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How to buy the best steam cleaner

By Sarah Ingrams

There are scores of steam cleaners on sale – but only a few deliver fast and effective cleaning. Read on to find out how to buy one of the best.

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Steam cleaner, steam mop or both?

All steam cleaners heat up water to produce steam to clean surfaces or floors at high pressure. This ‘dry’ steam is claimed by some manufacturers to shift dirt and grease, and kill bacteria and dust mites.

They come in three main types: steam mop, handheld and cylinder steam cleaners. Two-in-one steam cleaners combine a mop for floors and a handheld steam cleaner for cleaning tiles, glass and other surfaces. 

Steam mops are the most popular type of steam cleaner, and we've uncovered Best Buy steam mops for around £50.

Use our handy tool below to help you choose the best type of steam cleaner for you. Then head to our steam cleaner and steam mop reviews to find out which models are worth the money. 


Steam mop

Steam mops are next-generation mops that promise to harness the power of steam for effective and hassle-free floor cleaning. They stand upright and have a water tank attached to the handle.

When we compared steam mops with a traditional mop and bucket we found that both get the job done, but a top-scoring steam mop gets good results with less effort. However, poor-scoring steam mops make you put your back into cleaning so much that arguably you may as well stick with a cheaper, lighter traditional mop and bucket.

Handheld steam cleaner

Handheld steam cleaners are compact and can be a good option if you’re only looking to steam clean on a small-scale – bathroom tiles, kitchen surfaces or hard-to-reach corners, for example. They aren’t a great choice for cleaning large areas, such as floors.

They deliver a concentrated burst of steam through a nozzle and usually come with a range of attachments to help you clean different surfaces.

Two-in-one mop and handheld steam cleaner

Two-in-one steam cleaners look like more substantial steam mops. The handheld steam cleaner is usually built into the handle of the mop and can be removed and used separately. The two types of steam cleaner combined mean they can tackle most steam cleaning tasks but they are often heavier to use as mops than steam mops. They usually come with a range of attachments for the handheld cleaner to tackle different surfaces.

Cylinder steam cleaner

Cylinder steam cleaners (also called barrel steam cleaners) have a main body, bendy hose, plastic tube and nozzle. They come with attachments for mopping floors and for a range of surface-cleaning tasks. A well-equipped cylinder cleaner should be able to do all the jobs of handheld cleaners and mops combined.

They tend to be heavier than steam mops but, on average, giver longer steaming times. It can take between four and 12 minutes for them to heat the water in their tanks however, so they’re not ready to use as quickly as handhelds or steam mops.

How much do I need to pay for a good steam cleaner?

You can find a Best Buy steam mop for around £50 and a good two-in-one steam cleaner for less than £100. Cylinder steam cleaners can more than £250 but we’ve also tested one costing £60. Handheld steam cleaners can be the cheapest, with models available for less than £20 but you can also splash out on a £50 option. 

Price doesn’t guarantee quality so check our steam cleaner reviews to find the best for your budget.

Black and Decker, Vax, Shark, Morphy Richards and Russell Hobbs are among the big names that produce steam cleaners. Stores including Argos, John Lewis and some supermarkets stock steam cleaners in their household departments. Some steam cleaners can only be bought online, such as the Quest 43560 steam mop.

What steam cleaner accessories do I need?

Attachments help you tackle other cleaning jobs around the home, such as window cleaning, refreshing your carpet and even cleaning your car (more typical of handheld models). Depending on what you plan to steam clean, keep an eye out for:

  • Squeegee - for cleaning glass
  • Scrubbing brushes – to remove embedded grime from grout and tiles
  • Carpet glider – steam cleaners tend to claim to refresh, rather than clean, carpet. You’ll need a carpet glider to do this though
  • Cleaning pads - for wiping surfaces down
  • Upholstery tool - to make treating stains and refreshing fabric easier – these 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

We’ve come across a few models which come with detergent and a built-in dispenser. Our tests haven’t found that these clean better and the costs of buying replacement detergent will add to the initial purchase cost.

What other features should I look out for?

The capacity of the water tank, heat-up and steaming time are all important factors to consider.

The heat-up time is how long the steam cleaner takes to start pumping out steam, and depends on the water tank capacity of the machine. Handheld steam cleaners are light and easy-to-use but don’t steam for long. Steam mops are much faster to heat up than cylinder steam cleaners; the fastest mop is ready to use in less than 20 seconds.

The steaming time is how long you can use the cleaner with continuous steam before it needs refilling with water. The small water tank on handhelds means they can only generate steam for short bursts before you need to stop and fill up. Depending on the model, steam mops and two-in-ones can steam from anywhere between 10 minutes to just under an hour before the water tank needs refilling.

It’s also worth checking how many cleaning cloths mops and cylinder steam cleaners come with. Over time these will need replacing so it’s handy if a few are provided at the start.

Will a steam cleaner damage my floor?

No one wants a steam cleaner that causes warped floorboards, peeling varnish or ruined carpets. So it’s crucial that you check your flooring can be cleaned with steam before you invest in a cleaner. You should be especially vigilant if you plan to use it on wooden flooring. In some cases, using steam to clean could invalidate your warranty.

Don’t rely only on the steam cleaner manufacturer’s instructions; many of them say that the cleaners can be used on all types of flooring, including sealed wood. But a wooden floor which is defined as sealed and therefore suitable for steam cleaning may have gaps between tiles can that still absorb moisture and warp.

To reduce the chances of damaging your floor make sure you don’t overdo the steam and opt for a mop that leaves floors near-dry after cleaning. Find the best options with our steam cleaner reviews.


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