Whether you want to clean greener or clean deeper, a steam cleaner gets the job done. Sometimes called vapor cleaners, steam cleaners are gaining popularity for their ability to clean deeply without detergents by using pressurized steam. Unlike carpet cleaners, sometimes called steam vacs, steam cleaners don’t provide suction. Best used for bathrooms, upholstery, draperies and appliance surfaces, steam cleaners are lauded by allergy sufferers for their ability not only to clean, but help rid your home of dust mites and mold. Ready to start steaming? Let Pronto’s Steam Cleaner Buying Guide lead the way.
When you steam clean, you clean greener. Steam cleaners use pressurized steam, not chemicals or solvents to clean surfaces. Some experts say the steam’s hot enough to kill dust mites, mold and other bacteria on contact, making steam cleaners a good choice for allergen-prone homes.
The large size of canister steam cleaners makes them best for large surface areas like floors, paneling and upholstery. Canister steam cleaners typically come with brush, crevice and hardwood floor attachments with specialty attachments available for separate purchase.
Handheld steam cleaners are lightweight and easy to use in small areas like showers and bathrooms, but usually provide only 5 to 10 minutes of cleaning. Handheld steam cleaners are a good choice for homes with children and pets when you don’t want to haul out the canister steam cleaner for the unexpected mess.
Look for steam cleaners that operate between 200-300 degrees Fahrenheit and water tanks that deliver the cleaning time you need. A 50-oz water tank provides about an hour of steam. Steam cleaners with continuous fill tanks cut cleaning time by up to two thirds and are worth the investment for big cleaning jobs.
Look for a steam cleaner with a variety of attachments, a stainless steel boiler and safety features. Some manufacturers offer optional attachments that you should consider to ensure that all your cleaning needs are covered.
The part of the steam cleaner that heats the water to steam or vapor. Most steam cleaners integrate the water tank into the boiler, which prevents it from being refilled while in use. The boiler must be allowed to cool before the water can be added and heated.
A steam cleaner with a main body that houses the boiler, the water tank and a connected hose with attachments for cleaning. Some of these steam cleaners include casters for easy movement, but they are not designed for easy floor cleaning like uprights.
A steam cleaner with a double-boiler or a separate water reservoir that lets you add water while the steam cleaner is hot.
A steam cleaner that produces low-moisture, high-temperature vapor. Steam from these cleaners contains less moisture than regular upright or carpet steam cleaners.
The part of the steam cleaner's boiler or water tank that is designed to prevent any escaping steam from scalding the user. Some safety caps also double as pressure valves; these are less safe because superheated steam can escape while pressure is released, presenting a burn hazard.
Steam cleaners contain water tanks, also called boilers, where tap or distilled water is heated to boiling to produce pressurized steam. The pressurized steam is released through a hose that you direct toward the surface you want to clean. The steam pressure loosens the dirt, thus cleaning the object. The best part? Steam cleaners use only water—not chemical solvents—to clean, which reduces the number of toxins in your home. The pressurized steam is also hot enough to kill dust mites, mold and other bacteria on contact, making them a popular cleaning method for homes with allergy sufferers.
Unlike vacuum cleaners, steam cleaners don’t provide suction, so you will need to wipe each area after cleaning. The more often you steam clean, the cleaner the surface and the less wiping you’ll need to do with each pass. Here’s how it works: Using the steam cleaner’s hose, direct the steam toward one small area at a time; immediately after steaming the area, wipe the dirt with a rag or towel, then move onto the next area. Steam cleaners can be used in bathrooms, on bedding and upholstery, paneling and some window treatments. Never use a steam cleaner on plastics, painted surfaces, wallpaper or any other surface that heat and water could damage.
Canister steam cleaners are a popular choice for large jobs. Canister steam cleaners are light (under 20 pounds) and can be made even more portable with built-in wheels. Canister steam cleaners are the best choice if you’ll be cleaning several rooms or regularly cleaning large areas.
Handheld steam cleaners hold significantly less water than canister steam cleaners, so they’re best reserved for spot cleaning, small surface areas or tight spaces, like the shower, where a canister steam cleaner is too big to use. If you have children or pets (or both), you might consider purchasing a canister steam cleaner for regular cleaning and a handheld steam cleaner for unexpected messes.
The most important thing to look at is the size of a steam cleaner’s water tank. A general rule of thumb is that 10 ounces of water deliver 12 minutes of cleaning time. A 50-ounce tank, then, would let you clean for about an hour. Choose your tank size wisely: most entry- and mid-level steam cleaners cannot be refilled during cleaning. You’ll need to wait for the steam cleaner to cool, then you’ll wait for the steam cleaner to heat the water to functional temperature before you can resume cleaning—a process that can add 20 to 40 minutes each time you have to stop to refill the tank. Some high-end steam cleaners feature continuous-fill systems that allow you to add water to a reservoir during the cleaning process. If you’ll be regularly cleaning large areas in your home, invest in a steam cleaner with continuous fill—the time you save will be worth it.
You’ll also want to consider the steam cleaner’s temperature range, which determines how long it takes the steam cleaner to clean. Residential and light-commercial steam cleaners typically operate at around 212 to 300 degrees. The higher the temperature, the more quickly the steam cleaner loosens dirt.
The high operating temperatures of steam cleaners make safety features a key design element. Look for a steam cleaner reservoir with a safety cap, which will prevent superheated water from leaking from the reservoir and scalding people or surfaces. Also be sure the hose has an on/off safety switch. Avoid steam cleaners with safety caps that double as pressure valves—they’ll release steam if the tank pressure gets too high and you’ll risk a burn.
Most canister steam cleaners offer attachments for hard-to-reach nooks and crannies and scrub brushes to help loosen dirt. If you have hardwood floors, look for a model that comes with a floor attachment, as using other attachments, like brushes, can damage hardwoods. You may be able to purchase additional specialty attachments, so if the steam cleaner you’re considering doesn’t come with everything you need, be sure it lets you add attachments later.
Like any appliance that operates using water, steam cleaner tanks or boilers can be prone to rust or mineral buildup. Look for a steam cleaner with a stainless steel boiler to ensure a long life span and ease of maintenance. Stainless steel boilers won’t rust and are less prone to mineral buildups than other types of boilers. They also heat more quickly than boilers made of other materials.
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