* Prices may differ from that shown
Our local hypermarket had sent out flyers advertising a well-known carpet cleaning machine at half price, and our carpets were looking pretty disgusting. So we went to have a look, only to find - surprise, surprise! - that the special offer had sold out. Lurking in a corner, however, we spotted another special offer - the Bissell 'Big Green Clean Machine', with a damaged box and a significant discount. It looked a great deal stronger than the one we had intended to buy. It was rather more than we had intended to pay - nearly £100 - but it was half its original price. There did not appear to be anything wrong with it, and we were assured that if it didn't work, we could bring it back for a full refund. So we decided to buy it. * What does it look like? * Well... it's green! Definitely a bonus there, as I like green much better than orange, the colour of the other machine we were considering. It was rather a bright green when new, although it's a bit grubby now, four years later. It's a short tubby little thing, about 50cm high; rather cute in a way. As cute as a cleaning machine can be, anyway. It reminded me a little of R-2-D-2, that friendly robot from the original 'Star Wars'. It came with a huge sheet of instructions with little diagrams, and a large array of parts. There's a dust-bag for dry cleaning, and various hoses and attachments to do this. For wet-cleaning there's a different set of hoses and nozzles, and a soft plastic tube which takes the cleaning fluid, which attaches to the main hose by little clips. The instructions refer to the machine as the 'BGCM', so that's what we call it. * How easy to assemble? * In a household with three males, I wasn't given much chance at first. They put it together in various
ways, mostly by guesswork, while I was still struggling with the instruction sheet and trying to work out which piece of plastic corresponded to each diagram. It all seemed horrendously complicated; however later on when I had to put it together myself, it wasn't all that difficult. The instructions did make sense when I worked out which section was relevant to what I wanted. * What fluid? * It came with a special Bissell deep cleaning shampoo, which is what we used at first. However we were unable to find any more when it ran out, so instead we bought some 1001 brand shampoo which said it was suitable for this kind of machine. It worked just as well, so this is what we normally use now. There are some shampoos which say in small print, 'Do not use in a deep cleaning machine' - so be warned. We bought one of those by mistake (it was even a Bissell brand), not realising until we got home. If you use one of the wrong sort, it can apparently damage the machine. * How easy is it to use as a vacuum cleaner? * It's not bad as a dry vacuum cleaner, although it's a bit unweildy having this machine follow you about the house. I wouldn't want to get it out every time I need to vacuum, as it does take a few minutes to put it all together, and it's pretty heavy. The dust bag is also a bit of a nuisance to empty, and then really needs washing. However for a vacuum prior to a shampoo, it's pretty effective. Never do it the other way around (not that it would make sense to do so) since dust in a damp machine would turn to mud rather quickly. * How easy is it to use as a shampooer? * This was, after all, the reason we bought it. And here is where the BGCM stars! The fluid is diluted, and poured into one compartment, and the dirty water coming back out of the carpets goes into another compartment, at the base of the machine. There are two large switches: one controls
the suction, the other the cleaning fluid. There is rather a lot of noise when the machine is operating, but it is very effective. There is a further control for the fluid tube, enabling the operator to spray fluid on the floor alone, or to spray while sucking out the dirt at the same time. We found the best way to clean a moderately dirty carpet was to spray an area about a square metre with fluid, then wait a few minutes. By that time the fluid would have worked its way into the pile of the carpet, and we could then suck out the dirt, while continuing to spray lightly with more cleaning fluid. Removing the dirt is surprisingly satisfying, since the hose is made of clear plastic, and you see dirty water being pulled out of the carpet and into the machine! However as we repeatedly spray and suck out the water, it gradually becomes much cleaner, and we can then move to the next patch. * How tiring is it? * It's quite hard work doing the shampooing, since the nozzle has to stay in firm contact with the floor, so I find I have to push it gently downwards while pulling the whole thing gently towards me. However it can be done in stages; I find it best to allocate a whole day or more for carpet cleaning. Ideally all furniture should be moved out of a room before shampooing, although it's possible to clean around it. Probably the hardest part is emptying the machine, as it becomes extremely heavy when it's full of dirty water. It has to be switched off, obviously, and the lid and hoses removed. The entire thing then needs to be tipped down the drain or into the loo. Someone suffering back problems would need to wait for a strong man or else empty it when only partially full. * How easy is it to store? * At first we put it all away in the box each time, which was rather a nuisance. However we eventually got rid of the box, since the main body of the machine fits neatly on some shelving, and
the various attachments can be hung up with a rack that's provided with it. It does take up a fair amount of space. * How often should it be used? * This depends on how dirty the carpets are! Probably twice a year would be ideal, but we generally do it about once a year, unless there's an unexpected spill or extremely dirty carpet. * Can it be used for anything else? * It's excellent for getting rid of any kind of water on the floor. We had a problem with a leaking roof for a while. Before we had the BGCM it would take hours of mopping and drying to clean up after a heavy rainstorm. With the BGCM it took about ten minutes. I gather it can be used to unblock drains, although we've never tried this. And it could probably be used to spray wallpaper-remover onto high walls, although again we haven't tried it. * Any warnings? * It's important to listen to the machine while it's in use. The noise it makes is a droning sort of sound, while operating. When the dirty water compartment is full, the note changes. This isn't all that obvious, so it's important to listen out for it. As soon as the note changes, it's vital to switch off, and empty it, otherwise the water could overflow and cause damage. * Is it good value for money? * The BGCM is not cheap, but it's well-made and should last for many years. We hope so, anyway! We would not have paid full price for it at the time we bought it, but then again, over the years, it would more than save the cost of renting a good carpet shampooer once or twice a year. Shampooing carpets regularly is a good way to prolong carpet life, so that in itself is a long-term financial benefit from having a machine like this. * Where can they be bought? * Bissell make a variety of carpet-cleaning machines, and the BGCM isn't widely available, but I've seen them sometimes listed on th
e Bissell Direct site http://www.bisselldirect.co.uk/productlisting.asp - refurbished ones are sometimes under £100 including delivery.