How we test steam cleaners
By Jon Barrow
Find out how we test steam cleaners to reveal which get surfaces clean with minimal effort. Only the best become Best Buys.
Our recommended Best Buy steam cleaners – also known as steam mops - take the hard work out of cleaning. They blitz through hard-to-remove dirt and grime on a range of surfaces, steam for plenty of time and are easy to use.
Our lab tests and reviews are designed to uncover the best steam cleaners you can buy and to help you avoid the models that leave dirt and grime behind.
We've reviewed all types of domestic steam cleaners, from large, wheeled cylinder models to small, handheld devices. We tailor our tough lab assessments to ensure that they're in line with the way you use these different models – for larger cleaners we check how well they clean floors while for handheld devices we focus on their ability to spruce up your bathroom tiles.
Our reviews answer all your key steam cleaner questions, including:
- How well will the steam cleaner clean my floors?
- How well will it clean tiles and other surfaces?
- How long will it steam for before needing to be refilled?
- Will the steam cleaner leave surfaces wet?
- How easy is the steam cleaner to use?
- Is the steam cleaner built to last?
- Should I buy it?
Go straight to our steam cleaner reviews to discover the best and worst models. To find out more about our testing, read on.
How well will the steam cleaner clean my floors?
When testing full-size steam cleaners we assess how well they're able to clean floors by measuring the time and effort it takes to shift dried-on pasta sauce and sticky drink stains. We test this on two different floor types: smooth (such as wood laminate) and textured (such as ceramic tiles).
The picture (below) shows the difference between a steam cleaner that gets one star in our testing – the floor is still mucky – and one that delivers a five-star clean – our floor is dirt-free.
How well will it clean tiles and other surfaces?
We also test cylinder and handheld steam cleaners on three other everyday surfaces to see how well they remove grime and dirt: tiles and grout (stained with soap, shower gel and shampoo), glass (coated with an oily film) and crevices (filled with tough everyday food soils).
And while a steam cleaner is no replacement for a true carpet cleaner, we still test cylinder steam cleaners' ability to clean stains on carpets, as you told us you use them to do this at home.
2.16km² - the area of floor we mopped in our steam cleaner tests over the last year.
How long will it steam for before it needs to be refilled?
You don't want to run out of steam halfway through mopping. We’ve come across steam mops that last for less than 10 minutes before they need to be topped up, and they sometimes last for less than their advertised amount of time. Our reviews reveal the true steaming time of each model we've tested. The more hard floors you have, the longer the steam time you'll need to cover them.
Will the steam cleaner leave my surfaces wet?
There are big differences in how damp steam cleaners leave surfaces after cleaning. Some models leave them almost dry, but others spit or drip water as they clean, leaving floors wet and slippery. Check the star ratings in the test results section of our steam cleaner reviews to see how different models stack up.
How easy is the steam cleaner to use?
A great steam cleaner should take the hard work out of cleaning. But some are much easier to use than others. Our tests reveal which will clean your home with minimum fuss and which will give you a hard time.
- We weigh the steam cleaners with full water tanks so we can tell you how heavy they are and whether you’ll struggle to lug them around.
- We test how straightforward they are to assemble and disassemble, and how easy it is to attach the cleaning pads and accessories. Plus, we check whether you can wash and reuse the pads.
- We assess how manoeuvrable each cleaner is, and how well they can reach nooks and crannies.
- Finally, we note other essentials, such as how the steam is activated (whether it’s continuous steaming or requires you to use a trigger), whether the level of steam can be controlled and how noisy the cleaner is.
Is the steam cleaner built to last?
While our regular steam cleaner reliability surveys show that most models offer years of fault-free use, this isn't true of all cleaners.
That's why our lab tests include several endurance assessments. As well as rating the build quality of each model, we test how repeated use affects the amount of steam they produce, as some can soon clog up with limescale.
We use each steam cleaner 30 times and measure the steam output throughout. One steam mop had a steam output that dropped by 65% during our test, while another didn't even complete 30 runs before giving up the ghost.
65% - the steam drop-off measured from one steam cleaner during our endurance test.
Should I buy it?
Each of the assessments described above goes part way to making up a total test score, which is the percentage figure we award each steam cleaner. Certain assessments are more important than others and so carry different weights:
- 65% cleaning performance
- 20% ease of use
- 15% durability
A steam cleaner or steam mop needs to score at least 65% to be considered a Best Buy.
Those scoring 45% or less are highlighted as Don't Buy models. They're so bad we think you should avoid them altogether.