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I have the dirtiest couch — so I tried 3 popular cleaners from Bissell, Shark and Hoover to see if they were up to the task

My upholstered couch had seen better days. Could the Bissell, Shark or Hoover cleaners bring it back to its former glory? Let's find out.

Three portable carpet and upholstery cleaners on a blue background.
Three formidable contenders, but only one could emerge victorious. Which would it be? (Amazon)

As any person with an upholstered couch knows, it can get seriously dirty — and vacuums can only do so much. I mean, sometimes, you don't even really notice how dirty the couch is until one random day, and then suddenly that's all you can think about. And when I say you, I really mean me. Yuck. So, I figured it was time to attack my beloved, horrifyingly stained couch with an actual upholstery cleaner.

Quick overview

Let me explain the situation. After only three or so years with our sofa, my fiancé and I were honestly embarrassed to have anyone over who didn't already love us. I promise we're not dirty people and actually clean our home! Our poor, comfortable and well-loved couch just fell victim to your normal furniture mishaps: occasional spills, pets and generally sweaty, humid days. There was also an unfortunate incident where movers didn't use proper protection and dropped (and dragged) it on a city street — but that's a whole nother story. Anyway, here's what we were confronted with:

Clearly, this couch needs some work. (Sarah Weldon/Yahoo)
Our mission? To transform our baby from revolting to inviting. (Sarah Weldon/Yahoo)

Not pretty, right? For reference, look at this very happy, very naive photo that my fiancé took the day we got it back in January 2021.

Look how young and bright-eyed both me and the couch are! (Sarah Weldon/Yahoo)
Look how young and fresh-faced we (i.e., me and the couch) were! (Sarah Weldon/Yahoo)

So, yes, it was time to try for some serious rehab. I decided to enlist three of Amazon's most popular portable carpet and upholstery cleaners to see which one could take on this disaster area of a couch. Honestly, my fiancé was so happy he looked like he was about to cry tears of joy. Together, we devised a plan: To accurately determine which cleaner was the best, we took the dirtiest part of the couch and separated it into three equal parts, one for each machine, so we could literally see the side-by-side results. Keep reading to see which little machine stands apart from the rest!

Quick note: Before diving in with any kind of upholstery cleaner, make sure you read (and re-read) any care instructions for your couch, rugs and any fabrics you plan on cleaning to make sure they're compatible with the specific tool and solvents you'll be using. The last thing you want is more stains.

This machine completely took social media by storm a few years ago, thanks to its portable size and exemplary results. I mean, just take a look at the #littlegreenmachine tag on TikTok — people love it! It's also an Amazon No. 1 bestseller beloved by nearly 60,000 Amazon shoppers. Obviously, we had to try it out. But first, here are some quick specs:

  • Weight: 9.65 pounds

  • Hose length: 4 feet

  • Tank size: 48 ounces

  • Attachments: 3

  • Warranty: 1 year

One of the best things about the Bissell? The setup. Just remove the clean-water tank, dilute the included cleaner with water, re-attach the tank, plug it in, turn it on and you're ready to go! Just plug it in and squeeze the spray trigger to distribute the solution, then brush the formula into the fabric.

Since it was the first cleaner we tested, we were awestruck at just how murky the resultant water was. Like, couldn't-believe-we-nap-on-this-couch kind of awestruck. We were also surprised to find that the Bissell was a lot louder than we thought — little did we know it would turn out to be the quietest of the bunch.

Unfortunately, this guy required a lot — a lot — of elbow grease. So much so that my fiancé started complaining about hand cramps, and we'd only tested a little section of the couch. Given that the brush attachment is on the smaller end, this probably isn't the best for larger projects.

Is the patch cleaner? Yes — but less than TikTok had us believing.

With an easy-to-carry top-side handle and clear, simple instructions, the Little Green is an excellent beginner-friendly device. It's also ideal for small surface areas and fresher stains, like red wine spills or pet accidents. 

