What is Steam Cleaning

steam cleaning machine

Steam cleaners are flexible tools for keeping your home in great shape without using chemicals. Steam cleaners help get to those hard-to-reach nooks and crevices around your home. They can be used on hard surfaces and soft furnishings for an inclusive clean.

This post will examine the different types of steam cleaners and why steam benefits a healthy home.

About Steam Cleaning

Vapor steam cleaners produce dry steam that is powerful enough to remove dirt, viruses, germs, dust mites, flea eggs, dander, and more. Within minutes and without chemicals, you can clean and sanitize your home and keep pests under control. 

Steam cleaners operate with either a small water tank or a larger internal boiler. These heat the water above 200 degrees Fahrenheit and up to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. When temperatures reach this level, the water is transformed into steam. This powerful steam can then permeate microscopic pores on various surface areas to remove dirt, bacteria, and allergens. 

Conventional deep-cleaning systems combine chemical detergents with water to remove undesirable contaminants. The deep cleaner may appear to get rid of dirt and grime. But what does it leave behind? Generally, a chemical residue that you could potentially touch, inhale or ingest. 

Cleaning with steam is faster and more effective at cleaning and sanitization than using liquid chemical cleaners. 

One of the appeals of dry vapor steam cleaning is that it not just cleans without chemicals, it won’t leave a long-lasting damp residue behind. 

Steam cleaning technology achieves this by utilizing a relatively small amount of water to produce the steam. This efficient cleaning method provides a high-temperature mist with only about 5 to 6 percent moisture. Any residue left behind dries within a few minutes.

Steam cleaners likewise decrease the risk of cross-contamination. When cleaning with a traditional sponge and detergent, you risk transferring bacteria, germs, and other contaminants across your home. This makes your cleaning efforts less effective.

Bacteria are likewise adept at surviving in wet environments, making sanitization increasingly complex. The heat of the steam kills germs, bacteria, and pollutants, reducing your risk of moving these impurities to other surfaces. 

What Can Be Cleaned with Steam?

Steam cleaners are excellent for most surfaces around the home. Here are some ideas for using steam to clean and sanitize:

  • Glass and Windows
  • Walls (but be careful if you have wallpaper, the steam could melt the glue)
  • Tabletops
  • Stovetops
  • Door handles
  • Kitchen Appliances
  • Automobile interiors
  • Wheel Rims
  • Family pet toys, beds, and cages
  • BBQ grills
  • Tile floors
  • Sealed wood floors
  • Some laminate flooring
  • Linoleum
  • Grout
  • Ovens
  • Rangehood
  • Mirrors
  • Some carpets
  • Gym equipment
  • Kitchen, bathroom, and laundry sinks
  • Toilets
  • Taps, spouts, and cupboard handles
  • Bathtubs
  • Remove soap scum from shower floors and shower screens
  • Refrigerators
  • Defrost freezers and clean the exterior of the freezer
  • Children’s toys, both hard plastic and soft stuffed animals
  • Kill bed bugs and other allergens in mattresses
  • Sealed timber blinds
  • Upholstery, cushions, and pillows
  • Clothing
  • Clean Jewelry
  • Remove spilled wax
  • Sanitize sporting equipment

There are various steam cleaners, such as upright, handheld, and portable. Always choose the most suitable steamer to suit the surface you wish to clean. Some steamers are not appropriate to use on drapes or bed mattresses. We’ll cover this further when talking about individual types of steam cleaners.

How Does Steam Clean?

When hot, dry steam is pushed onto a surface area, the tiny vapor particles permeate the pores on the surface. The vapor molecules quickly and strongly expand to displace dirt, grease, detergents, germs, and particles that do not naturally belong on the surface.

An included benefit is the high temperature of the vapor particles, which kills germs and other pathogens like mold, fleas, flea eggs, and allergens. The surface is then sanitized and deodorized. 

Steam cleaners sound like complicated machines, but they are quite easy to use. Steam cleaning is so user-friendly that it’s as simple as using a vacuum when you understand the fundamentals. 

Here’s how steam cleaners work: you pour tap or distilled water into the stainless-steel boiler or cold water tank. Turn on the machine, and the water in the boiler will heat above 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Your steamer is ready to emit this steam to clean and sanitize surfaces. 

There is a wide variety of attachments and brushes available for steam cleaners. These are particularly useful for grout and hard-to-reach places.

Choosing a Steam Cleaner

With so many steam cleaning machines on the market today, how do you know which is right for you? Luckily, we are here to help. There are five main categories of steam cleaners. They are:

Let’s take a closer look at each and how they may benefit you at home:

Steam Mop

what is a steam cleaner

A steam mop is a compact device that looks like a stick vacuum. Steam mops are limited to cleaning the floor unless you have a hybrid steam mop that includes a handheld steamer.

