The best car carpet cleaners for carpet and fabric stains

For the toughest stains that appear on car carpets and fabrics, a portable spot cleaner is just the ticket.

Parkers' top-rated carpet cleaners for cars

by Chris Williams |

For those of you who transport kids, pets, groceries, and other messy things (that’s basically everyone, right?) in their car, you will know that spills and stains are inevitable.

Some of you will accept that and not get too miffed about it. But for those of you who dearly care for the state of your car, perhaps considering a portable spot cleaner is worth your while.

Why is a portable spot cleaner good for car carpets and fabrics?

A Bissell SpotClean Pet Pro at work
A Bissell SpotClean Pet Pro at work ©Bissell

Portable cleaners are excellent for spot cleaning a range of surfaces including carpet and fabric upholstery. They are capable of removing tough marks and stains such as ink where even the best upholstery sprays and foams fail.

A spot cleaner is not the same as a steam cleaner. Spot cleaners use water, cleaning solution and vacuum extraction, whereas the steam cleaners only eject super-heated water. Household-grade steam cleaners are not generally so effective at cleaning fabric because they are not powerful enough to lift carpet and upholstery stains. They sanitise very well, but that’s about it. Thanks to the way spot cleaners work, they do indeed work very well for fabric and upholstery stains.

The best portable spot cleaners for car carpets and fabrics:

Bissell SpotClean

Bissell SpotClean

View offer

Like all the spot cleaners here, it has two water tanks. One for clean hot tap water and cleaning solution, and one for the used and extracted dirty water. The SpotClean directs the hot air from the unitu2019s motor into the clean water tank in order to regulate the water temperature.

The SpotClean is the smallest unit here and has a 75mm-wide tool at the end of the hose. That cleaning tool doesn’t cover a large area, but it is ideal for cars because it allows access to weirdly shaped nooks and hard to reach crannies.

Water capacity 1.1 litres
Cord length 4.6m
Dimensions 32cm (W), 18cm (D), 36cm (H)
Weight 4kg

Vax SpotWash

Vax SpotWash

View offer

Very similar to the SpotClean unit; similar size and weight, but with a slightly larger water capacity. To fit inside the cleaning nozzle, you get both a hard floor and multi-surface tools. Thus, it is a fantastic little machine for around the house as well as the car. We tested this model and found it to be very effective.

Water capacity 1.6 litres
Cord length 4.5m
Dimensions 36cm (W), 24cm (D), 38cm (H)
Weight 3.8kg

Vax CLCW-MSKS OnePWR SpotlessGo Cordless Spotwasher

Vax CLCW-MSKS OnePWR SpotlessGo Cordless Spotwasher

View offer

This is just like the Spot Wash above, apart from the fact that it is devoid of a need to be plugged in. Yes, this spot washer is cordless and will offer unparalleled portability with the trade-off that the battery will only power it for 15 minutes at a time. It also doesn't have a large collection tank which limits its use. However, if you need to clean your car properly and can't use a long extension cable, this is ideal.

Water capacity 0.28 litres
Cord length N/A
Dimensions ‎23.9 x 35.2 x 39.1 cm
Weight 3.2kg

Bissell SpotClean Pet Pro

Bissell SpotClean Pet Pro

View offer

A bigger unit that is great for pet owners. It has a larger water capacity, so it gives you the option for a larger, or more intensive clean, should you need to. But it is heavier than the others. It includes a stain trapper attachment which collects animal (and human) mess inside a catchment, rather than being sucked in the chamber.

Water capacity 2.9 litres
Cord length 6.5m
Dimensions 36cm (W), 25cm (D), 36cm (H)
Weight 6kg

Important features to consider

The most important thing to note about portable spot cleaners is that they are designed for fabric and carpet only – not for use on leather or natural fibres. If your car has a leather interior, see our guide about caring for leather car upholstery and trim.

Cleaning performance is crucial. The cleaning solution the machines use, coupled with efficient extraction should remove stains very quickly. The extraction needs to not only suck up the lifted stain but also the cleaning solution in order for the fabric or carpet to dry as fast as possible. The machines here have all been chosen on cleaning ability first and foremost.

Cleaners like these can be quite bulky, but it just so happens that the best available are all of a relatively compact size. They don’t take up much room to store and aren’t a burden to carry around on the job. Their dual-tank systems make them very easy to use as well.

What's the difference between a spot cleaner and a carpet cleaner?

You've probably seen both offered on your cleaning journey and it's worth breaking them both down so you know which one to buy.

A carpet cleaner will more than likely be shaped like a traditional upright vacuum cleaner and will be designed for use on a floor. They tend to be more powerful and can cover an area quicker with the obvious trade-off being that they're cumbersome to use in small places and won't be of much use in a car's interior. In fact, these are only useful if you remove the floor mats and can clean them in an open space.

A spot cleaner on the other hand is much smaller and designed to be far more portable. They're designed for more intricate spaces (stairs, furniture and cars) so can be carried around with ease. A spot clean will take longer if you're cleaning your home for example but should be your number one choice if you're planning to use one on a car's interior.

Spot cleaner care

The key to tools and machines living up to expectations and lasting the distance is not overworking them. Just like living things. Before using a spot cleaner in your car, give the area in question a vacuum or wipe it down in order to remove loose dirt and leave just the stain for the machine to tackle. It is much more effective that way.

You might have a concern about mineral build-up over time, having to add tap water to the tanks. Using as little clean water and cleaning solution as possible will help mitigate this. It’s unlikely for car interior stains that you’ll need to fill up the whole tank anyhow. Giving the tanks and suction gate and occasional clean is very useful too.

But we have saved the best piece of advice for last: read and follow the instruction manual.

What to read next:

The best car cleaning kits

The best car polishing kits

Best dog car seat protectors

The best car boot liner to keep your boot pristine

Sign up to the Parkers Newsletter to keep up to date with more of the latest reviews, news, and recommendations from the Parkers team.

Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us