Steam is a superior cleaning agent. It can be used on a variety of household surfaces, including carpets and upholstery, to release stains and odors, banish caked-on messes—all without the use of chemicals. To harness the power of steam, however, a steam cleaner, which rapidly heats water into its vapor form, must be employed.
Choosing the best steam cleaner to help restore dirty or dated carpets and furniture isn’t so easy. There are many machines on the market, and a host of options and features to consider. That’s why we gathered some of the most popular products, listed below, and put them through their paces with our hands-on tests. Read on to learn how to shop for the best steam cleaner and the pros and cons of the quality models listed below.
- BEST OVERALL: Pure Enrichment PureClean XL Rolling Steam Cleaner
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: PurSteam 10-in-1 Steam Cleaner Mop
- BEST HANDHELD: PurSteam Handheld Pressurized Steam Cleaner
- BEST UPHOLSTERY: Steamfast SF-370 Multipurpose Steam Cleaner
- BEST MULTIPURPOSE: Bissell 2747A PowerFresh Vac & Steam Vacuum and Mop
- BEST SPOT CLEANER: McCulloch MC1275 Canister Steam Cleaner
- BEST FOR TILE: Shark Genius Steam Pocket Mop System
- BEST FOR CARPET: Dupray Neat Steam Cleaner
Types of Steam Cleaners
A quick search for the best steam cleaner will reveal a variety of products and options. Understanding the differences among the types of carpet and upholstery steam cleaners can help shoppers select the right product for specific needs.
Handheld Steam Cleaners
Handheld steam cleaners are small enough to hold and carry around the home. They typically come with a variety of attachments that facilitate cleaning such things as appliances, countertops, windows, and flooring materials in addition to carpets and furniture. But they are best suited for smaller tasks, such as removing a stain from the sofa, and would not be the best option to steam-clean all the carpets throughout the home.
Canister Steam Cleaners
Canister (also known as cylinder) steam cleaners are a good option for bigger steam-cleaning tasks, thanks to a large water tank, typically between 40 and 48 ounces. This allows the machines to produce steam for up to 50 minutes at a time. At about 10 pounds, the ample tank makes canister steam cleaners heavier than some other options, but most have wheels for easy maneuverability during operation on carpets and hard floors. Most canister steam cleaners come with numerous attachments, such as extension tubes, triangular accessories, and brushes, for targeted tasks on draperies, carpet, and upholstery.
Steams mops have the convenient maneuverability of traditional mops but benefit from upgraded power and efficacy thanks to their steam-cleaning ability. Steam mops generally have smaller tanks than other types of steam cleaners, but those small tanks are a feature of their compact, lightweight, easy-to-store design. Look for an option with a flexible joint at the handle/head connection to facilitate reaching under furniture. These types of steam cleaners are best for hard surfaces such as vinyl and linoleum, though some models have accessories meant for soft or uneven surfaces such as carpets or tiles.
Vacuum Steam Cleaners
Vacuum steam cleaners, often referred to as carpet cleaners, employ a sucking action, much like a standard household vacuum cleaner. These products use hot water plus a cleaning solution to release stains and odors from carpets. Folks needing to clean an entire carpet, as opposed to just spot cleaning, might want to use a vacuum steam cleaner, which can handle a larger area more easily.
The vacuum action will help remove excess water while sucking trapped dirt out of carpets, helping carpets dry more quickly. Like carpet deodorizers, vacuum steam cleaners also can help remove odors and leave carpets smelling fresh. In addition, many units include an upholstery tool designed to steam-clean furniture and stairs.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Steam Cleaner
When trying to select the best steam cleaner to meet one’s needs, there are a few key features to consider. Since there are so many types of steam cleaners and available options, knowing which features are needed may help simplify the user’s decision.
The best steam cleaner depends on its intended use. The breadth of their cleaning and sanitizing ability means they’re useful for both routine chores and deep-cleaning anything that can’t tolerate traditional washing or scrubbing. However, there are a few surfaces that cannot handle the high temperature of steam, such as unsealed floors or painted walls.
That said, steam cleaners are generally compatible with an extensive list of hard and soft surfaces, including floors, such as vinyl, laminate, tile, carpet, and sealed wood; bathroom fixtures, including shower glass and grout; and appliances, including gas hobs and oven interiors. In addition, they may be used on countertops, windows, furniture, upholstery, and drapery.
