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12 May 2020

10 new ways to get the best out of your steam cleaner

Steam cleaners are great for clearing up muddy footprints, but versatile, modern devices can be used for far more around the house

Steam cleaners have become popular in British households in recent years as increasing numbers of us have abandoned carpets in favour of hard flooring. Steam cleaners make it easy to remove dirty marks from floor tiles and laminate while also killing harmful bacteria - and all without the need for harsh chemicals.

Yet steam cleaners can do far more than simply spruce up your floors. Most new models either incorporate a detachable handheld unit or have long nozzles that can be used to clean harder to reach surfaces.

Many also come with an array of different attachments that help you tackle all manner of tasks, and could turn a steam cleaner from a nice-to-have into a cleaning tool you can't do without.

Read on to discover some innovative steam cleaner tricks you may not have thought of.

10 new uses for your steam cleaner

1. Cleaning glass

Many steam cleaners come with cloth kits or squeegee attachments so you can clean your windows, mirrors and shower screens. The best models shouldn't produce too much excess water that could leave marks on the glass, although it can still be a good idea to dry glass afterwards with a microfiber cloth to prevent streaks.

The Bush Upright Steam Mop with Detachable Hand Held Cleaner (£40 from Argos) is one example of a steam cleaner that can be used to clean glass.

2. Cleaning grouting

Grouting is the material in between wall and floor tiles and it can be a nightmare to keep clean. It's awkward to get to and is easily missed when using a cloth, as it normally sits lower than the tiles themselves. However, using a steam cleaner with a narrow nozzle enables you to accurately target dirty spots and to blast away grime.

One option if you need to rejuvenate the grouting in your bathroom is the handheld Hoover Steam Express - just £40 from Argos. Read our review to see how it performs overall.

3. Cleaning your oven and hob

Most of us resort to powerful chemicals when trying to remove baked-on grease and food from our ovens and oven shelves. This toxic gunk often has to be painted on and then left overnight, before washing it clean the following day. It's a dirty, horrible and potentially dangerous job.

Using a steam cleaner is more eco-friendly and doesn't produce any nasty smells. Be careful not to use the steamer near the oven's element, though, as this could damage it.

4. Freshening up carpets

Although a steam cleaner doesn't wash your carpets in the way that a proper carpet cleaner would, the steam it produces can refresh fabric and remove odours. The best models will come with a 'carpet glider' attachment that fits over the mop head to enable it to move freely over your floor.

It is recommended to test the steam cleaner first on a small section that's hidden away, as some carpets can react badly to steam.

5. Removing creases from clothing

If you need to remove wrinkles from your favourite jacket or pair of trousers then a quick blast of hot steam can do the trick. Do take them off before doing this though!!

6. Sanitising children's toys

Babies and toddlers love to chew anything they can lay their hands on so it's important to keep their toys free from bacteria. Steam cleaners let you do this without leaving behind a residue of harmful chemicals, and are effective at killing 99.9% of household germs. And they can be used on more than just toys; they're also a great option for high chairs, pushchairs and car seats.

7. Cleaning and defrosting your fridge and freezer

Food spills and spoiled food can leave your fridge smelling unpleasant, or even make it unsafe. When we analysed 10 fridges for an investigation in 2019 we found that seven of them contained harmful bacteria, including one that had high levels of Aeromonas bacteria, which can cause food-borne illness and a range of infections.

Steam is very effective at killing bacteria so is a great way to keep your fridge in tip top condition. That's not all - you can also use it to quickly defrost your freezer.

8. Steam cleaning your mattress

Not only do we regularly sweat and shed dead skin while we sleep, but the average bed contains 10,000 dust mites, which can aggravate allergies. So it's a good idea to regularly clean your mattress.

A steam cleaner is the perfect tool, as the high temperature of the steam produced kills dust mites and won't leave the mattress soaking wet afterwards. As with other surfaces though, check with the mattress manufacturer before steaming it and thoroughly vacuum first to pick up any loose debris.

9. Cleaning patio furniture and barbecues

The current rules around social distancing, combined with sunny days recently, mean that most of us are spending more time in our gardens. But it's often the case that garden furniture can look rather worse for wear after a long British winter.

Never fear though, a quick blast of steam can rejuvenate outdoor chairs and tables in no time. And while you're at it you can also blast away any leftover grime you neglected to clean from your barbecue when you last used it. You may have to use a wire brush at the same time, although cleaners such as the Dupray Neat come with their own brass cleaning attachment.

10. Removing wallpaper

If we're not relaxing in our gardens while socially distancing, then many of us are using the time to catch up on overdue DIY jobs. If you're planning to do some decorating, then a steam cleaner could come in very handy as they're ideal for removing hard-to-shift wallpaper. The steam penetrates the paper, loosening the paste and enabling you to peel or scrape it off.

Steam cleaning top tips

Steam cleaners are versatile devices that can be used in all manner of ways. But before you jump into action, bear in mind a few key points.

  • It's pretty obvious, but don't forget that steam is hot and can damage some surfaces. The first time you steam clean a new area around in your home, test the effects first in a small, inconspicuous area. Skip this step and you could ruin your synthetic leather sofa or brightly coloured curtains.
  • Avoid delicate fabrics such as silk and wool, and never use a steam cleaner to sanitise electrical items. You may want to eliminate germs on your tablet or phone display but blasting them with steam is more likely to kill the device than revive it.
  • Take care even on some hard flooring. It may look robust but steam can easily damage unsealed wooden flooring, causing it to swell and warp.

How to choose a steam cleaner

There are four main types of steam cleaner. While they all work in much the same way - producing a jet of steam that you use to shift stains - they all have different strengths. Choose the one that best suits your needs:

Handheld steam cleaners

These lightweight models are easy to carry around and store. They're great for cleaning small areas, such as around your bathroom taps, but their limited water tank capacity and handheld design means they're not ideal for floors. Handheld steam cleaners include the £40 Hoover Steam Express; read our review to find out if it makes light work of cleaning.

Steam mops

These upright models, such as the Karcher SC3 Upright (£200) resemble vacuum cleaners. They're usually lightweight with a pivoting mop head that's easy to manoeuvre around obstacles and into corners. Great for floors, they often lack the accessories necessary to clean other surfaces.

Karcher SC3 Upright

Two-in-one cleaners

These multipurpose models combine an upright model with a removable hand-held unit, usually built into the handle. They're very versatile but are usually heavier and more expensive than most standard steam mops. The £50 Goblin White 9in1 steam cleaner promise not two, but nine, different functions - but read our review to find out if it does any of them well.

Goblin White 9 in 1 Upright Steam Mop

Cylinder steam cleaners

These are heavy, wheeled devices with a hose and mop head plus a main body that you pull along behind you. They usually come with plenty of accessories, enabling you to handle most cleaning jobs, and their large water tanks mean they can steam for far longer than an upright model. However they're bulky and expensive so won't appeal to most users.

If you do want to invest in this kind of heavy duty cleaner, the £300Karcher SC 4 EasyFix Premium could be one to consider. Read our expert review to find out.

We've tested steam cleaners for years and have reviewed all the models available from big names, including Black & Decker, Karcher and Vax, as well as a number of cheap own-brand models.

Find out which we recommend in our Best Buy steam cleaners round-up.