Choosing The Right Steam Cleaner

Steam: It comes out of the kettle when the water for your tea is ready to pour. It fogs up the bathroom mirror after a long shower. It fills the air in a hot sauna room. But something else steam does – when applied in a controlled manner, using a steam cleaner – is clean, removing stubborn dirt and grime, around your home without the toxic effects and lingering chemical odours of conventional cleaning products.

awarded best steam cleaner 2016

How do Steam Cleaners Work?

hand held steam cleaner

Steam cleaners are easy to use. Water is poured into a holding canister (which may feature an integrated cleaning wand or a hose for extending the reach of the cleaner, depending on its intended use and capacity).

The canister contains a heating element which quickly brings the water to a boil (around 150C), creating vapor steam. Because the steam is trapped, it becomes pressurized – allowing it to be released from the steam cleaner’s wand or nozzle with enough force to remove dirt. Tenacious dirt and grime is hard to remove because it literally adheres to surfaces. Steam is hot and moist enough to melt and dilute the adhesive, making the remaining dirt easy to wipe away with a cloth.

The high temperature of the steam also kills potentially harmful microbes such as listeria, E. coli and salmonella. Even bed bugs don’t stand a chance against the power of steam.

Steam will continue to be produced by the machine until the supply of water in the reservoir tank is depleted. Simply top up with fresh water as and when needed, but most steam cleaner should provide a good enough water capacity to see you through your cleaning job.

What to Look For When Buying a Steam Cleaner

Karcher SC1 020

Safety locks

Steam cleaners are actually very safe – in the sense that they use only water to clean, eliminating exposure to toxic cleaning products. However, steam is hot – that’s why it’s important to choose a model with a child safety lock if kids (or animals) will be present when the cleaner is in use. Pressurized steam can cause potentially serious burns.

A Model That’s Easy to Store and Move

Steam cleaners come in many shapes and sizes, from fully integrated units designed to be held with one hand (handheld) to larger models which resemble small vacuum cleaners, with wheels and flexible hoses.

Of course, the first criteria a steam cleaner has to meet is if it will be appropriate for the task at hand – for example, a small cleaner with an integrated cleaning wand will be suitable for removing a small stain from a floor, while a larger unit with a flexible hose will be better suited to cleaning off years-old gunk from the uppermost corners of a shower stall, improving reach and reducing strain – but also consider this:

Do you have sufficient storage space in which to keep your steam cleaner when it’s not in use? And take into account whether you’ll be cleaning large areas or just “spot cleaning”. In the case of the former, a wheeled model may be more appropriate. Finally, consider your own strength – though hand-held units are convenient, and well-suited to treating small areas, fatigue can set in after holding one for too long.

Machines such as the popular Karcher SC1 020 steam cleaner offers a wide variety of cleaning options; laminate and tile floors, sinks, cookers, ovens, inside of microwaves, bathtubs, showers, grout, barbeque, widow’s, mirrors and fabrics are just a hand-full of things this versatile appliance was designed to tackle with ease.

The Appropriate Type for The Job

There are three types of steam cleaner to choose from: Cylinder; hand-held; and steam mop. Let’s expand on how to choose the type that will best meet your needs.

Cylinder steam cleanersvax s6 steam cleaner

Resemble “shop vacs”, consisting of a body, flexible hose and cleaning wand. Though somewhat more cumbersome than other types to store, they offer the advantage of comfort over prolonged periods of use, reducing shoulder, arm and hand strain – since all that’s necessary to lift is the wand, rather than the whole unit. Use a cylinder steam cleaner for jobs which take more than five minutes, or which encompass a larger area (in which case, a wheeled model that rolls across the floor will be best suited to the job).

Hand-held steam cleanersS4 Handheld steam cleaner

Are small, easy to hold and designed to use with one hand. The cleaning nozzle is integrated with the canister, and the trigger used to release the steam is usually located within easy reach of the handle. The small size of this type of steam cleaner makes it possible to clean hard-to-reach areas, such as baseboards or the corners of a room. Just remember, they’re not well-suited to prolonged use due to the weight of a full canister of water.

Steam mopssteam mop example

Look like upright vacuum cleaners. They use steam to clean and disinfect carpets and floors. Because they are pushed along the floor, they often include a cleaning pad which wipes up dirt that was loosened by the pressurized steam, eliminating or reducing the need for manual cleaning. The “dry” steam they provide is well-suited for larger areas of flooring, preventing the ingress of unwanted moisture. They are best suited for general-purpose floor cleaning, and as such, may not feature additional cleaning attachments.

Start-up Time, Power and Capacity

A more powerful heating element means the water contained in the canister will come to a boil faster, and you’ll have to wait less time before you can start to clean. A well-designed nozzle will force the steam out at a pressure sufficiently high to loosen stubborn dirt and grime – though high pressure may not always be appropriate, such as when cleaning large areas of flooring.

And a larger canister means longer cleaning times before refilling is necessary. Small tanks may provide 10 minutes cleaning time; larger tanks, up to half an hour. One measurement to consider is grams of steam per minute. The higher the number, the more steam is produced in a given length of time.

Bottom Line

Steam cleaning is an effective, cost-efficient, health-conscious and environmentally friendly way to attack tenacious dirt. Spend some time considering your needs, then compare the features of different models. You’ll be sure to find one that’s well-suited to your application.

Happy… and easy cleaning!