A common misconception is that extractors are the same as steam cleaners. Debby Davis, product manager for Powr-Flite, shares this idea dates back to the 1960s when extractors were first introduced. These early machines heated the water to above 200 degrees Fahrenheit and were incorrectly referred to as steam cleaners. While some modern systems heat the cleaning solution, others perform with cold water.

Actual steam cleaners work well on hard surfaces, states Abraham, but they do not eliminate oily soil from carpets.

“Take a coffee stain for example. With an extractor you are injecting water onto the carpet, thereby flushing the dirt and water out using the vacuum system,” explains President of Diamond Lustre Ltd. Bruce Micciche. “With a steamer you steam up the dirt, then wipe it off with a towel. Because this method [typically] does not address the coffee that soaked through the carpet, you can get a wicking effect and the coffee stain can return as the carpet dries.”

Micciche adds, "Although it is still possible to still get a little wicking when using an extractor, it is much less likely to occur when done properly."

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