A Comprehensive Guide to Steam Vapor Cleaning.

Ever wonder how steam vapor cleaning became so popular? Why it works? Maybe even the costs to buy and own one? Well we cover all aspects of steam cleaning in this convenient, comprehensive guide to steam cleaning. 

The History of Steam Cleaning

There is really nothing quite like knowing you’ve cleaned something so well that it’s virtually new. Unfortunately, this is so difficult to do most times. In today’s fast-paced society there is often little time to really dig deep into getting that stain out of the carpet, cleaning the toys in the baby’s room, or actually getting rid of all that bacteria in the kitchen. Check out our top 10 cleaning jobs that are made easy with a steam cleaner for more great uses for your steam cleaner.

In the 1960’s, Italian boiler manufacturers started to experiment with steam vapor as a means to clean tough stains, grease, and oil from trains, ships, engines, and power stations. Highly pressurized, low moisture steam has been embraced by Europeans for years until they really saw the potential.

Steam vapor cleaners were never popular in the United States until recently. Voltage standards between the USA and Europe made steam cleaners seemed impractical as they wouldn’t be able to produce enough steam at high pressure. Steam cleaners now are able to produce blisteringly hot steam, up to 330 degrees Fahrenheit by using the US standard 115 volts. Steam cleaning couldn’t become more popular at the right time as ecological cleaning methods are sought after by so many.

What is Steam Cleaning and How Does it Work?

Steam vapor cleaning is done with a machine that uses nothing but tap water to create true steam, usually, around 250 degrees Fahrenheit to sanitize, clean, and deodorize without the use of any chemicals. Small vapor molecules penetrate the surface and rapidly expand to force out dirt and pretty much anything else that shouldn’t be there. It’s ability to kill dust mites, bed bugs, viruses, mold, fleas, and eggs is a huge bonus and make it ideal for allergy sufferers. Keep in mind that it doesn’t keep things from coming back into the same areas, so it’s best to repeat every 8-10 weeks to keep the pests at bay.

Steam vapor cleaning uses a “dry” steam vapor to clean various types of surfaces. The low moisture steam can be considered a mess-free way of cleaning as the steam leaves behind almost no moisture. Carpets can be dry in 10-15 minutes and there’s no need to wipe up or mop after cleaning hard surfaces unless there were heavily soiled areas in which the dirt has been loosened up. It’s recommended to use a vacuum cleaner to suck up the loose dirt after the carpet is completely dry.

Is Steam Cleaning Safe?

Operating a steam cleaner is as safe as running a vacuum cleaner. It just requires filling up a water reservoir, allowing the unit to heat up and pressurize, then selecting various attachments best suited for the job at hand. Yes, you can burn yourself with a steam cleaner, however, it would be difficult unless you were very careless. We recommend thoroughly reading the manufactures guidelines of the steam cleaner you own and make sure you understand how to use it.

Does Steam Cleaning Really Work?

Yes! With temperatures over 220 degrees, any bed bugs, mold, viruses, dust mites, bacteria, etc will be destroyed. Heavily soiled carpets will need vacuumed and possibly spot treated prior to steam cleaning. You will also want to use a HEPA vacuum cleaner to vacuum the area once the carpet is completely dry to pick up everything that has been loosened up.

There are many uses for a steam cleaner beyond what is considered normal. Grills, litter boxes, bird cages, golf clubs, kids toys and stuffed animals…. You get the idea here, nearly endless possibilities.

What NOT to Use Your Steam Cleaner On

It’s tempting to go crazy once you’ve figured out how great steam cleaning can be. However, there are some things you will certainly want to avoid cleaning.

  • Anything with water-based paint
  • Any paper products, cardboard, etc
  • Porous surfaces, brick, stucco, marble, etc
  • Delicate fabrics. Silk, velour upholstery
  • Thin plastics
  • Unsealed laminate floors
  • Electronics

Replace Chemicals with Steam

Steam cleaning’s huge advantage (other than doing an amazing job of course) is its ability to clean without the use of harmful chemicals. Think about your baby toys for a minute, these toys always end up in their mouth at some point so do you really want to use a Clorox wipe on that? How about chemical contact on your body throughout the day in your home? Chemicals are harmful to the planet and your body. Some of these chemicals are likely to produce eye, nose, and lung irritation, as well as cancer in some instances.

