The 4 Best Steam Cleaners, According to Our Testing
We put 12 steam cleaners through diligent testing in our Lab, evaluating each based on their ability to remove stains from different surfaces. Throughout our testing, we took note of each steam cleaner's versatility, portability, noise level, and overall value. We also considered things like the type of steam cleaner (canister, mop, or handheld) and whether there were any included attachments. For expert tips on what to look for in a steam cleaner, we spoke to James Tole, third vice president of the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning, and Restoration Certification.
Our top pick is the Ewbank Steam Dynamo Multi-Tool Steam Cleaner because it was able to remove stains in just a single pass during our testing. It's also compatible with a wide variety of surfaces for whole-home cleaning.
Keep reading for more of our best steam cleaner picks and expert tips on what to consider when buying a steam cleaner.
Our Top Picks
- Best Overall Steam Cleaner: Ewbank Steam Dynamo Multi-Tool Steam Cleaner
- Most Versatile Steam Cleaner: Black+Decker 7-in-1 Steam Mop and Handheld Steamer
- Best Steam Cleaner for Hard Floors: Steamfast Deluxe Canister Steam Cleaner
- Best Lightweight Steam Cleaner: Karcher SC 3 EasyFix Steam Cleaner
After three days of testing, we chose the Ewbank Steam Dynamo Multi-Tool Steam Cleaner as our top pick because it was the most effective at removing stains. We also like that it's easy to maneuver and includes multiple attachments for use on a variety of surfaces.
Our Testing Process
We spent three days evaluating 12 steam cleaners in our Lab, where we put each one through a series of tests. To start, we used a stopwatch to time how long it took to unpack, assemble, and heat each device. Our testers then used each steam cleaner to get wet potting soil out of an upholstered cushion and dried soy sauce out of tile and grout, when applicable.
During testing, we took into consideration which models were easiest to use and maneuver, along with which models might be better suited for detail work rather than regular all-purpose cleaning. We also took note of any accessories included and the noise level of each device. Finally, our testers evaluated each steam cleaner's overall value considering both price and performance.
How to Shop for Steam Cleaners
Steam cleaners generally come in one of three types: canister steam cleaners, steam mops/upright steam cleaners, and handheld steam cleaners.
Canister Steam Cleaners: Sometimes referred to as cylinder steam cleaners, these tools have a high-capacity wheeled tank and an extended steam hose that can be attached to various accessories. Canister models are often bigger and bulkier than other types of steam cleaners, but their large tanks mean they can run for longer without needing a refill. Plus, they have powerful motors and can release lots of steam pressure (although it takes more time for bigger models to build up that pressure). Canister steam cleaners usually come with many different accessories, such as a mop attachment, a scrub brush, or a handheld nozzle for hard-to-reach areas. On the downside, they can be more difficult to maneuver because of their bulky bases.
Steam Mops: Also known as upright steam cleaners, steam mops resemble upright vacuums. They work by pumping hot steam through the mop pad and often feature a handheld steam cleaner attachment for navigating around crevices. Not only do they remove dirt from the floor, but the heat of the steam also helps kill bacteria and pests. Steam mops are best for cleaning hard floors and may require special attachments for use on carpet or upholstery. In terms of price, size, and steam output, steam mops are a nice middle ground between canister cleaners and handheld cleaners for the average household.
Handheld Steam Cleaners: These small, portable steam cleaners are designed for spot treating stains or sanitizing hard-to-reach areas like grout and the inside of appliances. However, they're not ideal for cleaning large spaces. Many canister steam cleaners and steam mops also include a handheld attachment so you can get the best of both worlds.
Not all steam cleaners are intended for use on both hard and soft surfaces, because some machines may have a steam output that is too strong for carpet fibers. Most steam cleaners can be used on various types of hard flooring (such as tile, grout, laminate, and hardwood) as well as appliances and bathroom fixtures. Others can also be used on carpet, curtains, and upholstery, but they usually require a specific attachment for these surfaces.
