The best steam cleaners are great for wiping the grime from almost any hard surface – or even cleaning some soft furnishings. It may be true that there’s nothing you can’t clean with the right tools and a bit of elbow grease, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make it easier for yourself.
Steam cleaners will make light work of your kitchen and bathroom, and they can sort out worked-in dirt and stains that you’ll struggle to shift by other means. They can do so without chemicals – a huge plus if you’re worried about what you’re breathing in – and they can kill off fleas and dust mites as quickly as germs, which makes them especially useful if you have pets.
Be warned, though, that steam cleaners come in a range of different shapes and that picking the best one for you isn’t easy. Here we’ve pulled together a few things you ought to consider before you buy.
How to choose the best steam cleaner for you
What sort of steam cleaner should I buy?
Steam cleaners come in three basic formats. First, you have the classic steam cleaner, comprising the steamer unit – where the water is housed and boiled – which connects through a pipe to the head, where the steam is dispensed. The main head is usually a mop head, where some kind of pad or microfibre cloth is attached so that the steam separates the grime from the surface and the pad or cloth wipes it away. However, steam cleaners usually come with a selection of attachments, including brushes for intensive cleaning of smaller areas and scrapers or wipers for, say, cleaning worktops or glass.
Second, you have steam mops. These integrate the boiler and the head into one upright cleaning machine. As the name suggests, these are really designed to work as a super-powered mop, but a growing number can also double as a regular steam cleaner, either by having a smaller, removable boiler unit or by allowing you to attach additional heads instead of the mop head. They’re now almost as versatile as the classic steam cleaner, but they’re easy to use and very compact.
Finally, you can also buy smaller handheld steam cleaners. These are great for cleaning up the kitchen and bathroom, but with small tanks and less powerful boilers, they’re not really designed for tackling larger areas.
What should I look out for?
Steam cleaners differ when it comes to capacity, convenience and cleaning power. Obviously, the size of the tank makes a big difference. On some models, you can only refill the tank once the steam has been turned off and the cleaner cooled, which means you can only clean for as long as there’s water in the tank, which could restrict each stint to ten or fifteen minutes. However, some models now include a separate feeder tank that you can refill while the cleaner is in use, or even an inlet you can keep tipping water into while the machine is up and running. With those cleaners, you’re more likely to run out of steam than it is, and you can keep on going until, say, the downstairs floors are clean or the bathroom is free of any hint of dirt or grime.
The power of the boiler also has an impact, simply because it can take time to boil and pressurise the steam. Newer cleaners have got much better at reducing that wait time, but it can still be several minutes before you get a usable head of steam. What’s more, many steamers need a breather now and then while they get steam together before they can continue. Certain cleaners are better at minimising this than others.
The other thing to watch out for is pressure. The higher the steam pressure, the faster the steam jets out and the better it is at dissolving dirt and grime. For this reason, a steam cleaner that can put out 3.5 to 4 bar of pressure will have a lot more cleaning power than a handheld cleaner with less than 3 bar.
Are there any practicalities worth thinking about?
Take a good look at the accessories you get with the cleaner. The more brushes, nozzles and scrapers, the better, while a gliding mop-head cover for doing carpets is another big plus. Also, watch out for the mains lead and the length of any steam hose, as nothing’s more frustrating than not being able to steam clean in the corner of your shower because it won’t quite reach without an extension cable.
In the past, some steam cleaners required distilled/deionised water or they will soon get clogged with limescale. Many recent models aren’t so fussy and contain some kind of filter or limescale prevention system, although it’s still worth using filtered water if you live in a hard water area.
Finally, make sure the surfaces you want to mop can cope with steam cleaning before you buy a steam cleaner. While hardwood floors, tiles, most worktops and sheet vinyl flooring are fine to clean with a steam cleaner, some softwood, laminate or modular floorings are a no-go, and will still need to be cleaned with a broom, mop or vacuum cleaner, unless you like the sight of an expensive kitchen floor peeling up before your eyes.
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The best steam mops and steam cleaners you can buy
1. Bissell Steam Shot: The best handheld steam cleaner
Price: £50 | Buy now from Lakeland
Don’t dismiss the Steam Shot on its size. It doesn’t have the power of the bigger cleaners and you wouldn’t want to use it to mop a large kitchen floor, but it’s brilliant for cleaning in the kitchen and bathroom or handling spills and stains, and it builds up more pressure (4.5 bar) than your average handheld effort. It’s well designed, too, with a 4.8m cable and a filler cap you can’t unscrew while the steam is under pressure. The 0.36-litre tank won’t keep you steaming and cleaning away for hours – eight to ten minutes is all you’ll get – but this cleaner’s quick to heat up and easy to use, despite the five-minute wait recommended between refills.
