It's natural to assume that any steam mop can sanitize a floor, but many models do not emit vapor that's hot enough to kill bacteria and dust mites. To produce steam, water has to reach its boiling point of 212 degrees Fahrenheit; however, by the time that vapor travels from the heating element to the floor, it may have cooled dramatically. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), you need a temperature of at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit to kill dust mites, 165 degrees to kill food-borne bacteria, and 212 degrees to eliminate a variety of other bacteria.
Some steam mops can only achieve these temperatures at floor level if you hold the mop in one place for as long as 15 seconds. Therefore sanitizing a whole room's floor effectively can turn into a long, tedious job. This method is also risky, because leaving a steam mop in one place that long can damage flooring. For example, the instructions for both the Eureka Envirosteamer 313A (*Est. $55) and the Reliable Steamboy T1 recommend holding the mop in place a minimum of 8 seconds to sanitize. You can see how this would be impractical if you're trying to sanitize a large floor.
In addition, models such as the Bissell 1867-7 Steam Mop (*Est. $80), the Shark Steam Mop S3101 (*Est. $50), the Shark Steam Pocket Mop S3501 (*Est. $80) and the Reliable Steamboy T1 do not produce continuous steam; instead, users must pump a handle or press a trigger to release steam. While this lets users control how much steam is released, some say it can become tiring on bigger jobs.
According to the reviews we found, the Haan FS-20 Sanitizing Steam Mop (*Est. $80) is the best all-around steam mop, capable of sanitizing and standard cleaning. Haan claims that their mops are the only models that can emit 212-degree steam continuously without having to hold the mop in one spot for an extended period of time; the steam comes out hot enough at floor level to kill germs in just one second. You'll still have to mop slowly, but you can keep the Haan steam mop moving rather than having to hold it in one spot. Unlike other steam mops that only have a single steam outlet in the mop head, the Haan FS-20 has 15 steam holes. This provides more uniform vapor distribution, experts say, and reduces the likelihood of leaving excess water behind, a common complaint with some steam mops.
The Haan FS-20 (which weighs just under 4 pounds with a full water tank) has an adjustable handle, a cord that's nearly 20 feet long and a foot-pedal power switch. An optional short handle (*Est. $10) converts the steam mop to a handheld steamer, which reviews say is useful for killing dust mites in bedding and upholstery and bacteria in the bathroom. You can use it on countertops, too, but not on a vertical surface like a tile wall. A carpet tray (*Est. $10) lets you use it to freshen carpets. Haan often packages the FS-20 with the carpet tray and short handle under the name FS-20 Plus Steam Cleaning Floor Sanitizer (*Est. $80).
While most reviewers rave about the Haan FS-20's cleaning prowess, some complain that the adjustable handle is flimsy or bemoan the lack of a swivel head. Reviewers also say the Haan's cord is too short and water reservoir too small to adequately clean a large room in one pass (although the steam is so fine that many report using the FS-20 for 15 to 20 minutes between refills). Note that you must wait at least 30 seconds after steaming before refilling the tank, and the steam mop takes another 3 minutes to generate steam again.
A newer Haan steam mop, the Haan SI-35 Slim & Light Sanitizing Steam Mop (*Est. $95), also earns higher ratings on several sites, though not as many as the FS-20. As implied by its name, the Slim and Light has a low-profile steam head, allowing it to reach under appliances and furniture, but it is a pound heavier than the FS-20. The Slim and Light uses an internal pump, which some users report is noisy. The water tank is 2 ounces larger than the FS-20's tank and removable, and it reportedly lasts for 20 to 30 minutes of cleaning. It still takes a similar three minutes to heat up, but you do not have to wait for the mop to cool down to refill the water.
So far, the Haan SI-35 steam mop has earned generally positive reviews for its ease of use and cleaning capability, with very high average scores at both Amazon.com and Walmart.com. Though it comes with a carpet-tray attachment, the greatest drawback to the Slim & Light, users say, is its lack of a short handle attachment to clean countertops or upholstery. Given that the FS-20 is more versatile and cheaper than the Slim & Light, the Haan FS-20 remains our top choice for best all-around steam mop.
If sanitizing is less important than simply removing dirt from your floors, reviews point to a couple other steam mops that are as proficient (if not more so) at cleaning hard floors as the Haan FS-20. One such model, the Bissell 1867-7 Steam Mop (*Est. $80), is one of the most popular and well reviewed steam mops available. The Bissell 1867-7 (sometimes sold as the Bissell Green Tea steam mop) has a non-removable rectangular head and weighs less than 7 pounds. Reviewers say it's easy to handle; they like the way it pivots 360 degrees, making it easy to clean small spaces like a bathroom. The 17.5-ounce reservoir heats up in 30 seconds and can provide about 15 minutes of cleaning time, but it does have to be removed each time to refill it.
To sanitize your floors with the Bissell 1867-7, you'll have to hold the steam mop in place for 15 seconds, compared to the Haan FS-20, which can sanitize in one second. Unlike Haan mops, the Bissell 1867-7 emits steam only when the trigger on the handle is pressed. This trigger gives you more control over when and how much steam you release, reviewers say, but some complain that holding the trigger in the down position can be tiring. The steam only comes out through one hole on the mop head, which tends to oversaturate the mop head. As such, there are a number of complaints about the Bissell 1867-7 leaving a lot of water on the floor.
Other main drawbacks, reviewers say, are its 18-foot cord, which is shorter than those found on some other mops, and the need to replace a filter (*Est. $12) every few months. Experts generally recommend using distilled water in a steam mop to avoid mineral deposits, and reviewers say this is particularly important with the Bissell because the water flows past the heating mechanism rather than being directly heated in the tank. In addition, tall people may find the nonadjustable 45-inch handle too short and uncomfortable to use. Lastly, prices for the Bissell 1867-7 vary widely, so it's worth your time to shop around.
