The best steam mop has

  • A large water tank. The more water a steam mop holds, the longer it can clean without needing a refill. First-class steam mops can steam continuously for up to 45 minutes, delivering steam without requiring users to pump the handle.
  • An easy-fill design. Built-in reservoirs typically require a funnel and cup to fill, which can be awkward and time consuming. The best steam mops have a removable water tank for easy filling at the faucet.
  • Variable steam control. A well-designed steam mop uses a trigger or dial to set the amount of steam it releases. "Not all stains are created equal, and many steam mops acknowledge that with adjustable steam settings. Look for a model that lets you tailor the steam output to the type of floor and amount of soil being removed," says Good Housekeeping.
  • Easy handling. Steam mops with a swivel head, light weight and good balance are the easiest to maneuver, especially when cleaning difficult places such as under the table and vertical surfaces.
  • Long power cord. Power cords vary from 16 to 30 feet long. The best steam mops have a cord that's at least 25 feet, giving users a long enough reach to steam large areas without unplugging.
  • Built-in power switch. Steam mops with an on/off switch on the unit can power on when you are ready; without a built-in power button, users have to plug the machine in to turn it on.

Know before you go

Do you want a machine that sweeps and steams? A vacuum steam mop combination gives users the ability to sweep first, and then mop. However, experts say these machines often do only a mediocre job at cleaning.

Do you need to steam more than just the floor? If you want a steamer for surfaces such as grout, furniture or bathroom fixtures, look for a mop that offers extra accessories. A carpet glider, upholstery brushes and steam nozzles are some user favorites. For cleaning vertical surfaces such as mirrors and shower walls, be sure to select a mop that can tip upside down without spilling water.

What about robotic mops? A leading consumer organization tested the iRobot Scooba, cousin to the vacuuming Roomba. Despite costing $300 to $400, the Scooba misses almost a fifth of the floor, including corners, and isn't powerful enough to scrub stubborn stains, editors say.

Value expectations: The dollars and cents of it

The cost to steam clean your floors can extend beyond the purchase price of a new mop, depending on the model you buy. Steam mops that operate on water alone are cheaper to use, without the added expense of detergent. Some use a built-in water filter with replacements typically costing $10 to $20. Most mops include cleaning cloths that are washable and reusable. Erica Ryan, a blogger for TheSteamQueen.com, throws her mop pads in the wash with other towels and rags, saying it's far easier to launder these than to deal with a regular mop. One leading testing organization disagrees, saying hand-washing pads or tossing them in with other laundry is unappealing.

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