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Clothes Steamer Buying Guide

By: Kelly Burgess on September 20, 2017

The best garment steamer has

  • A good reach. Since steamers are used not just for clothing, but often for draperies as well, a long hose and/or a long power cord will reach high places without having to resort to a step stool, although you may need to use an extension cord with a handheld steamer.
  • Good water capacity. A larger steamer will have a larger reservoir, which results in longer periods of continuous steam. Even a small, handheld steamer, though, should be able to steam continuously for at least 10 minutes.
  • Automatic shut-off. If the machine runs dry, this feature shuts it off before any motor burnout occurs. It also ensures that if you walk away from the steamer, it won't continue to run.
  • Wheels on a full-size steamer. Full-sized steamers can weigh close to 20 pounds; caster wheels make it easy to move the unit from room to room.
  • Hangers and racks or clips. These enable you to have full access to all sides of a garment and keeps the job close to the steamer. The best full-sized steamers will also have built-in hangers or racks as well as a hook for holding a hanger.
  • A removable water tank. This makes the garment steamer much easier to fill and clean.

Know before you go

How much do you plan to use the garment steamer? If you need a steamer just for occasional use -- or to use in lots of spots around the home -- a smaller steamer could work just fine. Even a handheld steamer that only produces 15 minutes of steam per fill is sufficient for many tasks. If you engage in activities where quite a bit of steaming is needed -- or you're usually steaming heavier fabrics -- a larger steamer is a better choice.

What types of fabrics will you use the steamer on? If you're mainly steaming light, delicate fabrics, a handheld steamer with its lower steam output may be a better choice than a full-sized steamer. However, if you're steaming thick, heavy fabrics, a full-sized steamer will be more effective and take less time for the de-wrinkling process.

Do you need it for travel? Travel steamers are a great way to quickly de-wrinkle suitcase-creased clothing. Be sure the one you choose is small enough and light enough to fit in your suitcase -- even a couple of pounds can add to the load of a fully-packed bag. Also, if you tend to run short on time, be sure you get one that does not leave water spots that may need time to dry.

Will you use your steamer abroad? If you travel internationally, you'll need either a dual voltage garment steamer or one that comes with a dedicated converter. Stand-alone voltage converters that can handle the current load of a typical handheld/portable steamer are also available; check your steamer's specifications and choose accordingly.

What feels comfortable? You need to hold the garment steamer in your hand to see how it fits. For handheld garment steamers, make sure that it is not too heavy and keep in mind that you will be adding water to it. If you have issues with your hands or wrists, the lighter the steamer, the better.

Do you need an iron? Garment steamers are great for just smoothing wrinkles out of fabric, but they don't give the pressed look that ironing does and you can't expect that result from a clothes steamer. If you need sharp creases in your pants or to you need to keep pleats crisp, see our separate report on steam irons.

Do you need a steam cleaner? One complaint we saw a number of times was that a garment steamer did not remove stains or odors, however, this type of steamer is not made to do either. If you need a steamer for cleaning fabrics, you need a steam cleaner instead, which we cover in a separate report. Steam cleaners are used for a variety of tasks, but many can be used on fabrics as well.

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