Product Review – Oreck Rinse-A-Matic Steemer Ultra

Kids are messy and thankfully, a smart (and probably now rich) inventor came up with the idea of carpet cleaners for home use. Oreck, known for their awesome vacuums, have taken the “home cleaner” idea and ran with it, creating the Oreck Rinse-a-Matic Steemer Ultra.

You can call the Ultra, Oreck’s version 2.0 of carpet cleaners. Their first try was the “XLS700A Upright Vacuum” and considered a success with many home users. Oreck stepped up to the challenge of improving their “home run” and came out with the Rinse-a-Matic Steemer Ultra. It’s easy to tell the difference between the two models: the new cleaner is blue and the older model is mauve (reddish brown).

Special Note: Though the name of the product has “Steemer” in it, this unit does not “steam”, but rather use hot water to clean the carpet, hard surfaces and upholstery. Real steamers are to be used on hard surfaces only and can absolutely destroy carpeting.

My Personal Story
I have two kids, both under the age of three and a longhaired cat. We bought our current home a year ago and along with it, inherited a nasty carpet from the previous owner. Though we called in a local carpet cleaning service, it still looked dingy upon our move-in date. Funds were short, so we decided to live with the dirt.

Fast-forward to May of 2007, 8 months after moving in. The light tan carpet had turned a nice shade of grey and heavy traffic areas were heading towards “black”. Considering that we had two rugrats crawling and playing on the carpet all day long, we made an executive decision: we needed a carpet cleaner.

Why did we purchase this item?
We knew we needed a machine that could spot clean spills easily but also deal with the nastiness of the heavy traffic areas After quite a bit of online research and talking to other parents, we decided on the Rinse-A-Matic Steemer Ultra by Oreck. Why? Well, look at the brand name Oreck. You’ve seen the ads on TV where they pick up bowling balls with their vacuum. I expected the same from their floor cleaner. Secondly, what few reviews were available on the machine rated it well. Thirdly, I wanted something that would last forever or at least as close as possible. Backed by Oreck’s lifetime guarantee, I knew this was the machine for us.

Assembly/Setup
It arrived via UPS one fine morning, packed in a heavy box. The cleaner weighs about 16 lbs (with tanks empty) and is easy to move around, thanks to its large wheels, but with attachments and other items, the box weighed into the shipper’s system at 50 lbs. I’m not sure if it was really that heavy but it was heavy enough for me to drag into the house and not even try to pick it up.

Within 20 minutes, I had it assembled and filled with solution and water, ready to try out. The only tool you need is a screwdriver. The diagrams and directions can be hard to interpret, but what else is new? For me, the cleaner was easier to put together than the bookshelves I ordered from Office Depot a few months ago.

What was Included in the Box?

The machine (of course!)
A hand-held attachment with a 10-ft. hose for cleaning upholstery
A squeegee attachment for hard surface cleaning
One shampoo/cleaner cartridgeMy Review:
The Ultra, also known as “The Beast” in our house, can be formidable upon first glance. It’s a bit taller than a normal vacuum, which makes it much easier for taller people to use. Neither the handle nor height of the machine is adjustable. The two wheels in the back are large in diameter, which makes the machine easy to move around. When you need to store the cleaner, the back wheels were designed to be “tucked in”, bringing the cleaner to a “standing” position and easier to store in a closet or other small area. There is also the normal “cord catch” that you see on almost all vacuums, where you can wind the cord up when the machine is not in use.

The tank is located on the front of the machine and is tilted back to assure that that water does not slosh out during normal use. You place hot tap water in the top tank while dirty water is collected in the bottom tank. The Ultra’s tank system is the bane of my existence and is the one thing I really dislike about this machine. Not only can it be difficult to “snap” this tank in place correctly but if the dirty water tank becomes too full, water will drip out of the back of the machine all over your clean carpet!

In addition, the machine seems to go through water quickly, so the moment you get into a good cleaning groove, the tank is out of water. It would be nice if the machine had a warning light on the handle to tell you when you’re out of water, since you can not see the tank from where you are unless you bend to the side to check.

You don’t add cleaning solution to the tank. Instead, you use these “cleaning cartridges” which are really bottles of cleaner that you plug into the side of the machine. It’s a nice feature, since you can shampoo and rinse without having to change out the water. Problem is, these cartridges are expensive and the machine runs through them quickly. Though I haven’t tried it, other users have had success in “refilling” these cartridges with cheaper cleaner. Some have also told of dumping cleaner directly into the tank, using that tank to “shampoo” the rug and then rinse out the tank completely before refilling with clean hot water to rinse the carpet with. I personally do not suggest either of these methods since it does void your “lifetime” warranty.

