Garment steamers can keep you looking sharp without the hassle of ironing
Don't like to iron, but also don't want to look like you just rolled out of bed? A garment steamer might be the answer. They're quick, easy to use and offer a smooth, pressed look -- taking just minutes to steam away the wrinkles in your clothes -- without the hassle of setting up an iron and ironing board. They can also serve to freshen clothes between trips to the dry cleaner, thus saving money on dry cleaning costs.
Garment steamers can also be used on items other than clothing. Window and shower curtains, drapes, wrinkly bed skirts and more can easily be spruced up using a garment steamer. Unlike an iron, garment steamers can be used on delicate fabrics like velvet and silk. We read a number of reviews from owners who say they use a handheld steamer exclusively and some who say they've replaced their iron with a compact steamer.
All garment steamers have refillable water tanks, nozzles to direct the steam, and generally plug in to a wall socket. The price of a garment steamer varies depending upon size. Larger steamers can cost more than $150, while our least expensive handheld model is a mere $20. Bigger jobs require bigger tanks, which means a higher price, but these larger models can handle big jobs and steam for an hour or more.
Most experts agree that a garment steamer cannot replace a steam iron, though it can be a useful appliance. Clothes steamers damage fabric less than frequent pressing, but they can't give that creased look that a good steam iron can, and they're not the best for detail work like collars and cuffs. If you like the sharp-pressed look that only an iron can deliver, see our report on steam irons.
Types of garment steamers
Full-sized garment steamers can be the craftsperson's, seamstress' or costumer's best friend, or just a handy item to have around the home. Full-size standing steamers resemble canister vacuums, with a water tank that is connected to a steam nozzle with a long hose. Most upright steamers have a built-in rack or hanger for hanging clothes while steaming them, which makes them tall. That's something to keep in mind when planning for storage -- although in most cases the rack is removable or folds down. Still full-sized garment steamers do take up a bit of storage space. Upright floor models usually have caster-type wheels that make it easy to move them from room to room.
Handheld or portable garment steamers resemble a pitcher, with a nozzle in place of the spout. Handheld steamers are useful for lighter duty jobs and quick touch-ups, but will require refills more often. They also take up very little space in a cupboard or drawer. Many people like portable garment steamers for travel -- and most handheld steamers travel well -- but there are a few portable garment steamers marketed specifically to travelers. These garment steamers are especially compact, some even fold, and have dual voltage abilities for international travel. Business travelers especially appreciate the convenience of a lightweight, compact garment steamer to smooth the suitcase wrinkles out of their clothes without having to drag the iron out of the hotel closet. We also read a number of reviews that address the popularity and usefulness of portable garment steamers for destination weddings, to smooth the creases out of tuxes, wedding gowns and bridesmaid's dresses.
How we found the best garment steamers
ConsumerSearch has analyzed expert reviews and hundreds of owner reviews to evaluate the features, ease of use and performance of dozens of garment steamers, narrowing it down to the best steamers and handheld steamers available, including great choices for travel.
Best Garment Steamers
Garment steamers can refresh and de-wrinkle clothing, drapes and furniture
Full-sized garment steamers are very popular for people who hate ironing, or for sewers or quilters who handle a lot of fabric. If you just need a steamer for light-duty work, or don't have a place to store an upright steamer, see our discussion of handheld/portable steamers elsewhere in this report.
Some people who have clothes steamers say they'll never use an iron again. Many of these folks probably own the J-2000 Jiffy Garment Steamer (Est. $160), which is heavy-duty enough to be used in light commercial settings, but is most popular for home use. It can de-wrinkle clothes, curtains, drapes, tablecloths, and any other fabric that needs to be refreshed. Professional and consumer reviewers give it very high ratings for performance, with many saying it's the best steamer they've every owned.
The 1300-watt J-2000 takes one to two minutes to heat up, and then steams for 1.5 hours thanks to its generous, 96-ounce water tank. Reviewers say its removable tank is easy to fill and does not need to cool down before refilling, a definite plus for big jobs. Leftover water should be emptied periodically and every three to six months or so (according to the Jiffy website), the tank should be cleaned to remove hard-water deposits and sediment build-up.
Although the J-2000 weighs 18 pounds, users say the caster wheels make it easy to roll around the house. The lightweight hose needs to be kept in an upright position so collected condensation flows back into the steamer, but there are no reports of leaks. The J-2000 has an on/off switch and an automatic shut-off if the machine accidentally runs dry. It's reported as very durable, and is backed with a three-year warranty.
Our runner up, the Rowenta Compact Valet Garment Steamer (Est. $90), is not quite as user-friendly as the Jiffy J-2000, but owners say it's great for general household use. Like the Jiffy, it can be used for other steaming jobs besides just de-wrinkling clothes, and it get particular raves for working on lighter or more delicate fabrics. Owners also like the larger size of the hanger and clips, which hold clothing steady and make it easier to steam garments. The cord is said to be awkward to store, however, and many don't like that the only real option is to loop it over the hook.
Aside from that quibble, owners say the Rowenta is easy to set up and use. It heats quickly and steams for 1.5 hours when the 81 ounce water tank is full. The tank is removable and easy to fill; it does not need to cool down before filling. Users are also fans of the foot-operated switch and the larger wheels that make it easy to move around. The Rowenta steamer also includes an array of accessories, including a creaser, and a fabric and lint brush, but users say that it still does not replace an iron if you need that crisply-pressed look that you really can only get from an iron.
For a decent, full-size garment steamer at a budget price, reviewers say you can't beat the Steamfast SF-510 Fabric Steamer (Est. $60). Owners say it works great at a variety of household jobs, but many say it's particularly well-suited for heavy fabrics due to its sturdy hanger setup. However there's also a hook to place your own hanger if you don't want to transfer your clothes. Users love the integrated cord wrap. The Steamfast heats up in less than a minute and steams for 50 continuous minutes on 46 ounces of water.
There are a few complaints about a too-short hose for some jobs and some reports of leakage with the Steamfast. Some also say that it takes too many passes to get all the wrinkles out -- or for tougher creases -- but, overall, most say it's a great steamer and is an excellent value for the price.
Elsewhere in this report:
Handheld/Portable Garment Steamers | Buying Guide | Our Sources