A steam mop can leave your floor sparkling and sanitized
If you're not satisfied with the state of your hard floor, you may want to give a steam mop a try. Steam mops can give your floor a spotless shine with less hassle than using a regular mop and bucket. Some can even revitalize a very dingy or badly stained floor. Most steam mops can also sanitize -- and virtually all steam mops claim they kill 99.9 percent of germs and bacteria. However, the time it takes to sanitize a spot varies by model, something we discuss further in the buying guide section of this report.
Unlike many cleaning tasks, using a steam mop requires absolutely no chemicals. Rather, the steam mop heats the water (distilled water is often recommended), the heated water loosens the dirt, and a microfiber pad attached to the mop head absorbs the dirt. This could make a steam mop an excellent choice for those with chemical sensitivities. Also, since there are no cleaning solutions that need to be purchased and the microfiber clothes are usually washable and reusable, there are very few ongoing costs with a basic steam mop.
In general, steam mops are suitable for all hard floors; however, there are a few caveats. Most hardwood and laminate floor manufacturers recommend against using steam mops -- and doing so can void your floor's warranty. Many steam mops say they can be used on "sealed" wood floors, but, again, the manufacturer may disagree with that. Always check your floor's warranty (if still in effect) to be sure that using a steam mop won't void it.
We also found a lower level of satisfaction with the cleaning performance of steam mops on hardwood floors than with linoleum or tile. Quite a few users say the floor dried with streaks, or that the "scrubbing" pads included with the steam mop left scratches on their wood floors. Our advice is to be very careful before using a steam mop on any type of hardwood or laminate flooring. However, if you have tile, linoleum, or most of the other common types of flooring, a steam mop may be your new best cleaning friend.
Types of steam mops
A basic steam mop features a built-in water tank, an element to create hot-water vapor and a flat mop head. You just fill it with water, turn it on, wait for it to heat up, and start steaming. Some reach hot enough temperatures to sanitize as well, while with others you may have to hold the mop on the spot for 10 to 20 seconds to sanitize. Basic steam mops are inexpensive to operate and environmentally friendly. Most include microfiber mop pads that are washable and reusable.
Multi-purpose steam mops perform another cleaning function in addition to steaming. Some have vacuums to pick up debris before you mop, eliminating the need for using a separate vacuum or broom and dustpan. Others may have attachments or accessories included or as an optional purchase to turn the steam mop into a steam cleaner so you can also tackle tile, grout and other non-floor steam cleaning jobs. However, a steam mop will not usually perform as well as a dedicated steam cleaner, which we cover in a separate report.
However, if all you need is a regular mop, see our separate report on mops for the top choices. We also recommend the best vacuum cleaners, stick vacuums and handheld vacuums for getting your floor debris free and ready to steam clean.
Finding the best steam mop
There are a couple of comparative professional reviews of steam mops, however, they are quite old and, as such, not as useful as they could be -- although it's still helpful to get some expert insights. In addition, we found a few individual reviews of steam mops by bloggers or product testers that proved to be useful in helping us narrow down our top picks. The problem with steam mops, however, is that owner experience is often completely at odds with what the experts have to say, usually because of durability issues. This is why for this report we give greater weight to owner reviews than short-term expert tests in naming the very best choices.
The best basic steam mops
A top-rated steam mop will sanitize your hard floors and leave them cleaner than a traditional squeeze mop. Most steam mops have the added bonus of sanitizing without chemicals, killing viruses, bacteria and mold.
For a basic steam mop, reviewers agree that you can't do better than the Bissell PowerFresh Steam Mop 1940 (Est. $90). It's the best-reviewed basic mop we found, by both experts and owners, with few of the durability complaints that bring down so many other steam mops. The 1940 works very well for steam cleaning your floor on a daily or weekly basis. It also does a good job of removing stains on grout, some say -- and several reviewers post pictures to prove it. Many owners say they bought this mop because they felt that regular mops weren't getting their patterned tile floor clean and are thrilled with the improved results.
Although the Bissell PowerFresh Steam Mop 1940 is a basic mop, meaning it doesn't have any accessories or attachments to make it suitable for any type of steam cleaning other than floors, it does have three steam settings (low, medium and high). The 1940 can also sanitize, but you have to hold it in place for about 20 seconds to sanitize a spot. However, most owners say they did not buy the PowerFresh to sanitize, but rather just to clean, so they don't see that as a significant negative. The Bissell's 12.5-inch swivel head gets much praise for its ability to fit under most cupboards and clean along the walls.
