Pros and cons of steam mops
Steam mops are designed to clean vinyl, tile, sealed wood and laminate flooring,
but not cork flooring, unsealed wood or unglazed tile. If you use a steam
mop on a waxed floor, it can melt the wax, leaving a haze. Experts advise
caution when using a steam mop on a wood or laminate floor, though many owners
report great results. If you have uneven floors with depressions or deep
grout lines, like some slate or tile floors, steam mops won't be able to
reach into the grout given their flat-bottomed design.
Owners say it can take some time to get the hang of using a steam mop. Some
steam mops are more apt to leave a floor wet, so this is a factor to consider
-- especially if you need to mop wooden floors. Steam mops with just one
hole in the head seem to be more likely to leave behind excess water, according
to reviewers, compared with steam mops with many steam outlets.
If you care about sanitizing -- killing germs with high heat -- be aware
that most steam mops don't get hot enough to do this without keeping the
mop in one place for eight to 15 seconds. This can make mopping a whole floor
take a long time and increase the chance of floor damage, because most manufacturers
caution against leaving a steam mop in place longer than 15 to 20 seconds.
This is partly a matter of wattage, which varies from 800 to 1,500 watts.
It's also a matter of design, including how the water is heated (boiling
tank vs. pumped past a heating element), how many steam holes the mop head
has and how close to the floor the water is heated. Only a few steam-mop
models get hot enough at floor level to sanitize effectively.
Another big design difference among steam mops is the way the amount of
steam is controlled:
- Some steam mops, such as those
by Eureka and Haan, are simply either on or off (with a foot switch
on the base), so your only means of control is the pace at which you move
the mop across the floor.
- Steam mops by Bissell and Steamboy,
conversely, release steam only when you hold a trigger down. This
gives you more control, but can be very tiring if you have to hold down
the trigger for a long time.
- Shark steam mops require you to
pump the handle up and down to get the steam going, with the
idea that you'll naturally push down when moving the mop forward. However, this
leaves you without steam when pulling the mop back, and many reviewers
say the pumping action is arduous.
- The higher-end Steamfast models
use a dial so you can adjust the steam output for different
floorings. No trigger pulling or pumping is needed.
Mops that provide continuous steam include floor pads or stands for the
warm-up period. Some stands also serve as carpet gliders, which let you use
the steam mop to freshen up a carpet (or even a mattress). Carpet gliders
are standard on some steam mops, optional on others. There are also attachments
to turn some steam mops into handheld steamers for cleaning showers, counters
and upholstery. For other specialized tasks, Shark steam mops accommodate
additional mop heads of different sizes and shapes (*Est. $20 to $25).
Lastly, many steam mops' handles are prone to breaking; most manufacturers
offer handle replacement kits (*Est. $20 to $30).
Experts recommend the following when shopping for a steam mop:
- Decide whether
sanitizing is important. If killing germs is one of your goals, pick
a mop that provides steam that's hot enough to do so with reasonable speed.
Unless you're mopping a very small area, you're not going to want to
hold the steam mop in one place for 12 to 15 seconds without moving it.
- Know your
flooring type. Though steam mops are advertised for vinyl, tile, sealed
wood and laminate flooring, some owners report problems with streaking
and clouding on some floor types. For best results, know what type of floors
you have and research for reviews of other owners with similar flooring.
sure the handle design and length are comfortable. The handles of some
steam mops are adjustable, but others are a fixed length, which may be
too short or too long for you. Handles also vary in design, and some are
more ergonomic than others.
- Weight and working time are trade-offs. A lightweight steam mop is less tiring to push around, but light
weight usually means a small reservoir and short working time between refills.
larger water reservoir is best for large floor areas. Too short a working
time between refills is another major complaint from owners. It doesn't
matter for steam mopping one very small room, but for large areas, reviews
recommend a big reservoir.
- Quick warm-up saves time on large areas. The difference
between waiting 30 seconds and three minutes may not matter much if you
only wait once each time you mop -- but if you have to refill the reservoir
during each mopping session, the extra time will be inconvenient.
there a cool-down required between refills? This is another
factor that can increase cleaning time if you need to refill the reservoir.
Some steam mops require several minutes to cool down, while others offer
- The reservoir should be easy to fill. Some reviewers like a removable reservoir that you
can take to the sink, while others find this a nuisance and prefer pouring
the water directly into the steam mop.
- A long cord makes a big difference in
convenience. Owners report that having to switch outlets within the
same room is a big pain, especially if they have to step on the freshly
mopped floor to reach the outlet. While some owners have tried using extension
cords, make sure you use the appropriate one, as there are reports
of extension cords causing steam mops to short-circuit.
- Cord management helps
keep the cord out of your way. Some steam mops have a built-in holder
to keep the cord off the floor and make it easier to manage.
- Decide which type
of switch you prefer. Steam mops with triggers give you more control
but can be tiring to use. An on-off button is simple but can leave floors
too wet. Pumping the handle can be tiring if you're cleaning a big floor.
Floor pedal on-off switches are relatively easy to use.
- Look for a swiveling head. Pivoting heads are easier to maneuver around toilets and under appliances.
- Be sure the mop head isn't too deep to fit
under furnishings. If the
floors you want to clean extend under cabinet fronts, appliances or furniture,
be sure the mop head will fit underneath them.
- Look for covers that are easy
to attach. A cover that attaches with hook and loop tape (like Velcro)
can save a lot of time and frustration. Air drying prevents the covers
- Indicator lights add convenience. It
helps to have one light that tells you when the steam mop is ready
to use and another light to let you know when you need to refill the reservoir.
- Buy from a retailer with a good return policy. We found reports of faulty
mops across brands and models, so you'll want to be able to exchange
a steam mop easily if you're unlucky enough to get a mop that doesn't work
- Budget for extra microfiber covers. Unless
you mop a very small area at a time, you'll probably want more than
the two covers that come with most steam mops. Reviewers recommend changing
the mop cover at least every 10 minutes to prevent the floor from
getting too wet.
- Steam mops with filters add to the cost. A filter usually needs replacing about every six months,
and prices vary among brands (*Est. $10 to $15).
- Buying distilled water
may save money in the long term. Many manufacturers advise filling
a steam mop's reservoir with distilled water rather than tap water to prevent
mineral buildup, which may result in malfunctions.