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Why buy a garment steamer?

By Christina Woodger

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Why buy a garment steamer?

Are garment steamers the secret to quick and easy crease removal? We look at what they do, how to use them and how much they cost.

If you want to cut down on ironing time, using a garment steamer sounds like a tempting option. Garment steamers are vertical clothes steamers designed for quickly neatening clothes on the hanger, without the need to set up an ironing board. 

In this expert guide, we look at what garment steamers do and how much you can expect to spend. We’ll also tell you which features to look out for and what we thought of the popular UK models we tried out.

Want to see which garment steamers impressed – and which didn’t? Head straight to garment steamers compared to get our verdict and see our video of the best and worst models in action.

What is a garment steamer and should I buy one?

Garment steamers – sometimes called travel or clothes steamers – are designed for last-minute touch-ups. If you need to do some emergency de-creasing before heading out, you should be able to grab your garment steamer and whizz it over your clothes. 

They’re marketed as being light and convenient to use, and they don’t require an ironing board (though some can be used horizontally as well as vertically). They’re also recommended for delicate clothes, as they reduce the risk of scorching. 

You might be considering a garment steamer if:

  • you regularly iron just one item at a time (and it’s usually in a hurry)
  • you want a lightweight iron to smarten up clothes when travelling
  • you find irons and ironing boards heavy to use
  • you have lots of delicate and hard-to-iron clothes

Philips, Rowenta and Tefal are the main brands selling garment steamers at the moment. They’re widely available at big retailers, such as Amazon, Argos, Currys and John Lewis.  

Which type of garment steamer should I go for?

There are two main types of garment steamer to choose from: handheld and upright.

Handheld garment steamers - these are smaller, lighter and more portable than upright models (between 1 and 2kg, whereas uprights can be more than 7kg). So this is the kind you need if you want one to take on holiday. They have a small water tank inside the steamer. Some are shaped like a shower head (like the one pictured above) and some look more like a kettle.

Upright garment steamers - these are larger and bulkier than handheld models. They have a large water tank in the base, which means they can steam for longer. They often come with a built-in hanger and they’re more powerful too. 

How much do garment steamers cost?

Garment steamers range in price from £25 and £150. Handheld models tend to be cheapest, but that isn’t always the case, as we tried out one handheld steamer costing £120.

They’re not always cheaper than regular irons either: you can pick up one of the best steam irons we’ve tested for as little as £22.

What useful garment steamer features should I look out for?

If you’re in the market for a garment steamer, look out for these features which will make ironing with a garment steamer easier:

Weight - if you’re aiming to take it on your travels (for example to a wedding or meeting abroad), or you find regular irons too heavy, look for a lightweight model.

Continuous steam - having to press your finger down constantly on the steam button can be uncomfortable. Look for one that steams continuously.

Steam settings - some garment steamers allow you to vary the steam flow – handy if you need to steam delicate items as well as bulkier ones.

Fast heat-up time - essential if you’re hoping your garment steamer will be a time-saver.

Water tank - none of the handheld steamers we tried had enormous water tanks, but you don’t want one so tiny that you’re constantly topping up.

Suitable for all fabrics - some manufacturers state that their models are suitable for all fabrics, including silk. If you’re buying a garment steamer specifically for delicate clothing, make sure you check this first.

Is a garment steamer right for me?

Don’t be too swayed by the marketing hype: garment steamers won’t be the right solution for everyone. You may find you’re much better off with one of our best-scoring irons and an easy-to-use ironing board.

While the idea of a small, portable steamer that rapidly smoothes out clothes on the hanger is tempting, we found in reality it wasn’t always this easy. Below we explain some of the main pros and cons versus buying an iron, but make sure you check our garment steamer first look reviews to get our full verdict on individual models, as we found some better than others.

Pros of garment steamers:

  • don’t need to get the ironing board out
  • lighter than some regular irons, so more suitable for travel
  • steam can be gentler on your clothes than regular ironing
  • some claim to refresh and sanitise clothing as well as removing creases

Cons of garment steamers:

  • less powerful than regular irons, and not necessarily cheaper
  • clothes are often left damp, so you will still need to wait until they dry before wearing
  • it’s hard to iron the edges of clothes properly, or get around buttons and into sharp corners, such as collars, for a pristine finish
  • small water tanks compared with regular irons mean they run out of steam within minutes – often before you’ve finished ironing one garment
  • not all are lightweight – we tried some which quickly felt tiring to hold
  • some spit water – so take care not to point it towards your face, keep your fingers out of the way as much as possible and make sure others keep their distance

Head to our garment steamer first look reviews to get our verdict on the models we tried, and see them in action in our video.

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