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Updated October 2022
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Buying guide for Best steam cleaners

Compared to a typical vacuum, a steam cleaner offers an extra punch when you need to deal with messes. Instead of suction alone, these cleaners use hot, evaporating water to help lift out dirt and grime from hard-to-clean spots like carpets and rugs.

The type of steam cleaner you choose will largely determine how powerful and capable it is. Small handheld cleaners lack power but are more than enough for smaller messes you need to clean up quickly. Larger styles like canister and mop steam cleaners are better suited for routine clean-ups or larger messes that can permanently stain or damage most surfaces.

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When steam-cleaning wood, upholstery, or painted surfaces, don’t linger too long in any one area. Keep the steam cleaner moving slowly but steadily to avoid damage or oversaturation.

Steamer cleaners: how they work and why you might want one

Steam cleaners, as the name suggests, work by heating tap water past the boiling point, thereby creating steam. No further chemicals are required. The steam is forced through the machine’s nozzle under pressure, and it works to soften and lift away grease and grime, as well as kill germs and dust mites. Many steam cleaners are hot enough to even kill bed bugs, fleas and their eggs, and viruses.

Hard surfaces

The high heat of the steam sanitizes most hard surfaces, and yet the moisture dries very quickly. This makes steam cleaners excellent for cleaning many items around your home, including the following:

  • Sealed flooring

  • Toilets, tubs, and sinks

  • Glass shower and tub enclosures

  • Countertops and cabinets

  • Grills and stovetops, including the oven, microwave, and burners

  • Pet areas

  • Tile, windows, and mirrors

  • Trash cans

  • Cutting boards and kitchen appliances

  • Baseboards

  • Doorknobs and light switches

  • Children’s toys

  • The interior and exterior of your car

Expert Tip
Researching whether a steam mop is safe for your floors prior to using it is very important. Over-steaming your hardwood floors can cause damage. 
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Soft Surfaces

You can also clean, deodorize, and sanitize many soft surfaces in your home with a steam cleaner. These surfaces include the following:

  • Carpets

  • Draperies

  • Upholstery

  • Pet beds

  • Mattresses

Because steam cleaners require no potentially irritating chemicals, and because they are very effective at killing many pathogens and removing most allergens, steam cleaners are an especially good choice for households where allergies, reduced immunity, respiratory illness, or asthma are problems.

So if you’ve decided to get a steam cleaner, you’re in good company. Many people use them to keep their homes clean and pristine. But which type of steam cleaner should you get? There are three basic types of steam cleaners designed for home use: handheld, canister, and mop steam cleaners.

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Steam can cause serious burns to the flesh. Never point a steam cleaner toward your face or body, do not touch the heated surface of the device, and take care to keep your hands out of the path of the steam.

Handheld steam cleaners

Handheld steam cleaners are small and lightweight. Most look something like a coffee pot with a long, pointed spout.

Their small size, portability, and quick heat-up – less than a minute for most units – make them excellent for small cleaning jobs, such as the area around the kitchen faucet, behind the toilet, or along the edge of the stove.

Be aware, however, that you’ll normally have only around 10 to 20 minutes of cleaning time before you must refill the tank of a handheld steam cleaner.

While tap water is usually fine for steam cleaners, if you live in an area with exceptionally hard water, it’s best to use distilled water in your machine to prevent a buildup of salts and minerals.



Most handheld steam cleaners are very affordable. In general, you can expect to pay between $25 and $40 for a quality handheld steam cleaner with a nice array of accessories.


Handheld steam cleaners are great for cleaning hard-to-reach places and tackling small spills and messes. Most come with a range of accessories, such as a fabric steamer, squeegee, scraper, grout cleaner, and detail brush. Their small size makes them easy to store.


The small tank produces only enough steam for a quick cleaning job. Handheld steam cleaners aren’t suitable for cleaning large surfaces, such as a kitchen floor.

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For your safety
Unplug your steam cleaner before refilling the tank or switching out accessories.

Canister steam cleaners

With a small, wheeled tank, a long hose, and a range of attachable accessories (mop head, scrub brush, pointed nozzle, angled nozzle, scraper, utility brush), a canister steam cleaner closely resembles a canister vacuum cleaner.

