Carpet washers: are they worth the investment?

We find out if a budget carpet washer beats a premium model.

21jan budget vs premium washer cleaners hero

Disgusted with the state of my hallway carpet, I rented a Rug Doctor from my local hardware store.

I had never used any carpet washer before and was astounded by how much dirt it removed. I was also astonished at how cumbersome and awkward it was to use, and how wet it left my carpet – I cleaned in the morning and it was unusable until later that evening.

While I was impressed with the results, at $40 for a four-hour rental and the faff of making two trips to a store got me intrigued about my home carpet-washing options. So I bought a Bissell ProHeat 2X Revolution Pet Deep Cleaner ($629) and a Living & Co Carpet Washer ($129) and cooked up my carpet-cleaning shoot-out.

First impressions

Living & Co Carpet Washer and Bissell ProHeat 2X Revolution Pet Deep Cleaner
Living & Co Carpet Washer and Bissell ProHeat 2X Revolution Pet Deep Cleaner

Out of the box, neither option compared favourably to the commercially purposeful Rug Doctor. The Living & Co looks like a child’s toy: “my first carpet cleaner”. However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing – it’s simple and looks like it would be easy to use.

The Bissell has a label stating it’s “Professional”, but it looks distinctly domestic. Festooned with tanks, knobs and multi-coloured parts, it seemed considerably more complicated and daunting to a newbie like me.

How they work

Detail of both washers' bottom brushes.

Both models use an identical process. Turning the machine on starts up a vacuum. Pushing it forward over a small area, you pull a trigger to squirt a detergent solution on to the carpet, while the machine agitates the wet spot with a brush. Then, you release the trigger, drag the machine slowly backwards over the spot, and its vacuum sucks up the dirty water.

However, there’s a critical difference in the “agitate” part of the process that explains why one is so much better at cleaning.

Underneath the Living & Co is a loosely fixed scrubbing brush that rubs the carpet as you push the machine back and forth. In comparison, the Bissell has two belt-driven brush bars that spin and scrape deeper into the carpet. It’s a harsher process, but the considerably murkier water collected shows it extracts much more embedded dirt.

The trial

I set up the trial on my dining room rug – too long a trap for anything dropped from the table above and never properly washed. The rug was split down the middle: half to be cleaned with the Living & Co, half with the Bissell.

Both carpet washers aligned on the rug.

Both sides were tackled with the same amount of water (about 2L) and cleaning solution. I followed the instructions on both cleaners and took the same time to tackle the job. While my trial wouldn’t pass muster in an accredited test lab, it’s a decent starting point for how these cleaners would perform in the home.

Notes from a carpet-cleaning novice

There wasn’t much difference in using the two machines. The Living & Co had few instructions about how much water or detergent to use. The tank was a little awkward to clean. The trigger needed a firm press and was uncomfortable to hold in, but the machine was light and easy to maneuver. It was incredibly noisy though.

The Bissell had more thoughtful touches. The water tank stands upright in a sink, making it easier to fill. It has markings showing how much detergent to add. Its controls don’t get tiring to use, but it is heavier to push than the Living & Co. While it’s certainly noisy, it isn’t unbearably loud.

The Bissell also comes with a useful suite of accessories. There’s a 3m hose and mini powered tool for cleaning upholstery and stairs. This Pet model also comes with a cleaning head fitted with a small tank and filter to trap unmentionable pet dirt, so it doesn’t contaminate the entire machine. Then there is “the amazing self-cleaning carpet washer” tray. The Living & Co comes with no attachments or accessories, and none are available to buy separately.

The results

Photo comparing the residual water after using both products.
Residual water. Left: Living & Co. Right: Bissell

After washing and drying, there was barely any noticeable difference in the colour of my grey-brown carpet – you wouldn’t know which side was cleaner by looking. However, the difference in the water was startling.

The Living & Co extracted some mildly grimy water and left the carpet rather wetter than I expected. The water from the Bissell was filthy – not just opaquely brown, but with grit and carpet fluff mixed in. There was also about two to three times more water retrieved. The Bissell side of the carpet immediately felt much drier. After six hours, the Bissell side was dry enough to use, while the Living & Co side was still too damp.

The verdict

At $129, the Living & Co Carpet Washer costs little more than two full-day rentals of a Rug Doctor with a stair-cleaning attachment ($56.49 for eight hours). It’s definitely easier to use, but that’s about all. It can’t clean stairs or upholstery, leaves carpet very wet and, most importantly, doesn’t actually clean carpet very well. So, no, I wouldn’t buy one.