In addition to savvy upholstery cleaning tips, targeted cleaners, and stain removers, a steam cleaner with the right attachments can help spiff up furniture and draperies. A quality brush attachment, for instance, is often the go-to when it comes to vanquishing set-in stains on furniture. But that’s just the beginning of steam-cleaner accessories. Some may feature tools to clean grills, toilets, countertops, windows, appliances, mattresses, and more, so consider the scope of your cleaning tasks and choose a model with the implements to address your to-do list.
Keep in mind the size and number of included attachments as well. For example, it will take a lot longer to clean a carpet with a model that has a 3-inch carpet attachment than it will with a vacuum steam cleaner boasting a wider cleaning head.
A quality steam cleaner will be the right size and weight to allow easy movement throughout the house or facilitate lifting to reach high-up areas. Corded options offer unlimited power but need access to an outlet. Steam cleaners with wheels follow the user and require less lifting.
- Weight: Smaller, lighter steam cleaners are easier to carry and store, while larger models (up to 20 pounds or more) may be more challenging to use. If the scope of the job is significant or requires moving up and down stairs, a lighter option will be easier in the long run. Remember to consider tank capacity when evaluating weight, as a large tank completely full will add quite a few pounds to the machine.
- Corded vs. cordless: Steam cleaners come in corded and cordless (battery-operated) models. Cordless versions offer greater convenience and portability, since they’re not tethered to an electric outlet. However, run time is limited, and it can be inconvenient if the battery dies in the middle of a cleaning task.
With a corded steam cleaner, runtime is unlimited. Plus some corded models have a more powerful, better-performing motor than cordless options. But corded steam cleaners need an outlet, so users may find themselves frequently unplugging and replugging to get a big job done. Keep cord length in mind when considering a corded steam cleaner. The longer the cord, the larger the area that you can clean uninterrupted.
- Wheels: Wheels generally are found on canister steam cleaners to make it easier to move these larger and heavier machines. Consider where the machine needs to travel to determine if wheels will add to the bulk of the machine or if they’ll minimize the need for lugging it around.
In addition to the features mentioned above, look for a product that holds a sufficient amount of water and heats up quickly enough to keep the job on track. Remember that different surfaces tolerate different levels of steam pressure, so the best steam cleaners for carpets also offer adjustable settings.
- Tank capacity: The scope of common cleaning jobs will dictate how large a water tank to choose. Some handheld steamers with a capacity of just 10 or 12 ounces produce steam for only 15 minutes or less. A canister or vacuum steam cleaner may hold closer to 50 ounces of water and be able to run for about an hour. For frequent long cleaning sessions, a larger tank may be better. It can be frustrating to stop and refill a small tank several times during the course of a cleaning task.
- Heat-up time: Heat-up time on most steam cleaners is relatively short. Most models offer a heat-up time between 25 seconds and 8 minutes, though some cleaners can take up to 12 minutes to heat. Interestingly, tank capacity isn’t always correlated with heat-up time, so be sure to check the product specifications if you’re going to be working for longer periods of time and don’t want to wait for steam with each refill.
- Steam settings: Many steam cleaners have two or more different settings that allow users to adjust the pressure and thereby control the flow rate, which is the amount of steam the cleaner emits. The lower pressure settings have a flow rate of around 15 grams per minute, and the higher pressure settings have a flow rate of around 30 grams per minute. Lower settings are best suited to safely cleaning delicate surfaces, such as silk upholstered furniture, while the higher settings would work harder, ideal for powering out tough stains on synthetic carpeting, for instance. Steam cleaners with only one pressure setting are likely run at around 30 grams per minute.
Our Top Picks
The products below represent some of the most popular steam cleaners on the market. We tested them all in real-world conditions and found them to be effective and durable machines in their respective categories. It’s likely that one of these models will fill the bill for your steam-cleaning needs.
