The best steam cleaner has

  • A durable, rust-resistant boiler. Inexpensive steam cleaners have a plastic boiler, which doesn't heat as quickly and is prone to cracking. For the best results, look for a stainless steel or aluminum boiler.
  • A continuous-fill boiler. If your boiler isn't continuous-fill, you may have to wait as long as 15 to 30 minutes for it to cool down before you can add more water. Then you have to wait for it to reheat, too.
  • A pressure gauge and safety cap. Hot steam can be dangerous. A pressure gauge lets you know when it's safe to remove the boiler cap, and when the unit is ready to get back to cleaning. A safety cap with a release valve lets steam escape before the cap is removed.
  • A locking steam trigger with variable settings. Holding the steam button down gets old fast, especially when you're cleaning large areas, and not every job requires an intense blast of steam. If your steam trigger locks in place, you won't have to hold the button down constantly; meanwhile, variable controls let you fine-tune the pressure to keep from unnecessarily blowing dirt around.
  • An extension hose and nozzles, plus a long cord. The best steam cleaners have long extension hoses and nozzles to help you clean hard-to-reach places, plus a long power cord that lets you move around freely.

Know before you go

How much ground are you planning to cover? 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.

Do you have plenty of storage and maneuvering room? Canister steam cleaners have large reservoirs that sometimes make them awkward to maneuver, and some of the best cleaners don't include a place to neatly store the cord or extension hose.

Have you used this type of steam cleaner before? Hot steam can be dangerous, so always fully familiarize yourself with your steam cleaner's instructions before use. Some manufacturers provide instructional videos to illustrate a steam cleaner's features.

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