without saying, but a carpet cleaner is your deep cleaning champion. Although it's possible to clean carpet without a machine, the mammoth task is certainly made a lot easier with the help of one.

'Carpet cleaners mainly use a combination of water, cleaning solution, and powerful suction to deep clean carpets and remove dirt, allergens, stains, and odours embedded deep into the fibres,' explains Jess Farinha, professional cleaner and visionary founder of London House Cleaners.

Carpet cleaner: pros

One of the biggest pros that come with investing in a dedicated carpet cleaner is the finish it leaves on your carpet, leaving it refreshed and smelling clean as opposed to just doing a once-over with a vacuum cleaner.

It's the favoured choice for easily removing stains from carpet and tackles right to the fibres of carpet that vacuums simply cannot reach.

Not to mention, Jess adds that many carpet cleaners can also be used to clean upholstery and other furniture, doubling its use right off the bat and making it a purchase more worthwhile.

Carpet cleaner: cons

But of course, to give the carpet cleaner vs vacuum cleaner debate a fair comparison it's important to consider the cons, too.

One of the biggest cons to a carpet cleaner is that they are on average bulkier and heavier than your standard upright vacuum. If you think that it's hard enough to keep track of the many vacuum cleaner storage mistakes to avoid, carpet cleaners are even tougher.

Although carpet cleaners have gotten more compact throughout the years in an attempt to make them more appealing for the average homeowner, it still pails in comparison to some of the best cordless vacuums on the market which are far lighter and portable.

Carpet cleaner cleaning capet

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Then, there's maintenance and a learning curve to consider when using a carpet cleaner that simply makes it an unfavourable choice for some.

'With carpet cleaners, there is the risk of oversoaking the carpet, hindering the drying process. If the carpet doesn’t dry properly, this can lead to fungal and mould growth, which could cause dampness if left untreated. A damp carpet can also develop an unpleasant odour and must be addressed swiftly,' adds Liam. Not to mention, ensuring you're cleaning out your carpet cleaner and not allowing moisture to remain in the machine.

So, unless you're able to wait the allotted time for the carpet to dry, you're maybe just better off sticking to spot cleaning a carpet where necessary and just vacuuming frequently.

Vacuum cleaners: what you need to know

On the other hand, while a vacuum cleaner may not be the best at deep cleaning, it instead targets loose dust and debris on the carpet's surface – which is important for regular upkeep of the appearance of your carefully chosen carpet.

Liam explains that this is done using a suction motor to draw up dust or dirt, with an exhaust filter allowing clean air to be released while retaining debris inside the vacuum.

Not only that, but Jess adds that you can even invest in a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter for superior allergy and asthma control. 'HEPA filters trap the tiny particles such as dust mites and pollen that regular vacuums may miss,' she explains.

Vacuum cleaner: pros

One of the biggest and most obvious pros to a vacuum cleaner is just how lightweight and manoeuvrable they are. Providing you bought the right model for your home, regularly vacuuming and cleaning your home is easy and attainable to achieve when the tools are equally as easy to use.

'A vacuum cleaner is also a more versatile option as it can be used for other types of flooring (like cleaning laminate flooring), providing the correct nozzle and brush are used on the floor. For example, use a nozzle-less vacuum with soft bristles on hardwood flooring to avoid scratches,' adds Liam.

Cordless upright vacuum cleaner placed in the middle of living room

(Image credit: Hoover UK)

It's this flexibility of using various vacuum tools for specific jobs that makes using this appliance so desirable for cleaning a home in general.

They're also a lot easier to maintain. While it's important to be aware of the signs that it's time to replace a vacuum, so long as you are cleaning your vacuum and emptying the dustbin regularly, it'll stay in tip-top shape for longer with less upkeep than a carpet cleaner.

Vacuum cleaner: cons

We already mentioned this briefly when discussing the main differences between a carpet cleaner vs vacuum cleaner, but it's worth noting that even the best vacuums have limited cleaning power. Due to the nature of how a vacuum works, it doesn't reach deep down to tackle dirt, stains, and allergens embedded in carpet fibres.

So, if you've got a carpet that is heavily soiled, chances are going in with a vacuum cleaner will not be enough to make a difference and restore the carpet's finish and appearance to its former glory.

On top of that, while we did mention that many vacuum cleaners are lighter than carpet cleaners, some models can still be a bit tricky to manoeuvre when vacuuming stairs and tight corners, for example.

Liam even adds that in some cases, 'certain vacuum cleaners release fine dust and bacteria back into the environment, which can trigger allergies and expose you to potential infections,' he warns.

Carpet cleaner vs vacuum cleaner: final thoughts

Ultimately, the decision of whether to invest in a carpet cleaner or vacuum cleaner lies with you.

'A vacuum cleaner is a quicker and more efficient option. You can use it to remove dry soil (dry soil comprises 85% of the soiling on your carpet) 1-2 times a week. Not only is it an easy solution to cleaning, but it also poses little risk to your carpet,' explains Kirsty Barton, marketing manager at Alternative Flooring. 'Although it won't remove any sticky soil or spills, it does allow the carpet to remain dry and be used immediately after cleaning.'

On the other hand, Kirsty notes that a carpet cleaner is more suited to interim cleaning. 'We recommend doing a regular clean between every 6 months and 2 years depending on footfall and spillage,' she explains.

Cordless vacuum cleaner leaning against sofa in living room

(Image credit: Getty Images)

In settling the big carpet cleaner vs vacuum cleaner debate, Josh Warren, floorcare expert at assures that both are handy appliances for taking the best care of your flooring, serving the different purposes we've already outlined earlier.

'Have a quick look around the house to check whether you have more carpet or hard flooring. Should you have more carpets then a carpet cleaner would be ideal whilst if you have wood or tiles then perhaps a vacuum would be more suitable,' he advises.

After all, an investment like this is something that we can't just feed the answer to you for. However, irrespective of which appliance you end up going for, best believe you're well on your way to clean, spotless floors with the right technique and routine.

Jullia Joson
Junior Writer

Jullia Joson is a Junior Writer at Ideal Home. She's always loved all things homes and interiors, graduating with a bachelor's degree in Architectural Studies from the University of Nottingham where her love for journalism blossomed following her internship at ArchDaily. Now focused on home tech, Jullia works on writing features and explainers to help people make the most of their home appliance investments. When she isn't writing, she loves exploring the city, coffee shop hopping, and losing hours to a cosy game.