Steam cleaning with vaporized water is still a relatively new concept to the American market but has recently exploded in popularity. First, let us discuss the fundamentals of steam cleaning and why we prefer it to the traditional method of spraying supermarket cleaning chemicals and wiping up with a cloth.
What is Steam Cleaning?
Vaporized water, which comes out of the attachments from a machine that physically resembles a vacuum cleaner, is applied to a multitude of surfaces in a home or industrial setting. The steam vapor is exceptionally hot, usually over 200º F at the tip. Heat is the first important component. Heat weakens the physical bond between the dirt or stains to the various surfaces to which the dirt is sticking or is embedded. The second component is “dry steam” i.e. water which is almost moisture less steam. Using the “dry” steam, dirty surfaces can be wiped, scrubbed or rubbed clean and the dirt collected in a steam-moistened towel, often attached by clips to the attachment.
Why is Vapor Steam Cleaning more effective than traditional cleaning?
All hard surfaces are actually porous. Steam can penetrate those pores and get at that embedded dirt.
One of the more interesting tests we did, was to wipe down a kitchen counter top with a good quality micro fiber towel. We then took one half of the counter and steam cleaned it. When we rubbed our hands over the steam cleaned counter top, it felt as smooth as silk compared to the other half, attesting to its superior cleanliness.
What are the chief advantages of steam cleaning?
Hot steam vapor penetrates pores of the materials or surfaces to be cleaned, and cleans more thoroughly than normal supermarket cleaners and does so without the use of chemicals. This lack of chemicals used in the cleaning process is a huge benefit to those people who are sensitive to chemicals or are trying to reduce the level of toxicity in their homes, especially if children are present.
Killing germs, bacteria and microorganisms such as mold and dust mites
Perhaps the best advantage of all, is that hot steam vapor is a natural sanitizing and deodorizing agent without any chemical odor. When the vapor steam penetrates surfaces, it destroys mold spores, germs, viruses, dust mites, and bacteria. It is a wonderful sanitizer for environments where there have been adults or children with infections of any kind and now you want to restore the place to be infection free. This process will be more effective than most disinfecting chemicals. In normal household use, a steam cleaner is a magical tool for cleaning and disinfecting kitchen and bathrooms.
More effective cleaning
Interestingly enough, although we are a great proponent of the fact that steam vapor alone will miraculously clean most things, it is pertinent to note that for stubborn cleaning chores pre-spraying the area with a natural cleansing agent and then combining with steam vapor enhances the cleaning properties of the cleaning agent by a factor of several times
Removing toxic dry cleaning solvent and other odors from clothes
How do I choose the right Steam Cleaner?
We discussed this topic at some length in a prior article “Why do some Steam Cleaners cost more?“. The following is a quick summary of features to consider when purchasing a vapor steam cleaner:
The best steamers, such as the Ladybug steam cleaners and the WhiteWing steam cleaners, have interior boiler temperatures of 285 degrees and above. One is the internal temperature in the boiler and the other is the temperature at the tip of the attachment. The temperature in the boiler is the most reliable figure as the temperature at the tip varies with the attachment and steam pressure being used. What is important to note is that machines with higher temperatures will work much better, as there is a quantum leap in cleaning effectiveness for every 10 degrees increase in steam temperature. Better steam cleaners will have interior boiler temperatures of 285ºF and above.
Steam Cleaner Tools & Attachments
After the actual steam temperature, the quality of the tools is one of the most important factors to help determine whether you will be happy with your steam cleaner long term. Both good quality tools and a wide selection of steam cleaning attachments will make your cleaning tasks go faster at the same time as achieving superior results. We prefer manufacturers who make commercial steam cleaners in addition to residential ones, as they have the experience of supplying customers with tools of sufficient quality to tackle the most challenging of cleaning problems.
