The 4 Best Steam Cleaners, According to Our Testing

The Ewbank Steam Dynamo Multi-Tool Steam Cleaner is our top pick because it’s the most effective at removing stains and comes with plenty of useful attachments.

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Best steam cleaners
Photo: Tamara Staples

Steam cleaners are household workhorses because they can tackle everything from various types of flooring to upholstery on your furniture. Instead of requiring a cleaning solution, these tools rely entirely on steam to disinfect surfaces and eliminate germs, allergens, and pests.

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

Steam Cleaner
amazon.com

Also available at Lowe's and Home Depot.

Who it's for: People who want a steam cleaner for multi-surface cleaning around their entire home.
Who it isn't for: People who want a steam cleaner with a long cord.

During our tests, the Ewbank Steam Dynamo impressed us with its efficiency. The versatile steam cleaner was able to remove dried soy sauce from tile and grout in just one pass. It has the largest tank capacity out of all the picks on our list, but our testers still found it to be lightweight and easy to maneuver (even when swiveling around tight spaces). Plus, it's fairly quiet while running.

This device took just 30 seconds to fully dissolve the stain—the fastest out of all of those we tested. And, according to the manufacturer, it can run for 45 minutes from a single tank fill. Just keep in mind that the canister can take up to 12 minutes for pressure to build up. (The orange light indicator signals that pressure is building, and it turns off when the machine is ready to use.)

The Ewbank steam cleaner comes with multiple attachments that store neatly in the front compartment, like an extension wand, a floor brush/mop, a window and tile cleaner, a toweling cloth, an angled steam nozzle, and nylon brushes. You can even use this device to clean carpet and upholstery, although the manufacturer suggests first testing it on a small area.

We love that this effective steam cleaner can tackle floor-to-ceiling cleaning jobs simply by switching out attachments. This, combined with its long runtime, makes it ideal for deep cleaning your entire home. The only downside is that the cord was the shortest of those on our list, which means you might need to periodically reposition to reach the closest outlet.

Product Details:

  • Type: Canister
  • Weight: 13 pounds
  • Tank Capacity: 50 ounces
  • Cord Length: 8 feet
  • Compatible Surfaces: Flooring, grout, carpet, upholstery, kitchen surfaces, and bathroom surfaces

RELATED: The 6 Best Carpet Cleaners, According to Our Testing

Ewbank Steam Dynamo Multi-Tool Steam Cleaner
Tamara Staples

Most Versatile Steam Cleaner: Black+Decker 7-in-1 Steam Mop and Handheld Steamer

Steam Cleaner
amazon.com

Also available at Lowe's and Home Depot.

Who it's for: People new to steam cleaning who prefer the familiarity of using an upright mop.
Who it isn't for: People who want a steam cleaner for cleaning carpets or spot treating upholstery.

If you prefer the intuitive design of a steam mop but want the versatility of a canister model, this multipurpose steam cleaner from Black+Decker is a great choice. In our tests, the steam mop was able to remove stains from tile without too much effort. We also loved the lightweight and easy-to-maneuver construction of this device, which makes carrying it around your entire home no problem.

This cleaning device has a dial that lets you adjust the steam output to your desired level. We also like that it offers a continuous flow of steam, so you don't have to hold down the trigger as you clean. Plus, our testers found that the noise level was barely detectable.

The "7-in-1" in this steam cleaner's name refers to the myriad of attachments that it comes with—and they all make it ideal for use on a wide variety of surfaces. The swivel mop head attachment can be used to clean sealed flooring, while the handheld steam glove gives you maximum control while cleaning things like sealed countertops, stainless steel appliances, bathroom surfaces, and more. The Black+Decker steam mop also includes a metal grate attachment for cleaning grills and oven racks, a garment steamer for clothes and curtains, and an adjustable steam nozzle for hard-to-reach areas.

Keep in mind that this steam cleaner isn't designed for use on carpets, and it didn't perform particularly well at removing stains from upholstery with the glove attachment. (But our testers think it could be useful for giving your upholstery a simple refresh.) Since this steam mop can replace so many cleaning tools and supplies, we still think it's an extremely versatile option that works on plenty of other types of surfaces in your home.