FYI: Most manufacturers warn against using steam cleaners on unsealed floors (like unsealed wood or ceramic), as the heat and moisture can warp or damage these surfaces.
The more attachments a steam cleaner has, the more surfaces it can clean and sanitize. Most steam cleaners come with several basic accessories, such as a scrub brush, mop head, and crevice tool. Some models may include more specialized attachments, like a garment steamer, grate cleaner, and even a squeegee. Always refer to the manufacturer's instructions for using different attachments to make sure you're using the proper steam output for different surfaces.
More Steam Cleaners to Consider
Pure Enrichment PureClean XL Rolling Steam Cleaner: Although this steam cleaner was not the most effective at removing stains compared to the other models we tested, we still think it would make an excellent choice for sanitizing and removing odors from curtains, drapes, carpets, and upholstery. Not only is it safe to use on these surfaces, but it also features a powerful steam output, numerous attachments, and a 3-foot extension wand for floor-to-ceiling cleaning.
Costway Multipurpose Steam Cleaner: The Cosway steam cleaner performed well in most of our tests, and it heated up pretty fast. However, we found that it was a bit difficult to clean surfaces without leaving streaks. Our testers also felt like they had to hold it in a very specific way, which made it hard to pivot and swivel.
Questions You Might Ask
How often should you use a steam cleaner?
For hard surfaces like floors, countertops, and tile, you can steam clean about as often as you'd mop your floors or wipe down surfaces. For carpets and upholstery, steam cleaning every six months to a year will keep these surfaces fresh and help get rid of germs, allergens, and odors. But if you have kids or pets, you'll want to do so more often.
"In my own cleaning business, we often see carpets that have been let go for too long," says Tole. "These carpets often benefit from more than one cleaning annually in an attempt to restore them. On average, a residential home would benefit from annual cleaning for sure."
Be sure to vacuum regularly in between steam cleanings and spot treat as needed.
What's the difference between a steam cleaner and a carpet cleaner?
Although the two are often combined into one appliance, steam cleaners and carpet cleaners are not the same. Carpet cleaners require a cleaning agent and work by "shampooing" your carpets, while steam cleaners rely solely on hot steam to loosen dirt and disinfect surfaces: "Heat is of benefit whenever you are cleaning carpets," says Tole. "Using hot water increases soil loosening [because] it has more capacity to rinse soils and residues away and it dries faster." Some steam cleaners can be used on carpets and upholstery, while others are only suitable for hard surfaces.
What type of water should you use in a steam cleaner?
Unless the manufacturer says otherwise, it's generally fine to use tap water in your steam cleaner. Just note that tap water contains minerals that can build up over time, particularly if you have hard water—but you can help curb this buildup by regularly cleaning your machine or using distilled water instead.
Can you add a cleaning solution to a steam cleaner?
Unless the manufacturer states otherwise, it's not recommended that you add anything other than water to your steam cleaner. Using anything other than water in a steam cleaner can damage your device and void the warranty. If you want to pretreat a stain, you can add a cleaning solution directly to the surface and then go over it with your steam cleaner.
Which surfaces cannot be cleaned with a steam cleaner?
Different steam cleaners are compatible with different surfaces, so you should always default to the manufacturer's guidelines. In general, you should avoid steam cleaning anything that can be damaged by heat exposure, such as walls or furniture with water-based paint, unsealed floors, and delicate fabrics like silk or velvet.
Take Our Word for It
This article was written by Melanie Fincher, associate commerce editor for Real Simple with nearly three years of experience writing product reviews and lifestyle content. To come up with this list, we tested 12 steam cleaners over three days. Each model was evaluated based on its effectiveness at removing stains, in addition to its versatility, portability, noise level, and overall value. Melanie also received expert steam cleaning tips from James Tole, third vice president of the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning, and Restoration Certification.