Housekeeping House Cleaning Products and Tools How to Use a Steam Cleaner—Plus What to Use One For This handy cleaning tool has a wide variety of uses. By Jolie Kerr Jolie Kerr Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert and the author of the New York Times bestselling book, My Boyfriend Barfed In My Handbag ... And Other Things You Can't Ask Martha. Her work has appeared in GQ, Cosmopolitan, The New York Times and Town & Country. A graduate of Barnard College, Jolie lives in a tiny Manhattan apartment with her five vacuum cleaners. Learn about BHG's Editorial Process Published on March 2, 2023 Share Tweet Pin Email Photo: Getty Images / SaevichMikalai Project Overview Total Time: 1 hour Skill Level: Beginner Steam cleaners—small canister-style machines with a nozzle that can be fitted with an assortment of attachments—use high-temperature steam to clean and sanitize hard surfaces. While not new to the market, thanks in part to TikTok and the high-impact visuals of steam cleaning, these machines are experiencing a surge in popularity. But what exactly do steam cleaners do, and does one deserve a space in your cleaning arsenal? Learn how to use a hard-surface steam cleaner (also called a multi-surface steam cleaner) and the pros and cons of using these small but powerful machines. Understanding the Different Types of Steam Cleaners The term "steam cleaner" is used to describe several different types of steam-cleaning tools. Among them are fabric and clothing steamers, steam mops, and hard-surface or multi-surface steam cleaners. Carpet and upholstery cleaners are sometimes referred to as steam cleaners, though typically these machines don't use steam, even in models that employ a heating element. Fabric and clothing steamers come in handheld and upright models, and are used to steam out wrinkles and/or freshen fabric. Hard- or multi-surface steam cleaners, like the highly-rated Bissell SteamShot, can be used to deep clean and sanitize sealed hard surfaces like tile, grout, and plumbing fixtures. Steam mops are exactly what they sound like—mops that employ steam in addition to water and/or cleaning agents. We Tested 11 Steam Mops—Here Are the 8 Best for Cleaning and Sanitizing Your Floors What You'll Need Equipment / Tools Steam cleaner Broom, mop, or vacuum Materials Tap or distilled water All-purpose cleaner Microfiber cloth Instructions How to Use a Steam Cleaner Before using a steam cleaner, consult the manufacturer's instructions for details on the correct attachments and heat settings to use on different surfaces. When working with steam, use caution to avoid painful burns. Prep the Surface Before deep cleaning with steam, clean the surface to remove dust, dirt, and grit, which can clog the steamer's attachments or scratch the surface when steam is applied. If cleaning floors, sweep, mop, or vacuum; if cleaning walls or flat surfaces like countertops or household appliances, wipe them clean with a microfiber cloth and a gentle all-purpose cleaner. Choose the Right Attachment Most hard-surface steam cleaners come with a small suite of attachments that can be used for different tasks. When purchasing a steam cleaner, pay particular attention to its attachment sets to be sure you have the right tools for the jobs you want to perform. Some attachments to look for are: Brushes: The most common attachment, brushes work with the steam to scrub surfaces, sloughing off buildup and sanitizing the area.Squeegee: A squeegee attachment is a rubber blade that wicks water and buildup off of glass and tile surfaces.Scraper: A scraper blade attachment helps to remove buildup and debris loosened by steam.Soft cloth: Use a soft cloth attachment when cleaning delicate surfaces to protect against scratching. Set Up Steam Cleaner Fill the tank with water; if you live in an area with hard water, using distilled water in the steamer's tank will yield a better result. Select the appropriate attachment for the task at hand, and affix it to the machine. Turn the steamer on and allow it to heat up before beginning to clean. Steam and Scrub Working in sections, apply steam to the area and use the attachment to scrub, scrape, wick, or polish the surface. When cleaning vertical surfaces, work from the top down. Rinse Surface Before moving onto a new section, rinse the area you've cleaned so that dirty runoff doesn't settle onto the surface. Refill, Repeat, and Rinse Refill the machine with water as needed, continuing to work in sections—steaming, scrubbing, and rinsing—until the task is finished. Once the job is complete, go over the entire area with a clean, damp cloth to remove any residue from cleaning. Getty Images / DZIANIS BARYSAU What to Use a Steam Cleaner On—and What to Avoid Cleaning with Steam Hard-surface steam cleaners can be used on sealed hard surfaces. Consult the manufacturer's instructions for usage guidelines. If you are unsure whether steam is safe for the surface, test it on an inconspicuous spot and wait at least an hour and up to overnight to check for damage. Steam damage typically appears as warping, puckering, water staining, or melting. Most sealed hard surfaces can safely be cleaned with steam, including: Sealed countertopsTile and groutVinyl FaucetsToiletsKitchen appliances, like the refrigerator, oven, range, and dishwasherSliding door and window tracksGlass (but not cold glass) However, the heat and moisture involved in steam cleaning can cause irreversible damage to many surfaces. Steam should not be used to clean the following: Unsealed, polished, or waxed wood flooring, cabinets, or furnitureLaminate flooringPainted surfaces, including wallsFurniture and fabrications made of paper, wood, plywood, or composite cardboardFine woodwork, including musical instruments, and antiquesDelicate fabricsNylon mesh screensCold glass When using any type of steam cleaner, whether it's a fabric steamer, a steam mop, or a multi-surface steamer, take care to avoid coming in contact with the hot steam. Steam, as well as hot steam plates and attachments, can cause severe burns.