Types of Steam Cleaners
Canister Steam Cleaners
Looking very much like small canister vacuums, canister steam cleaners are the most common type. They generally hold enough water to produce about 45 minutes or more of continuous steam, which most say is plenty of time for all but the largest cleaning jobs. These vapor cleaners tend to be highly portable, very easy to use and quite affordable compared to commercial-grade models. Canister vapor cleaners can be heavy when full of water, but most have wheels to make them easier to pull around.
Handheld Steam Cleaners
These portable steam cleaners resemble water pitchers, with a carry handle and a small internal boiler and reservoir. The most important thing to know about this type of steamers is that you need to keep your expectations realistic. They're fine if you only want to steam-clean limited areas like sink or toilet fixtures, or use your steam cleaner to remove old stickers or detail a car -- as long as the car hasn't been sitting and rusting in a backyard for a decade. Unfortunately, handheld steam cleaners tend to get very poor reviews from people who bought them thinking they could blast grime from their grills or other, equally unrealistic tasks.
Commercial-Grade Steam Cleaners
Although these tank-like steam cleaners are pricey, many owners say they're worth every penny. They're very powerful, killing mold, bacteria and bedbugs, and are a particularly good choice for those who need a vapor cleaner to help control allergens. These steam cleaners usually have a longer run time of an hour or more, and high-end features to make them super simple to use.
cleaners can save you a lot of scrubbing
Steam cleaners can make your toughest cleaning chores a whole lot easier.
They heat water internally, then release a jet of hot, pressurized steam on
demand, loosening old dirt, grime, grease and soap scum, which you then wipe
away -- although some cleaners even have sponges or pads that do the wiping for
you. Vapor cleaners can be used on most hard surfaces, including tile, windows,
walls, grills and some hardwood floors (as long as the wood is sealed), plus
some soft surfaces, such as upholstery, mattresses, drapes and vehicle
interiors. Steam cleaners are particularly popular for deep-cleaning challenging
areas like bathroom grout, and pet owners say that they can neutralize urine
Allergy sufferers love steam cleaners because they kill dust mites and
mold. Some can even kill bedbugs. Targeted areas are coated with a hot mist
that usually dries quickly, so no suction is needed to remove excess water. Many
users say they feel as if their home has been refreshed to a nearly new state
after a deep cleaning with a vapor cleaner.
The best steam cleaners include user-friendly features, such as variable
steam controls, pressure gauges and locking "on" triggers to make
them easier to use. Continuous-fill, rust-resistant stainless steel or aluminum
boilers that don't have to cool down before being refilled are another nice
option for a steam cleaner to have. If you have allergies or plan to use your
steam cleaner frequently, a high-end model will eventually pay for itself
through superior durability and performance.
No matter what size or type of steam cleaner you get, it should come
with an array of useful attachments: extension wands, nylon and brass scrubbing
brushes, a fabric attachment, a squeegee for cleaning glass or other hard
surfaces, and sometimes a floor-cleaning attachment are among what's typically
found. However, the attachments on most steam cleaners get relatively poor
reviews for durability on heavier jobs, like cleaning grills.
Steam cleaners aren't appropriate for all surfaces. The high heat and
moisture can cause untreated hardwood floors and other wood to swell, cold
glass to crack, and soft plastic and painted surfaces to scratch or melt -- so
check to see if your cleaning target is appropriate before use. Additionally,
surfaces treated with oil, varnish or shellac can lose their sheen from steam
cleaning. If you want a deep cleaner specifically for carpeting or hard floors,
see our reports on carpet cleaners and steam mops. Some steam
cleaners can be used as fabric or garment steamers as well, but if you
primarily want to steam clothing, you're better off with a dedicated clothes
steamer. In that case, see our report on garment steamers.
Finding The Best Steam Cleaners
"Vapor Steam Cleaners"
There are no comparative
professional reviews of steam cleaners and, to be honest, steam cleaners, especially handheld models, tend to be
one of the lowest-rated products by owners that we see. However, you
can't entirely blame the steam cleaner for that. As we explain above, many
people buy a handheld steam cleaner thinking they can use it to power-blast
their grill or car engine -- or to steam fabric -- and they simply aren't made
to do that. Or they expect their steam cleaner to remove stains that have had
dozens of years to set in. As we noted in the previous paragraph, there are
better tools for those jobs.
With that in mind, we chose our
recommended steam cleaners by carefully evaluating user reviews, discarding
those that were based upon unrealistic expectations. Instead, we took into
account those reviews that used the steam cleaner for its appropriate purpose,
and reported on how well it performed on those jobs. We also took durability
and warranty coverage into account when selecting the best steam cleaners.
canister-style steam cleaners
Full-sized steam cleaners are a great choice if you really want to deep
clean your home or accomplish big cleaning jobs quickly and with as little
hassle as possible. If you just need a vapor cleaner for small jobs, see our
discussion of handheld steam cleaners elsewhere in this report.
The (Est. $140) earns top reviews from owners for its
superior performance on a variety of tasks. We found plenty of satisfied
customers using the McCulloch MC1275 to clean and sanitize everything from
birdcages and barbecue grills to mattresses, windows and car interiors. Some
even say the MC1275 produces enough heat to kill bedbugs, and that it makes
wallpaper removal easy. The 48-ounce boiler offers about 45 minutes of
continuous steam, but must cool down before refilling.