To tackle a host of cleaning chores, consider the Pure Enrichment PureClean Steam Cleaner. This canister model dispenses pressurized steam to help break down and release stains, spots, and deep dirt on an assortment of hard and soft surfaces, including carpets, furniture, tile, and vinyl flooring. The 1.5-liter tank is ample enough to enable up to 45 minutes of steam cleaning before it requires a refill. It rolls on wheels, comes with an 18-piece accessory set, and its 16-foot power cord makes it easy to move around and spot clean sections.
In testing, this Pure Enrichment model proved to be a powerful machine, effectively cleaning hard and soft surfaces with ease. The wide wheelbase and long power cord made it easy to maneuver and access hard-to-reach areas. The plethora of accessories came in handy, and we especially appreciated the scrub pad and utility brush attachments that made getting dirt and grime from grout and window tracks easy.
However, we found the triangular mophead attachment to be a bit too small, which made it take longer than anticipated to clean our laminate living room floor. Though we appreciated all the attachments, we believe they could present a storing challenge to folks with limited space.
- Type: Canister
- Water-tank capacity: 1.5 liters
- Weight: 9 pounds
- Large rear wheels make it easier to roll
- 16-foot-long cord with built-in cord wrap
- 18-piece accessory kit
- Lots of accessories to store
Get the Pure Enrichment steam cleaner at Amazon, Lowe’s, or Nordstrom.
The versatile PurSteam 10-in-1 works as an upright steam mop and a handheld steam cleaner with various accessories. It features a detachable handheld unit that doubles as the steam mop’s water reservoir. The corded machine is designed primarily to clean hard surfaces but can be used to refresh carpets and upholstery.
This steam mop has two standout features. First, there’s the folding handle, which allows for compact storage in tight spaces. Second, the water heats up in just 30 seconds, a blessing when a quick cleanup is required. Switching to handheld mode is simple: Pop it out of the upright stand, and it’s ready to go! Although it proved easy enough to control the intensity of the steam via a dial on the water reservoir, the only way to stop the flow of steam entirely is to turn off the machine. Overall, this PurSteam performed well as a steam mop and handheld unit, and its economical price is hard to beat.
- Type: Upright and handheld
- Water-tank capacity: 11.5 ounces
- Weight: 2.2 pounds
- Water heats up in 30 seconds
- Folding handle for compact storage
- Multiple accessories plus detachable handheld unit
- Cannot stop steam flow without turing machine off
Get the PurSteam mop steam cleaner on Amazon or at Walmart.
The PurSteam Handheld Pressurized Steam Cleaner is a lightweight and portable option that makes short work of spot cleaning throughout the house. This corded steamer can safely be used on many surfaces, including cotton and wool carpets, bedding, upholstery, laminate, granite, and wallpaper. It comes with a nylon brush, an ironing brush, an extension hose, and six other accessories to simplify a host of cleaning tasks.
This small but powerful machine heats up fast, producing steady steam that effectively softens built-up grime. We found it to be easy to use and particularly favored the bent nozzle and extension-hose accessories, which made tackling tough chores such as cleaning window tracks and tight, hard-to-reach areas on our grill a breeze.
At just over 5 pounds, the unit did start to feel a bit heavy after prolonged use. There’s also no dedicated place to wrap the cord for storage—it must be wound around the machine’s body. Nonetheless, it’s a handy tool to help make your cleaning tasks easier.
- Type: Handheld
- Water-tank capacity: 5 ounces
- Weight: 5.24 pounds
- Easy to swap out accessories
- Safety lock on handle
- Comfortable handle
- No place to wind the cord
- Heavy for a handheld
Get the PurSteam handheld steam cleaner on Amazon or at Walmart.
The Steamfast SF-370 steam cleaner features a variety of useful attachments, but it’s best for upholstery thanks to the wide mophead attachments and corner scrub tools. It’s equipped with a 64-inch flexible steam hose and easy-stick microfiber pads to naturally clean hard and soft surfaces. Its 48-ounce water tank heats up in 8 minutes and then provides 45 minutes of continuous steam.
This machine proved to be the most powerful steam cleaner tested for this guide, and its steam-on-demand trigger with a continuous steam locking switch made it easy to control and direct the steam, especially when paired with the steam jet nozzle.This feature allowed us to aim the steam onto stubborn stains on mattresses and fabric-covered chairs. It even helped to break up old gum residue on an area rug. Too bad it does not allow the user to increase or decrease steam intensity.
This corded machine maneuvered smoothly, and we appreciated the integrated carrying handle that made bringing the machine up and down stairs easier. Though it stores away easily because of its low profile, this model does not come with an onboard cubby for the various accessories. This steam cleaner is perfect for keeping upholstery fresh and clean, and it’s suitable for cleaning floors and other hard surfaces as well.
- Type: Canister
- Water-tank capacity: 48 ounces
- Weight: 8.42 pounds
- Steam-on-demand trigger with continuous-steam locking switch
- Integrated power cord wrap
- Integrated carrying handle
- No onboard accessories storage
Get the Steamfast steam cleaner at Amazon, Target, or The Home Depot.
The Bissell 2747A PowerFresh Vac & Steam is designed to cut down on cleaning time. This single tool vacuums and steams simultaneously, eliminating the need to tackle the same area with two machines. The cleaner features digital controls to select vacuuming mode or steaming mode, or both modes at the same time.
The microfiber soft pad and microfiber scrubby pad can handle a host of hard floor surfaces, the former ideal for cleaning laminate flooring and the latter for tile floors. Switching between the pads or taking them off for cleaning is easy with the detachable mop pad tray, which eliminates the need to flip the mop over to put on a clean pad. This product features dual tanks, one for dry debris from the vacuum and a wet tank to hold the water for the steam mop feature.
Although many multipurpose tools tend to excel in only one area, with mediocre performance in others, this Bissell worked extremely well as a vacuum and as a steam mop in testing. The vacuum mode sucked up pet hair and debris with ease, and it was super convenient to switch immediately to the steam mop mode to clean the floors without the need to stop and get another cleaning tool or mop. The vacuum mode and steam mop mode can be used separately or simultaneously. The only downside we found to dual mode is that the vacuum tank is small and will need to be emptied several times if cleaning a large area.
This product is designed to primarily clean hard surfaces, but the steam mop can refresh short-pile carpeting. Overall, we were most impressed with its performance for picking up small debris that got missed after sweeping hard surfaces—but we do think the price tag is a bit steep.
- Type: Upright
- Water-tank capacity: 12.8 ounces
- Weight: 9.74 pounds
- Vacuum and steam simultaneously or separately
- Vacuum feature easily captures dirt and debris
- Simple digital controls allow users to switch modes during use
Get the Bissell steam cleaner on Amazon.
While it’s true that the 48-ounce water tank on this heavy-duty McCulloch canister model can dispense hot steam for up to 45 minutes—enough time to clean large areas—it’s most impressive for the 18 attachments that make short work of stubborn stained spots on a variety of surfaces. The steam jet nozzle effectively loosened caked-on dirt in grout and greasy crevices in our oven. We particularly like the five utility brushes, including a brass brush, for removing rust and other debris from an outdoor grill. There’s also a 15.7-foot power cord and a 9-foot steam hose for reaching all the nooks and crannies where dirt can otherwise hide.
In testing, this steam cleaner took 8 minutes to heat up, proved easy to maneuver due to its low profile and large front wheels, and had plenty of steam to go the distance. However, there is no onboard location to wind the lengthy power cord—an unexpected flaw on an otherwise well-designed machine.
- Type: Canister
- Water-tank capacity: 48 ounces
- Weight: 9.95 pounds
- Steam lock switch provides continuous steam
- Extra-long hose
- Large-capacity water reservoir
- Lots of accessories to store
- No onboard cord wrap
Get the McCulloch steam cleaner at Amazon, Kohl’s, or Sylvane.
The Shark Genius steam mop is designed to work efficiently while minimizing physical effort. A large microfiber pad wraps around the top and bottom of the mophead, giving users double the cleaning capacity with one pad. When the bottom of the pad becomes dirty, the user can easily flip the mophead over to continue cleaning with the fresh side of the pad.
The steam cleaner also features three settings for customizing the steam level and a steam blaster to break down dried or sticky stains that can be a bane on tile, laminate, and other hard surfaces. Then, after the cleaning is done, the mophead opens with the push of a button to release the reusable dirty pad into the laundry without having to touch it—a terrific feature!
In testing on our tile floor, the thick microfiber pads easily picked up and held onto dirt and grime, even cleaning down into the grout. We also really like the ability to flip the mophead to use the other side of the pad. However, we would have appreciated on-demand steam control. And though we found the ergonomic circular handle comfortable to hold, we didn’t like that the mophead design prevented the steamer from standing upright on its own.
- Type: Upright
- Water-tank capacity: 11.8 ounces
- Weight: 5.77 pounds
- Double-sided dirt-gripping washable pads
- Touch-free pad removal
- Removes tough dirt with ease
- Doesn’t stand upright on its own
- No on-demand steam control
Get the Shark steam cleaner at Amazon, The Home Depot, or Kohl’s.
As shocking as it may seem, carpet can contain 200,000 bacteria per square inch. Fortunately, the Dupray Neat Steam Cleaner can dispense steam as hot as 275 degrees Fahrenheit, a temperature capable of sterilizing surfaces and killing 99 percent of viruses and bacteria. The 54-ounce tank on this model allows for up to 50 minutes of continuous cleaning. Eighteen accessories, including a triangle tool, a crevice tool, and brushes for cleaning carpets and upholstery, are included.
In testing, this device maneuvered smoothly and produced powerful steam that effectively cleaned hard and soft surfaces. Although the steamer can help loosen dirt and grime, some manual scrubbing is necessary for tough stains with the triangular steam head and microfiber bonnet attachment. Though most steam cleaners in this category feature a cylinder shape, Dupray’s cube shape makes it easier to store in small spaces. The machine features a built-in funnel for filling the tank and a cord wrap to wind the 16-foot cord into the unit’s base. Although these features make the device easy to store, we would have loved onboard storage for the accessories.
- Type: Canister (though technically a cube shape)
- Water-tank capacity: 54 ounces
- Weight: 9 pounds
- Heats up to 275 degrees Fahrenheit
- Long cord that winds in base
- Built-in funnel for filling the tank
- Retractable carrying handle
- No onboard accessories storage
Get the Dupray steam cleaner at Amazon, The Home Depot, or Walmart.
We selected the Pure Enrichment steam cleaner as our top pick because it effectively cleans hard and soft surfaces and comes with18 accessories, making cleaning various surfaces easier. The PurSteam mop steam cleaner is also an excellent pick because of its versatility as an upright or handheld steam cleaner at an affordable price. Also consider the Shark steam cleaner that makes cleaning tile and other hard surfaces easy with its dirt-gripping mophead and touchless pad release.
How We Tested the Best Steam Cleaners
We tested each steam cleaner according to established rubrics that included water-tank capacity, weight, portability, accessories, and cleaning performance on hard and soft surfaces. We rated each steam cleaner based on these rubrics on a scale between 0 and 4 to determine their score.
We first determined how much assembly was required for each model and also looked into the ease of storing its cords and accessories. Next, we added the required amount of water and tested to see how easy it was to move and maneuver. We tested the steam cleaners on engineered flooring, tile, upholstered furniture, windowsills, porcelain, and carpet. We used the various accessories to determine how easy they were to attach and how well they functioned.
The following answers to some of the most frequently asked questions may help shoppers further in the selection of the best steam cleaner.
Q. Should you put hot or cold water in a steam cleaner?
Put cold water into a steam cleaner to prevent injury. The machine will safely heat the water to the temperature needed to produce hot steam.
Q. How long does it take to steam-clean?
The amount of time it takes to steam-clean varies based on the size of the surface and the degree of dirt and stains to be removed. Removing a spot from a couch, for example, will take significantly less time than steam cleaning an entire room’s carpet.
Q. Does steam cleaning kill bed bugs?
Yes, steam cleaning can kill bed bugs. The surface temperature of the mattress or bedding must reach between 160 and 180 degrees Fahrenheit in order for the bed bugs and their eggs to be killed.
Q. Does steam cleaning kill mold spores?
Yes, steam cleaning can kill mold spores. The high temperatures will kill the spores, and the steam will be able to penetrate through cracks to kill mold in harder-to-reach areas.
Q. Does steam cleaning kill bacteria?
When its temperature is high enough, steam can effectively kill bacteria. The steam needs to be at least 175 degrees Fahrenheit to kill bacteria, but higher temperatures are even more effective.