Handheld/Portable Steam Cleaner Buying Guide

Handheld and portable steam cleaners offer cleaning capabilities that are similar to that of a larger cylinder style model, but they are smaller machines and that means that they are intended for light cleaning tasks. If you are shopping for a portable steam cleaner, there are a few points that you will need to consider before you make a purchase.

Handheld vs. Portable

In this guide, we are going to talk about handhelds and portables as if they are basically the same thing because for the most part, they are. However, there are few slight differences between the two.

Handhelds are really a subgroup of portable steamers. These are the smallest steamers that you can find and they are really only convenient for the smallest cleaning jobs. These are models that are literally small enough to fit in the hand of the user and the advantage comes from the fact that they are especially easy to carry and easy to use.

With a standard portable, you are getting a model that is more like a mini-cylinder unit. It will be a little heavier and have a larger water tank than a handheld, so this will make it better for jobs that are little bigger. These models will come with a handle on the body for the user to hold and then there will be a small hose with attachments for cleaning. In some cases, the manufacturer will provide a strap for the user to hang the machine from their shoulder.

The handhelds tend to do a little better in regard to ease of use and convenience and the portables usually score a little better concerning effective cleaning and versatility. One thing that every consumer should understand about both handhelds and portables is that neither is really designed to clean floors as effectively as a steam mop or a cylinder model. They might come with a floor-cleaning tool, but it is usually only going to be suitable for spot cleaning the floor.


As with any cleaning device, effective cleaning power is one of the most important considerations. Just like with the larger steam cleaners, factors like the temperature of the steam and the steam output will be major factors.


With a steam cleaner, the temperature of the steam is a major part of its cleaning ability. Hotter steam will remove dirt and grime faster and it will also be more effective at killing the bacteria on surfaces.

Steam Output

The machines that concentrate more steam on the area will provide more effective cleaning. For really tough jobs, more steam is going to mean that it takes less effort from the user to achieve the desired results.


Depending on the job that you are doing, you may want to use detergent for additional cleaning power. If you want to use detergent with a steam cleaner, make sure to look for a machine that has a separate tank for the detergent.

Handling the Cleaner

For handheld and portable cleaners, handling the machine is an important factor. Consumers tend to buy these models because they are light, compact and easy to handle. Between handhelds and portables there are a few points that you will want to consider in this regard.

The size and the weight are going to be major factors when it comes to handling one of these machines. With these models, the user is supposed to carry the machine around and if it is either too heavy or too bulky, it is going to be difficult to handle.

Additionally, you want to consider if the machine is design to be easy to carry. With handhelds, you want to look for a design that can be easily held and controlled with one hand. For the standard portable models, you want to look for a model that either has a good handle on the body for carrying or one that comes with a shoulder strap.


Both handhelds and portables are going to come with a set of attachments for performing all of the cleaning jobs. The set is going to be somewhat similar to a set that you would get with a cylinder model, though it may not be quite as comprehensive. Generally, you are going to get a small hand tool, at least one brush cleaner, a smaller brush for detailing, a window tool and possibly a garment steamer. The versatility of the machine is going to be limited by the set of tools that it comes with, so you should try to find information about the tools before you make a purchase.

Operating Costs

Even with the larger steam cleaners, the operating costs are going to be limited. They do not use a lot of electricity and most of the accessories can be washed. Some machines will come with different soft pads or cloths and usually these are machine washable. The area that may add some cost to running the machine is the water that it uses. Some models require the use of distilled or de-mineralised water and this can add to the operating cost.


Pricewise, portables and handhelds tend to be the cheapest steam cleaners. You can find handhelds that go for less than £20 and the price range can even climb well beyond £100. With the portables, they usually start at around £40 and then some of the high-end machines may go for around £150.

Additional Factors

Water Capacity- With a steam cleaner, the water capacity will directly affect the amount of time you can clean on one tank. The standard portable is going to have a larger tank than the handheld, so it will clean for longer.

Heating Time- This is the time it takes from turning the machine on to when it starts producing steam. Depending on the model, it is going to take anywhere from 1-5 minutes before it starts to steam.

Steaming Time- The amount of time that a machine will produce steam will vary from one machine to the next. Most handhelds are going to be good for about 10-15 minutes, but with a portable, you are looking at a machine that can probably steam for 30-minutes or more on one tank.

Steam Settings- With handhelds, you are very likely to get only one setting for steam output, but with portables, you may get variable steam control. This is one of the reasons that a standard portable can be a little better for multi-purpose cleaning.

Cord Length- Even with a small machine that is designed for smaller, quicker jobs, you still want a good working radius. A longer cord will allow you to reach more areas from one plug, so it is something to consider with these cleaners.

Storage- These models are going to be smaller and lighter than the cylinders and the steam mops, so they are more likely to be easy to store. One thing to look for with these models is whether they come with a case for storing the steam cleaner and all of the accessories. Many of them come with carry bags and hard cases to make them easy to store and easy to travel with.

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