The MC1275 comes with a full range of attachments, including a triangle
brush, small scrubbing brushes, squeegee, upholstery/floor brush and two
extension wands. Unfortunately, durability for those attachments is a weak
point, according to reviewers. We saw comments that the sponge scrubber fell
apart after just 30 minutes, and others report brushes either melting from the
heat or not lasting beyond the first job. However, these failures typically occurred
while doing heavy jobs, like cleaning a greasy grill or automobile engine. The
good news is that the McCulloch MC1275 is covered by a one-year warranty and
customer service gets great reviews for replacing disintegrating accessories.
At just 9.95 pounds, the McCulloch MC1275 is one of the most lightweight,
portable, full-sized canister steam cleaners around. Some reviewers say it's a
little cumbersome to wheel along -- a common complaint with canister-style steam
cleaners -- especially when they're full of water. Others wish there was
somewhere to coil the nearly 10-foot steam hose and 15.7-inch power cord, and
would prefer it if the MC1275's onboard caddy could hold a few more of the
We also spotted a lot of good reviews for the lower-priced (Est. $100).
It's extremely versatile and is very popular for users who want a steam cleaner
that also works well as a steam mop (although nothing works as well on floors
as a dedicated steam mop, which we cover in a separate report). At 64
inches, the hose on the Steamfast is shorter than the hose on the McCulloch,
but the Steamfast has a compartment with a cord wrap for storage.
In addition to the floor-mop attachments, the Steamfast SF-370WH
includes a wide range of other accessories, including a corner tool, a number
of brushes for various jobs, an extension wand and a squeegee. There is no
onboard storage for the accessories, but overall, the Steamfast steam cleaner
has a smaller footprint than the McCulloch MC1275, and owners say that makes it
very easy to store. At 8.4 pounds, it is also slightly lighter than the MC1275.
The Steamfast SF370WH has a water capacity of 45 ounces and steams for
approximately 45 minutes. Owners rave about how well the SF-370WH works on a
variety of surfaces, and quite a few say it has completely renewed their old
bath or shower, rendering tough stains almost invisible. The SF-370WH also gets
raves from people who use it to clean their vehicles, although a few wish the
hose was longer and, as we saw with the McCulloch, the accessories don't hold
up well to hard usage.
The (Est. $120) is another steam cleaner that reviewers say is a top performer even for
tough jobs, and it seems extremely sturdy, too. It gets particularly good
reviews for its ability to remove wallpaper with a minimum of effort using an included
wallpaper steam plate. The Wagner 915 also includes a full range of
accessories, like two extension wands, a squeegee, floor cleaning brush and jet
nozzle. The hose is 8 feet long and the water reservoir holds 48 ounces. Users
say it can steam for about an hour before needing to be refilled. The Wagner
lacks some bells and whistles, like a water-level indicator, and doesn't get
the best reviews for heavier jobs like cleaning barbecue grills, but, overall,
many say it is a great value for most household tasks.
Steam cleaners for your car will protect your
One of the most popular uses for a steam
cleaner is for those who want to keep their car sparkling clean without using
chemicals. For that, we recommend the (Est. $85), which users say does a terrific job
on everything from wheels to upholstery -- it gets particular raves for how
nicely it cleans up leather seats. The included attachments make it a suitable
choice for a variety of tasks, including a jet nozzle that gets in between the
seats and other hard-to-reach areas.
The AutoRight has a long, 8-foot cord and 8-foot hose. The water heats to a maximum of 205
degrees. Although it's intended for use as a car steam cleaner, most of the
owners who weigh in on this steam cleaner say it's also great for jobs around
the house, such as cleaning cabinets, grout and ceramic tile.
steam cleaners are the top of the line
While most people can get by with a standard, fairly inexpensive
canister-style vapor cleaner, those who suffer from allergies, or who have
situations where sanitizing is very important -- like daycare owners -- a
commercial-grade machine is almost a must.
The best of these heavy-duty steam cleaners is the Ladybug XL2300 with TANCS (Est. $1,600). It's pricey, but owners say you get what you pay for: The
XL2300's massive 70-ounce stainless steel boiler produces a reliable stream of high-pressure
steam that offers remarkable results. Users pepper review sites with positive
comments about how sparkling it gets everything from grout to cement.
Others report that it does a great job of killing mold and dust mites,
and can even wipe out old stains that owners had long ago resigned themselves
to. Unlike lower-priced models, you can use ordinary tap water rather than
distilled water and not have to worry about mineral buildup. The optional,
proprietary TANCS (thermal accelerated nano crystal
sanitation) technology converts the minerals in tap water into crystals that
disrupt the cell membranes of microorganisms, so that it disinfects as it
cleans. Combined with the Ladybug XL2300's high heat, this qualifies the
Ladybug XL2300 as an EPA disinfectant.
If you'd rather buy the XL2300 without the TANCS option, it's available
as the Ladybug XL2300 (Est. $1,710)
Either way, this heavy-duty steam cleaner has a great durability record,
including input from several who've put it to regular commercial use.
The Ladybug XL2300 rolls smoothly on its casters, making it easy to
maneuver despite its 16-pound weight. The big boiler gives more than an hour of
continuous steam cleaning, and the separate reservoir allows you to refill the
Ladybug without waiting for it to cool down first. The XL2300 has a relatively
short 6.5-foot steam hose but has a long, 15-foot power cord.
The only real gripe we found about this unit is that a few users feel that
the steam trigger is awkwardly placed. But most say the controls and features
-- including a pressure gauge and low-water indicators -- make the Ladybug
XL2300 with TANCS very easy to use. Best of all, it comes with a lifetime
boiler warranty that makes it easier to justify it as a long-term investment.
The non-TANCS version has a three-year boiler warranty.