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Updated: 2 Feb 2022

Vax vs Karcher steam cleaners - which should you buy?

We help you choose between two of the most popular steam cleaning brands

Karcher and Vax are two of the big-hitters in the world of steam cleaners. Karcher's distinctive yellow-and-black machines have become popular in homes around the globe, while Vax proudly maintains that it's the UK's bestselling floorcare brand. But which should you choose when buying a new steam cleaner?

Steam cleaners can really help to keep your home sparkling. The best take the hard work out of refreshing floors and surfaces, while their bacteria-killing properties enable you to do away with harsh chemical cleaning products. It's perhaps not surprising that so many UK shoppers have bought one over the past 10 years.

Although more than half a dozen companies make steam cleaners, for many people the choice comes down to either Vax or Karcher. Read on to discover what separates these two well-known brands.

Vax vs Karcher steam cleaners - customer feedback

To find out what real people think about their steam cleaners, we conduct a regular survey in which we ask more than a thousand owners to tell us about their machines.

This enables us to discover which brands have the most satisfied owners, as well as which brands make devices that experience lots of problems and are more likely to break down completely.

In our latest survey*, we found that owners of Vax and Karcher steam cleaners tended to report remarkably consistent satisfaction levels. The two brands achieved among the highest customer scores for the category.

However, satisfaction with steam cleaners on the whole is lower than it is for comparable cleaning products such as cordless vacs and corded vacuum cleaners.

It was a similar story when we analysed the fault rates reported by owners of Vax and Karcher cleaners - 10% of models from one brand experienced a fault within six years of purchase, compared with 14% for the other.

That's significantly better that the fault rate for the worst steam cleaner brand, which saw 27% of owners report a fault within six years.

We reveal the top steam cleaner brands.

Vax vs Karcher steam cleaners - which brand makes the best products

As well as surveying owners, we also put steam cleaners through their paces in our lab, and over the past few years have tested dozens of models.

In that time we've uncovered some fantastic steam cleaners that shift dirt in seconds. But we've also found a worrying number of duds: models that leak water, lose power or fail to remove even the lightest stains.

Vax offers the wider choice of devices, including seven models from its current range that we've put through our lab tests. But our test results show that these can be a bit hit and miss. So while one model is good enough to be a Best Buy steam cleaner, we've also rated one as a Don't Buy steam cleaner.

We've tested five Karcher steam cleaners, and not every one is a Best Buy.

Taking a closer look at the key specs for each brand reveals that, while customer feedback on the two brands is quite similar, the products they make are typically very different.

TypeMostly cylinder cleanersMostly combination cleaners
Price£85 to £400£60 to £100
WeightMostly above average (ranging from 2.5kg to 8.5kg).Mostly about average (ranging from 2.4kg to 5.3kg)
Tank capacityMostly large capacity (ranging from 200ml to 1,450ml)Mostly modest capacity (ranging from 200ml to 1,420ml)
Steaming timeMostly above average (ranging from 6 to 34 minutes)Mostly below average (ranging from 6 to 42 minutes)
  • Karcher's line-up - the EasyFix range - is predominantly made up of cylinder cleaners. Although you can buy an upright combination cleaner (the SC1 EasyFix) and a new upright steam mop (the Karcher SC3), the SC2 EasyFix, SC3 EasyFix, SC4 EasyFix and SC5 EasyFix are all larger, wheeled models that you pull along behind you.
  • For Vax, by contrast, six of the seven available Vax devices that we've tested are upright combination cleaners. Only 2012's Vax S6S Home Pro is a cylinder cleaner.

Upright vs cylinder cleaners

So, in many ways, the key choice you have to make is less which brand to choose and more which type.

Upright steam cleaners - which resemble traditional vacuum cleaners - are simple to operate and to store after use.

Basic models (sometimes called steam mops) can only be used on hard floors, while more versatile combination models (often called two-in-one cleaners) combine a mop for floors with a detachable handheld device that has attachments for cleaning tiles, glass and other surfaces.

Cylinder cleaners that you pull along behind you are larger. They have a long hose, which can be more comfortable to hold than a heavy handheld cleaner when cleaning surfaces. They also have much larger water tanks that enable them to steam for far longer before they need refilling - typically around half an hour compared with 10 minutes for an upright cleaner. However, they do take longer to heat up.

Useful steam cleaner features and accessories

Other factors to consider when choosing a steam cleaner are:

  • Whether it includes a limescale filter, which is useful if you live in a hard water area.
  • Does it have a 'continuous fill' feature, enabling you to top up the water tank straight away rather than having to wait 10 minutes until it's cooled down?

Also look for the accessories that you'll need in your home. These include carpet gliders (to help the cleaning head 'glide' over and refresh your carpet) and squeegees for cleaning glass.

All steam cleaners comes with machine-washable cleaning pads, but extra pads can be handy if you're cleaning large areas.

How much should I spend on a steam cleaner?

In our latest survey, we asked customers how much they spent on their steam cleaners. Karcher was among the most expensive, with an average price of £144.

That's unsurprising, as cylinder cleaners are more expensive, and indeed its current range costs from £86 to £499.

Vax's models are far more affordable. Its two-in-one cleaners all cost under £100, and even its cylinder model only costs £90.

So which brand is better?

Both brands make a number of great steam cleaners, so really the model to choose will depend on a combination of your own requirements and your budget.

Our round-up of the best steam cleaners includes models of all types and prices, so read our in-depth verdicts before making your selection.

*Survey in September 2019.