If you have wood, tile, laminate, or marble flooring and you’re searching for a fantastic alternative to hauling around that mop and bucket, choose a steam mop. Steam mops leave your hard floors completely clean and sterilized in less time.

They include reusable mop pads and scrubbing pads for more challenging spots. Carpet glider accessories are included with some, enabling you to use your steam mop on rugs and carpets. 

If you like to add scents to your cleaning, you can purchase fragrance discs that can be used with steam mops. Rather than scenting the water, the steam travels through the disc and emits a lovely aroma. 

Steam mops are best suited to smaller spaces, as they hold less water than larger steam cleaners. They are fast to heat up, so you can get on with steaming efficiently. Some steam mops have manual steam control, and more advanced models have electronic steam control, multiple steam settings, and various attachments.

Furthermore, there are cordless steam mops, steam mop and scrubber combinations, and vacuum and steam mop all-in-one machines. Confused? Don’t worry. This post here covers everything you need to know about steam mops (as well as our top choices for 2023).

bissell steam mop package

Bissell PowerFresh Deluxe

Bissell is a leading brand of steam mops, and the PowerFresh Deluxe model is a simple-to-use steam mop for cleaning your floors. It’s inexpensive, has multiple steam settings, and, most importantly, works.

Handheld Steam Cleaners

how steam cleaner works

Lightweight, compact, and easy to use handheld steam cleaners are usually used to clean ovens, windows, and showers. These highly portable steam cleaners make cleaning and sanitizing countertops and difficult surface areas simple.

They generally include helpful attachments to make small jobs easy, such as grout brushes, window squeegees, and upholstery tools. Handheld steam cleaners are also beneficial in sanitizing mattresses.

Handheld steam cleaners are fantastic for cleaning:

  • Windows
  • Mirrors
  • Showers
  • Bathroom tiles
  • Tabletops
  • Stovetops
  • Other hard surfaces
  • Clothing
  • Mattresses
  • Toys
  • Car interiors

The downside with a handheld steam cleaner is you generally have to wait for it to cool down before you can refill it and continue cleaning.

They heat up quickly, making handheld steam cleaning machines great for small jobs around the home. The portability is also convenient, especially if you clean hard-to-reach areas or inside your car.

NEW FOR 2022
eave handheld steamer

EAVE Handheld Steam Cleaner

Finally, a handheld steam cleaner that can be refilled whilst in use. This will change the game for steaming with small portable machines. It also heats to an above-average temperature of 248°F. Check out the Eave handheld steam cleaner on Amazon below.

Canister Steam Cleaners

heavy duty steam cleaner

Canister steam cleaners offer the most versatility. These powerful deep-cleaning devices can clean and disinfect hard floors, carpets, upholstery, automobile interiors, and more. They come with a choice of attachments for various applications around the home, including garment steaming and even cleaning the walls.

Canister Steam Cleaners carry a higher volume of water, offering a longer running time. They are best used for larger surface areas such as: 

  • Hard Floors
  • Carpets
  • Upholstery and soft furnishings
  • Walls
  • Cupboards
  • Kitchen benchtops and appliances
  • Toys
  • Tiles and grout

Expect to pay a few hundred dollars up to several thousand dollars for a canister steam cleaner. Our buying guide and best-rated steam cleaners will help you make the right choice. Click on the button below for our top canister steam cleaners for 2023.

dupray neat canister steam cleaner

Dupray Neat Steam Cleaner

This is a great entry-level canister steam cleaner for general home cleaning. The boiler tank has a lifetime warranty, heats up to 275°F (hotter than standard), is compact, and doesn’t cost much more than a steam mop. The included accessories make household cleaning a breeze, not a chore.

Multipurpose 2-in-1 Steam Mops

best steam cleaning machine

Multipurpose two-in-one steamer mops are just as they sound. They are generally bulkier steaming machines with a detachable device to use as a handheld steamer. These are called multi-purpose steam cleaners and can be used on many surface areas.

A two-in-one multifunction steam mop is an excellent choice for an effortlessly spotless home, and you have the benefit of a hard floor cleaner and handheld cleaning device.

hoover complete pet steam mop

Hoover Complete Pet Steam Mop

This multifunction steam mop has a detachable handheld steam cleaner with various above-floor cleaning tools. The steam mop also detaches to reveal a large scrubber, which is excellent for grout or cleaning up after pets. There are also multiple steam settings, and it is inexpensive to buy.

Detergent Steam Cleaners

Most steam cleaners create steam hot enough to kill 99.9% of bacteria using water. Some steam cleaners are detergent-capable, allowing you to include detergent to increase your cleaning power. 