Product Details:

  • Type: Mop
  • Weight: 6 pounds
  • Tank Capacity: 19.6 ounces
  • Cord Length: 20 feet
  • Compatible Surfaces: Flooring, grout, glass, metal, wood cabinets and furniture, appliances, and garments

RELATED: The 7 Best Steam Mops to Deep Clean Your Floors

BLACK+DECKER 7-in-1 3 Speed Multipurpose Steam Cleaner
Tamara Staples

Best Steam Cleaner for Hard Floors: Steamfast Deluxe Canister Steam Cleaner

Steam Cleaner
homedepot.com

Also available at Best Buy and Home Depot.

Who it's for: People who have a lot of floor space (particularly hard surfaces) to clean.
Who it isn't for: People who want a steam cleaner that's easy to carry up and down stairs.

Compared to the other steam cleaners we tested, the Steamfast Deluxe features a large mop head and an impressive 90-minute runtime for tackling lots of floor space at once. It can clean a variety of hard surfaces, including hard floors, shower doors, and grill grates—although it's not meant for use on upholstery or carpet. In our testing, this steam cleaner was very quick to heat up, but it took a few passes to clean the soy sauce stain, which makes us believe it would be best suited for general upkeep rather than deep cleaning or detail work. "This could be a great cleaner for simple floor maintenance, [but] not for picking up very specific spills," says one tester.

We found it a bit hard to carry, so it might not be the best option for homes with a lot of stairs or people with limited grip strength. However, its 18 different attachments and accessories—including a mop head, squeegee, jet nozzle, scraper, and detail brush—make it well-suited for cleaning a wide variety of surfaces. In short, the Steamfast Deluxe steam cleaner is ideal for households or businesses that need to clean a lot of surface area in a short amount of time.

Product Details:

  • Type: Canister
  • Weight: 10.7 pounds
  • Tank Capacity: 48 ounces
  • Cord Length: 17 feet
  • Compatible Surfaces: Flooring, grout, and appliances

RELATED: The Best Mops for Your Home, According to Hours of Real-Life Testing

Steamfast SF-375W Deluxe Multi-Purpose Canister Steam Cleaner
Tamara Staples

Best Lightweight Steam Cleaner: Karcher SC 3 EasyFix Steam Cleaner

Steam Cleaner
target.com

Also available at Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Home Depot.

Who it's for: People who want a canister steam cleaner that won't strain their backs.
Who it isn't for: People who want a steam cleaner primarily for cleaning carpets or rugs.

This canister steam cleaner from Karcher weighs just 9 pounds, but it has an impressive 39-ounce tank and nonstop steam output that can tackle big messes. In our tests, it produced a lot of steam and was very effective at removing stains on both hard surfaces and upholstery, particularly when used with the included microfiber cloth. (The cloth can go straight in the washing machine when you're done for easy cleanup). And thanks to the descaling cartridge, the tank can be refilled with tap water without having to worry about mineral buildup over time.

We love that it has a steam volume switch with three different speeds: maximum steam, reduced steam, and a no steam/child lock position. Our testers found that the lightweight steam cleaner heated up almost instantly, so they could use it immediately after turning it on. Plus, its noise level was barely detectable during our testing. However, we found that this steam cleaner leaked a little bit during the testing process. It should also be noted that this unit is not designed for spot treating stains on carpets or rugs, but it can sanitize and refresh them (you can purchase a separate carpet glider attachment for this purpose).

The steam cleaner comes with a floor head for mopping hard flooring and a handheld nozzle for steaming everything from bathroom surfaces to appliances. Other attachments include a detail nozzle, a round brush, two extension wands, and microfiber towel covers for both types of nozzles. Overall, we still think this steam cleaner is well worth the purchase for its compact size that's easy to store without skimping on steam power.

Product Details:

  • Type: Canister
  • Weight: 9.2 pounds
  • Tank Capacity: 33.8 ounces
  • Cord Length: 13 feet
  • Compatible Surfaces: Flooring, grout, carpet, upholstery, and glass

RELATED: The 5 Best Cordless Vacuums, According to Our Tests

Karcher 1-Speed Multipurpose Steam Cleaner
Tamara Staples

Final Verdict

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.

Ewbank Steam Dynamo Multi-Tool Steam Cleaner
Tamara Staples

How to Shop for Steam Cleaners

Type

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.

Surfaces

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.

best steam cleaners
Tamara Staples

Attachments

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.

BLACK+DECKER 7-in-1 3 Speed Multipurpose Steam Cleaner
Tamara Staples

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.

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