Handheld steamers cost less than larger canister-type machines, and their compact size comes in handy if you have limited storage or working space. Some resemble a water pitcher, with an opening for adding water to the internal boiler and a steam trigger near the handle.
Handheld steam cleaners tend to receive more negative feedback than canister models, with mixed reviews on steam temperature and cleaning efficacy. In general, a handheld steam cleaner won't do the cleaning for you, but it does make the job easier by softening the bond of grime and buildup. Petite internal reservoirs limit you to a maximum of 10 to 15 minutes of continuous steaming and most models have to cool down between refills, making handheld steam cleaners best for small jobs.
In spite of the lukewarm reviews most handheld steam cleaners receive, we found one that blows the rest of the pack away: The Reliable EnviroMate Pronto P7 (Est. $100) gets great feedback from owners for producing 15 minutes of continuous, consistent steam. Its 10-ounce reservoir can be refilled while it's still hot and a flip-up cap makes those refills easy.
"I really could not find anything wrong with it and everything right with it. That is a rarity in my book and I could not recommend this to you more strongly. Oh and one more thing - the price. Incredible value for money and worth three times the amount in my opinion," writes Mercia Tapping, president/CEO of Boston Green Foods, in a product review. Users agree that the Reliable EnviroMate Pronto P7 handheld steam cleaner does a great job, although you may still have to scrub the toughest grime. We found a few scattered durability complaints, but the Pronto is still tops in terms of performance, and it has a one-year warranty plus lifetime coverage on the boiler.
Other notable features on the Pronto P7 include a "steam ready" indicator light and a 32-inch steam hose to help you get into tight places. It also comes with an assortment of attachments similar to those of the other handheld cleaners we've discussed here: brass and nylon scrub brushes, angle and taper nozzles, a window-cleaning squeegee, a fabric accessory and the aforementioned 32-inch steam hose. A carry bag helps you keep it all together.
Our runner-up in this category is the Shark Portable Steam Pocket SC630 (Est. $70) , which is heavily marketed in infomercials. This steam cleaner has 1,500 watts of power -- the same as many canister models -- and one of the largest reservoirs you'll find in a handheld steam cleaner at 15 ounces. The microfiber covers that slip over the cleaning wands are the "pockets" that give this cleaner its name.
Owners say the Shark steam cleaner's performance is uneven, sometimes sputtering water instead of steam. Once it gets going, they find that the Shark SC630 produces plenty of steam, but it's often not very hot. Users also warn that the Shark Steam Pocket is prone to tipping over, and since you have to hold down the trigger constantly with one hand and maneuver the microfiber-covered cleaning wand with the other, you don't have a free hand for scrubbing or manipulating whatever you're cleaning.
The Bissell Steam Shot 39N71 (Est. $40) suffers from many of the same issues including uneven performance; even when it works, you'll probably have to do some scrubbing to get the best results. Still, if you're on a tight budget and need to steam clean only small spaces, it might be a viable option. The 6-ounce reservoir provides anywhere from five to 15 minutes of continuous steam, and the few accessories included -- an angle concentrator, detail brush, brass cleaning brush and fabric cleaning tool -- seem to do their jobs well. We did find some concerns about this bargain steam cleaner's durability, but it's covered by a one-year warranty.
For top performance, durability and a cleaner that's easy to use -- and at a not-too-bad price -- you can't beat the Reliable EnviroMate Pronto P7.