This seems counterintuitive, especially if you prefer to clean without chemicals! You might choose a detergent-capable steam cleaner if you feel that steam alone is not enough to remove tough dirt and grime. Detergent steam cleaners can also be used in commercial settings, particularly in the restaurant and commercial kitchen cleaning, to help remove built-up grease and grime.

Commercial Steam Cleaners

Some amazing commercially rated steam cleaners on the market put home steam cleaners to shame. If you want to get serious about steam cleaning your home, want the best of the best, or need to use the steam cleaning machine in a commercial setting (such as car detailing or cleaning contractor), these are the steam cleaners for you.

What sets commercial steam cleaners apart from home-use cleaners are:

  • Steam Temperature – commercial steam cleaners get hotter, up to 345 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • PSI – this is the steam pressure that comes out of the machine. Some commercial machines are double that of home steam cleaners.
  • Better warranty (some with a lifetime warranty on the entire machine, not just the boiler tank)
  • Larger water capacity = longer running time
  • Usually, more accessories and options to store them.
pro6 duo steam cleaner

Vapor Clean Pro 6 Duo Steam Cleaner

Vapor Clean is a leading brand of commercial steam cleaners with affordable, quality machines. The Pro 6 Duo can be refilled during use, which is handy for larger cleaning jobs. It heats to 311°F and comes with various residential and commercial cleaning accessories.

What to Consider When Purchasing a Steam Cleaning Machine

  • Accessories: Ensure you’ll get the attachments you need to do the tasks you wish to do throughout your house.
  • Warm-up time: Some heat up in under a minute; others heat the entire boiler of water, which can take up to 15 minutes. 
  • Water Tank Size: Did you wait 15 minutes for the steamer to heat up, only to have it run for 5 minutes? The more water the steamer holds, the longer you can clean it before stopping to refill and reheat. Machines with continuous fill allow you to refill the tank without waiting for the steamer to cool down. 
  • Heat: To sterilize efficiently, water should be heated to above 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Most steamers will do this. Keep in mind the hotter the water heats, the drier the steam is, and the less time it takes to sterilize surfaces. 
  • Budget: Steam Cleaners range in price. A higher price may give you better customer service, a strong guarantee, replacement parts, and longevity of the machine.
  • Replacement Items: What is the cost of replacement nozzles, spare parts, and steam mop pads, if needed? Are they easily accessible?
  • Manufacturer: Does the manufacturer offer a decent warranty, service options, and spare parts? Where do you need to send the machine if it requires repair?

Is There Anything You Can’t Steam?

Chemical-free cleaning with steam is excellent for your indoor air quality. Still, some surface areas should not be steamed and risk permanent damage. They are:

  • Cardboard and paper items
  • Water-based paint
  • Porous surface areas, such as unsealed marble, brick, and stucco
  • Unsealed timber
  • Thin plastics
  • Waxed surfaces
  • Anything that may melt with heat
  • Some types of carpet (check with your manufacturer)
  • Some types of laminate (check with your manufacturer)
  • Luxury vinyl flooring (including LVP)

Cleaning a Steam Cleaner

In time, many steam cleaners require you to descale them, considering that the minerals found in water can build up within the steam cleaner’s boiler system. Descaling your steam cleaner is easy – use a mix of water and vinegar to soak the boiler before rinsing it clean with water.

Alternatively, use distilled water or demineralized water in your steamer. This helps to protect your machine against mineral deposits and scale build-up and leaves a nicer finish on your surfaces after steaming.

If you like fresh smells when cleaning, you can buy scented demineralized water for your steam mop or the canister steam cleaner.

How Long Will a Steam Cleaner Last?

Many quality steam cleaners are developed to last for several years. They are not throwaway cleaning tools! Some systems have aluminum water tanks that tend to oxidize, jeopardizing the tank’s stability.

Attempt to look for designs with stainless steel or brass boiler tanks, fixtures, and fittings for superior longevity.

Steam cleaner warranties range from simply a year or two to up to 8 years for some models and lifetime warranties on some commercial models.

Should I Invest in a Steam Cleaning Machine?

A steam cleaner is a much more significant upfront investment than a mop and bucket. However, the benefit of using steam to clean is that it requires no chemicals to sanitize and clean your home effectively. Steam pads are washable and reusable, saving you money in the long run.

We believe a steamer is a wonderful investment and wouldn’t live without one. I own two steam mops, one that converts to a handheld steam cleaner and a commercially rated steam vacuum, which I love. If you’re unsure, read our helpful guides to make an informed decision before you buy, and be confident you have made the right choice for your home.