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Renting Versus Buying (On a Smaller Scale)

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You hear arguments about renting versus buying when it comes to homes, but what about other things? Right now we are having a little dilemma with renting versus buying a steam carpet cleaner. Our carpet was purchased new (on credit) shortly after we moved into our house. The carpets have never been cleaned, and with pets and a child in the house, they are looking pretty bad.

In the past, I probably would have bought the steam carpet cleaner on credit and that would have been that. Now, though, every big decision is looked at carefully. What is the better thing to do in this case? Should we rent a steam cleaner for around $25 or should we buy a lower end (but well rated) model for $150?

Since I’m really not sure what to do, it’s time to look at the pros and cons.

Pros of Owning a Steam Cleaner

– No time constraints to get a job done
– Having it available would lead to the carpets being cleaned on a regular basis

Pros of Renting a Steam Cleaner

– No worries about equipment breaking
– Better grade equipment and continual upgrades

Cons of Owning a Steam Cleaner

– Larger initial cost
– Maintenance/repair costs

Cons of Renting a Steam Cleaner

– You never know who used it before you and exactly what they cleaned
– Time constraint to finish a job

Right now, the biggest reason why I would want to own our own steam cleaner is the fact that we could use it anytime and if it takes a week to finish cleaning all of our carpets – that’s okay. With my schedule, it’s difficult to have a huge block of time to dedicate to cleaning carpets. I used to work for a company that rented out steam cleaners (a very small portion of their business). I’d say about 5% of the customers I talked to with would tell me how they didn’t get the job done so they’ll have to rent again another time.

The biggest reason why I am hesitating on purchasing our own steam cleaner is the price. We technically have the money and we could buy one right now without having to put it on credit. But that’s a bit of money to spend on something for the home that you may only use a few times a year.

In this case, I think the decision is a little harder because after six uses of a purchased steam cleaner, you would break even with renting. After that sixth carpet cleaning, it would be free cleaning (not exactly free, but I think you know what I mean). It’s not like in the case where you rent a car for a day for $80 and it costs over $17,000 new. If I only needed to use a car one day a month for a year, I’d rent the car and wouldn’t think twice about doing it ($960). There’s a big price difference there.

I’m not sure why, but these little decisions are tough. I’ve been thinking about it off and on for about a month now hoping to come to a conclusion, but I haven’t. I even googled “renting versus buying a steam cleaner” and didn’t come up with much.

What do you think when it comes to these smaller scale renting versus buying situations?


45 Comments

  • Reply Sherri |

    One thing to think about though is that you might be moving soon. You probably wouldn’t want one more thing to haul with you.

    Also, in your calculations of renting versus owning, you might want to add in the cost of the soap. For several rooms that can add up! So even if you get to steam clean more if you buy one, you will also be spending more money on the soap (i.e add it into your monthly/bi-monthly/however-many-times a year budget).

    Additionally, on the moving topic again, what if you move into a house with only hardwood floors!?

  • Reply Tricia |

    Sherri – good point about not having another thing to haul. The last time we moved was not fun. At least overall we have less stuff now.

    About the hardwood floors, when we stripped the exiting carpet from our home when we moved in, there were great hardwood floors underneath in all but one room and we re-carpeted them all. That was mostly because we live in a cold climate and having carpet keeps the house (and your feet) a little warmer. Depending on where we end up, we may or may not re-carpet any hardwood floors we come across.

    But that’s a good point too.

    I think deep down I’m worried about using a steam cleaner enough to justify buying one.

  • Reply Sherri |

    Yep. I just moved recently and I was very inclined to donate/trash things instead of moving them, and avoiding any big purchases since I didn’t want to move anything new. It’s amazing how much stuff piles up!

    And in more of a funny file, I have a friend that purchased a steam cleaner a few years back. They steam clean EXCESSIVELY just because they own one (at least once a week) – way more than anyone would need to! Not saying that would happen to you, but it might be a possibility if you are constantly thinking that you want to get your money’s worth out of it! I can’t imagine how much extra $$$ they spend on the steam cleaner solution!

  • Reply The Chef |

    In a typical financial methodology, you can assess the working life of the cleaner (purchased new) and then go for the Present Value (PV) of renting (a cleaner) over a period of time (the working life of the new cleanr)discounted at a rate (prevalent deposit rate)and and ind the difference between the two.

    If the price of the new cleaner > PV of rented cleaner; go for renting

    If the price of the new cleaner

  • Reply Anonymous Writer |

    Have you looked into buying a used one at all? Places that rent them must sell them when they upgrade to new steam cleaners… And people who bought them and then decided they didn’t need one must sometimes sell their steam cleaners. Have you checked craigslist?

