Vacuum/steam mop combos put the power of a broom 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 (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, even on grout and tough or set-in stains. 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. This Bissell also leaves the floor just damp, which means it dries much more quickly. 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 Bissell Symphony is reported as very easy to use, and owners particularly love its five-way height-adjustable handle. The Symphony includes a decent, albeit basic, array of features, including two washable mop pads; a general cleaning pad and a scrubbing pad, as well as a set of filters for the vacuum. Bissell also includes two fragrance disks to add an optional scent to the odorless steam cleaning for those who like to have that "just cleaned" smell in their home.
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 the owner's manual before using a steam mop on your hardwood floor.
The Bissell Symphony is our only recommendation in the vac and steam category as the very few comparable machines that are currently available get absolutely dismal reviews for performance and durability. Unfortunately, both of the vac and steam mops we reviewed in the last version of this steam mops report have been discontinued.
However, there is an intriguing new product on the market that we wanted to take a look at -- the Shark Steam and Spray Mop (Est. $110). It's the first of its kind, and it's a one-of-a-kind -- 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 cleaning solution on the floor to loosen the dirt, then either mop it up or use the steam mop function for an even deeper clean.
One very important caveat: the cleaning solution is proprietary to Shark and must be purchased from Shark's website unless you want to pay shark-like prices from a third-party seller. It's about $10 from Shark for a 20-ounce refill; we saw it for as much as $50 per refill from one third party seller.
There are no professional tests out there of the Shark Steam & Spray Mop, but owners are giving it 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, early buzz is good, so we'll keep an eye on this Shark Steam & Spray mop to see if it deserves to move up in this category in the next edition of this report.
Elsewhere in this report: