Steam cleaners are an effective, chemical-free way to clean most hard surfaces and upholstery by using heat and water that's hot enough to kill germs and bacteria. They are also effective on dust mites and mold. Steam cleaners have an internal boiler that heats water, plus a nozzle that releases the pressurized steam. It's important to note that this combination of heat and pressure should not be used on painted surfaces, soft plastic or untreated wood.
Unlike a carpet cleaner or vacuum, steam cleaners do not use suction. Rather,
surfaces are coated in a light mist, which usually dries pretty quickly.
In this report, we cover models appropriate for use in kitchen and bathroom
areas like tile walls and bathtubs. If you're looking for an appliance that
uses steam to clean just floors, see our separate reports on carpet cleaners and
Larger canister steam cleaners generally hold enough water for an hour or more of cleaning time before the reservoir needs refilling. These are meant for cleaning bigger areas and floors. Handheld steam cleaners are more portable but restricted to a continuous steaming time of about 10 minutes. Both types come with a variety of attachments that can be used for reaching into tight spaces; brushes for scrubbing metal and a wide nozzle for cleaning upholstery.
Another difference: Expensive steam cleaners also generate hotter steam, which translates into faster and more effective cleaning capabilities. Features consumers are more apt to see on high-end models include a metal boiler (rather than plastic), variable steam control, a pressure gauge and a low-water level indicator. All steam cleaners come with an assortment of attachments, with other options and replacements available for purchase through the manufacturer (the bristles on brushes can wear down through use). Canister-type steam cleaners come with two wand extensions for cleaning floors and hard-to-reach places.
When shopping for a steam cleaner, reviewers say to consider the following features: