steam cleaning vs hot water extraction - pros and cons

Steam Cleaning vs Hot Water Extraction: How to Choose [Pros & Cons]

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There’s a common question you might face while planning your carpet cleaning.

Is hot water extraction better than steam cleaning?

While both are water-based cleaning methods, there are some basic differences between them. Each comes with its own pros and cons. 

So, you need to take a closer look at the methods to make the right choice.

To help you out, we will look deeper into the topic of carpet steam cleaning vs hot water extraction.

Related Post: Steam Cleaning vs Chemical Cleaning Carpets (Which is Better?)

How Steam Cleaning Works

As the name suggests, steam cleaning uses steam for cleaning. More specifically, it uses water that is heated beyond the boiling point.

A steam cleaner generates steam by passing water over a heating element. These cleaners come in various sizes. These range from portable units designed for home use to heavy-duty industrial steam cleaners. The temperature of the generated steam can be between 150° and 300° Fahrenheit. 

The steam is let out of the chamber to break up the dirt particles attached to the carpet fibers. The steam outlet comes with a nozzle to increase the steam pressure in the outlet. The device also acts like a vacuum cleaner and sucks off the dirt and grime from the carpet. Plus, the steam also removes pathogens and dust mites.

The best aspect of steam cleaning is it delivers a combined effect of heat and moisture. That will not only sanitize but also deodorize your carpet. There is no need for any scrubbing or rinsing either.


  • It uses a higher temperature that can get rid of hazardous pathogens nesting in the carpet fibers. The vapor particles can also get rid of dust mites that can cause allergic reactions.
  • Steam cleaning does not need any additional chemical agents. It leaves behind no chemical residues and is environment-friendly. This also means that you need to spend less on cleaning supplies.
  • You don’t need to be a professional to use a steam cleaner. Even first-time users can get impressive results with a steam cleaner.
  • Since steam cleaning is a chemical-free process, there is no risk of damaging the sensitive materials of your carpet.


  • Steam is not so effective in removing stubborn spots or oil stains on a carpet. So additional steps may be needed for a thorough cleaning. Some believe that high-temperature steam can cause the stains to set deeper in the fiber. 
  • The high temperature of steam can damage materials like silk and wool in the long run. The carpet fibres can shrink and hurt the look and feel of the carpet.
  • Steam cleaning can leave behind a high amount of moisture on the carpet. That means the carpet will take a few days to dry completely.

How Hot Water Extraction Cleaning Works

The process of hot water action is similar to steam cleaning. The main difference is that hot water is used instead of steam.

That means it operates at a lower temperature than steam cleaning. Since it’s not as hot as steam, an additional cleaning agent or detergent is used to remove the dirt and grime from the carpet surface.

The first step is the application of the cleaning solution to the carpet surface. Then, the hot water is thoroughly sprayed on the surface to ensure that it penetrates deeply. Some cleaners also spray soapy water to do the cleaning.

This results in a rinsing action that removes the embedded soil and the greasy spots. Hot water can penetrate deeper into the fibers of deep piled carpets and flush out the dirt.

Finally, the water and the residual dirt are extracted by using a powerful vacuum action. Professional cleaners also ensure that no chemical residues are left on the carpet after the process is complete. The carpet is then left to dry in an open space.


  • Hot water is used with chemical cleaners which helps in removing the spots and stains on the carpet more effectively. The water helps in dissolving the dirt and the extraction process removes it completely.
  • Hot water cleaning is also called deep cleaning as the water can penetrate more effectively into deep piled carpets.
  • The process of extraction removes most of the water from the carpet. This helps the carpet to dry quickly. The drying time is usually within a few hours.
  • Since the temperatures are lower, the process does not cause any damage to the natural carpet fiber.


  • Hot water cleaning is not a chemical-free process. Also, the cleaning agents used should be mild enough to not cause any damage to the carpet material.
  • Hot water extraction method will not disinfect the carpet as effectively as steam cleaning. Hot water is not as effective as the small, high-temperature vapor particles when it comes to removing microscopic germs.
  • Hot water extraction does not remove odors effectively. If you are a pet owner, steam is a better choice for deodorizing the carpet.
  • Hot water cleaning requires more elaborate equipment and is best done by a professional carpet cleaning service. In other words, it’s not a simple DIY process like steam cleaning. Just look at the machinery you need!
hot water extraction machine for cleaning carpets
Image credits: Hilario0822, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Steam Cleaning vs Hot Water Extraction: Which Carpet Cleaning Method is Better?

So, which is the best option for carpet cleaning?

Actually, choosing between hot water extraction or steam cleaning depends on your preferences and the carpet type. However, both processes are more effective than dry carpet cleaning.

If you want to sanitize your carpet, steam cleaning is the best option. When it comes to removing the spots and stains, hot water extraction works better as it rinses the fibers more effectively. With a lower temperature, it’s also safe for sensitive natural fabrics.

Many cleaning services use hot water for cleaning and apply steam on the surface in the second stage. Such a process can give you the best of both worlds.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you steam clean with just water?

No. The main purpose of steam cleaning process is to use high-temperature steam for cleaning and disinfecting the carpet.

How do you steam clean without a steam cleaner?

Using a steam cleaner is the most effective and safe way to steam clean. Without delivering a steam jet from a nozzle, effective rug cleaning can’t be done.

Is hot water extraction better than steam cleaning?

When it comes to cleaning stains from natural fabrics, hot water extraction is a better process. That said, make sure you use environment-friendly chemicals for the process to minimize any adverse effects.

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