The Eureka Envirosteamer 313A (*Est. $55) earns similar praise from reviewers and enjoys a few advantages over the Bissell, including a lower price. Comparison reviews praise the Envirosteamer for its sturdy build and ease of use. At 5.4 pounds, it is hefty enough to apply pressure to difficult stains, but the Envirosteamer isn't so heavy that it isn't easily portable. Its 25-foot cord is one of the longest available, and its water tank holds 20 ounces, making it a good choice for large areas and jobs. In a head-to-head comparison performed by Amazon.com Hall of Fame reviewer "Chandler," this large capacity allowed the Envirosteamer to clean for more than 20 minutes before needing to be refilled, while the Haan FS-20 lasted for 15 minutes and the Bissell 1867-7 for only 12.5 minutes.
Chandler also measured the steam from the Envirosteamer at 220 degrees, using a commercial thermometer, but the manufacturer says the Envirosteamer will produce steam at 170 degrees when left in place between eight and 15 seconds. So while the Envirosteamer is clearly capable of sanitizing your floors, it's unclear how quickly it will do it. The Envirosteamer, like the Haan FS-20, releases fine continuous steam that a foot pedal turns on and off. Multiple steam holes in the mop head allow for even distribution. However, some users at Amazon.com criticize the Envirosteamer for leaking water and leaving the cleaning pad sopping wet. Others say this problem self-corrected after they had used their Envirosteamer a handful of times.
About.com's guide to housekeeping also tests the Envirosteamer, praising its ability to clean every hard floor surface tested (vinyl, ceramic tile, laminate and hard wood), as well as for its maneuverability and good edge cleaning. (Note: ConsumerSearch is owned by About.com, but the two don't share an editorial affiliation.)
While the Shark Pocket Mop S3501 (*Est. $80) lacks the necessary steam heat for sanitizing floors, it has plenty of other features that consumers like. The Shark Pocket Mop has a 30-foot power cord -- longer than other steam mops discussed in this review -- and a 16-ounce water reservoir. Users say the Shark needs 30 seconds to heat up, and the large tank allows them to clean for about 30 minutes between refills.
Like the Haan FS-20 Sanitizing Steam Mop, the Shark Pocket Mop has an adjustable handle. The Pocket Mop is sold with two double-sided covers and a carpet-glider attachment. The mop head not only pivots 180 degrees but also flips over, so when the microfiber cover gets dirty or soggy, you can flip it over to use the other side. It's worth noting, however, that one reviewer at Amazon.com says this means the steam mop has to be leaned against something; it won't stand up by itself.
Despite these features, not all users are satisfied with their Shark steam mops. Reviewers say the mop head's single steam hole often saturates the mop cover, leaving behind wet streaks. Others caution that Shark steam mops require a fair amount of muscle because you need to pump the handle to release steam. At 5 pounds, the Shark Pocket Mop is slightly heavier than the Haan FS-20.
Owners reviewing the Shark Steam Pocket Mop S3501 and the smaller capacity Shark Steam Mop S3101 (*Est. $50) give them high average ratings at several retail sites, including Target.com, Sears.com and BestBuy.com. At Amazon.com, owners give the Shark Pocket Mop a 4-star average on a 5-point scale, but only about 70 percent of reviewers say they are really happy with it. Detractors complain of poor cleaning, streaking and breakdowns, along with poor customer service from Shark. We also read a number of complaints about handles breaking on Shark steam mops, perhaps due to the pumping action required to release the steam, but handle replacement kits can be purchased directly from Shark (*Est. $20 to $30).
Worth considering both for versatility and good cleaning performance are the Steamfast SF-294 Three-in-One Steam Mop or the Steamfast SF-292 Three-in-One Steam Mop. Both of these 1,300-watt steam mops do triple duty as steam mops, fabric steamers and handheld steam cleaners. Steam output is adjustable, so you can use less steam on wooden or laminate floors, more on vinyl and tile. You can also dial it up to help remove stubborn stains. Many users say they set the steam even lower than specified in the directions, especially on wood floors, and still have good cleaning results.
The Steamfast SF-294 weighs 4.6 pounds with a full 15-ounce tank of water. The steam mop is ready to go in 30 seconds and can be refilled without waiting for it to cool down, though some say that doing so can be awkward because the filling port is located on the bottom of the reservoir. Cleaning time ranges from 16 to 25 minutes, depending on what steam setting the mop is on. One owner notes that it cleans 1,200 to 1,400 square feet on one filling at the low setting. Another owner reports that the Steamfast steam mop cleans grout better than the Haan or Shark mops. However, some owners mention that the SF-294 leaves their floors somewhat wet on all but the lowest steam setting.
Owners like the versatility of the Steamfast SF-292, but many complain that the handle breaks easily and that both refilling the reservoir and changing the pads are awkward. The pads are supposed to be air dried, so you may need to keep a few spares on hand for larger cleaning jobs. Some users also say the fabric and handheld steamers tend to drip water, making them tricky to use. The Steamfast SF-294 features an improved fabric steamer, but we haven't found much owner feedback on this yet; Good Housekeeping reports only on this model's superior performance as a floor mop and awards it the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.
Steamfast also makes a budget steam mop, the 1,000-watt Steamfast SF-140 Steam Mop (*Est. $50), designed only for use on floors. Like the SF-292, the handle is adjustable, but the steam output for the SF-140 is not and the water reservoir is half the size. The handle swivels but the mop head doesn't. Owners at Amazon.com say the mop takes two or three minutes to warm up. Coupled with the small reservoir, it can be frustrating to use except on small areas. However, the price and size may be perfect for individuals with only one small room to clean.