The best steam cleaners are great for wiping the grime from almost any hard surface – or even cleaning some soft furnishings. It may be true that there’s nothing you can’t clean with the right tools and a bit of elbow grease, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make it easier for yourself.
Steam cleaners will make light work of your kitchen and bathroom, and they can sort out worked-in dirt and stains that you’ll struggle to shift by other means. They can do so without chemicals – a huge plus if you’re worried about what you’re breathing in – and they can kill off fleas and dust mites as quickly as germs, which makes them especially useful if you have pets.
Be warned, though, that steam cleaners come in a range of different shapes and that picking the best one for you isn’t easy. Here we’ve pulled together a few things you ought to consider before you buy.
How to choose the best steam cleaner for you
What sort of steam cleaner should I buy?
Steam cleaners come in three basic formats. First, you have the classic steam cleaner, comprising the steamer unit – where the water is housed and boiled – which connects through a pipe to the head, where the steam is dispensed. The main head is usually a mop head, where some kind of pad or microfibre cloth is attached so that the steam separates the grime from the surface and the pad or cloth wipes it away. However, steam cleaners usually come with a selection of attachments, including brushes for intensive cleaning of smaller areas and scrapers or wipers for, say, cleaning worktops or glass.
Second, you have steam mops. These integrate the boiler and the head into one upright cleaning machine. As the name suggests, these are really designed to work as a super-powered mop, but a growing number can also double as a regular steam cleaner, either by having a smaller, removable boiler unit or by allowing you to attach additional heads instead of the mop head. They’re now almost as versatile as the classic steam cleaner, but they’re easy to use and very compact.
Finally, you can also buy smaller handheld steam cleaners. These are great for cleaning up the kitchen and bathroom, but with small tanks and less powerful boilers, they’re not really designed for tackling larger areas.
What should I look out for?
Steam cleaners differ when it comes to capacity, convenience and cleaning power. Obviously, the size of the tank makes a big difference. On some models, you can only refill the tank once the steam has been turned off and the cleaner cooled, which means you can only clean for as long as there’s water in the tank, which could restrict each stint to ten or fifteen minutes. However, some models now include a separate feeder tank that you can refill while the cleaner is in use, or even an inlet you can keep tipping water into while the machine is up and running. With those cleaners, you’re more likely to run out of steam than it is, and you can keep on going until, say, the downstairs floors are clean or the bathroom is free of any hint of dirt or grime.
The power of the boiler also has an impact, simply because it can take time to boil and pressurise the steam. Newer cleaners have got much better at reducing that wait time, but it can still be several minutes before you get a usable head of steam. What’s more, many steamers need a breather now and then while they get steam together before they can continue. Certain cleaners are better at minimising this than others.
The other thing to watch out for is pressure. The higher the steam pressure, the faster the steam jets out and the better it is at dissolving dirt and grime. For this reason, a steam cleaner that can put out 3.5 to 4 bar of pressure will have a lot more cleaning power than a handheld cleaner with less than 3 bar.
Are there any practicalities worth thinking about?
Take a good look at the accessories you get with the cleaner. The more brushes, nozzles and scrapers, the better, while a gliding mop-head cover for doing carpets is another big plus. Also, watch out for the mains lead and the length of any steam hose, as nothing’s more frustrating than not being able to steam clean in the corner of your shower because it won’t quite reach without an extension cable.
In the past, some steam cleaners required distilled/deionised water or they will soon get clogged with limescale. Many recent models aren’t so fussy and contain some kind of filter or limescale prevention system, although it’s still worth using filtered water if you live in a hard water area.
Finally, make sure the surfaces you want to mop can cope with steam cleaning before you buy a steam cleaner. While hardwood floors, tiles, most worktops and sheet vinyl flooring are fine to clean with a steam cleaner, some softwood, laminate or modular floorings are a no-go, and will still need to be cleaned with a broom, mop or vacuum cleaner, unless you like the sight of an expensive kitchen floor peeling up before your eyes.
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The best steam mops and steam cleaners you can buy
1. Bissell Steam Shot: The best handheld steam cleaner
Price: £50 | Buy now from Lakeland
Don’t dismiss the Steam Shot on its size. It doesn’t have the power of the bigger cleaners and you wouldn’t want to use it to mop a large kitchen floor, but it’s brilliant for cleaning in the kitchen and bathroom or handling spills and stains, and it builds up more pressure (4.5 bar) than your average handheld effort. It’s well designed, too, with a 4.8m cable and a filler cap you can’t unscrew while the steam is under pressure. The 0.36-litre tank won’t keep you steaming and cleaning away for hours – eight to ten minutes is all you’ll get – but this cleaner’s quick to heat up and easy to use, despite the five-minute wait recommended between refills.
The Steam Shot is also more versatile than you might think, with an extension hose and an accessory nozzle, three detail brushes and a special brush for grout, plus tools for mopping, scraping and cleaning glass – ideal for mirrors and shower screens. Go bigger if you need to get floors and carpets clean, but this is a good, affordable option for spot cleaning or the occasional deep clean.
Key specs – Type: Handheld steam cleaner; Water tank capacity: 0.36l; Power: 1,050W; Max steam pressure: 4.5 bar; Accessories provided: jug, extension hose, 3 detail brushes, concentrated steaming tool, window squeegee, flat scraper, microfibre cleaning cloths; Cord length: 4.8m; Dimensions: 21.6 x 24 x 13cm; Weight: 1.5kg; Warranty: 2 year
Buy now from Lakeland
2. Hoover SteamJet Handy SGE1000: The most versatile handheld cleaner
Price: £50 | Buy now from ArgosGo to Source