Is Hot Water Extraction The Same as Steam Cleaning?

is hot water extraction the same as steam cleaning

Hot water extraction cleaning and steam cleaning are two terms often used interchangeably by carpet cleaning companies.

Even though they have some similarities, they differ in several aspects. Before you decide on which method to use, it is important you understand how each one of them works. This will help you to make an informed decision on the most suitable method for your carpets.

In this guide, we shall provide an in-depth comparison of the two methods and explain how each of them works. 

How Hot Water Extraction Cleaning Works

hot water extraction vs steam cleaning carpet

Hot water extraction (HWE) is one of the most popular and effective methods of cleaning carpets. It involves combining hot water and detergent, which is then sprayed into the carpet under high pressure. This helps to lift and dissolve dirt.

During this process, the pressurized water and detergent is then extracted from the carpet by a powerful vacuum.

According to the Carpet and Rug Institute HWE can be a portable system with a hose and wand, a self contained walk behind system, or a truck mounted system. The Carpet and Rug Institute have confirmed that HWE is the most common method of carpet cleaning.

Hot Water Extraction vs Steam Cleaning

steam cleaning vs hot water

Hot water extraction and steam cleaning are terms often used interchangeably however, they are two different methods of cleaning. As mentioned above, the hot water extraction method uses hot water and cleaning solution sprayed onto either carpet or upholstery, then removed via a strong vacuum.

Steam cleaning involves much less water, as the water is turned into steam which penetrates the carpet fibers to loosen dirt. Many professional carpet cleaning services use the term ‘steam cleaning’ when they are actually using hot water extraction cleaning. This is because there may be visible steam from the hot water.

Unless you are using a steam vacuum to extract any residual water from carpets and upholstery, steam cleaning may loosen dirt but doesn’t remove it.

The difference between steam cleaning and other professional cleaning methods is actual steam penetrates the carpets. There are no chemicals or detergents used and there is no removal of residual dampness from the carpet.

If you have a steam cleaner at home, this can be a great option for refreshing carpets, removing odors and lifting the pile.

Steam should not be used on natural fiber carpets however. The high heat from steam cleaning can cause natural fiber carpets to shrink. For more information see my post on how to deep clean carpet using a steam cleaner.

What are the Benefits of Hot Water Extraction?

carpet steam cleaning vs hot water

Some of the benefits of hot water extraction include:

Deep Cleaning 

Professional hot water extraction provides a more thorough and deep cleaning than shampooing or dry cleaning carpet. This is because most cleaning methods only clean the outer surface and not deep into the carpet fibers. As a result, your carpet may appear clean initially, but often stains and dirt reappear quickly.

Hot water extraction offers the benefit of high pressure hot water pushed all the way down into the fibers of the carpet. The powerful extractor sucks the water and dirt right back out for an efficient and effective carpet cleaning process. 

(Somewhat) Eco–friendly

Another benefit of using hot water extraction to clean your carpets is that you don’t need to use harsh chemicals or large amounts of detergents. According to eClean Magazine all cleaning agents used by professional carpet cleaners during the hot water extraction process are biodegradable and not harmful to the environment.

The amount of water used to inject the cleaning solution into the carpet is less than traditional methods of cleaning such as carpet shampooing. Due to this, it removes allergens and dirt without risking the health of your family.

This also extends the durability of your carpet since most of the cleaning chemicals used in other methods can cause fading, wear or even disintegrate the carpet. 

Minimal Residue 

Some cleaning methods such as shampoos may leave residue on the carpet. The good thing about hot water extraction cleaning method is the powerful water extraction equipment to safely remove any detergent residue within the carpet.

What Do Industry Professionals Recommend?

carpet cleaner hot water

According to Clean Fax, the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC) recommends professional carpet cleaning every 12 to 18 months in heavy use or high traffic areas. In lightly soiled areas carpet cleaning can be stretched to 2 years.

If you are a large family, have indoor pets or smoke indoors, the cleaning frequency increases to quarterly.

What Are the Most Popular Carpet Cleaning Methods?

Hot water extraction and steam cleaning are the two most popular methods. Following this, there is also:


This method involves applying a foam or liquid detergent on the carpet which crystallizes into a powder once it dries. As it dries, the dirt is lifted from the surface and it is encapsulated into powder for easier vacuuming. The major benefit of using this method is that you don’t need to wait for the carpet to dry since it doesn’t rely on water. However, it is not effective for very dirty carpets since it only cleans the upper layers. 

Dry Cleaning 

Just like in the encapsulation method, dry cleaning doesn’t require water. Instead, you just apply a powder on the carpet and then use a specialized machine with a motorized brush to distribute the powder into the carpet. You can use it for all types of carpets.  

Bonnet Cleaning 

This method is normally used for commercial carpet cleaning where there is a lot of foot traffic. The cleaning machines used for this process features a motorized spinning pad for distributing a cleaning solution absorbing the dirt from the carpet. Bonnet cleaning is best suited to low pile carpets, as it can push dirt lower into the carpet. 

Frequently Asked Questions

difference between steam cleaning and hot water

What is Hot Carbonating Extraction?

Hot carbonating extraction is a low water method that injects millions of tiny bubbles into the carpet fibers to dissolve dirt, stains, and grime, lifting it to the surface of the carpet for cleaning. This method has been made popular by companies such as Chem Dry.

Hot Carbonating Extraction vs Steam Cleaning?

Hot water extraction is the method recommended by the Carpet and Rug Institute as the most effective method for carpet and upholstery cleaning.

Does Hot Water Extraction Sanitize? 

Sanitizing is to reduce or eliminate bacteria or pathogenic (disease causing) elements on the surface of something. Many truck mounted HWE machines heat water to around 300 degrees Fahrenheit before using a water pump for pressure. The temperature will drop by the time it is injected onto the carpet, however, as long as it remains above 150 degrees Fahrenheit it will still be effective at sanitizing the carpet.

Can I Perform Hot Water Extraction Myself?

cri seal of approval

The Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) recommend that DIY hot water extraction should not replace professional cleaning. If you are going to use the hot water extraction yourself at home, look for cleaning equipment and solutions with the CRI seal of approval.

Do it yourself carpet cleaning machines can easily be hired from hardware stores and are a cost effective way to remove stains in between deep cleaning by professionals.

Which is Better – Steam or Chemical Carpet Cleaning? 

Hot Water Extraction (commonly referred to as carpet steam cleaning) may help to extend the life of your carpet and offers deep cleaning using a small amount of water.

Chemical carpet cleaning (also known as carpet shampooing) can leave behind large amounts of residual cleaning products which can trap dirt and stains.

In this instance steam cleaning (via HWE) is the method many carpet manufacturers recommend.  

Now You Understand Steam Cleaning vs Hot Water Extraction

I’m a huge advocate for steam cleaning and do it yourself jobs around the home. But cleaning the carpet via hot water extraction is best left to the professionals.

There’s no reason why you can’t have the best of both worlds and refresh your carpets and rugs with your steam cleaner on a regular basis, then calling in the professionals for hot water extraction carpet cleaning on an annual basis.


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