Steam mops: Pros and cons
Steam mops clean hard floors with hot water vapor, eliminating the need for detergents. Many steam mops can also sanitize floors, killing bacteria and germs. However, many steam mops just don't get hot enough to sanitize, and among those that do, sanitizing often requires leaving the mop head in one place for 15 seconds or more. Several floor mops come with attachments for cleaning upholstery, mattresses and countertops.
Although well suited for vinyl, tile, sealed wood and some laminate floors, steam mops can damage cork flooring, unsealed wood or waxed floors. Several users also caution that steam mops, which have flat cleaning heads, are not as adept at cleaning tile grout and in crevices on uneven floors as traditional mops. Lastly, unlike a traditional mop, steam mops require electricity to operate, and we read plenty of comments from users complaining of cords that are too short.
Finding steam-mop reviews
We found several useful professional reviews of steam mops. Perhaps the best is ConsumerReports.org, which posts guidelines for cleaning with steam mops and offers a buying guide to help you match your flooring type with an appropriate steam mop. It also rates 10 steam mops based in part on their ability to clean vinyl floors and the amount of water residue left after cleaning, although the ratings are available only to subscribers.
At Amazon.com, we found an excellent if older comparison test of seven steam mops by an Austin, Texas, resident who goes by the screen name "Chandler." She enlists the help of her neighbors and reviews in depth the heat of the steam, number of steam holes, construction and ease of use for each steam mop.
Another reliable source, the Good Housekeeping Institute, tests three steam mops on a variety of floors stained with chocolate syrup, ketchup and fruit juice. Although the article is no longer available at the Good Housekeeping website, it is summed up in a report by San Francisco's KGO-TV. Tests at The Wall Street Journal compare five steam mops in the same price range, evaluating their ease of use and cleaning ability.
Credible steam mop reviews are also available at About.com, where the site's guide to housekeeping discusses six models, testing each on a variety of hard floor surfaces. Pros and cons for each steam mop are listed. (Note: ConsumerSearch is owned by About.com, but the two don't share an editorial affiliation.) We also found reviews at AllergyBuyersClub.com, one of the few retailers to publish reasonably objective analysis of products they sell.
Owner-written reviews from Amazon.com offer insight into product performance on various flooring types, as well as a steam mop's durability over time. Quite a few other retail sites – including Sears.com, Target.com, BestBuy.com, HomeDepot.com and Walmart.com -- provide useful reviews and ratings by owners. QVC.com offers user reviews and a helpful question-and-answer section in which prospective buyers are able to ask questions of current owners. We also considered owner reviews at Epinions.com, Viewpoints.com and on several personal blogs.
Regardless of what steam mop you choose, owner-written reviews make clear that even the top-rated steam mops suffer a high prevalence of malfunctions within 18 months. Another frequent problem is the handle breaking off the steam mop, several users say. That's so common, in fact, that some manufacturers sell handle replacement kits. It is wise to look into the details of both the vendor's return policy and the manufacturer's warranty before you purchase any steam mop model. Nevertheless, many steam-mop owners are positive about their mops, emphasizing the importance of reading and following the directions thoroughly to avoid water leaks and some of these early malfunctions.