The Steam Shot is also more versatile than you might think, with an extension hose and an accessory nozzle, three detail brushes and a special brush for grout, plus tools for mopping, scraping and cleaning glass – ideal for mirrors and shower screens. Go bigger if you need to get floors and carpets clean, but this is a good, affordable option for spot cleaning or the occasional deep clean.
Key specs – Type: Handheld steam cleaner; Water tank capacity: 0.36l; Power: 1,050W; Max steam pressure: 4.5 bar; Accessories provided: jug, extension hose, 3 detail brushes, concentrated steaming tool, window squeegee, flat scraper, microfibre cleaning cloths; Cord length: 4.8m; Dimensions: 21.6 x 24 x 13cm; Weight: 1.5kg; Warranty: 2 year
2. Hoover SteamJet Handy SGE1000: The most versatile handheld cleaner
Price: £50 | Buy now from Argos
Handheld cleaners work brilliantly for quick kitchen and bathroom clean-ups, but can’t always handle more than that. Hoover’s SteamJet Handy has bigger ambitions, coming with a wide range of accessories to help you take on windows and mirrors, upholstery and curtains, clothes and more. To help, you get a lengthy 5m power cord, a pipe extension and four bars of steaming pressure, giving you enough cleaning power for some fairly heavy tasks. Hoover also gives you a choice of two different conical pipes. One concentrates the steam for intensive cleaning, while the other (a refresh pipe) gives you longer cleaning times and is better for more sensitive surfaces.
The SteamJet Handy is heavy for a handheld cleaner, which almost makes it a relief that its small tank runs out well within its 20-minute maximum steaming time, but it’s a surprisingly effective and versatile little steamer that can help a lot around a smaller house or flat.
Key specs – Type: Handheld steam cleaner; Water tank capacity: 0.37l; Power: 1,000W; Max steam pressure: 4 bar; Accessories provided: Deep cleaning pipe, refresh pipe, angle nozzle, flexible pipe, window cleaner, 2 x scrapers, 2 x brushes, comb nozzle, descaling tool; Cord length: 5m; Dimensions: 23.6 x 26 x 12.5cm; Weight: 1.74kg; Warranty: 2 years
3. Vileda Steam Mop: The best budget steam mop
Price: £56 | Buy now from Amazon
If you’re just looking for a simple steam mop to clean your floors, the Vileda Steam Mop is the best of the budget options. It’s incredibly easy to use, with very few buttons, and the 400ml water tank will keep you cleaning for more than 15 minutes at a time, with just a 15-second wait while it heats when you need to refill it. It’s very light, but it’s brilliant at cleaning away tough stains on hard floors, and even comes with a plastic glider for giving rugs and carpets a clean.
If you’ve got a larger space to clean or a lot of messy devils in your household, you might want something with more beef. The Vileda isn’t as versatile as more expensive steam mops and it struggles with more substantial build-ups of dirt. You need to turn the power up to max to get the best from it. For those with lighter cleaning needs, though, this mop is just the ticket.
Key specs – Type: Steam mop; Water tank capacity: 400ml; Power: 1,550W; Max steam pressure: Not supplied; Accessories provided: Filling jug, 2 x microfibre heads, carpet glider; Cord length: 6m; Dimensions: 21 x 29 x 130cm; Weight: 2.5kg; Warranty: 1 year
4. Shark S6003UK Klik n’ Flip Automatic Steam Mop: Best “no frills” steam mop
Price: £99 | Buy now from Amazon
The Shark S6003UK is a steam mop, pure and simple, with no attachments or abilities to clean anything much above floor level – just a large microfibre pad at the bottom of the stalk.
On the other hand, what a steam mop. Used in its default position, the pad gets damp and hot, perfect for wiping grime from tiles or vinyl flooring. Flip it the other way and it unleashes a powerful jet of steam as you push, obliterating any dirt or caked-on scum in its path.
The 380ml water tank is only good for around ten to 12 minutes of steaming, but that should be enough for a couple of good-sized rooms at the pace this steam mop works, and you can refill the tank whenever you need to through the pull out filling flap. Shark even throws in a handy jug.
