You can rent a carpet cleaner at your local hardware store, but if you have a busy household with lots of carpet, you might want to invest in one instead.

For as little as $150 you can get one of the top-performers in Consumer Reports’ carpet cleaner tests. Take note that these machines are powerful—and heavy. The best easily remove embedded dirt and stains without leaving a trail of water and a soggy stretch of carpet behind.

Before choosing a model, take stock of the area you'll be cleaning. If you live in a one-story house, you might not need a model with a long hose.

More on Carpet Cleaners

“On the other hand, if you have carpeted stairs, you want to get a carpet cleaner that has a long hose so you can reach up the steps,” says Larry Ciufo, who oversees Consumer Reports’ carpet cleaner tests. “You don’t want to put the cleaner on the top step and pull on the hose when you’re cleaning, because the machine could barrel down the steps.”

Ouch. Ciufo also recommends that you think about space and storage, and look for models with attachments that suit your needs. “If you want to clean your furniture, look for a carpet cleaner with a brush that is easy to swivel around cracks and clean fabric,” he says.

Keep in mind that carpet cleaners are noisy; some are so loud that we recommend wearing hearing protection. And don’t buy by brand name alone. In our tests, we found big differences from one model to another. For example, Bissell holds both the top and bottom spots in our ratings.

How We Test Carpet Cleaners

It takes three days to put one carpet cleaner through our battery of cleaning-performance tests. Our engineers soil large swatches of off-white nylon carpet with red Georgia clay. We run a cleaner over the carpet for four wet and four dry cycles, simulating how you'd clean a particularly dirty spot on a well-trafficked carpet. Then we repeat the test on two more swatches.

Our experts use a colorimeter, a device that measures the absorption of light wavelengths, to take 60 readings of each carpet swatch: 20 in its “virgin” state, 20 after it has been soiled, and 20 after it has been cleaned. The total? 180 readings per machine.

Considering a carpet cleaner? Check out our full carpet cleaner ratings and read “5 Things to Know Before Buying a Carpet Cleaner.” Here are three picks from our tests as well as two appliances you may want to skip.

3 Top Carpet Cleaners

Bissell ProHeat 2X Lift-Off Pet 15651, $260
CR's take: Weighing 24 pounds when empty and 30 pounds when filled with cleaning solution, this machine is well-sized for carpet cleaning. It has a removable tank with a useful carrying handle that makes trips to and from the sink much easier; you don’t have to drag the entire machine with you each time you need a refill. But at just over 5 feet, the hose is average length. This model might fit the bill if you have a smaller space in a one-story house; you can clean only 15 square feet on one full tank of solution (some machines cover twice that area). But you’ll end up with a carpet that dries easily, because this Bissell is a champ at removing the cleaning solution.
Hoover Dual Power Max Pet FH51001, $150
CR's take: At 105 inches long, the hose on this carpet cleaner makes the Hoover a good candidate for homes with carpeted stairs and other hard-to-reach spots. This model is slightly lighter than the Bissell ProHeat 2X Lift-Off Pet at 18 pounds empty and 27 pounds when full of solution. And at this price, it’s easier on your wallet, too. The sticking point: This model is not as good at removing the cleaning solution, so your carpet will take longer to dry after a cleaning. On the plus side, this machine can cover up to 33 square feet of carpet on one tank of solution.

Bissell ProHeat 2X Revolution Pet Pro 1986, $250
CR's take: This Bissell has a longer hose than its brandmate above—100 inches compared with 61. It also covers more than twice as much area on a full tank—32 square feet. Both attributes make it a good candidate for carpeted stairs and large rooms. The big difference between the two Bissells is that you can’t remove the tank on this model to refill it. And while it dries just as well as the Bissell Lift-Off Pet, it doesn’t clean quite as well. The ProHeat 2X weighs 19 pounds when empty and 27 when full.

2 That Aren't Worth the Storage Space

Bissell Deep Clean Deluxe Pet 36Z9, $300
CR's take: For carpet cleaners, this is where it gets tricky: Both of the higher-performing Bissell models on this list have "pet" in their names. This one does, too, but that’s where the similarity ends. Unlike the two Bissells covered above, the Deep Clean Deluxe Pet is only so-so at cleaning and worse than that at leaving a dry carpet behind. It’s also several pounds heavier when full of solution—36 pounds, so it can be a bit unwieldy. The ironic part? It costs more than our two top Bissell picks, proving that the price-quality relationship doesn’t always bear out.

Hoover Power Scrub Elite Pet FH5025, $190
CR's take: This Hoover performs at two extremes. It gets the poorest marks for cleaning of all the carpet cleaners in our tests but one of the best scores for leaving behind a dry carpet. It does have some nice convenience features, such as separate tanks for clean and dirty water, a 100-inch hose, a carrying handle, and brush attachments. Unfortunately, features don’t make up for poor performance.