This is the steam cleaner for most jobs around your home, including cleaning floors, showers and tubs, kitchen surfaces, and upholstery.

Generally, the water tank in a canister steam cleaner is large enough to provide steam for 45 minutes or longer, so you’ll have plenty of time for most household cleaning jobs. These devices are easy to maneuver, and the long hose allows you to reach beneath furniture, behind appliances, and into corners.

Most canister steam cleaners heat up in less than 10 minutes, so there is no lengthy wait before you can tackle your chores.

"Steam-cleaning devices remain hot for several minutes after being switched off, so let the appliance cool before handling it, and keep kids and pets away from the hot unit."


The average canister steam cleaner costs between $100 and $200, although some top-of-the-line units can cost more.


Canister steam cleaners are perfect for cleaning sealed hard floors and other large surfaces throughout your home. They’re also suitable for detailing your car. Most canister steam cleaners come with a nice array of accessories for tackling many different cleaning jobs.


Although not that large, you’ll still need to find somewhere to store your canister steam cleaner when it’s not in use.


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For your safety
Never use a steam cleaner on antique furnishings, delicate or irreplaceable items, or musical instruments. Test a small, inconspicuous area before steam cleaning any surface you aren’t absolutely sure tolerates moisture.

Mop steam cleaners

Mop steam cleaners, otherwise known as steam mops, resemble stick vacuums and weigh about the same. They make quick work of dried-on food, muddy footprints, kitchen grease, and all the other grunge that so quickly accumulates on your floors. The hot steam also kills germs and sanitizes, so you can really get your kitchen and bathroom clean and odor-free, and your floor will be dry and ready to walk on within minutes.

Typically, a steam mop holds enough water to run for 15 to 20 minutes before needing a refill, so unless you’re cleaning a very large area, you should be able to finish the job on one tank.

Most steam mops come with one or two heavy microfiber pads which wipe up and hold the steam-loosened dirt and grime effectively without smears or pushed-aside mess. As the pads are reusable, you won’t have to spend money on disposable supplies, nor will you need to add chemicals or sticky cleaners to the mop water.

Along with the microfiber pads, some steam mops include scrubbers and grout-cleaning attachments.

Expert Tip
Be mindful of the products you put in your steam cleaner. I recommend using only water, but some people like to use essential oils. 
BestReviews Cleaning Expert


Expect to pay between $60 and $150 for a good steam mop.


The steam makes it a breeze to clean up dried or sticky messes, and the floor dries quickly without a sticky or tacky feel. Pads are reusable, and you won’t need any special floor cleaners beyond water. Thanks to its stick-like shape, a steam mop is easy to store in a closet or corner when not in use.


Steam mops are only suitable for use on hard, sealed flooring materials such as tile, linoleum, vinyl, sealed wood, laminate, and stone.

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A steam cleaner is not a substitute for a vacuum cleaner. Vacuum your floors before using any type of mop.
Expert Tip
Emptying the water tank at the end of each use will prevent mold from growing in your steam cleaner.
BestReviews Cleaning Expert


Q. Are there some surfaces or materials that cannot be safely steam-cleaned?

A. Yes. Steam cleaning is not suitable for every surface. Although you can use a steam cleaner on most surfaces throughout your home, you should avoid steaming delicate fabrics, wallpaper and other paper items, unsealed wood, unsealed marble or stone, cork, unsealed concrete, and any other surface that cannot tolerate moisture.

Q. Will a steam cleaner kill mold, bacteria, and other germs?

A. Steam is hot enough to kill most household mold and germs, but the effectiveness of a steam cleaner depends on how long and how thoroughly the steam comes into contact with these organisms. Steam cleaners generally do a good job at killing the majority of household mold and germs.

Q. Can I add vinegar or other cleaning solutions to the water in my steam cleaner?

A. Usually, adding anything beyond water to the steamer’s tank will void your manufacturer's protection. Most steam cleaners specifically warn against adding any type of chemical to the water, but some make allowances for vinegar. Check your device’s instructions.

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