The PowerFresh 1940 is very easy to use, say owners -- just fill, plug it in, wait about 30 seconds, and start mopping -- although some would rather see a dedicated power switch rather than plugging in and unplugging the mop to turn it on and off. The PowerFresh's 15-ounce water tank produces about 15 minutes of steam on the high setting, and up to 30 minutes on lower settings. The tank is removable, so it is easy to fill at the sink. Like all steam mops, the PowerFresh is intended to clean only with water, but for those who like the "clean smell" of scented cleaning products, Bissell includes the option of scent disks with various fragrances.
The Shark Professional Steam Pocket (Est. $120) is another option, and it gets reviews rivaling those of the Bissell PowerFresh. It features three settings, dust, mop and scrub; dust is for light cleaning (say, picking up pet hair), mop is a basic steam cleaning setting, and scrub setting is for heavy-duty cleaning. Shark recommends holding the cleaner over any area you want to sanitize for 15 seconds.
While we didn't see the Shark Professional Steam Pocket in any professional reviews, owners love it. One feature in particular that they say is pretty nifty is the 2-sided cleaning pad. When one side is dirty, just flip it to the other side to finish the job; however, some say there is a bit of a learning curve to figure out the "flipping." The pads can be tossed in your washing machine. Shark says that each pad lasts for about 20 washes, but replacement Shark All-Purpose Cleaning Pockets (Est. $8 for 2) are readily available. This steam mop also includes a carpet glider that Shark says "refreshes" carpets and area rugs, but does not clean them. However, several reviewers say that it will remove light stains from carpets.
Most users say they're very impressed with the performance of the Shark Professional Steam Pocket and that their floors have never been so clean. They also say it's extremely easy to use and the swivel action makes it highly maneuverable. The Shark steam mop includes a flask for filling the tank. As with all steam mops, we see a few durability complaints about the Shark Professional Steam Pocket. Some say it didn't work -- or the tank leaked -- right out of the box. However, Shark gets great reviews for its responsive customer service.
If you want more than just a basic mop, the Oreck Steam-it (Est. $150) may be worth a look. It's a top choice in a couple of older, comparative expert reviews, but gets poorer ratings from owners, mostly due to durability issues that crop up after a relatively short period of time. However, Oreck gets pretty good reviews for their responsive customer service within the one-year warranty period, and those who don't have problems with the Steam-It not working properly love this steam mop's versatility. In addition to cleaning floors, the Steam-It includes two brushes, a carpet glider and a squeegee, along with four washable microfiber bonnets.
The Oreck Steam-It is very convenient to use, owners say, with features like a ready light and power switch on the handle, variable steam settings and an extra-wide swivel head. It's also reported as lightweight and quiet. Its large, 40-ounce reservoir will provide about 35 minutes of continuous steam and, along with a 25-foot power cord, the Steam-it can handle big jobs without a lot of resetting.
The Hoover TwinTank Steam Mop (Est. $85) is another basic steam mop that gets pretty decent reviews overall, but it is judged to be not as easy to use as the Bissell PowerFresh. However, what the Hoover TwinTank has that most steam mops don't (and what may make it more complex to operate) is a two-tank design, giving users the option of disinfecting with just water or cleaning using detergent. The tanks are removable for easy filling and a dial on the handle adjusts the water-soap mixture.
Reviewers say the TwinTank is light and easy to handle, with bonus features such as a power switch, ready light and extra-long 30-foot cord. Steam is ready in less than a minute. It also includes a resting pad to protect the floor while it heats up or cools down, something most steam mops at this price point do not include. The TwinTank does an excellent job of cleaning vinyl and tile, according to users, but can leave a film or streaks on hardwood flooring. However, as we discuss in the introduction to this report, many manufacturers don't recommend using a steam mop on hardwood flooring and doing so can void any warranty your flooring might have. The uncomfortable trigger and a body that doesn't stand upright are a few quibbles that some owners note. Hoover covers the TwinTank with a two-year warranty.
If sanitizing is your top priority, we recommend you take a look at the Sienna Luna Plus Steam Mop (Est. $170). With the ability to heat up to 212 degrees, it sanitizes your floor more quickly than most steam mops, however you still have to hold it over the area you want to sanitize for a minimum of 8 seconds, but no more than 15 or the very hot steam could damage your floor. Still, the expert reviewer at Allergy Buyer's Club gives the Sienna Luna top marks for its quick heating time, maneuverability and steam quality. Users also say it's a fantastic steam mop and they like the option to convert it to a handheld steamer for cleaning other surfaces.