Handheld steam cleaners resemble a water pitcher with an opening on top for adding water to the internal boiler and a button near the handle that sends steam out of the nozzle. They cost a lot less than larger canister-type machines and their portability makes them easy to operate. Many owners also say they come with more attachments than one might expect for the price (although there's no storage compartment for accessories, like most canister-type steam cleaners offer).
Overall, we found handheld steam cleaners tend to receive more negative reviews than canister models. Some owners are thrilled with the cleaning results, while others say the steam isn't hot enough to be effective. Generally, users say a handheld steam cleaner won't do the cleaning for you, but it makes the cleaning easier by softening the bond of grime and buildup. Because the steam time is limited to about 10 to 15 minutes per full reservoir, many reviewers assert that these products are best suited for cleaning small areas. Handheld models heat up fast, but some owners say its a hassle to pause during cleaning and wait for the steam to reheat.
The 900-watt Steamfast SF-226 (*Est. $40) receives the most positive reviews from owners among handheld steam cleaners. Approximately 100 owners at Walmart.com give it an average rating of 3.7 stars out of 5. Many say it's a good value and effective, but better suited for small tasks because the steam runs out in under 10 minutes. Others say the steam isn't hot enough to do a decent job and they wish there was a way to steam without continuously holding the button down. Another 50 owners at Amazon.com give it slightly lower rating of 3.4 stars out of 5. Some say it exceeded their expectations and others say it didn't work as well as chemical cleaners and a sponge on soap scum and caked-on food. Still, this 3-pound model comes with six attachment tools, including jet and wide nozzles, a steaming cloth that attaches to the wide nozzle, two nylon brushes, one brass brush and a squeegee. An indicator light turns off when the water is heated to the proper temperature, and then it's good for about eight minutes of steam cleaning.
The McCulloch MC1226 (*Est. $40) is another product offered by Top Innovations, the maker of Steamfast. It appears to be identical in every way, other than the color and a one-year warranty that's half that of the Steamfast steam cleaner. Oddly, we didn't find reviews on the McCulloch machine. Neither handheld model has the locking mechanism on the steam button that this company's canister steam cleaners feature, so it must be continually depressed to emit steam.
Another solid choice, according to owner reviews, is the 1,000-watt Haan HS-20 (*Est. $55) steam cleaner. Owners at Amazon.com and Walmart.com agree cleaning still takes some effort, but appliances and floors look "like new" again after using the Haan HS-20. It's particularly useful for highchairs and nooks and crannies. It dissolved soap scum in showers, but some users say it wasn't as effective at removing hard water stains. Although the Haan steam cleaner has a locking mechanism on the steam button, owners report this proved to be nearly useless on a handheld model because you constantly have to stop and wait for the steam to build back up.
We selected the Steamfast for our Best Reviewed because the Haan steam cleaner didn't appear to have a better performance for the higher price. However, the Haan cleaner has some features that may be worth the higher price for some, such as a stainless-steel boiler, lengthier 15-foot power cord, and a wider selection of accessories. The manufacturer claims the Haan steam cleaner's 6.76-ounce water reservoir gives up to 15 minutes of steam time, which seems optimistic compared to the estimated eight minutes with the 6-ounce reservoir on the Steamfast cleaner.
The pricier Shark Portable Steamer SC630 (*Est. $75) packs 1,550 watts of power, which is more than many canister-type models. It also has a larger 15-ounce water reservoir and an interesting assortment of attachments similar to the Haan steam cleaner. Owner reviews for the Shark Portable Steamer SC630 at Walmart.com are similar to the other two handheld steam cleaners; however, one-third of the 100 owner reviews at Amazon.com give it the lowest rating. The main complaint from owners is the steam just isn't hot enough to be effective or kill microorganisms.