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 tray. 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. 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 to be sure that steam mops are not excluded.
We also found a lower level of satisfaction with the cleaning performance of steam mops on hardwood floors. Quite a few users say the floor dried with streaks, or that the "scrubbing" pads included with the steam mop left scratches on their hardwood floor. 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. The new kid on the block is the Shark Steam and Spray Mop (Est. $110), which combines a basic spray mop with the ability to steam and it's the only multi-purpose mop of its kind.
And, speaking of basic spray mops, 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.
How we found the best steam mops
There are a couple of comparative professional reviews of steam mops, but they're quite old and, as such, not as useful as they could be -- although it's still helpful to get some expert insights. 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, older, short-term expert tests. 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.
Best Steam Mops
Steam mops shine and sanitize with little effort
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. $85). It's the best-reviewed basic mop we found, with few of the durability complaints that bring down so many other steam mops. It 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 reviewers 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 it's 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's got a good array of features if you just need a steam mop. It has three steam settings (low, medium and high), and can sanitize, but you have to hold it in place for about 20 seconds to sanitize a spot, something that one steam mop blogger says is just too long. Most owners, though, 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.
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 is a two-tank design, giving users the option of disinfecting with just water or 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 above, many manufacturers don't recommend using a steam mop on hardwood flooring and doing so can void your floor's warranty. The uncomfortable trigger and a body that doesn't stand upright are a few other 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) It's the "category winner" in steam mops at Allergy Buyers Club because of its ability to heat up to 212 degrees. However, even with this steam mop you 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.
Elsewhere in this report:
Multi-purpose Steam Mops | Buying Guide | Our Sources