Steam Cleaner Buying Guide

Steam cleaners are popular products for a range of different home cleaning tasks. These cleaners use the power of steam to remove dirt and grime while also disinfecting the surfaces that they are applied to. Many consumers prefer steam cleaners because it requires less effort than doing these cleaning jobs manually and in many cases, it provides results that are far superior. In addition to that, the user can clean and disinfect without the need for harsh cleansers and this makes it not only safer for homes with children and pets, but it is also better for the environment.

Once you know all of the benefits of steam cleaning, you may decide to get one of these devices for your home, but there is more to shopping for a steam cleaner than knowing that you want one. There are different types of steam cleaners to choose from, different models can offer a range of different features and factors like effectiveness and ease of use can vary significantly from one model to the next. To help the consumer shop for their next steam cleaner, here is a guide the covers some of the key points for steam cleaner buying.

Types of Steam Cleaners

For the most part, there are three basic types of steam cleaners. Consumers can choose from the traditional cylinder style models, steam mops and the portable/handheld models.

Cylinder Models

These are models that will closely resemble a cylinder vacuum. You have the main body of the steamer and then a hose/cleaning wand that comes out from the machine. These models tend to be the best multi-purpose cleaners because they come with the floor cleaning head, but they also come with an array of attachments for other steaming applications. A cylinder will usually offer a longer steaming time and they often have a dual-tank system to allow for continuous refilling and that makes them great for when you have to do a lot of steaming all in one session.

Steam Mops

The steam mops are usually the better option when it comes to cleaning floors. These models have an upright design that is similar to a regular mop and the steamer delivers high-temperature steam to the cleaning head. The standard steam mop will only be a floor cleaning device, but there are multi-purpose steam mops that have a detachable handheld and a set of attachments for additional cleaning jobs. For the most part, cylinders will be better multi-purpose cleaners, but steam mops do perform better on floors and with a good multi-function mop, the consumer does get comparable results for the additional cleaning tasks.

Portable/Handheld Steamers

The different handheld and portable models are designed to provide convenience for light steam cleaning. Some of these models are actually handheld and others come with a shoulder strap to help the user carry it along as they clean. They can handle most of the multi-purpose cleaning jobs of a cylinder model, but their compact design means that they are not as good for cleaning on a large scale. Depending on the design, it might come with a floor-cleaning tool, but these models are not the best at cleaning floors. The user could spot clean stains on carpets or clean a dirty patch on a hard floor, but if floor cleaning is a primary concern, a cylinder or a steam mop will serve you better.


As mentioned above, the type of steam cleaner that you choose can determine how well it will perform on certain tasks, but there are additional points to look at when you are looking for an effective steam-cleaning device.


The temperature of the steam that is being released from the steamer will affect its cleaning capabilities. A higher temperature means that it will be more effective at removing dirt and grime and it can also impact the machine’s ability to disinfect surfaces.

Steam Output

The maximum steam output of a cleaner will usually be measured in grams per minute. A higher output is generally going to mean better cleaning power, but it can be a bit of a balancing act. If the machine releases too much steam, then it could leave surfaces a little too damp. More steam is better for some jobs, while it may actually be a disadvantage for others. Many machines come with variable steam control to address the need for different steam levels on different jobs.


Most steam cleaners will only offer steam as the sole cleaning method, but there are some models that come with a separate detergent tank. For most messes, steam alone should do the trick, but for some, the added power of a detergent can be helpful. With most of these units, you can turn the detergent on or off, so you still have the option of cleaning with steam alone, but you can turn the detergent on for messes that are really stubborn.

One factor to consider with detergent is the operating cost. When you use detergent, it will increase the operating costs of the machine and most manufacturers recommend their own special detergents. In some cases, these detergents can cost more than the cleansers that you find at your local store.

Handling the Cleaner

The degree to which the steam cleaner is easy to handle will affect the convenience of the machine and the amount of effort that goes into using it.


How well a machine maneuvers will obviously play differently among cylinders than it will among steam mops. With cylinders, you want to consider the type of wheels on the body of the machine and the design of the cleaning wand. With a steam mop, you want to consider whether it has a swiveling head and the shape of the cleaning head.

