If you plan on offering a wide range of interior detailing services for your clients, a carpet extractor is really a must have. You have so many options to choose from in this category, from portable carpet extractors targeted towards consumers and small detailing businesses, to industrial carpet extractors great for detailing large fleets of vehicles on a regular basis.
In this blog post, I’ll break down everything you need to know before purchasing a carpet extractor, and provide a few recommendations.
So how does a carpet extractor work?
In essence, a carpet extractor is more of an industrial-grade device that lifts and removes hard-to-remove dirt particles in carpet by simultaneously applying water and suction. By applying hot water (and sometimes an extractor soap or detergent to remove hard stains), dirty particles are dissolved in a stream of hot liquid and sucked up by the wand into a holding tank.
These machines have a couple of different tanks – one for clean water being pumped out, and one waste tank for the dirty water to collect in. Most of these also have a smaller tank for holding some sort of cleaning solution made specifically for carpet extractors.
However, as a detailer it probably makes more sense to pre-treat and stains you have beforehand to begin breaking down these substances, and then use an extractor.
Here are a few pros and cons of extractors:
- Great for large soiled areas of carpet
- Great at lifting dirt from areas deep in carpet
- Speeds up carpet cleaning
- Less scrubbing to remove stains
- Bulkier than most portable vacuums you may have
- Can be expensive
- Some can be loud
- Cheaper extractors can leave carpet wetter than others
Carpet Extractors vs Steam Cleaners – Wait, what’s the Difference?
Many people tend to use carpet ‘steamers’ and extractors pretty interchangeably, but they are in fact different. Carpet extractors typically are much more efficient at lifting and removing stains than steamers are.
A steam cleaner is great for using heat to remove stains or dirt that otherwise would be difficult to remove using a degreaser or carpet cleaning foam with a brush. What steamers don’t do are remove what’s left behind – the muddy liquid that has been lifted to the surface.
For this reason, I’ve seen many detailers who will use a wet/dry vacuum in one hand, and a steamer in the other. This is essentially replicating a heated carpet extractor to an extent, only with hot vapor, and not hot water.
Heated vs non-heated carpet extractors
Most higher-end carpet extractors will contain some sort of heating element, which can make removing some stains and trapped dirt easier in most cases. The downside is these usually cost a lot more than basic carpet extractors, and may not be worth the cost for some auto detailers.
If you have clients (like car dealerships) that bring you absolutely filthy vehicles on a regular basis, it’s probably a good investment that can save you time. They do tend to disinfect better and clean a little bit better, so it’s something to consider.
Non-heated extractors will work just fine for most detailers, and are typically much safer on other surfaces you may occasionally use them on (like carpets or rugs) since they won’t shrink the carpet fibers or discolor them if too hot.
After doing some research, I wanted to give a few recommendations for detailers taking into consideration your clientele and needs. I decided to assign each device a rating based on factors like affordability, tank size, maximum output in PSI, portability, and user reviews online.
This unit is probably my favorite option for most detailers not looking to spend any more than $500 on a carpet extractor. While it doesn’t produce quite the amount of cleaning power as a heated unit, but still one of the most affordable and portable extractors you can buy.
The build quality is okay considering the price point, although I would have liked to see less plastic used overall. In general, it’s one of the best non-heated carpet extractors on the market for beginners. With a 1.5 gallon main tank and a weight of 25 pounds, it’s really all you need to get started.
Best for: Entry level mobile detailers offering basic carpet cleaning
For mobile detailers looking into carpet extractors, this Mytee Lite unit is probably the one I would go with to start out. A step above the entry-level model, but still relatively affordable. This one is a best seller in a market that is pretty limited when it comes to quality portable carpet extractors.
It has a three-stage vacuum motor and best-in-class suction. It’s also pretty versatile in that you can clean upholstery and other materials with it if need be.
It has a limited lifetime warranty, and reviews from detailers are generally pretty good on this one. The only knock on this one is that it isn’t quite at the level of some $2,000 models, so repairs at some point (to the pump) may be required. Like many products, the pumps over time will all probably need to be replaced.
It is however a good middle-tier option for most detailers.
Best for: Intermediate-level mobile detailers with experience in interior detailing
This unit is sort of the little sister of the Mytee Lite 8070 and is good to have for personal use or for ‘spotting’. I wouldn’t recommend this for detailers that spot clean more than a few times per month. The tank is pretty small on this one, and will probably require emptying a few times per vehicle.