Steam Cleaner vs Carpet Cleaner

Carpet cleaners or carpet shampoo machines are often confused with steam cleaners. These carpet shampooers are used to clean entire rooms of carpet. You’ve often seen these used commercially when moving into a new apartment. Carpet cleaners use hot water and chemicals to treat and loosen dirt in the carpet and the vacuum portion of the machine immediately sucks up the dirty water and suds into its reservoir. This works very well for large areas where the entire area isn’t severely soiled. The downside to these machines is that the carpets are often left soaking wet and cannot be walked on for 1-3 days!

Steam cleaners, on the other hand, use steam with a very little percentage of the steam-containing water, so carpets are nearly dry when complete. Steam vapor cleaners also do not use chemicals and clean by blasting clean water into the areas and forcing the dirt loose with the expanding molecules. Steam cleaners are designed to spot clean carpets more so than cleaning the entire room. Steam vapor cleaners are also much more versatile. The same machine you use to clean your carpet can be used to clean your tile and grout, your kitchen, grill, and car. A carpet cleaner on the other hand, well that machine will do your carpet and that’s it.

Read more: Steam cleaners vs carpet cleaners

Important Features When Buying a Steam Cleaner

When buying a steam cleaner, there are a few features that will separate a good steam cleaner from a bad one. It’s important not to be consumed with marketing tactics or needless features and attachments you’ll never use. These four features will ensure you are making a good purchase.

Heat-Up Time

Heat up time is the time it takes for a steam cleaner to heat and pressurize the water that's been added to the reservoir. While this doesn’t affect the overall performance and ability to clean, it does play a big role in user experience and the time it takes to complete a job. A high-end steam cleaner will heat water for about 5 minutes while most will hover in the 7-15 minute range.

Continuous Refill

A steam cleaner with continuous refill means that the unit has two tanks, a boiler and a cold water tank. The benefit of this is that you can fill the cold water tank while working as the boiler has retained heat and still has some hot water left in the tank. Without this cold water reservoir, the unit would need to reheat the new water before you could restart your task, making your cleaning job take considerably longer to complete. For commercial use, the continuous refill is required.

Steam Pressure

Steam pressure affects the ability of the unit to clean consistently. Pressure and heat combined are what makes the steam while the higher the pressure, the quicker the steam will be made. If your unit’s pressure isn’t consistent, then the steam produced won’t be consistent either. Nothing can be more frustrating that your steam cleaner doing excellent one minute and then performing poorly the next.

Good quality steam cleaners will come with a pressure gauge to ensure your unit is maintaining steady pressure and in turn, producing good steam.

Steam Volume Control

Since steam cleaners can be used on many different types of surfaces, the ability to control the steam volume will help immensely in the overall ease of use. For example, cleaning a hard surface such as a countertop, you can turn the volume down so that there isn’t a lot of water left behind.

Costs to Own a Steam Cleaner

Steam cleaners come in various shapes, sizes, and targeted uses. Steam mops are great for quick jobs specifically on the floor and can be purchased for less than $100 in some cases. Check out our review of a top selling steam mop on amazon to see if a steam mop is for you. A good multi-purpose steam cleaner, one with an array of attachments can cost anywhere from $200-$500 and can be expected to produce good results inside the home. For commercial use or tough, outdoor uses, these mid-level steam cleaners won’t be enough. For the top of the line commercial steam cleaners, you can expect to pay $2000-$5000 for one. They will be the best performing, longest lasting steam cleaners money can buy. Ladybug steam cleaners feature hospital grade cleaning abilities and are marketed towards commercial users. Ladybug steam cleaners fall in at just about $2000 and are a great performing steam cleaner at that price point.

Since steam cleaners clean solely with steam. There are no additional costs for shampoo or chemicals. The only other expense would be electricity to run them. You shouldn’t expect your steam cleaner use to surpass a few bucks a month.

There comes a time when things will break or need to be replaced. This will largely depend on the unit and the old saying “you get what you pay for” comes into play for sure. Buying a mid-level steam cleaner with a good warranty from the manufacturer should keep you worry free from spending additional cash just to keep the unit running.


Hello, My name in Angela and I'm obsessed with cleaning! Some say i'm a bit OCD but that's OK I guess. I have 2 kids at home and it's always a struggle to keep things clean.

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