To shampoo your carpet, fill the top tank with hot water and insert a cleaner cartridge. Position the machine where you want to start. It’s best to start in a corner and work your way across the floor in short bits. Flip the mode selector on the side to “shampoo”, turn on the machine and start cleaning. Oreck designed the Ultra to clean as you pull it backwards, just like the “rug doctors” you can rent at the grocery store. You press a trigger on the handle to start dispensing water and cleaning solution.

Once you have finished shampooing the section you want to clean, go over it with the machine again, without depressing the trigger, to vacuum up the water. I vacuum an area many times to make sure I’ve sucked as much water as I can out of the rug. When you are ready to rinse, move the mode selector to “rinse” and press the trigger to send clean, non-soapy water into the carpet. You then vacuum up as much as you can, just like when you shampooed the carpet.

It’s helpful to run the cleaner in different directions to not only verify that all the water has been extracted but also help to “refluff” the carpet, especially in heavy traffic areas. The cleaner has a seriously strong suction and I usually only have to go over a section of the carpet twice to pull every drop of liquid possible out. In thick piled carpeting, you can pick up the machine by the handle a little, putting its full weight on the front to help pull up any water that may be deep in the carpet or padding underneath.

The front of the machine’s head is made of clear plastic and is exactly one foot wide. The clear plastic helps you see if the cleaner is still extracting water from a certain area. The manufacturer suggests that you use your regular vacuum on the floor before you cleaning the area and I can see why. The cleaner “input area” is thin and debris can clog up the intake area. Clumps of cat hair, too fine for my vacuum to suck up, get stuck in there. Usually, I can fish it out with a kabob stick or wire hanger. The nice thing is, the head is detachable and can be rinsed out, though they do warn you to be extremely careful, since the motor that runs the beater brush is in the head and any water will short it out.

This machine is far from “quiet” but realistically, what carpet cleaner isn’t noisy? I cannot use it when the kids are asleep and sometimes, the noise can overload my “noise sensitive” toddler. Small, empty rooms will drive you crazy, since the noise has a habit of echoing and reverberating loudly. I try to keep the kids in another room while I’m using the cleaner and wear earbuds or earplugs that block out a lot of the sound.

The upholstery cleaner included in the package is very nice. I used it to clean the two recliners in the living room and was surprised at the amount of dirt it pulled out. I still wonder how we could sit in such filth! Some stains will take a bit serious scrubbing but the thin strip of brush behind the head really does the job well.

To use the upholstery attachment, pull off the “head” of the machine and attach the hose. Push the trigger on the machine’s handle forward, to “upholstery cleaner” and select if you want shampoo or rinse. A trigger on the attachment allows you to dispense water just when you want to. The head has a serious spray, so watch where you point it and put towels or some other covering under the item you’re cleaning, because water will get everywhere, especially when washing a chair. Do the same process as when you clean a carpet: shampoo, vacuum like crazy, rinse, and vacuum again. This attachment can be useful in cleaning the carpeting in your vehicle, though I haven’t tried it yet.

The cleaner does have a “squeegee” attachment for the front of the head to be use when cleaning hard surfaces, like linoleum and tile. I have linoleum in my kitchen, which is very old and has these small divots in the pattern. The Ultra does not do a very good job at cleaning this floor. It seems to leave a lot of liquid on the floor and the beater brush is placed for carpet cleaning, so high that it barely touches the hard surface. After one use, I gave up and broke out the rags to scrub the floor like usual.

Summary
Pro – cleans carpet, tile, linoleum, and just any other floor covering out there along with your upholstery (except hardwood floors)
Con – expensive, goes through water quickly, cartridge-based cleaning solution can be pricy, an doesn’t do a good job on my kitchen floor

Even with its faults, I really do like this cleaner. It does an excellent job on carpet, which is the reason why we bought it. I can quickly put water in the tank and clean up “diaper overflows” or other strange stains without a hassle. Working on large patches of carpet (like whole rooms) can be a tedious task because you must dump and refill the tanks often but after a while, you get a rhythm going. I do not find it useful with hard surface cleaning but am in love with the upholstery tool to clean chairs, sofas, car carpet or other “hard to reach” areas.

Overall, I would give it a B+.

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