Carpet cleaner jargon buster
By Matt Stevens
There's a lot of jargon out there - so use this guide to make sense of the key carpet cleaner terms.
Carpet cleaners, like any other appliance, come with a lot of jargon attached. To help you make sense of it all, we’ve compiled this glossary of terms you may come across when shopping for a carpet cleaner or reading our carpet cleaner reviews.
Most carpet cleaners require you to create your own solution of water and detergent in the clean-water tank, but carpet cleaners with an auto-mix option will mix detergent and water for you, saving you the hassle of measuring it out yourself.
Models that have an auto-mix option will have a separate tank just for detergent – see below.
Brushes and brush bars
Underneath the floor head, you’ll find that almost all carpet cleaners have brushes or a brush bar. Both help the cleaner to push water and detergent deep into the pile of the carpet to give your floor a deep clean.
Some models have static brushes, but if your budget allows for it, look for models with a motor-powered brush to help loosen ground-in dirt.
Powered brushes either rotate (on a brush bar, like some vacuum cleaners have) or move from side to side. Our tests show they’re more effective at shifting grime out of the pile compared with static brushes.
A carpet washer is the standard type of carpet cleaner. Its main job is to clean carpet, though if it comes with a handheld brush, it may also be suitable for cleaning upholstery.
The alternative you have to a carpet cleaner is a multi-function cleaner, which is a vacuum cleaner and carpet cleaner rolled into one.
Most models have two separate, removable water tanks: one for clean water and one for dirty water. The clean-water tank is the one you fill with lukewarm water prior to cleaning your home.
Going to do some carpet cleaning upstairs? Some carpet cleaners are heavy – and get even worse once you’ve added a full tank of water to them. If you’re hoisting a carpet cleaner up some stairs to clean the level above you, leave the tank empty to make the machine easier to lift.
The cleaning area is the width of carpet under the floor head that will be cleaned in one stroke.
Just because a machine has a wide floor head doesn't mean all the carpet it touches will be cleaned. Some models have large gaps on one side of the floor head or the other where carpet won’t be washed – this means if you’re cleaning along a skirting board, there will be a strip of unwashed carpet along the wall. One of the worst models we’ve seen leaves a 7.5cm margin of unwashed carpet on one side of the floor head.
We assess how close carpet cleaners can clean along walls. We also measure the unwashed margin at the front of the floor head to see how far it can get into corners. If you’re looking for a carpet cleaner that leaves very little carpet unwashed, look for a model with four or more stars from us in the ‘walls and corners’ rating in our carpet cleaner reviews.
Like most vacuum cleaners, some carpet cleaners come with a supplied crevice tool. This is an angled nozzle, typically with a narrow opening, that you attach to the hose to clean in narrow spaces – such as gaps next to a wall, or the boundary between stairs.
If you’ll be cleaning large rooms, check that the length of the washer’s cord will meet your needs. Our reviews quote the reach of each model we’ve tested, which is the cord length from the plug socket top to the floor head.
If your carpet cleaner has an auto-mix feature (see above), there will be a detergent tank you need to fill with detergent. Most carpet cleaners won't have this feature.
Not to be confused with the detergent tank. A detergent spray sits above the floor head and, when activated, will spray detergent directly onto your floors. This is used to pre-treat tough stains before attempting to wash the stain out with the carpet cleaner.
Carpet cleaners don’t just charge your carpets with water and detergent, they also try to suck up dirty water, removing dirt and reducing the amount of time carpets need to dry.
Some models are better than others at not leaving your carpets waterlogged. If you don't want squishy, wet carpets, look for a model with four stars or more in our ‘drying’ rating – the more stars, the less soaked carpets are after cleaning.
Multi-function cleaners combine the functionality of a vacuum cleaner and a carpet cleaner in one. Flicking a switch will turn the model from carpet-washing mode into ‘dry vacuuming’ mode – otherwise known simply as vacuuming.
Regardless of which type of carpet cleaner you have, you should always vacuum your carpets before washing them. However, some multi-function devices we’ve tested are less than impressive, so always check our reviews before you discard your existing vacuum cleaner.
The floor head is the part of the carpet cleaner that actually makes contact with the floor, where the carpet is being washed. It will house the brushes and brush bars, and the funnels/gaps where clean water and detergent is put into your carpet and dirty water sucked back out.
Some carpet cleaners come with a handheld brush. When connected to the machine’s hose, this brush can be used to clean areas, such as stairs, upholstery and other carpeted areas, where the main floor head will not reach. It may also be useful for cleaning in corners and along walls.
A couple of the multi-function machines we’ve tested have a hard-floor attachment, making them suitable for tile or lino floors.
Multi-function carpet cleaner
Multi-function cleaners are carpet cleaners and vacuum cleaners rolled into one.
It's a good idea to give your carpets a vacuum before before washing them – so a multi-function device could save you a trip back to the cupboard to swap machines. However, some multi-function devices we’ve tested have not impressed our experts, so check our reviews before you discard your existing vacuum cleaner.
Nozzles are another name for the small tools, such as handheld brushes or crevice tools, that can be attached to the machine’s hose and used for cleaning areas that the main floor head will not reach.
Some carpet cleaners allow you to store additional nozzles, such as crevice and turbo tools, on the appliance, while others will not. If a carpet cleaner comes with a small array of tools, it’s handy if they can be stored on-board, as it saves you going back to the cupboard whenever you need to change the attachment.
A turbo tool is a handheld accessory with a rotating brush. The brush is not powered by a belt – as the large brushes in the floor head might be – but rather by the airflow generated by the suction of the carpet cleaner.
Turbo tools are designed to give a good deep clean to carpeted areas you can’t reach with the main floor head – such as stairs. Turbo tools can also be particularly effective with pet hair – though you’ll need to make sure you clean the turbo tool when hair gets wrapped round it to keep it working effectively, which can be a bit of a pain.
Two-in-one water tank
Carpet cleaners with a two-in-one water tank have a single, removable tank that holds both the clean and dirty water, rather than two separate tanks for clean and dirty water.
Two-in-one tanks sound more convenient, but our tests show they can be a little more difficult to clean than two separate tanks.
Water tank heater
Carpet cleaners should be filled with lukewarm water. Some models, typically the pricier ones, come with a heater in the water tank to keep water warm as you wash, to try to increase how effective it is at cleaning.
If you’ll be using your machine upstairs, you need to make sure it will be comfortable to carry. Carpet cleaners typically weigh between 8kg (the same as a normal vacuum cleaner) and 18kg – which is very heavy indeed. We always measure the weight with a full tank of water. But if you’re going to be lifting a carpet cleaner up stairs, it will be a good idea to empty the water tank first.