The Bissell ProHeat 2X Revolution Pet Deep Cleaner is easier to use and has various attachments that allow you to clean floors, stairs and upholstery. It removes a lot of dirt and leaves carpet drier than a Rug Doctor. However, $629 is quite an investment. Renting a Rug Doctor twice a year for five years would still be cheaper, and you wouldn’t need to find somewhere in your home to store a bulky machine. Despite the Bissell doing a great carpet cleaning job, it’s not an investment I can justify.

However, I can see a reason why buying the Bissell beats renting a Rug Doctor. If you have pets that require more regular clean-ups, there’s much more value in having a carpet washer to hand. If the full-size ProHeat model sounds like too much carpet washer for you, consider the Bissell Stain Eraser Pet 2006F cordless spot cleaner we trialled.

*The Living & Co Carpet Washer is currently unavailable*

The amazing self-cleaning carpet washer

The amazing self-cleaning carpet washer

The amazing self-cleaning carpet washer

After use, the Bissel self-cleans. You put the carpet washer on a plastic tray (filled with clean water to a marked line), open a vent on the cleaning head, then turn on the carpet washer. This starts up the rotating cleaning brushes, forcing water into all its nooks and crannies, cleaning out dirt and rinsing out detergent. Then, when you flick the vent closed, the vacuum whooshes all the water into the dirty tank. It’s loud and violent to watch, yet not a drop of water was spilt on to my floor.

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David C.
01 Mar 2021
On the other hand... could just get rid of the fitted carpets - I'm planning a house build and don't plan on fitted carpets anywhere in the house as they trap so much dirt, are hard to clean, and are very expensive. Properly insulated hard floors with rugs you can change as mood suits and wash outdoors are far simpler. I've also lived with large and active dogs, and if you have a pet who seems to be constantly surrounded by a halo of flying hair and is attached to muddy paws, who needs that much work?

Donald S.
01 Mar 2021
Rug doctor

Really good , used them for years
Hire one yearly and do my rugs
And yes, leave fitted carpets alone or put a commercial nylon in the rooms you cant bear to not have carpeted much easier to clean and wash! on sale and change every few years. You can take them up and give them a good be astounded how much 'stuff' is in them!

Greg D.
27 Feb 2021
Great review

Thanks Paul. Very helpful.

Deborah R.
29 Jan 2021
Agree with your review of the Living and Co BUT

I was struggling with an old and incontinent cat (now gone, sadly) and I did find I could clean up the puddles immediately, saving the carpet from staining. For that reason alone, I don't regret buying this vac. I do sometimes sponge my rugs and then suck the excess water out with this, it does help.

Maurice James B.
26 Jan 2021
Also not the review I was expecting

I was expecting a comparison with the Rug Doctor carpet cleaner as it was referred to in the beginning of the article...good review of the other two cleaners but not a comparison with the Rug Doctor

24 Jan 2021
Very Top Level

Not the in-depth review I was expecting.
Regarding how wet the carpet is, the Bissell has three options - Express, Deep and Extra Deep clean. The Express leaves a fairly dry carpet where the other two expel a lot more water.

23 Jan 2021
Very very helpful review

Thank you

Gail W.
23 Jan 2021
Busselton Carpet Cleaner

I have a bissell quickwash- cheaper end of market. I have had it about 10years, used occasionally to clean carpets and clean up after accidents! It works well though slow to do a whole room. Invaluable and I wouldn’t live without it. It does seem to lift a lot of dirt looking at the water.

David Ellis B.
23 Jan 2021
Rug Doctor

I hired a Rug Doctor for the first time last month. $80 for 8 hours, the detergent and upholstery hand tool. I managed to clean 50m2 of carpet, 2 couches and an entire car interior. It was a hard days work but I was genuinely impressed with the results. In my opinion very comparable results to the professional carpet clean we had a year earlier, and far far cheaper for the amount of cleaning I managed to do.

Nadene H.
23 Jan 2021

In the US, you can get the Bissell SpotClean Professional - a popular Youtube car detailer uses it to clean upholstery in cars, but it can also be used for carpet. He says he's used it every day for almost 10 years in his role and it's still going, and he's never found an extractor that does as good a job. That model is only $279.