With a choice of three steam settings, this one can cope with more sensitive floors, as well as hard-wearing tiles and vinyls, although you should still check the manufacturer’s instructions. It’s quick to get going, with less than a minute of heating time before it’s steaming up and, most important of all, it’s actually fun to use. All that gushing steam makes mopping floors a blast!
Key specs – Type: Steam mop; Water tank capacity: 380ml; Power: 1,200W; Max steam pressure: Not supplied; Accessories provided: 2 x microfibre pads; Cord length: 8m; Dimensions: 10 x 11 x 119cm; Weight: 2.7kg; Warranty: 2 years
5. Vax Steam Fresh Power Plus: Best multifunctional steam mop
Price: £90 | Buy now from Argos
The Vax Steam Fresh Power Plus is a mop with a little bit more. Remove the mop head with its microfibre pad and you can attach a smaller, lighter wand that takes the soft brush and precision nozzle accessories, while the mop itself can be fitted with a glider overlay for steam cleaning rugs and carpets.
This makes it a more versatile device than the Shark, and it’s an effective mop and carpet cleaner, working quickly through dirt on vinyl flooring and removing light stains from the carpet. With its turbocharged steam-boost function, it can even clear some more stubborn marks, and you can add detergent through a dedicated compartment to give hard floors a better clean with a sparkling finish. The angled head also makes it easier to get into corners, where the Shark can feel a little more unwieldy.
As a general-purpose steam cleaner, it’s not quite as successful. The water tank only houses 300ml – we had about 15 minutes’ worth of steam – and needs to be removed from the cleaner for refilling. The Vax also doesn’t seem to have the oomph of the larger steam cleaners, dispensing less steam and struggling more with stubborn spots of grime, and as a handheld unit it’s cumbersome. The soft scrub brush is a little weedy, too, looking rough after a 15-minute sink and shower showdown. Think of it as a great mop with added cleaning options and you won’t go wrong, but for serious scrubbing, look further down the list.
Key specs – Type: Hybrid steam mop; Water tank capacity: 300ml; Power: 1,600W; Max steam pressure: 3.5 bar; Accessories provided: Microfibre pad, carpet glider, soft brush, precision nozzle, detergent; Cord length: 8m; Dimensions: 30 x 22 x 109cm; Weight: 3.4kg; Warranty: 1 year
6. Morphy Richards Supersteam Pro Steam Cleaner: Most versatile steam cleaner
Price: £109 | Buy now from AO
The Supersteam Pro Steam Cleaner is a mop with secret superpowers. It looks like a regular steam mop, but the whole central section with the water tank pulls out to form a compact handheld cleaner. Different nozzles can attach at one end, while the handle rotates through 360 degrees to make cleaning more comfortable when you’re working on tiled walls, sinks, worktops or shower enclosures. It’s an ingenious design.
As a steam mop, it’s nearly as good as the Vax and Shark competition, with more than enough cleaning power for hard flooring and a low-friction plastic jacket for the head that puts rugs and carpets on the menu. It has separate tanks for water and detergent, and you can get around 20 to 30 minutes’ cleaning from the dual 200ml and 400ml tanks – the one in the handheld unit will even refill itself from the one in the main body.
This versatile number wins extra points for accessories, including its extension nozzle, upholstery attachment, two brushes and a scraper, its variable steam control and speedy warmup times. The scraper is particularly good when dealing with limescale on the shower enclosure. In fact, our only quibble is that it doesn’t put out as much or as fierce a steam as the Kärcher cleaners. Go to them for in-depth cleaning, but the Morphy Richards is the inexpensive mop that does it all.
Key specs – Type: Hybrid steam mop; Water tank capacity: 400 + 200ml; Power: 1,230W; Max steam pressure: Not supplied; Accessories provided: 2 x microfibre cloth, carpet glider, extension nozzle, upholstery cleaner with elasticated cloth, jet nozzle, nylon brush, crevice brush, scraper; Cord length: 6m; Dimensions: 29 x 19 x 111cm; Weight: 3.6kg; Warranty: 1 year
7. Kärcher SC3 EasyFix: Most powerful steam cleaner
Price: £148 | Buy now from Amazon
Kärcher’s mid-range EasyFix steam cleaner isn’t just easy to set up, it’s also incredibly easy to use. The extension tubes and mop head just click one by one onto the nozzle, then you fill the tank through the recessed hole in the top, which incorporates a built-in anti-limescale filter. Within a minute (slightly longer than the claimed 30 seconds in our tests), it’s built up a good head of steam, and from there it’ll keep on going until the water runs out. With a one-litre tank, this will happen after ten to 15 minutes of solid cleaning, but it’s not a problem; you can tip in more water without powering off.
