How to buy the best steam cleaner
By Jon Barrow
Our expert buying guide helps you choose the best steam cleaner - and avoid picking a dud.
The best steam cleaners take the hard work out of refreshing your floors and surfaces.
The high temperature of the steam kills harmful bacteria and can eliminate the dust mites that cause asthma and allergies.
Because steam cleaners use steam to wipe away dirt and germs, rather than harsh chemicals, they are better for the environment and your home.
Head to our best steam cleaners to find out which model you should buy.
In this article:
- Video: how to buy the best steam cleaner
- Which type of steam cleaner should you choose?
- How much is a good steam cleaner?
- What steam cleaner accessories do you really need?
- Best steam cleaner features to look for
- Steam cleaners compared
Watch our video to help you decide which type of steam cleaner is right for you.
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.
Use our handy free tool, below, to help you choose the best type of steam cleaner for your needs. Then head to our steam cleaner reviews to find out which models you should buy.
Steam cleaners, steam mops, handheld steam cleaners, two-in-ones and cylinder steam cleaners
Steam mops 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
Handheld steam cleaners 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 steam cleaners comprise of an upright steam mop and a detachable handheld steam cleaner, and can tackle most steam cleaning tasks.
The downside is they are often heavier and more expensive than standard steam mops.
Cylinder steam cleaners
Cylinder steam cleaners 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 different 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.
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.
The great news is that you can pick up a Best Buy steam mop for around £50, while you need to pay around £100 for one of our best two-in-one steam cleaners.
There are far fewer cylinder and handheld steam cleaners on the market. Cylinders can cost more than £250. 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.
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), 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.
You need to consider the capacity of the water tank, heat-up time and steaming time.
- Heat-up time - how long the steam cleaner takes to start pumping out steam
- Water tank capacity- the bigger the tank, the longer your steam cleaner will take before it pumps out steam. And the longer that steam will last.
- Steaming time - how long you can use the cleaner with continuous steam before it needs refilling with water.
Steam mops are much faster to heat up than cylinder steam cleaners; the fastest mop is ready to use in less than 20 seconds.
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.
Is there anything else?
It’s 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 - but failing to use it may invalidate your warranty.
A built-in limescale filter can be useful if you live in a hard water area.
Use our steam cleaner reviews to find the right model for your needs.
We've tested all the top models including the latest range of Karcher steam cleaners, plus cheaper options from brands such as Bush.
Below we've listed the key specs and features for some of the most popular steam cleaners.
Alternatively, head straight to the best steam cleaners to see the models we recommend.
Black & Decker FSM13E1, £45
- Type: steam mop
- Steaming time: 16 minutes
- Weight (full): 2.1kg
This Black & Decker model is a simple, upright steam cleaner. Modestly priced, it's designed for use on hard floors. This steam cleaner lacks the accessories you need to clean other surfaces - such as bathroom tiles or taps.
Read our full, expert Black & Decker FSM13E1 review to discover whether it's good value, or not.
Dupray Neat, £150
- Type: cylinder steam cleaner
- Steaming time: 40 minutes
- Weight (full): 6.3kg
This is a large, wheeled steam cleaner that you pull along behind you as you clean. It's generously equipped with a wide range of accessories, including a brass brush for heavy-duty cleaning and a fragrance disc to keep everything smelling nice.
It has a tank large enough to produce 40 minutes of steam.
Read our full Dupray Neat review to discover how well it removes stains from floors and tiles and whether it justifies its price.
Karcher SC 1 EasyFix, £86
- Type: 2 in 1 steam mop and handheld
- Steaming time: 6 minutes
- Weight (full): 2.5kg
This is a combination steam cleaner - you use the small, handheld unit to clean awkward areas, such as around taps, before easily clipping on the long nozzle to tackle spills on hard floors.
Its small size means that it's easy to use and store, but the small water tank limits the steaming time.
Read our full Karcher SC 1 EasyFix review to discover whether this combination cleaner is a jack of all trades or a master of none.
Which are the best steam cleaner brands?
Every year we also 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.
In our latest analysis we've looked at the performance of the biggest steam cleaner manufacturers, including Vax, Karcher, Shark and Thane.
To find out which brands impressed in our latest survey, head to our top steam cleaner brands.