It is nice to have for personal use due to the fact that this one does include a heating element and is one of the most affordable heated models you can buy.
Best for: Spot Cleaning and Personal Use
Soaps and solutions for carpet extractors
In order to remove stains more effectively, there are a few products that you will probably want to pick up made specifically for carpet extractors. While it is generally okay to use most non-foaming sprays to prep carpets before extraction, there are specific soaps (or detergents) intended for these devices.
Carpet Extractor Soaps vs Shampoos
If you do use any foaming products on carpets, make sure they are safe for carpet extractors. That’s why it’s a good bet to pick up an extractor soap. Most of these are low foaming and are safe to be sucked up into your machine. Although many of these extractors have detergent tanks, you probably only want to run clean, distilled water through water lines to avoid buildup.
Shampoos on the other hand (not soaps) require a little more prep work before being sucked up. Solvent-based shampoos are meant to pre-treat stains beforehand, so you will want to towel off the foam before going back through with your extractor.
No matter what product you use, towel off any foam that may be produced beforehand, or invest in a defoamer to go in the recovery tank.
Adding a defoamer to your recovery tank
In your recovery tank, adding a defoamer is always a good idea anytime you are dealing with cleaners that produce a lot of foam. Over time, foam buildup can be bad for your extractor’s vacuum motor so it’s good practice to make sure you limit its presence in your recovery tank.
You can also spray the defoamer directly on the foamy surface, as well as pour some in the recovery tank.
Pre-treatment sprays and stain removers
It’s also usually a good idea to pick up a stain removing formula prior to using your extractor. Typically these products are usually branded as carpet extractor sprays that can be applied to the surface of the stain much like a soap.
For example, McKee’s 37 is a special formula with enzymes meant to help break down stains prior to extraction. While there are dozens of general carpet soaps or shampoos you may want to use, spraying a dedicated spot remover in combination with a brush can definitely help prior to extraction. And easier to apply than shampoos.
While small detergent tanks come standard in most extractors, they’re really intended for cleaning large rugs or carpets where it’s not practical to manually pre-treat everything by hand.
Parts, Maintenance, and Accessories
In addition to buying a carpet extractor, there are some important accessories to keep in mind that can help prevent problems down the road.
Piglet filters basically attach to the hose connection and feed into the vacuum port of your machine. It’s basically a last-step filter for water to pass through before emptying into the recovery tank. I have seen these for Mytee units only, but they likely are available for others as well. I would highly recommend you pick a pack of these up since they offer several benefits like:
- Reducing the amount of foam in your machine
- Reducing debris entering the machine
- Helping prevent water from reaching vac motor
Another smart idea to help prevent damaging the vacuum motor is to incorporate an inline filter. These filters basically trap dirt and debris to prevent debris from reaching the vacuum motor. Mytee makes a pretty good version containing a stainless steel mesh filter and rugged plastic shell. Called the “Lint Hog’, click here to see how they work.
System maintainer solution
If you are going to be running extractors every week, you want to make sure that lime and soap buildup get flushed out of the system. By loading a diluted system maintainer solution into the clean water tank every week or two, you can help to prolong the life of the motor and the device’s efficiency. Click here for instructions from Mytee on how to use this product.
Not quite ready for a carpet extractor? Popular alternatives for detailers
If you don’t currently offer carpet cleaning services as a part of any detailing package, you may be better off with a spot-cleaning tool. The Tornador the most common device that comes to mind, and is basically a glorified steam cleaner that you can use in hard-to-reach areas.
These do require air compressors to operate since they literally blast pressurized steam to clean carpet, but this method may be the more affordable option for most people.
You can also check out handheld portable steamers like the Rug Doctor Pro or Comforday. These are much more inexpensive for beginners but give you a little more cleaning power. With any of these handheld steamers, it’s a good idea to have a wet vac on hand to soak up any moisture left behind.
Carpet extractors are obviously used in more than one industry, but most are simply too large and expensive to be practical (unless your business is cleaning large vans). If you are a mobile detailer, you are probably going to want something as portable as possible.
On the other hand, a detailing or body shop can handle something larger in order to clean a higher volume of cars.
Everyone’s business model is a little different, and at the end of the day comes down to the types of services you want to charge for. Most detailers I see usually spot-clean carpets or use degreasers in spray bottles to remove dirt, simply because most vehicles aren’t in dire need of an extractor.
With that said, picking one of these units up (new or preowned) can help separate you from other detailers in town who choose not to offer extraction services. Have any tips for using carpet extractors? Let me know in the comments!