Size & Weight

The size and the weight will affect how easy the machine is to handle when you are cleaning and how easy it is to move the cleaner around the home. The consumer also has to consider that the water is going to increase the weight of the machine. A machine with a large water tank is probably going to be less compact and when it is full of water, it is also going to be heavier.


As with almost any machine that you can buy, there will be some maintenance that goes into owning a steam cleaner. Generally, the time and money that goes into maintaining a steam cleaner will be limited, but it is something to consider.

Cleaning Pads

Steam cleaners often come with cleaning pads and cloths that are used for cleaning floors and other surfaces. For the most part, these pads are machine washable, so the care is simple. However, the consumer might be well served to consider the number of floor pads that come with the machine and the cost of buying an additional pad. Having a second cleaning pad can be advantageous and many manufacturers include a second pad for the convenience of the consumer. With a steam cleaner, the dirt and grime gets absorbed into the pad and if you are cleaning a particularly large area or a particularly nasty mess, the pad will become less effective before you finish cleaning. With a second pad, you can switch the dirty pad out for a fresh pad.


Depending on the water in your area and the design of the steamer, there could be a problem with limescale building up inside the machine. After a time, the accumulation of limescale will diminish the effectiveness of the machine and it could even take it out of commission altogether.

One of the ways that manufacturers approach the problem of limescale is to recommend the use of distilled or de-mineralized water. This will prevent scaling, but it can be less convenient and it will increase the operating costs of the machine.

Another way to address this problem is to provide the user with a method for descaling the machine. With some machines, this may not even be an option, but with machines that can be cleaned, the user does have the option of using distilled water to prevent scaling or giving the unit an annual descaling. To remove limescale from a machine, the consumer will need to buy a descaling agent and follow the manufactures instructions for cleaning the machine.

In addition to this, some machines will come with a hard water filter. With these models, a filter is situated between the water tank and the boiler. This prevents the build-up of limescale and it allows the consumer to use the water from their tap with no worries. The filter will need to be replaced eventually, but they can be ordered online from the manufacturer and the consumer may even be able to find them in some stores.


The included accessories and attachments that come with steam cleaners allow the user to perform a range of different cleaning jobs. A cylinder model or a handheld will always come with at least a few attachments, but a standard steam mop will not. If you want a steam mop that has attachments, then you want to look for one that is listed as multi-purpose or multi-functional.

  • Cleaning pads- Most models will come with cleaning pads for working on a range of different surfaces. This would include the pad for hard floors and maybe some additional pads for things like counters and stoves.
  • Carpet glider- This is a special pad for steaming carpets. It can be used to spot clean or remove some light staining, but it will not deep clean a carpet in the way that a rug scrubber does.
  • Window cleaner- A tool with a squeegee at the end for cleaning windows and mirrors
  • Garment steamer- This can be used to remove wrinkles from clothing and curtains without the need for an iron.
  • Brushes- Many steam cleaners come with a range of brushes in different shapes and sizes. The size and shape of the brush along with the material of the brushes will help to determine what the attachment is good for. If you are looking for a good multi-purpose cleaner, it is important to look into the types of brushes that are provided.

Additional Factors

Water Capacity – The size of the water tank is important because it can determine the operating time of the steamer. Cylinders usually have the largest tanks, while the tanks for mops and portables are usually a little smaller. The consumer should also consider whether the machine can be refilled while it is in use because this feature can extend the operating time.

Heating Time – The heating time refers to how long it takes the machine to start producing steam. Steam mops tend to have the fastest heating time with most models heating in under a minute and many producing steam in less than 30-seconds. The average cylinder model will usually take 5-minutes or more before it is ready for use.

Steaming Time – There are a lot of factors that can affect the steaming time of the machine. The two that have the biggest impact are steam output and water capacity. Cylinders usually have the longest steaming times because of their large water tanks.

Steam Settings – Some steam cleaners will allow the user to control the steam output from the machine. Certain cleaning jobs need more steam than others will, so this feature is especially important for cleaners that are designed for multi-purpose cleaning.

Cord Length – The length of the power cord is one factor that determines the working radius of the machine. Ideally, you want a power cord that is going to allow you to clean an entire room without having to change outlets.

Storage – Being easy to store and easy to get out are important practical considerations. You want to make sure that there is storage for the tools, consider the amount of space that it requires and make sure that it has a storage solution for the cord.








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