  • Reply Sunny |

    My first thought is that if you can’t buy it without buying it on credit, don’t buy it. Rent one this time, and later you can choose to buy one when it’s in the budget.

    Another option would be to ask around your friends. Somebody will probably own one, or have a relative who owns one and you could probably borrow it for the cost of your cleaning solution.

  • Reply Ryan S. |

    For a steam cleaner, I know I wouldn’t use it enough to buy it; right now we don’t have carpeting so I wouldn’t use it period 🙂

  • Reply Charlie Park |

    Three quick thoughts.

    One, we have a steam cleaner on “long-term loan” from my mother. We NEVER use it. Ever. It might just be that we know it’s there, and that we could use it whenever we want. But there are a few spots on the carpet that need it (spots where the twins spat up, and we just towelled it dry), and we just never get our act together to do it (mostly due to the twins I just mentioned).

    Two, one thing you might consider doing is buying a used steam cleaner on eBay, using it for a while, and then re-selling it on eBay. You are having to pay for shipping, but the value of the unit probably won’t go down that much. When we laid our floors, I thought about buying a used floor sander on eBay, and then decided against it. By the end of the project, I would have saved a lot of money if I had bought it; I could have made money if I had bought it, used it, and re-sold it.

    Three, you might consider renting it once, now, to try it out. See if you think you’d be up for using it every two months. If you think you’d use it that often, then maybe it would make sense to get it. But only if you’re saving up and paying for it up front.

  • Reply Christy |

    Charlie Park has a good point. In your “Pros” you say the carpets would get cleaned more often, but you are making a claim that might not be true. It could be such a pain to use that you wouldn’t actually use it more than if you rented. Not that I have any experience there, no sir, not me 🙂

  • Reply Ella |

    You can rent a steam cleaner now, and buy a small, inexpensive, hand held, spot cleaner. That may not be enough with children and pets, but it’s an option for others.

  • Reply Chelsea |

    Don’t forget the opportunity cost of tying up your money. That’s the thing that seems to be nagging at you and why you feel reluctant to shell out the cost. If it were me, I’d rent one now, get the carpets cleaned, and defer the decision down the road a little bit (maybe until one shows up on craigslist or something.) While it might feel like you are wasting the rental fee if you later buy one, sometimes it is better not to tie up your money. Especially on a special-use item like this that you won’t be using daily, or probably even monthly.

    I am learning this with the small scale items and buying large packages of supplies, like laundry soap. If there isn’t a big savings on the unit cost, sometimes it is better not to have a bunch of money tied up into stuff even that I’ll eventually use. Far better for it to be reducing debt!

  • Reply Matt |

    If you have the cleaner you can clean the carpets more often without the mental anguish of them slowly getting dirty. You also don’t have to clean all of them at once. If you only have enough time to clean one room there is no need to panic or try setting a whole day aside for carpet cleaning. Now with uncertainties about moving I’d hold off until you were certain.

  • Reply Susan |

    I’ve never found steam cleaners or rentals to work well. I prefer to have the carpeting professionally cleaned once a year. The quality of a professional clean is worth it. My next choice would be to rent because the equipment is better. I break cleaning machines by just looking at them. Trust me, if you have to pay you will get the job done. Our carpets were cleaned yesterday and they look so much better.
    For us it is not a luxury but a necessity! Happy holidays!

  • Reply Becca |

    I used a steam cleaner to clean the upholstery in my car; a soda had spilled in the backseat at some point and I’m going to be selling it in a year so I wanted it to look nice. It worked like a charm and took 5 years off of the interior. If you’d actually take the time to do such a thing and you have fabric upholstery, it’s another use you could get out of it that could justify its purchase.

    Of course, you have to actually find the time to do said cleaning and purchase one that has hand attachments.

  • Reply Drew |

    I think a few points to consider:

    – It’s been many years of not cleaning the carpet. Owning a cleaner may not change that. It’s the ‘exercise machine syndrome’ where you think ‘if I HAD the machine, then I’d do it’, when in reality it just goes unused because you don’t have the time.

    – If time is really a concern, I think the rental is a BETTER bet. You set aside a very specific period of time, then rent the cleaner and go for it. If you buy one and then think “I’ll do it throughout the week”, then all of a sudden one week turns into two which turns into four and it never really gets done.