This wouldn’t be so impressive if it was an underwhelming cleaner, but it’s fantastically beefy, dispensing plenty of hot steam with every squeeze of the trigger and handling dirt and grime without mercy. Disconnect the extension tubes and add the smaller head or brush attachment and it’s just as happy cleaning tiles, shower enclosures, splashbacks, sinks and more.
It’s practical, too. The main unit is surprisingly light and easy to lug around the house, while the 4m cable and 2m steam hose give you plenty of reach. Other cleaners will do carpets and give you more accessories, but when you need serious cleaning power, the SC3 EasyFix has what it takes.
Key specs – Type: Steam cleaner; Water tank capacity: 1l; Power: 1,900W; Max steam pressure: 3.5 bar; Accessories provided: Floor nozzle, hand nozzle round brush; Cord length: 4m; Dimensions: 29 x 19 x 111cm; Weight: 3.6kg; Warranty: 1 year
8. Polti Vaporetto Smart 100_B: The best steam cleaner for stamina
Price: £189 | Buy now from Amazon
You’d expect the nation that came up with the espresso to know a bit about steam, and the Polti Vaporettio Smart 100_B is a brutishly powerful steam cleaner. Wait two minutes for the boiler to do its stuff and it’ll carry on dishing out vast quantities of steam for longer than most of us can cope with, thanks to a massive two-litre tank. There’s no waiting for more steam to come through at any point afterwards, and you can remove the tank and refill it from the tap while the cleaner is on, without it cooling down first. Where other steam cleaners run out of puff, the Vaporetto just keeps going.
It’s fantastically versatile as well. The Vaporforce brush dispenses steam downwards for mopping, or you can add the included rug accessory and clean your rugs and carpets. You also get a smaller head with a brush and a rubber blade for glass, along with two smaller, tougher brushes and a scraper. Armed with this lot you can tackle everything from tiled floors to sinks and splashbacks, and it all comes out looking sparkly clean.
It’s bigger and heavier than most other cleaners and also more expensive, but if you have a big house full of kids and pets, it’s a price worth paying.
Key specs – Type: Steam cleaner; Water tank capacity: 2l; Power: 1,500W; Max steam pressure: 4 bar; Accessories provided: Vaporforce brush, rugs accessory, small brush with window cleaning fitting, small round nylon brush, heavy duty red brush, steam concentrator, scraper; Cord length: 4m; Dimensions: 400 x 270 x 290mm; Weight: 5kg; Warranty: 2 years
9. Kärcher SC4 EasyFix: The super-powered cleaner that keeps on steaming
Price: £225 | Buy now from Amazon
If your home’s a little larger (or grimier) than the SC3 EasyFix can handle, its bigger brother, the SC4, should be up to the job. It has a more powerful heater – although the actual steam pressure is the same – but the real game-changer is a removable tank. You can pull this out and fill at any moment, then keep on steaming instantly. In our tests, this meant we could deep clean a bathroom and clear a shower screen of hard water limescale without stopping for a break – and when we needed to stop, it was because we needed a cuppa and a break from the SC4’s huge steam output; the cleaner could have kept on going longer!
Like the SC3 it’s a versatile cleaner, with two extension tubes and a range of nozzles that will wage war on grime in your sinks, shower trays, tiles, baths and worktops. Opt for the more expensive Premium version and you’ll get additional nozzles and a carpet glider, too. It also has a child lock on the steam gun to stop children steaming themselves or others into A&E. Easy to use and powerful enough for the most demanding household, the Kärcher is a steam-cleaning superhero.
Key specs – Type: Steam cleaner; Water tank capacity: 0.8l; Power: 2000W; Max steam pressure: 3.5 bar; Accessories provided: Floor cleaner, hand nozzle, small brush, round brush, 2x microfibre covers, 2x extension tubes; Cord length: 4m; Dimensions: 38 x 25 x 27cm; Weight: 4.1kg; Warranty: 2 years