Best Portable Carpet Cleaners of 2024

Similar to full-sized models, portable carpet cleaners have two principal functions: They dispense clean water with detergent onto your dirty carpet, then suction up the dirty liquid. All of the portable models we tested have separate tanks for clean and dirty water, though it’s worth noting that their tanks are smaller than those of their larger counterparts.

One key difference between full-sized models and portable ones is that portables apply cleaning fluid and suction it back up exclusively with an attachment on a hose. The cleaning bristles of full-sized models work with mechanical action—spinning to help scrub out dirt while you move the machine across a carpet—the portable models’ brush heads don’t spin on their own. That means stubborn stains may take a fair bit of elbow grease to get out.

That said, our testers noticed that the way some models dispense water allows for better agitation of soil, making it easier for them to clean. Models with wider nozzles also tended to perform better, in part because wider nozzles allow them to pick up water as it’s dispensed, requiring fewer passes over the same area to do their job.

In our tests, we noticed that despite their small size, portable carpet cleaners make a surprising amount of noise while they’re running. Noise readings for some models approached 90 decibels, which is comparable to the noise full-sized models make.

CR lab technician Tyler Ivester said that while measuring noise readings, he got notifications from his smartwatch about the loud sounds. “My Apple Watch warned me that I was in a ‘loud environment’ with noise levels approaching 90 dB,” he said, “which is fairly high, and definitely at the point where we would typically advise wearing some form of PPE (personal protective equipment) for any testing.”

Though full-sized models are also noisy, you’re typically standing upright while using them, so the noise is a little further away from your ears. When using a portable carpet cleaner, you’re handling a hose attachment at floor level and are likely to be closer to the machine.

The biggest perk of portable carpet cleaners, though, is their small size and relatively light weight. Where a full-sized carpet cleaner with a full tank of cleaning solution can weigh up to 60 pounds, the heaviest portable model we tested weighs 19 pounds with a full tank, and the lightest one is just 9 pounds when full. That means that not only are they great for cleaning hard-to-reach spots in your home, like parts of the carpet under heavy furniture or carpeted stairs, but they’re also ideal for toting outside to clean your car upholstery. (While all the carpet cleaners we’ve tested—both full-sized and portable—are corded, some brands are developing cordless cleaners.)