Steam cleaners: How to buy the best steam cleaner
- Use steam to lift grime from surfaces and refresh fabrics
- Steam cleaners - types and features - explained
- How to choose the best steam cleaner for your home
Steam cleaners are available in three main types - steam mop, handheld and cylinder steam cleaner. Read on to discover what you need to know to choose the right steam cleaner for your home.
We’ll show you what to look for in the shops, what a good steam cleaner can do, what the accessories are for and how much you should expect to pay.
Of course, if you’ve already got an idea of the model you want, head straight to our steam cleaner reviews for our our impartial reviews of the latest steam mops and handheld steam cleaners.
Video: steam cleaner buying guide
Our video below reveals the essentials of buying and using the different types of steam cleaners and what tasks they are good for.
Cleaning with steam
You might associate steam cleaners with carpets and upholstery - but multi-functional steam cleaners can use steam power to refresh and remove stains from hard surface floors, tiles, windows and more, without the use of chemicals or cleaning detergents.
Which? has independently tested steam mops, handheld steam cleaners and cylinder steam cleaners - find our reviews and ratings in our steam cleaner reviews area.
A steam cleaner works by rapidly heating up water to produce steam, which is then applied to the carpet or a surface at high pressure. This produces a 'dry' steam that manufacturers claim is able to bring up dirt and grease, and kill bacteria and dust mites.
Choosing a steam cleaner
These shopping tips should help you choose the best model for your home and budget.
What types of steam cleaner are available?
Steam cleaners come in a range of shapes and sizes - but generally resemble vacuum cleaners, coming in cylinder, upright or handheld varieties.
Cylinder steam cleaners
Cylinder steam cleaners (also called barrel steam cleaners) are composed of a main body, bendy hose, plastic tube and a nozzle - they look similar to cylinder vacuum cleaners. They tend to be heavier than steam mops but on average offer longer steaming times. However it can take anywhere between four and 12 minutes to heat up the water in their tanks, so they're not as quick to use as the handhelds or mops.
Handheld steam cleaners
Hand-held steam cleaners are compact and easy to store, and can be a good option if you're only looking to steam clean on a small-scale - to clean curtains or hard-to-reach carpet edges, for example.
Steam mops are next-generation mops that promise to harness the power of steam for more effective and convenient floor cleaning. These are upright mops with a water tank attached to the handle.
Which companies make steam cleaners and how much do they cost?
Bissell, Shark, Karcher, Vax, Morphy Richards and Polti are among the big brand names who produce steam cleaners - with stores including Argos, John Lewis and Tesco all stocking steam cleaners in their household departments. Some steam cleaners can only be bought online, like the Vapor A from VapourTek.
Prices depend on the size and model, but expect to pay from £20 to £100 for a hand-held steam cleaner, between £30 and £100 for a steam mop, and anywhere between £70 and £400 for a multi-purpose steam cleaner. For more on how much you need to spend to get a decent steam cleaner, see our steam cleaner FAQs.
What steam cleaner accessories should I look out for?
Some steam cleaners can perform more than one task - doubling up as vacuum cleaners with water-based filters, or even featuring attachments that can power a steam generator iron.
Common attachments allow you to take on other cleaning jobs around the home, like window cleaning, clothes steaming and even cleaning your car tyres (more typical of handheld steam cleaner models). Keep and eye out for:
- Squeegee - for cleaning glass
- Cleaning pads - for wiping surfaces down
- Upholstery tool - to make treating stains and refreshing fabric easier - often comprise of a brush or squeegee tool with a cloth/pad fitted over the top
- Scrubbing pad - to make light work of removing grease from ovens
- Scrubbing brushes - to remove embedded grime from grout and tiles
What should I look for when choosing between steam cleaners?
The capacity, heat-up and steaming time are important factors to consider.
The heat-up time displayed in the model specification refers to how long the machine takes to reach steam generating mode, which will depend on the capacity of the machine. Hand-held steam cleaners are lightweight and easy-to-use - but steam won't last long.
With steam mops, even the slowest of those we’ve tested are ready to use in less than a minute. And some very speedy models are ready to clean in around 20 seconds.
The steaming time is how long you can use the cleaner for with continuous steam before it needs refilling with water to generate more steam. The small water tank on handheld steam cleaners means they'll only generate steam for short bursts before you need to stop and refill.
Depending on the model, with steam mops you can steam anywhere from 10 minutes to nearly an hour before you need to refill the water tank.
Cylinder steam cleaners come with an array of tools to tackle different jobs - but not all are suited to all jobs, for instance some cylinder steam cleaners are not suitable for cleaning upholstery and others warn they should not be used in ovens. So before you buy, make sure the accessories are suited to the jobs you want them to do.
Do different steam cleaners produce different amounts of steam?
You'll also usually see the steam output, measured in grams (g) of steam per minute (m) - the higher the figure, the more powerful the steam. We've reviewed models claiming to offer over 100g/m.
One thing to consider with a steam mop is those that offer the highest steam outputs, generally also leave your floors and surfaces the wettest as they get the job done.
The small water tank on handhelds means they'll only generate steam for short bursts before you need to stop and refill.
Read our full steam cleaner reviews to discover the Best Buy steam cleaners we recommend.
Are steam cleaners good for allergy sufferers?
Because we haven't tested the dust mite killing ability of steam cleaners, we're not able to give a definitive answer as to how effective they are at reducing allergens.
However, the British Allergy Foundation has awarded its 'seal of approval' to several models of steam cleaner, given to products which it deems can lead to 'significantly reduced allergen content'.