How to Use a Steam Cleaner—Plus What to Use One 'For'

Learn more about steam cleaning—a powerful way to clean and sanitize surfaces throughout your home. Discover why you should use a steam cleaner in your home.

Modern living room

The beauty of steam cleaning is that it effectively trades heat for chemicals without sacrificing strength. When used correctly, what a steam cleaner is used for is to kill 99.99% of germs and bacteria. It's a safe, healthy, eco-friendly, all-natural way to clean your home from top to bottom.

How do steam cleaners work? "Steam's teeny-tiny vapor molecules penetrate a surface's pores to force out dirt, grease, and other stain-causing substances," says Donna Smallin Kuper, author of Cleaning Plain and Simple. The steam's extreme heat also slays bacteria, germs, mold, dust mites, and more using plain water.

What can I steam clean? Steam cleaners can be safely used on many household surfaces, including sealed tile, hardwood floors, grout, sinks, tubs, countertops, carpets, mattresses, upholstery, showers, ovens, stove tops, grills, glass, and more. However, depending on the steam cleaner, you'll need special attachments to complete specific tasks.

What can't I steam clean? Steam can warp unsealed floors, melt plastic, and cause laminate floors to swell. Don't steam clean these surfaces. Other surfaces on the do-not-clean list: cold windows, unglazed tile, those covered in water-based paint, and delicate surfaces. Read the steamer's instructions for surfaces to skip.

What to Look for When Buying a Steam Cleaner

Some basic things to consider:

  • Functions: Make sure you'll get the attachments you need to do the jobs you want throughout your home.
  • Warm-up time: Some heat up in under a minute, so you don't have to turn the machine on and wait.
  • Tank size: The more water it holds, the longer you can clean before stopping to refill and reheat. Devices with "continuous fill" come with a backup tank to keep you cleaning longer.
  • Heat: To effectively sanitize, the steam cleaner must heat the water to 200 degrees. The hotter it gets, the drier the steam, resulting in a lower probability of damaging certain surfaces with excess water.
  • Price: "Like many items, you get what you pay for," Smallin Kuper says. A higher price tag should buy you better customer service, a strong warranty, and longer product life.

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