Vacuum/steam mop combos put the power of a vacuum and a mop into one machine, saving you from having to switch between a vacuum -- or broom and dustpan -- and steam mop. The vacuums themselves are best for light-duty cleaning -- think stick vacuum rather than upright -- but many people love the all-in-one convenience, not to mention the space saving factor.
When it comes to multi-purpose vac and steam mops, none get better reviews than the Bissell Symphony Pet (Est. $180). It can vacuum then steam, or vacuum and steam simultaneously, and experts and owners say it does both very well -- just keep in mind that the vacuum is not designed for heavy-duty jobs. However, the steam mop function gets raves for its performance. While it has the "pet" designation in its name this steam mop is popular with anyone looking for a multi-purpose steam mop, especially people with children.
The Bissell Symphony Pet is reported as very easy to use. To sanitize, just push the steam mop over one area back and forth three times, rather than holding the mop head in place as is recommended with most other steam mops. The Symphony heats up in less than 30 seconds and will run for about 15 to 20 minutes on 13 ounces of water, depending upon whether you choose the low or the high steam setting. The water tank is not detachable, but most users say it's easy to fill using the included water cup.
The Symphony includes a good array of features, several targeted to pet owners, including disposable mop pads for the worst pet messes -- you can just toss them in the trash. A detachable filter traps pet hair and debris and can be emptied hands free. Washable, reusable pads are also included.
The only complaints we saw about the Bissell Symphony are ones we see about all steam mops: that it's hard to push and leaves streaks on hardwood floors. Because steam mops don't have rollers or self-propelled technology, they do require more effort than, for example, a vacuum cleaner. However, using a clean, microfiber cloth should make the effort fairly minimal. As for leaving streaks: As we discussed in the introduction to this report, most manufacturers don't recommend using a steam mop on hardwood floors at all Be sure to check your flooring's care instructions and warranty before using a steam mop on your hardwood floor.
Our former Best Reviewed pick in this category, the Bissell Symphony 1132A (Est. $200) is still a good choice in this category. It's very similar to its newer sibling, the Symphony Pet edition, but without the features specific to pet messes (like disposable pads). However, it does have a five-position adjustable handle that is popular with owners, not only because it telescopes for taller users, but also because it makes it easier to store in a closet. This Bissell also leaves the floor just damp, which means it dries much more quickly, another feature that is popular with users. Both Bissell steam and vac mops stand when not in use.
The Shark Steam and Spray Mop (Est. $90) is the only contender for spray/steam combo mop because it's the only one of its kind. This Shark features a two-in-one regular spray mop plus steam mop combo. Like other popular spray mops, which we cover separately in our new report on mops, the Shark steam mop has an attached detergent dispenser that's operated by a trigger on the handle. Just squirt Shark Steam Energized Multi-Floor Hard Floor Cleanser (Est. 10 for 20 oz.) on the floor to loosen the dirt, then either mop it up or use the steam mop function for an even deeper clean.
There are no professional tests out there of the Shark Steam & Spray Mop, but owners are giving it plenty of props. While there are a few durability issues, most say it works very well and is much more convenient than having to have two different cleaning tools. However, the two functions require two different mop heads that have to be changed out depending on whether you are using this Shark as a steam mop or a spray mop, although most don't seem to mind. Owners also note that the Shark Steam & Spray is quite easy to use and "glides" over floors. It can be used with either washable or disposable pads.
There are some quibbles, though. The main one we saw is that this steam mop will not stand upright. To keep it from falling over, you have to lean it up against something or put it in a bucket. It also has no dedicated on/off switch and a relatively short, 20-foot power cord. Still, satisfaction is quite high compared to both spray mops and steam mops separately, so it may be worth a try if you don't have super deep floor cleaning on your chore list.
Elsewhere in this report: