How to Clean a Steamer (and Save It From Mineral Deposits)

Plus, why you should avoid using tap water in your steamer.

A clothes steamer is a magic appliance. It makes our travel outfits look fresh (even if we're living out of a suitcase), it helps you avoid pulling out an ironing board, and it removes lingering odors from your living room drapes. So with all that a steamer does for you, you need to do something for it. If you don't clean your steamer, it will begin to sputter and spit water. Here's how to clean a steamer so it can keep your clothes fresh and wrinkle-free.

How Often to Clean a Steamer

Your habits and how often you use your steamer will help determine how often it needs to be cleaned. If you use it daily, clean your steamer monthly. If you only use it occasionally, it should be thoroughly cleaned after each use to be ready to use the next time.

More frequent cleaning is needed if you use tap water to fill the steamer and don't empty the water tank after using it. Tap water, especially in areas with hard water, contains minerals that build up in the water reservoir and nozzle of the steamer. Distilled water is often recommended for other types of equipment, like steam mops, to reduce clogging. Obvious signs that the steamer needs cleaning are: chalky, white buildup around the vents in the nozzle, reduced levels of steam, and sputtering and spitting water instead of a flow of steam.

What You'll Need

  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Distilled water
  • Toothpick
  • Lint-free cloth
  • Small bowl
  • Sink or bucket

How to Clean a Handheld Steamer

  1. Unplug and Empty the Water Tank: If you have just used the steamer, unplug it and allow it to cool. Empty the water tank into a sink.
  2. Fill the Tank With Vinegar: Fill the tank with distilled white vinegar or cleaning vinegar. Do not use other types of vinegar, which may have sediment that will interfere with the cleaning function.
  3. Turn on the Steamer: Plug in the steamer and set it to the highest setting.
  4. Expel the Vinegar: Point the nozzle of the steamer into the sink or bucket and press the on button until all of the vinegar is expelled from the tank and no more steam is flowing. Keep your face away from the nozzle because the fumes can be strong. Avoid pointing the nozzle at painted surfaces or wood to avoid possible damage. As you would when steaming a garment, avoiding tipping the steamer and keep your fingers and face away from the steam to avoid burns. Pour any vinegar remaining in the tank into the sink drain.
  5. Fill the Tank With Distilled Water: Refill the tank with distilled water.
  6. Expel the Water: With the steamer set on high, point the steamer nozzle into a sink or bucket and expel all the water in the tank. This removes any traces of vinegar and helps blast out any loose mineral deposits from the tank and nozzle.
  7. Cool and Dry the Steamer: Allow the steamer to cool completely. Check to be sure the water tank is completely empty. Dry the appliance with a lint-free cloth.

How to Clean a Standing Steamer

  1. Empty the Water Reservoir: With the steamer unplugged and cool, remove the reservoir tank and pour the water into a sink or bucket.
  2. Fill With Vinegar: Fill the reservoir with distilled white vinegar or cleaning vinegar.
  3. Heat and Expel the Vinegar: Plug in the steamer and use the highest heat setting. When the steamer is heated, expel the vinegar into a sink or bucket until no more steam escapes. Stay away from the steam to avoid burns.
  4. Fill With Distilled Water: Refill the tank with distilled water.
  5. Heat and Expel the Distilled Water: Again, on the highest heat setting, expel the distilled water until the tank is empty to remove any traces of vinegar in the steamer tank, hoses, and nozzles. If water remains in the reservoir, empty it into the sink or bucket.
  6. Disassemble and Dry the Steamer: Disconnect the nozzle and hoses, if possible. Dry them with a microfiber towel or allow them to air-dry.
  7. Reassemble the Steamer: When the components are dry, reassemble the steamer. If you plan to use it soon, fill the tank with distilled water and it is ready to use.

How to Decalcify a Steamer

If you have been using tap water or allowed water to stand in the steamer for several months, mineral deposits have had plenty of time to develop in the tank and nozzle. This can be true for irons as well, but some top models feature a self-cleaning function and anti-calcium filter to prevent clogging. While decalcifying a steamer is similar to cleaning, you'll need to take a few more steps to remove any deposits clogging the nozzle.

  1. Empty the Water Tank: With the steamer unplugged and cool, empty any water from the tank.
  2. Fill the Tank With Vinegar: Fill the water tank with distilled white vinegar or cleaning vinegar. Allow the vinegar to sit in the tank for at least 30 minutes (up to two hours is best) to help break apart the limescale and mineral deposits.
  3. Expel the Vinegar: Turn on the steamer and choose the highest heat setting. Expel the vinegar into a bucket or sink.
  4. Fill the Tank With Distilled Water: Fill the tank with distilled water and allow the steamer to heat the water. Expel the water into a sink or bucket at the highest steam flow setting.
  5. Allow the Steamer to Cool: When the flow of steam stops, unplug the steamer and allow it to cool. Disassemble the parts and empty any remaining water from the tank. Consult the user guide or the manufacturer's website for instructions on how to disassemble the steamer.
  6. Dry and Inspect the Components: Use a lint-free towel to dry the components. With the steamer disassembled, look for any cracks in the gaskets or hoses that are interfering with steam production. Cracks pose a safety issue; there is a potential for accidental burns, so it's a good idea to replace any damaged components.
  7. Inspect the Nozzle: If you see white, chalky residue on the nozzle head, it requires additional cleaning. Pour some distilled white vinegar into a small bowl that is large enough to hold the nozzle. Heat the vinegar for about 30 seconds in the microwave.
  8. Soak and Clean the Nozzle: Submerge the nozzle in the warm vinegar and allow it to soak for at least eight hours or overnight. Remove the nozzle and rinse well with warm water. Use a toothpick to gently remove any deposits from each nozzle. Rinse again and dry with a towel.
  9. Reassemble the Steamer: Once all components are dry, reassemble the steamer.

Tips for Maintaining a Steamer

  • Always use distilled water to fill a steamer and don't overfill the tank. All tap water contains minerals that can clog the steamer.
  • Empty the water reservoir between steaming sessions. This is especially important for travel and handheld steamers. Dry the components with a towel or air-dry before storing the steamer.
  • Do not allow the water tank to run dry while you are steaming because any mineral deposits can scorch or burn, making them more difficult to remove.
  • Always store the steamer in an upright position without water in the reservoir.
  • Clean the steamer at the first sign of sputtering or diminished steam output.

READ NEXT: The 5 Best Clothes Steamers, According to Our Tests

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