    – Bottom line: With any moderate purchase like this where renting is a viable option, I think a pretty simply rule is to rent the first one or two times. Then in six months, if you’re really hankering to steam clean again, then look at purchasing. This might seem counterintuitive (you’ve spent MORE money than either choice alone), but when averaged out over a number of moderate price purchases, you will have saved money by avoiding a few large purchases when you realize you won’t use it as much as you thought.

  • Reply jaye |

    I have thought a lot about this rent vs. own issue, too.

    I think a REALLY important consideration is that your house is worth more with the hardwood floors uncovered. You might want to get rid of those rugs in the near future if you’re going to put your house on the market!

    1) If you might move, and you don’t know where you’ll be and what kind of floors you will have, why buy a rug cleaner? Even if you think you will want rugs down the road, you might not be able to afford them for awhile. Won’t it drive you nuts to have a rug cleaner taking up closet space?
    2)I agree that you should check around with friends and see if you can borrow one.
    3)I have found that the rentals work MUCH better than new store-bought ones.
    4)If you’re worried about getting all of the rugs cleaned in one fell swoop, you need to find the time before you rent! You will definitely need your husband’s help to move furniture, etc.

    Good luck.

  • Reply Bradley |

    I think it depends on your situation. We have 3 rambunctious dogs. It is nice to be able to steam the carpets immediately if they track in mud (happens quite often) or get sick on the carpet.

    Our steam cleaner has more than paid for itself (approx. $250 new 4 years ago). We have had no maintenance issues, just the cost of soap.

    However, if we were pet-free, a steam cleaner would probably not be something that we would own.

  • Reply Anonymous Reader |

    If you want to get your carpet really clean, you will have to hire someone with a truck/van-mounted steam cleaner. Neither the Home Depot rental machine nor the home machine will do the job. Check all your coupon resources for a deal on this. I get these offers every week or two. Get references beore you pick one. Consider this an annual or semi-annual maintenance expense.

    You do not want to use any machine or cleaner that does not fully extract the water because you risk damaging the hardwood floors.

    Hardwood floors add resale value. Next time put the carpet replacement money into insulating the floors or basement, caulking, and some pretty but inexpensive throw rugs.

  • Reply nancy |

    Don’t buy it! It takes up so much space and gets in the way! Just rent it… I am laughing, as i have purchased too many things and have regretted it! : ) Keep up with the great work you do! Merry Christmas!

  • Reply Debra |

    I just found your site! I love it!

    I think when you are paying off debt, you should not make any large purchase unless you really need it. I have 5 kids and beige carpet so I clean my carpets monthly. I have no choice. At first I bought a cheap $100 Bissel from Walmart. It left the carpets dirtier than before I cleaned them. When that one broke (in the middle of cleaning too!) I went to Sears and spent $350 on a top of the line one. WOW. It is awesome! For our large family, it was worth it. I use the generic cleaner from Walmart. So it is not too much. Plus I do not use as much cleaner as it states.

    It really is hard to decide for these purchases. My DH and I are discussing getting a 4.0 cu ft front loading washer and dryer right now. We have a Maytag Atlantis which is in great shape (came with our house we just bought). But with 5 kids, I do 2-3 loads a day, 7 days a week. It would cut down on soap, water and energy. But would the $1500 investment save us that much money while we are paying off our debt the next 4 yrs? (I know it would save time and MY energy!) Decisions, decisions!

  • Reply Debra |

    I forgot, we have been married 10 yrs in May. Our pots and pans and cutlery are needing to be replaced. So do I go spend $$ to get the best, or go get the cheapest thing I can find till the debt is paid off? It is SO hard to know!! Same with the vacuum cleaner. I use it at LEAST once a day. Do I get the Dyson I want, or cheapo one?

    It is SO hard to know and to part with that $$!

  • Reply LA |

    Another aspect to consider is storage space. I have a condo with wall-to-wall carpeting, but the closet space is at a premium. Do I rent storage space for purchased items like this, and how does that factor in to the cost? $150 for a machine, then $85 a month to store it and other large items only used occasionally— the math on that one leans toward renting a cleaner, I’d say.

  • Reply Deby |

    Just having one doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll actually use it more often. I have a top-of-the-line, expensive vacuum cleaner that came with a steam cleaner attachment, and I’ve only used the steam cleaner a few times. When my carpets really need a good, deep cleaning, I call a professional carpet cleaning company to do it. They do a much better job than any do-it-yourself model, especially with pets. In fact, before I bought my current house, the rental agreement of the place I was in specifically stated that the carpets had to be professionally cleaned upon moveout.

