How much cleaning to you need to do? The smallest, lightest handheld steam cleaners may provide as few as 10 minutes of continuous steam cleaning, while some canister models can keep going for more than an hour. If you have a lot of ground to cover, the largest canister models save you the time and frustration of constant refills. However, if you just need a few minutes of steam for removing stickers or cleaning around the bathroom faucet, a small, inexpensive vapor cleaner will do the job.
Do you have plenty of storage and maneuvering room? Canister steam cleaners have large reservoirs that sometimes make them awkward to maneuver, and even some of the best cleaners don't include a place to neatly store the cord, extension hose or the included accessories. Be sure you're aware of the total dimensions of the steam cleaner you're considering, so it has a place where it can be stowed away conveniently when it's not in use, and so it's not too big for you to comfortably handle.
Have you read the instructions? Hot steam can be dangerous, so always fully familiarize yourself with your steam cleaner's instructions before use. Some manufacturers provide instructional online videos to illustrate a steam cleaner's features. These can be very helpful if you're unsure of how to operate your new piece of equipment.
Steam cleaners in general get lower ratings than we see with many other types of cleaners, and the reason for that is often unrealistic expectations. People are disappointed when a small, cheap steam cleaner won't do the job of a commercial-grade model, or they expect a commercial-grade model to completely restore materials that have been virtually destroyed by time and neglect. Small steam cleaners are for small jobs; larger, canister-style vapor cleaners are for bigger jobs -- but even those are not miracle workers.
Steam cleaners are best used for cleaning bathrooms, grills, appliances, grout and other jobs that otherwise would require quite a bit of sprayed-on chemicals plus elbow grease. Even though they usually include attachments to clean floors and de-wrinkle fabrics, they will not work as well at either of those jobs as a dedicated steam mop or garment steamer, both of which we cover in separate reports.