Continuous Fill Versus Reservoir Steam Cleaner
Both technologies have their fans who have strong opinions as to which is better. Putting it simply, if you are the kind of person who is only likely to use a steam cleaner for 2 hours maximum but is not a “clean freak”, then a reservoir traditional boiler system will do you just fine. On the other hand, if you are the kind of person who gets satisfaction from prolonged bouts of cleaning or has the necessity to use the machine for over 2 hours on a continuous basis and might get frustrated with waiting for a traditional machine to cool down and refill, then you would not dream of owning anything else but a continuous fill steam cleaner. In addition, continuous fill fans would also point out they do not have to contend with letting out any steam from a safety cap. Since there are two boilers in a continuous fill machine, all you would be doing is opening up the cap and adding water. Steam would never come out. Our WhiteWing Breeze steam cleaner is our best value continuous fill steam cleaner that is both lightweight with powerful steam pressure for maximum cleaning.
This is where the average consumer can get taken for a ride. Unfortunately, the new wave of consumer enthusiasm for vapor steam cleaners has resulted in a plethora of “quick profit, take your money and run” dealers who are selling sizzle on the outside and a “break down waiting to happen” on the inside. We have spent countless days both testing machines and sifting through manufacturers’ offerings. In the end, there are actually only a very few manufacturers who stand behind their machines and offer substantial warranties or facilities for repairs. After a few years, even the best steam cleaners will need some part replacing. The question is, will the machine you bought have spare parts and service available at that time? Unfortunately in most cases, the answer is no.
There is an old saying “you get what you pay for”. With many lower priced steam cleaners this is all too true and they become throwaway items for your trash after a year or so. Here are some durability features for steam cleaners to be aware of.
Metal-coated machines rather than plastic coated ones add to the durability over the years. We have not had any trouble with our higher end plastic encasing on machines but have heard of cheap ones in the marketplace that have been known to crack.
Most steam cleaners do not have an enclosed circuit board inside the machine, which means they will short out if moisture gets in to the machine.
The most sturdy of interior connections to steam cleaners are copper tubing and brass fittings, instead of the more usual rubber. Rubber breaks down or rots over time.
There is a debate between advocates of aluminum versus steam boilers. The bottom line is steel boilers are better if they are high grade steel and a good quality aluminum boiler is better than cheap steel. While stainless steel boilers will heat up faster, they are usually made of quite thin grade steel in the cheaper machines, and if they get pitted because of minerals in the water, they can become susceptible to pinholes and leaks. The heating element of a steel boiler will also get coated with minerals over a period of time if distilled water is not used, which will mean that the machine will gradually lose heating ability over time. Clearly the best option of all is a good quality steel boiler, as it will heat up faster, retain its heat longer and will be more durable. Beware of cheap imitations.
If the hose disconnects at the juncture of the machine casing, then there is less likelihood of breakage at that connection which happens as people tend to drag their machines around by the hose instead of picking them up to move them. If the hoses are reinforced with steel wires this also helps prevent this breakage as does extra long hoses which reduces the need for a steam cleaner to be actually moved when cleaning any particular room.
One of the objections we have encountered with a number of steam cleaner brands, is that in order to achieve high performance, you need to use a machine that is either quite heavy or bulky. When a steam cleaner is filled with water, it can be quite hefty and weigh over 30 lbs. What we have found is that the issue of weight becomes a lot easier if there is a decent handle on the machine or if you have a cart to push around the steam cleaner, especially if you have a one floor living or workplace. It is for this reason, we prefer to pack the accessory tools into a canvas bag and put them over our shoulder or put them onto the cart, since “tools on board” add to both the weight and bulk of steam cleaners.
We are very conscious about the importance of safety. Remember you are using high temperature steam to do your cleaning. We have rejected many steam cleaners where we have burned ourselves during testing, perfectly possible to do with poorly designed machines.
Look for an on/off trigger on the handle of your steam cleaner which we think is an excellent safety feature in case you accidentally leave the steam running(we have done this with a cheap machine and burned off the finish off a hardwood floor)
Safety caps are essential with reservoir machines and not all steam cleaners have them. In the unlikely circumstance of excess pressure (which is controlled by an internal thermostat) a safety cap would blow first and the steam would not blow up in someone’s face.
There is a pressure gauge which has a red zone for when the pressure is too high, and orange for too low, and thus you can easily regulate the machine for optimal (medium) pressure.
A good machine will shut itself off automatically when the water level becomes too low and the machine needs refilling.