Testing carpet cleaning machines is a dirty job. First, testers evenly spread a measured amount of topsoil over the carpet. Next, they spray it with water, then use a heavy roller to press in the dirt. Testers then vacuum the dried dirt and use a colorimeter to measure the amount left on each rug.
Then, it's time for the carpet cleaning machines to be put to work. Each one passes over the soiled area 20 times. Lastly, the colorimeter measures the difference. Some results were clearly better.
"No home machines or rented ones did as good a job cleaning as the professional service. You can really see the difference between the professional cleaning and the lowest score carpet cleaner, the Bissell QuickSteamer 1770," said Consumer Reports' Emilio Gonzalez.
Nevertheless, Consumer Reports did find a carpet cleaner that delivered very good results: the $270 Hoover Dual SteamVac All Terrain with spin scrub brushes. It's pricey, but just a fraction of what you would pay for professional cleaning jobs.
Consumer Reports also tested cleaning solutions and spot cleaners. For carpet cleaning machines, if a cleaning solution is not specified, try the top-rated Fresh Solutions Allegren Complete cleaner for about $17. And if you're just looking to do some spot cleaning, testers recommend the Bissell OxyPro Carpet and Stain Remover for about $5.