Steam Cleaning 101

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

The beauty of steam cleaning is that it effectively trades heat for chemicals without sacrificing strength. In fact, when used correctly, steam can quickly kill 99.99% of germs and bacteria, making it 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 of unclutter.com and author of Cleaning Plain and Simple. The steam's extreme heat also slays bacteria, germs, mold, dust mites, and more -- all using plain old water.

What can I steam clean? Steam cleaners can be safely used on a surprising amount of household surfaces, including sealed tile and hardwood floors, grout, sinks, tubs, countertops, carpets, mattresses, upholstery, showers, ovens, stove tops, grills, glass, and more. It all depends on the type of steam cleaner you have -- you'll need special attachments to complete certain tasks.

What can't I steam clean? Steam can warp unsealed floors, melt plastic, and cause laminate floors to swell. Do not steam clean these surfaces, says Derek Christian of My Maid Service. 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 to do throughout your home.
  • Warm-up time: Some heat up in under 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. Machines with "continuous fill" come with a backup tank to keep you cleaning longer.
  • Heat: To effectively sanitize, the steam cleaner has to heat the water to 200 degrees, minimum. The hotter it gets, the drier the steam, which translates into a lower probability of damaging certain surfaces with excess water, Christian says.
  • 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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