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How we test steam cleaners

By Sarah Ingrams

Find out how we test steam cleaners and steam mops to reveal which get surfaces clean with minimal effort. Only the best become Best Buys.

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Our recommended Best Buy steam cleaners and steam mops take the hard work out of cleaning. They blitz through hard-to-remove dirt and grime on a range of surfaces, steam for long enough to let you finish the job and are easy to use.

Our lab tests and reviews of steam mops, handheld steam cleaners, two-in-one models (mop and handheld) and cylinder steam cleaners are designed to sort the outstanding models from the poor steamers that require just as much effort as traditional cleaning methods and leave dirt and grime behind.

Read on to find out the lengths we go to at the Which? test lab to find the best steam cleaners. Our reviews answer all your key steam cleaner questions including:

  • How well will it clean my floors and other surfaces?
  • Will it leave surfaces sopping wet?
  • How long will it steam for before needing refilling?
  • Is it easy to use?
  • Which steam cleaners are durable?
  • Will it clean fabric and carpet?
  • Should I buy it?

Go straight to our steam cleaner reviews to discover the best and worst models. To find out more about our testing, read on.

How well will it clean my floors and other surfaces?

We test each different type of steam cleaner on the surfaces they are designed to clean, so steam mops will undergo different tests to handheld steam cleaners.

When testing steam mops, we measure how much time and effort it takes to shift muddy footprints, dried-on pasta sauce and sticky drink. We test this on two different floor types: smooth (like wood laminate) and textured (like ceramic tiles). The picture (below) shows the difference between a steam mop that gets one star in our testing – floors are still mucky – and one that delivers a five-star clean – our floor is dirt-free. 

We test handheld steam cleaners on three different surfaces covered with everyday grime to see how well they remove it and how much effort it takes. Our test surfaces are tiles and grout (stained with soap scum, shower gel and shampoo), glass (coated with an oily film) and crevices (filled with tough everyday food soils). 

We also used to steam crumpled, smelly fabric to see how well creases and odours are removed and some older models will have a star rating for this. We stopped testing this after just 12% of Which? members who own steam cleaner told us they do this, compared with 42% who clean their tiles.

Cylinder steam cleaners are also tested on different surfaces to reflect the diversity of jobs they are designed to tackle. We pit them against wine stains on carpet and upholstery, mucky hard floors, scum-covered bathroom tiles, dirty oven trays and grimy glass. As with steam mops and handheld steam cleaners, we measure how well cylinders shift dirt and how much time and effort this takes.

2.16km² the area of floor we've mopped in our steam cleaner tests in the last year

Will the steam cleaner or steam mop leave surfaces sopping wet?

There are big differences in how damp steam cleaners leave surfaces after cleaning. Some models leave them almost dry, but others spit or drip water when they are steaming, leaving floors wet and slippery. Check the star ratings in the test results section of each of our steam cleaner reviews to see how different models stack up.

How long will it steam for before needing refilling?

You don't want to run out of steam halfway through mopping. We’ve come across steam mops that last under 10 minutes before they need refilling, which is why each of our reviews shows you the true steaming time of each model we've tested. The more hard floors you have, the longer the steam time you'll need to cover them.

Is the steam cleaner or steam mop easy to use?

A great steam cleaner or steam mop should take the hard work out of cleaning. But some are much easier to use than others. Our tests reveal which will clean your home with minimum fuss and which will give you a hard time.

  • We weigh steam cleaners with full water tanks so we can tell you the weight you’ll have to lug around.
  • We check how easy (or not) it is to assemble and dissemble each steam cleaner or steam mop, including attaching any cleaning pads or attachments, and how easy it is to store.
  • Convenience of refilling the water tank, using the control buttons and manoeuvring the steam cleaner are also tested, as well as the amount of noise it makes.
  • Finally, we note other essentials, such as how the steam is activated (continuous steaming, pump, or trigger), and whether the level of steam can be controlled.
  • For steam mops, we also rate how easy it is to clean the pads.

Our overall ease-of-use star rating takes into account these factors so you can see at-a-glance how easy a steam cleaner or mop is to use. The rating also takes into account feedback from our cleaning experts about how easy the models were to use. Check the test results page of each steam cleaner review to see star ratings for overall ease-of-use, manoeuvring it, using the controls and storing the steam cleaner.

Which steam cleaners are durable?

After our first test of handheld steam cleaners and mops, a number of you got in touch to tell us about the problems you’ve had with models breaking or ceasing to produce steam. And several years on, durability is still a key concern for steam mop owners.

So we introduced new elements to our tests that assess build quality and endurance. As well as rating overall build quality, we also test how repeated use affects the amount of steam produced, as some models clog up with limescale. 

We use each steam cleaner 30 times and measure the steam output throughout. We’ve found one steam mop with a steam output that dropped off by 65% during our test. Another didn't complete 30 runs. Only the most durable mops are rewarded with high scores.

65%steam drop-off measured from a steam mop during our endurance test

Will the steam cleaner work on fabric and carpet?

A steam cleaner is no replacement for a carpet cleaner, but some state that they are suitable for lightly refreshing carpet. For steam mops and two-in-one mops, check that they come with a carpet glider attachment for the mop head (our reviews will tell you this). Not all steam cleaners recommend their use on carpet - you should always refer to your instruction manual before using the cleaner on this type of surface. 

We test cylinder steam cleaners' ability to clean stains on carpets, as you told us you use them to do this at home. None proved particularly effective though. If you have a tough stain to remove from your carpet, you'd be better off with one of our Best Buy carpet cleaners

Handheld steam cleaners also claim to refresh, rather than clean, fabric. We used to test this, but have now replaced it with different tests after we learnt that Which? members rarely use their steam cleaners to steam fabrics.

65%The score a steam mop needs to earn to be considered as a Which? Best Buy

Should I buy it?

Each of the assessments described above goes part way to making up a total test score, which is the percentage figure we award each steam cleaner and steam mop. But certain assessments are more important than others and so carry different weights:

Steam cleaners (including mops, two-in-ones, handhelds, and cylinder cleaners):

  • 65% cleaning performance*
  • 20% ease of use
  • 15% durability

*In 2016 we added a carpet cleaning test to our cylinder cleaning tests, based on member feedback about how you use cylinder steam cleaners. This accounts for 5% of the cleaning performance score for cylinders only

A steam cleaner or steam mop needs to score at least 65% to be considered a Best Buy. Those scoring below 40% are highlighted as Don't Buy models that are so bad that we think you should avoid them altogether. 

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