  • Reply Brenna |

    Whenever thinking about a purchase – ask yourself “Is this item going to help me reach my goals of getting out of debt?” If No – then don’t. If Yes – then buy. Also, would you be happy with spending your money that you saved on this purchase? If No – then rent or have someone else steam the carpet. If Yes – then buy the steamer.

  • Reply Eva in TX |

    Don’t buy it. We did, we never use it, it takes up too much space, isn’t as good as a professional service, and it’s just one more “thing” cluttering the garage. I agree with the poster who said get the carpets done, and defer the decision to own another appliance until after the holidays! Both actions will be better for your mental health.

  • Reply Shana |

    Have you considered trying to find one second-hand? I don’t know what it’s like in your city, but the craigslist listings in mine have a wealth of items — many in good-excellent condition. You might also try a site like freecycle.org, to see if anyone has one they’re giving away for free.

    Otherwise, I say just rent it when you need it. There are some things that I think it’s better to just pay for on a case-by-case basis, and this is one of them.

    Also, you can just do what I do in my bedroom (I live in a shared house, and my room is the only one with carpet) — use area rugs. My room has bland beige-y carpeting, and I’ve put a couple rugs down. They add color, and it’s far easier to beat them out in the backyard, or throw them in the washer, and they keep the beige carpet from getting worn or stained.

  • Reply Susan |

    WOW…STEAM CLEANING IS A HOT TOPIC. Truly Trish..the difference between doing it yourself and having it professionally cleaned is a BIG difference
    in quality. The remark about the hardwood floors is good too. This is a very messy, tiring and wet job.
    We are waiting with bated breath to know your decision! 🙂

  • Reply Donna |

    I have one and love it BUT because my daughter has been a middle-of-the-night projectile vomiter whenever she’s had a stomach bug. Not a pretty topic, I know, but who knows what the carpets would have looked like if we didn’t have it around. Just really depends on how much you use it and what time of night. Plus, whenever we know company’s coming we can do a quick cleaning on the heavy traffic areas.

  • Reply Tricia |

    Wow! Thank you everyone for your input! My head is swirling right now LOL.

    One thing I didn’t even think of considering is a professional cleaning. I will have to call around to get an idea of the cost.

    Because we may be moving, perhaps it would be best to rent a cleaner or maybe hire someone to clean the carpet right before we sell. Our living room definitely needs it. There are hardwood floors underneath, but it is the one room with the unfinished floor. Another option is to get the floor finished. There’s a lot to consider because we do want to display our house in the best light.

    As for a used one, my area doesn’t have an active craigslist. I’d have to travel quite the distance to pick up one from there. eBay is an option (thanks Da big D for the list!) and something to look into as well.

    It amazes me that something I would have bought on the spot using credit is now a difficult decision.

    Thank you everyone for your input!

  • Reply Jessica |

    I have been contemplating small things like this a lot lately too. I have rented a carpet cleaning machine twice in the last 2 years. I spent $30.00 on the machine and about 15-20 on the liquid. I was asking myself if I should just buy one too.

    My initial responce was no way. I figured I would have to rent at the same pace for more than 5 years to buy a machine that probably wouldnt really last that long in reality (but I dont really know that either).

    Then, I rented it the second time and it didnt work very well…so I felt like I wasted that money and it could have went towards buying one.

    Not that this really helps out any…I just wanted to get my 2 cents out there and also say that I really appreciate your blog 🙂

  • Reply Rob in Madrid |

    I would go with cleaners, particularly as time is tight for you. I suspect a cleaner will windup like the exercise bike, a great place to hang clothes! What does it cost to get someone to do it?

  • Reply Anne |

    As a landlord, I can tell you that the steam cleaners you buy or rent do not have the power to extract water from the carpet and pad. I agree with the other respondents who mention the very real possibility of damaging the hardwood underneath. Additionally, you will grow bacteria from the water trapped in the carpet pad.

  • Reply c |

    Another thing to take into consideration is the amount of space it will take in your house. Do you want to devote the amount of space necessary to a steam cleaner?

  • Reply Marcy |

    Another thought to consider if/when you (or any of your readers) move: When my DH & I were buying our current house, as our agent wrote up the purchase agreement we asked the sellers to convey over the steam cleaner for the carpets that we had noticed in a closet as we had done an inspection. They were more than happy to not have to move it and to just pass it on to us. That was one less item we had to purchase as new homeowners dealing with all aspects of home ownership and maintenance.

  • Reply Kasey |

    Would the one you are renting be of better quality than a low end $150 cleaner? I know I was going to buy a paint sprayer because it was $150 and to rent one cost about $125. The difference was that the one rented was actually worth about $500 or so, so it was higher quality and worked so much better.

