Pros: Lightweight, Powerful suction; reasonably priced; cleverly designed; does a good job
Cons: Not for very large jobs; "cartridge" shampoo system (there is a solution however)
I recently purchased the new Oreck "Rinse-A-Matic" Steemer at my local Oreck shop.
This is Oreck's newest version of the Steemer, released in February 2002.
I'd looked at Hoover, Eureka and Bissell machines, but could not get that excited about a single purpose machine for $300-$400. Like all the others, this is not really a "steam" unit, but a hot water extraction unit. True "Steam" sterilizing units will cost over $600, and are suitable for hard surfaces only. Hot steam ruins carpets.
The Oreck is capable of cleaning both carpets and linoleum or tile floors. The double helix scrubber brush is powered by its own motor, and a soft rubber squeegee to channel the water to the suction ports is new on the Rinse-A-Matic.
- Relatively small size makes it easy to store and move around.
- Clear Plastic suction "tunnel" lets you see when water is coming out of the carpet
- Rinse capability lets you go over the floor with clean water and pick up more of any remaining soap residue.
- Good suction/extraction - my carpets dried in about 3 hours, even after both shampoo and a rinse pass.
- Direct drive scrubber brush with its own motor doesn't "stall" when you're scrubbing hard. No un-scrubbed "lines" as with the small rotating brushes of other units.
- The price of the unit. Never buy direct from Oreck. ($389) The local Oreck franchise store sold me mine for $219. They assembled it for me, and I have a place I can take it back to if I decide to return it! QVC sells them for $199-$249 depending on how much Oreck soap you buy with it.
- Has an upholstery cleaning wand on a hose for cleaning stairs and furniture.
- Easy switching between "shampoo" and "rinse" settings
- Long cord with it's own GCI safety disconnect.
- Water tanks are designed such that gravity can never cause a spill should a gasket go bad. The unit has a separate suction pump motor to put pressure behind the fresh water and shampoo dispensing.
- Easy to clean up the unit when you're done
- Scrub brushes are replaceable ($13), as is floor squeegee
I don't like:
- Small head width is nice for tight spaces and touchups, laboriously slow for larger areas
- If you let the dirty tank get too full, it starts to drip dirty water "over the top".
- Fairly noisy when using it. (so is Hoover & Bissell however?) Strong suction makes noise.
- Very cheap looking, plastic-y feel to the unit. Oreck strives for light weight.
- Oreck tries to lock you into their overpriced shampoo with their "soap cartridge" design.
Small (72oz) Water tank is a good-news / bad-news thing. It keeps the unit lighter, your hot water doesn't cool down before it's all gone, and you can re-fill it at the sink -- needn't go outside and use the garden hose. On the downside, it requires more frequent stops to drain the dirty water and refill the fresh water. It has a built in temperature gauge so you know that you're putting the right temperature water into the unit.
The "cartridge" shampoo system is both a blessing and a curse.
I can see that Oreck wanted a way to make it very easy to deal with mixing the shampoo with water. With its small tank, the user is OFTEN emptying and re-filling the tank. Not having to measure and mix soap on each re-fill is a blessing.
On the downside, Oreck's packaging for the soap is pricey to produce, and the markup is huge. You go through a $5-$8 bottle of shampoo with less than two full 72oz tanks of water. My new machine dispenses 130 oz of water per 15 oz bottle of shampoo. This cleans about 180-200 Sq. ft of lightly soiled carpet, but under 100 sq. feet of heavily soiled carpet, where you're moving the machine more slowly over the dirty surface. I went through over 4 bottles on one 17 x 18 playroom -- admittedly very soiled carpet, but over $20 in shampoo for 1 room?? That is 6.5 cents per square foot for just soap, never mind the cost of the machine. I can almost hire a major truck-mounted carpet contractor to come out for that much and I'll get a better cleaning job without doing the hot, steamy work! (which took 2.5 hours for spot blotting, shampoo and rinse passes. The small width of the cleaning head is not great for larger areas)
Taking the "Oreck challenge", it became immediately clear to me that if I was to even THINK about keeping this machine, I would have to test the re-fillability of the soap cartridges. Fortunately, this is not a difficult thing.
When you purchase your machine, get the 6 bottle shampoo bundle with it. Keep those bottles once used because you can go to Lowes and purchase a GALLON of shampoo concentrate for $8-$10 that is consumed 1 part soap for 64 parts water -- contrast that to Oreck's soap which costs over $20/gallon and is consumed at a rate of 1 part soap for 9-10 parts water. Not only that, I could choose a more palatable scent than the cloyingly sweet commercial lemon perfume Oreck uses in their soap.
Pry the feeder cap off an empty Oreck soap cartridge (bottle), and pour a couple oz. of the Lowes soap, then fill the bottle with water. When this is used in the machine, it is further diluted to the recommended 64:1 for the Lowes soap. You can do the math for any carpet or floor soap you happen to purchase. Just remember that the Steemer dilutes at about 10:1. Snap the feeder tube/cover back on, then put the screw cap on the bottle until you're ready to use it. The machine won't operate without a soap bottle/cartridge installed, so mixing the soap directly into the tank is not any easier -- you'll just have to hassle with the foam in the tank then. Oreck publishes all their horsehockey about voiding your warranty if you don't use their soap, but hey, their soap is just too expensive to make it worth while.
CLEANING HARD FLOORS:
The Oreck Rinse-A-Matic does an OK job on hard floors. The bristles on the brush are optimized for carpet, so they're too soft to really "scrub" a floor as required for a grimy job, but for light cleaning, it is great to just "vacuum" the floor and pick up a lot of surface dirt. If you're using Oreck soap, you'll pay dearly for this convenience however. Fill your soap bottles with 409, SimpleGreen, PineSol or whatever you like to use, at the right dilution ratio. The new Rinse-A-Matic Steemer unit has a replaceable soft rubber squeegee on the extractor which wipes the hard floor surface clean and helps the suction pull up most of the water.
I like the convenience of this machine for touch-up cleaning, and a quick clean of our kitchen and laundry room linoleum floors. It does a good job given it's low cost and light weight, but it doesn't replace the need for a good professional carpet cleaning once in a while. This comment goes for the Hoover and Bissell units too -- like the Steemer, these are not real deep "extractors" but rather a convenient way to touch-up the surface of your carpets cleaner than they were.
If you're not willing to futz with re-filling the soap bottles, don't bother with the Oreck unit -- it is too expensive to operate with the Oreck soap at $5 or more per bottle. You might as well hire a professional. Other than that, I think it works better than the Hoover /Bissell units due to better suction and a more robust scrubber brush design. Also works on hard floors. You can't really go wrong when you have 30 days to play with it before deciding whether or not to keep it. Check out your local Oreck franchise before buying online. You might get lucky as I did and get a good price, while still retaining the ease of returning the unit (if you hate it) without having to re-pack and ship it back. My store even assembled the thing for me!
Be sure to ask for the NEW Rinse-A-Matic Steemer. It is a much improved unit compared to the original Steemer.