How to buy the best steam cleaner
By Jon Barrow
Upright steam mop, handheld steam cleaner or combination model? Or what about a pull-along cylinder steam cleaner? Our expert buying guide will help you choose the best steam cleaner for you.
Steam cleaners have become increasingly popular in recent years, and it’s easy to see why.
The best devices take the hard work out of refreshing your floors and surfaces. The high temperature of the steam they produce kills harmful bacteria and can also eliminate the dust mites that cause asthma and allergies.
And because they use steam to wipe away dirt and germs, rather than harsh chemicals, they’re better for the environment and your home.
What type of steam cleaner should I choose?
Steam cleaners come in three main types: steam mops, handheld and cylinder steam cleaners. Meanwhile, two-in-one steam cleaners combine a mop for floors and a handheld steam cleaner for cleaning tiles, glass and other surfaces.
Steam mops have traditionally been the most popular type of model, but recently the extra versatility of two-in-one cleaners have seen them become more widely available.
Use our handy tool below to help you choose the best type of steam cleaner for you. Then head to our steam cleaner reviews to find out which models you should buy.
- Steam mops These upright models resemble vacuum cleaners. Rather than suck up dirt, they have a pad on the bottom for cleaning floors. They’re usually lightweight with a pivoting mop head that’s easy to manoeuvre around obstacles and into corners.
Handheld steam cleaners These are easy to carry around and store. They give a concentrated burst of steam through a nozzle and usually come with a range of attachments for different surfaces.
They only have a small water tank, and are designed for steam cleaning small areas – bathroom tiles, kitchen surfaces or hard-to-reach corners, for example.
- Two-in-one mop and handheld steam cleaners These multipurpose models comprise of an upright steam mop and a detachable handheld steam cleaner, and can tackle most steam cleaning tasks. The downside is that they are often heavier and more expensive than standard steam mops.
- Cylinder steam cleaners These are wheeled devices made up of a hose and mop head, plus a main body on wheels that you pull along behind you. You can connect accessories to the hose to clean other surfaces. A good cylinder cleaner should be able to do all your steam cleaning jobs. Their larger water tanks mean they’re able to steam for much longer – most steam mops produce up to 15 minutes of steam, but cylinders often last three times that long.
How much do I need to pay for a good steam cleaner?
We’ve tested and rated dozens of steam cleaners over the past six years and have uncovered big differences in quality and cleaning power between different brands and models.
There are far fewer cylinder and handheld steam cleaners on the market. Cylinders can cost more than £250, while you can pick up a good handheld steam cleaner for about £30.
Price doesn’t guarantee quality, so check our steam cleaner reviews to find the best for your budget.
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.
You won’t usually get any accessories with a standard steam mop other than machine-washable cleaning pads. However, if you’re buying a cylinder or handheld cleaner (either a standalone model or part of a two-in-one device) then it’s worth keeping an eye out for the following:
- Squeegees for cleaning glass
- Scrubbing brushes to remove embedded grime from grout and tiles
- Carpet gliders to refresh carpets
- Cleaning pads for wiping surfaces down
- Upholstery tool for treating stains and refreshing fabric – 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 that can be used with detergents. These claim to give extra cleaning power, though the idea of using chemical cleaning agents may put you off.
What other features should I look out for?
The capacity of the water tank, heat-up time 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. 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. Handheld steam cleaners are light and easy-to-use, but don’t steam for long - their small tanks mean they can only generate steam for short bursts before you need to stop and fill up.
It’s also worth checking whether the cleaner can be used with regular tap water. Some manufacturers recommend you use distilled water, which can be inconvenient and expensive. Failing to do so may even invalidate your warranty. A built-in limescale filter can be useful if you live in a hard water area.
Read our in-depth steam cleaner reviews to get all this information on the model you’re planning to buy.
Which are the best steam cleaner brands?
Every year we survey hundreds of steam cleaner owners to find out more about the models that they own – from the faults they’ve experienced to whether they think their cleaner offers value for money.
This feedback, combined with the results of our intensive lab tests, means that we’re well placed to recommend the brands that you should choose when buying a new device.
To find out which brands impressed in our guides, go to the best steam mop and two-in-one steam cleaner brands and the top cylinder and handheld steam cleaner brands.