While it retails for around $120, it's also frequently on sale for less than $100 — so keep an eye out!

Pros
  • Clear instructions
  • Easy to assemble
  • Cute-looking
Cons
  • Attachments on the small side
  • Physically demanding to use
  • Best with fresh stains
  • Comes with only one brush tool
$99 at Wayfair
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$99 at Amazon

An intimidating name, right? Unlike the Bissell, I hadn't heard much about this Shark before. However, I'm a huge fan of the FlexStyle, so I had high hopes for this cleaning technology. Also unlike the Bissell, the Shark includes a dual-activated cleaning solution for extra stain-fighting power.

  • Weight: 8.5 pounds

  • Hose length: 4.3 feet

  • Tank size: 24.3 ounces

  • Attachments: 3

  • Warranty: 3 years

One of the first things we noticed with the StainStriker was that the fabric dried a lot faster than expected. After finishing one spot, we'd notice that it had started to dry before we were done with the next one — so we could easily see the results. The brand promises that it "removes deeply embedded tough stains and odors like pet urine, food and beverage spills from wine and soda to provide a deep clean" and boy, they ain't lying.

Although we were testing a small enough spot that the tank didn't needed to be refilled, cleaning a floor rug definitely would have required at least one, possibly two, more trips to the chemistry lab (i.e., the sink where we mixed the solutions).

Is the patch cleaner? Significantly.

With a compact size, this is a storage dream for those in small living spaces. The reversible brush head, adaptable for an array of surfaces, is a nice touch, too.

Pros
  • User-friendly
  • Dries quickly
  • Easy to store
  • Really nice scent
  • Reversible brush head
Cons
  • Small tank
  • Takes longer to set up
$35 at Lowe's
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$107 at Amazon$140 at Macy's

Last up was the Hoover cleaner, which has garnered nearly 5,000 perfect five-star reviews on Amazon. Retailing for $150, it was the priciest of the bunch. The product claims that it can "permanently" remove stains, thanks to the included Oxy concentrate.

  • Weight: 8.5 pounds

  • Hose length: 4.5 feet

  • Tank size: 40 ounces

  • Attachments: 3

  • Warranty: 2 years

The biggest thing you need to know about the Hoover is just that — the brush attachment is significantly larger than the other two, which was an especially welcome featurefor us. Since this was the third and final contestant, we were tired, so the fact that the CleanSlate could easily cover a wide swath in one go was downright dreamy. It only took a few sprays for it to saturate the fabric, since it disperses the solution in a broad triangular pattern. Despite that, the machine is still compact enough to store in our hall closet.

When it comes to setting it up, you have to follow a formula ratio, while the other two provided fill lines on the tank for each. It wasn't super hard, but it was an extra step.

We do need to talk about the noise because this thing is uncomfortably loud. I actually ended up leaving the room to get some work done. That said, it has some serious suction power — easily extracting dirt and debris that we could actually see in the water through the murk.

Thanks to its outsized tools, you could easily use the Hoover for an 8' by 10' rug without breaking a sweat. 

Pros
  • Large attachment
  • Powerful vacuum
  • Less physically demanding
  • Great for larger areas
Cons
  • Loud
  • Instructions are not terribly clear
  • Rough on upholstery
  • A bit pricey
$110 at Amazon

Is the patch cleaner? Yes.

Not only did it effectively clean its designated section of the couch, the the StainStriker was actually fun to use. It's small enough to easily store in our closet, with a perfectly sized brush head that's neither too soft nor too rough on the couch fabric. The instructions were clear and the solution was easy enough to mix without fear that we'd further stain our beloved couch.

Even so, I'm pleased to report that each portable cleaner did a beautiful job. I mean, check out the before and after:

If you couldn't tell, the before photo is on the left and the after photo is on the right. Unreal, right? (Sarah Weldon/Yahoo)
Finally, come binge-watching time, I could swap out my hazmat suit for a comfy pair of sweats. (Sarah Weldon/Yahoo)