Steam cleaners heat up water to produce steam in order to clean surfaces or floors at high pressure. The idea is that they shift dirt and grease and kill bacteria fast and efficiently. But while there is no shortage of models on the market, we found that relatively few deliver on all their promises, making it a particularly challenging task to know which one to choose.
There are three main types: steam mops, handheld-steam cleaners and a combination of both. Steam mops are upright machines with a water tank attached to the handle, and are far superior to the traditional mop. A handheld steam cleaner is a more compact machine meant for cleaning the likes of kitchen surfaces, mirrors and bathroom tiles. The steam is delivered through a nozzle and there are usually attachments for different surfaces. Meanwhile, two-in-one machines – which are the most popular – do both, acting as an upright steam mop, with a removable handheld steam cleaner, usually built into the handle.
Work out your cleaning needs before checking them against the list of attachments included in the machine you’re considering – you’ll need a squeegee to clean glass, for example, or a scrubbing brush for grout. Also look into heat-up and steaming time. Some mops are ready to use in just 20 seconds, while steam time can range from 10 minutes to around an hour. We’ve been busy cleaning everything from kitchen floor tiles to bathroom wall tiles, along with wooden floors, carpets and sofas and more to bring you the best of the bunch.
1. Vax Steam Fresh Power Plus: £150, John Lewis
This manoeuvres extremely well, reaching the tightest of corners, and the mop worked a treat even when we tried it on encrusted jam and tomato ketchup on the floor. It keeps its promise to make your home smell fresh too. The handheld wand, which has a soft scrub brush, works well on all but the most stubborn grout.
2. Hoover SteamJet Dual Head Steam Upright: £90, Hoover
This is brilliant at getting up almost anything from more textured floors, such as tiles, stone or vinyl tile imitations, although smooth floor surfaces pose more of a challenge and it’s unsuitable for varnished floors. The pressure doesn’t drop off, like some, and the trigger means you can precisely control when you want it to steam and when you don’t. It works on carpets, too.
3. Bissell Vac & Steam: £150, Lakeland
Kill two birds with one stone with this machine which, unusually, lets you vacuum and steam clean at the same time. We found it did a decent job on both – sucking up bits of rice while dealing with mopping up curry sauce, for example, although suction isn’t as strong as most conventional vacuum cleaners. Your floor is dry within minutes and the lightweight machine is easy to empty.
4. Polti Vaporetto Eco Pro 3.0 Steam Cleaner: £329, John Lewis
A good one for people with asthma and allergies, this machine is so powerful that it gets rid of dust mites and allergens as part of its intensive cleaning process. We found it worked a treat on surfaces such as carpets, sofas, hard floors, windows and tiles, while the attachments, including different sized brushes, are great on areas like grouting between tiles. Give yourself time to get to grips with it, though, and allow lots of time for it to cool down after use.
5. Thane H20 HD: £99, amazon
As a handheld machine, this is outstanding at cleaning the likes of tiles and grouting. And used as an upright mop, it’s good at dealing with floor spills, such as yoghurt or tomato ketchup. The steaming is nonstop and we like how the head swivels so you can reach difficult corners easily. But it can be prone to dripping, leaving floors and surfaces wet after use.
6. Vileda Steam Mop: £65, amazon
Fed up of muddy footprints all over the floor? This slimline, lightweight steam mop excels at getting rid of them in no time. The steam output maintains its oomph, although particularly sticky spills might need a bit of extra elbow grease. The head swivels for easy manoeuvring around furniture and to reach tight corners, and it’s not bad on carpets and rugs too. The water tank is easy to fill, although a bit tricky to empty (it’s not removable, which means you have to turn it upside down over the sink to pour the water out).
7. Karcher SC3: £125, John Lewis
The combination of continuous steam and a powerful motor means you get a really deep clean with this model, whether on floors, corners of bathroom tiles or hard floors – while the ergonomically designed floor nozzle and attachment means you can reach tight corners. There’s a steam flow control on the handle so you can adjust it accordingly. The flow heater system means it only takes half a minute to get the steam going, but it’s not the lightest machine.
8. Morphy Richards Total Clean: £77, amazon
Glass, tiles and mirrors look like new when you use this machine in handheld mode and it’s good as a mop too, particularly for cleaning up sticky mess like sauces or jam. Its weaker points are grout (in handheld mode) and muddy footprints (in upright mode). However, in upright mode, it’s a joy to manoeuvre and we found it excelled at reaching tight corners. The steam is activated by a trigger, rather than being continuous, and the handheld device is heavier than most.
9. Black & Decker Steamburst: £90, Currys
In its handheld mode, this durable, well-made machine effortlessly removes dirt and sticky spots from all areas, including tight corners. Used in upright mode, it’s not bad at mopping up smooth floors, although stickier spillages might need going over more than once. The controls are easy to operate, with steam operated by a trigger, and the cleaning pads are easy to attach.
10. Vax Steam Switch: £50, Argos
This budget machine is great for a light touch clean. We found it easy to switch between handheld and upright and although the steam pressure isn’t as powerful as some – and you only get 15 minutes’ steam time – it’s good for getting rid of surface dirt between more serious cleans. The surface area dries quickly too.
11. Karcher SC5: £300, John Lewis
This machine is surprisingly light considering the industrial results it gives. It’s easy to get going, with clear instructions and simple-to-use attachments. There seems to be nowhere it can’t clean, including ovens. There’s an option to blast extra hot water for really stubborn dirt and stains, yet it remains gentle on surfaces. The two-tank system means the steam never has to stop.
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