  • Reply DC Smith |

    I have an extractor (I assume most posters are talking about extractors; I’ve only seen a few home machines, even rentals, actually use steam) and it does pick up a lot of crud. It’s also huge, hard to store, has lots of parts, and does leave some dampness in the carpet (best done in dry, winter air). Having no leaky puppies or urping offspring, I rarely use it.

    If I were selling I would definitely call a pro, especially if I had wood floors under carpet.

    As for refinishing the floor – it costs a lot and makes a mess of the place (with the dust). Unless not having them just destroys the asking price, you’ll never get the money back. I’d have the carpets cleaned by a pro right before listing, or if they’re really bad think about replacing the carpet. Those VOCs they give off (new carpet smell) soften people’s brains and makes them want to buy stuff.

    Sounds like yours are pretty new though, so probably just dirty, not worn. A pro cleaning should do it. You can addle their minds by painting some windowsills before the open house.

  • Reply Mark |

    I went through this decision some months back, because of a puppy. I decided on renting for all the reasons mentioned here (wouldn’t use it much anyway, try it out first, way cheaper than investing in one to own, etc.).

    My experience renting was not favorable, however. It was very difficult to fit into my car for the transport. I BARELY did fit it in, but almost punched a hole in the upholstery on the back of the passenger’s seat trying to get the thing in. Also the machine looked tough and industrial but was a HUGE pain to use. It had to be refilled every five minutes or so, needed to be muscled and manhandled around the room, seemed harsh on the carpets the way it vibrated etc., and it left the carpets looking bad (as in ungroomed — which was mostly solved by vacuuming afterwards), and frankly did not do that great of a job. Also when vacuuming afterward I found a spot where a patch of fibers had been torn free. It’s not very noticeable, and I can’t be sure the machine did it, but the carpet was only about a year old and I’d never seen that before. (Before you ask, the dog has NEVER showed any interest in chewing on the carpet.)

    Because of additional issues from the puppy I ended up just buying a cleaner for less than $200 (new). Night and day difference, the one I got is almost as easy as using a vacuum and it does a GREAT job in a fraction of the time. The carpets are left looking great afterwards, and while the machine still has to have the soap refilled frequently it’s much easier to do so (and doesn’t need it as frequently) as the rental did. Because it is so easy to use I do use it fairly frequently but just to get spots and areas (as opposed to a whole room).

    Okay, that was long. The bottom line is for financial reasons, the fact you’re moving, etc., I would say you should rent. However, I think kind of like some other things you rent the people who run the rental business may be more interested in supplying a unit that is sturdy and takes abuse than that actually does a good job. So, be careful. And probably the BEST option is the one others have advocated: just pay somebody to come and do it professionally as a one-shot deal. Or, maybe rent a better unit than the one I did!

    So, just some more stuff to make you consider and further muddy up your decision!

    By the way, I didn’t report any brand names here because I doubt that’s allowed or good form, but the rental I used was VERY common (actually the only one I’ve ever seen, they rent it out in nearly every store around here, it’s a bright red plastic square unit) and the one I bought is a VERY recognized brand name for carpet cleaners.

  • Reply Micah |

    WOW!! Lots of thoughts on the carpet rent/buy conundrum. I feel you should probably go with renting now and buying once you move. That way if the new place you move into has hardwood floors your crisis will be averted.

    The benefits of owning one, once moved, in your case I believe out weigh the negatives for two big reasons, your pets and kid!!! I have an Aunt and Uncle that use their carpet cleaner all of the time, and at one point they had three kids AND three dogs. (Now they have two less dogs.) The benefits of being able to quickly pull it out and clean up the doggie disaster, kiddies kool-aid and/or the grown-ups grande latte is priceless. (Sorry couldn’t resist.) And if you have time for only one room or the whole house that’s fine, it’s right there for you. Plus, if you move to an area with lots of friends and family around you can all benefit from using it. (Or better yet they have one you can borrow.) And with what you have blogged about getting rid of all your unneeded stuff, I’m sure that if you do buy it you will use it.

    Good luck with your little decision and impending big move.

  • Reply Jan |

    Either way it always has its pros and cons and it is up to you to decide which of it comfortable suits you be it for long term or short term.

  • Reply simon89 |

    I am living in a house that is almost paid off and worth twice what I paid for it, even at today’s low values. If I had listened to Robert, I would still be renting with no end in sight and no equity. I would be a victim of the short-term view. For the long term, nothing is better than buying when the market is low!.

  • Reply Keven Capell |

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So, what do you think ?