/ Home & Energy

Is steam cleaner hype just a lot of hot air?

Everyone’s talking about steam cleaners right now, whether it’s about the way they make floors spotless or how they fight to kill off germs. But is the hype around steam cleaners justified by their performance?

In the last year, the steam cleaning market has boomed. But what’s getting everyone all steamed up? Are people tempted by the promise of cleaning without the elbow grease? Or is it the claims that steam cleaners can banish bacteria and make your home more hygienic?

From cleaning ovens to removing carpet stains, steam cleaners promise to take the effort out of cleaning a range of household grime. And by using steam, it means they can be effective without chemicals, saving you money on buying cleaning products.

All puff and no punch?

But having lab-tested 28 steam cleaners on sticky jam, soap scum, caked on mud and dried pasta sauce, only six became Best Buys. We found that some of the worst performing steam cleaners didn’t make cleaning any easier than if you’d done it by hand, with some models leaving water everywhere.

There are different types of steam cleaners and accessories, so it pays to make sure you choose the right one for the job you want to do.

So what of the claims that steam cleaners can effectively kill germs? Many manufacturers claim that their steam cleaners can remove 99% of harmful bacteria and, I must admit, the idea of killing all nasty bugs and making my home germ free is an enticing thought. Even more so as I live in a rented property where I’ve inherited most of the furniture; who knows how many dead skin cells remain from the previous owners? Yuck!

Banishing bacteria

But do steam cleaners really wipe out all bacteria? According to Allergy UK, there are a number of steam cleaners that efficiently reduce or remove allergens for the homes of those suffering from allergies and asthma.

And what happens if you miss spots, or don’t cover the area deeply enough? How much time do you need to spend on one spot? Is one minute, five minutes or ten minutes enough? Coupled with my inadequate cleaning abilities, I’m not sure I trust the power of steam enough to know for certain that all the germs are gone.

Having said that, after a quick online search for ‘bed bugs’, the gruesome facts and images I was faced with convinced me that anything’s worth a try! Have you been tempted to buy a steam cleaner? Or if you already own one, has it made the housework considerably easier?

Em says:
3 July 2012

I don’t have a steam cleaner, but I don’t see how squirting a few grams of steam at a cold surface is going to be effective at killing off much in the way of bacteria. Unless the surface itself is going to be heated to 60 degrees C or more, some of the bacteria are going to survive and will soon recolonize the area. Chlorine or “oxygen” bleach, or a detergent surface cleaner, where it is safe to use and leave some residue behind is going to be more effective.

In terms of steam cleaning your mattress, all you are doing is injecting water vapour deep into the fibres, which will condense and help to form ideal breeding conditions for all sorts of nasties, not only bugs, but moulds as well.


Neither chlorine bleach (based on sodium hypochlorite) or oxygen bleach (based on hydrogen peroxide) will leave an active residue. The first is converted to chlorine and salt, whereas the second becomes water and oxygen.

Steam is rather unpredictable because it is just condensed water droplets and can be well below boiling point.

Neither bleach nor steam will kill bacterial spores, but provided we keep our kitchens reasonably clean, be careful with uncooked meat etc and wash hands after using the toilet, there is no real need to wage war on bacteria or other microorganisms.

I completely agree that steam cleaning mattresses should not be steam cleaned for the reason you indicate, Em. Vacuuming and a protective cover designed for those who suffer from dust allergies is a good idea, whether or not you suffer for allergies. If any manufacturer of steam cleaners recommends them for mattresses or upholstery then someone needs to educate them.

My house is cleaner then yours ;-) says:
14 November 2013

Steam cleaners are GRREeeat! Mine does 350F, has many accessories and cleans everything it touches. I do windows, screens, Venetian blinds in a fraction of the time. My grout is like new and the ceramic floors are perfect with no water mark no white soap residue and they don’t stick when I walk on them.

Sinks, toilets and showers sparkle and are fun to clean now. Something I used to despise. Cleaning walls is a breeze with no rags or bucket to rinse. I had some kind of gunk outside my windows I could not clean no matter what I tried. The steam cleaner got rid of all that in minutes.

I could write pages of what my steam cleaner can do. My only regret is not knowing about those wonderful machines years earlier.


What brand are you using? I’m thinking of getting your brand of steam cleaner😄


Hi, What make of steam cleaner have you got?Im thinking of purchasing one and can’t decide which one to get.


To Caz re your query about steam cleaners. Did you get a reply to which steam cleaner the post “my house is cleaner than your house” had used, have you bought one, which is it and are you pleased with it? Any other advice please. The steamer I buy will be used mostly on quarry tiles.


Sue – You might like to look at a more recent Conversation about steam cleaners. The title is : “Are steam cleaners really better than a regular mop?” and it started on 13/11/13. There’s also another one called : “Have you joined the steam cleaning age?” dated 19/09/12. They include various users comments on particular models. Personally I don’t think there is one machine without a drawback but there are several that seem perform fairly well across a range of tasks. Happy steaming!

chris says:
9 July 2014


which steamer should i buy to clean my matters, I need a really hot steam.

many thanks


Please see the comment by Em at the top of this page. It is not a good idea to use a steam cleaner on a mattress.

Kev says:
5 August 2015

Interesting, i have been asked to clean 12-15 cars (externally) and also clean a professional football clubs changing rooms and showers to kill bacteria.
Also i know quite a few owners of restraunts who will need their kitchens cleaned on a regular basis.
What sort of steam cleaning machine would manage all of the above.


You should be looking at a professional machine, Kev. Products designed for home use are not designed for heavy use and you would invalidate the warranty using them in this way. It’s probably worth getting recommendations from those in the trade.

Torrya says:
21 August 2016

Please don’t buy Shark ST901UK11 as we did a big mistake buying it after listening somebody’s (store person) advise :/. Its absolutely useless! Steam is coming but its hardly a warm steam, not even close to be proper warm, or hot, it washes not better then old fashioned hand-mop.We bought a steam mop with hope that it will help to eliminate bacteria and it will be no hassle to mop :/, not the case!

Eamon Gaffney says:
12 January 2017

Good to know you are happy with your steam cleaner. I wish to purchase one – what make is your model ? – sounds an effective cleaner.
Eamon Gaffney

Cyckiv says:
8 April 2018

I know this is an old comment but, if you happen to read this, which Steam Cleaner do you have? It sounds amazing and just what I need. Would love to know the brand/model

Don B says:
4 July 2012

Have had a mop type steam cleaner for several years that we boought from Lakeland. We
have tiled floors and the steam cleaner does a brilliant job especially on the grouting between
the tiles. It is good around the bathroom as it hygenically cleans the floor around the toilet
etc., I usually pass the cleaner over the tiling slowly which heats up the tiles and is very
effective. I is also very effective on the rugs.

kerry says:
2 February 2013

I used to clean homes and businesses and churches proffessionally. I know that those small steam cleaners cannot..get around the basin of the toilet clean…esp when it’s not sealed or doesn’t have sealing around the base of the toilet and the foor. I have found the commercials very misguided when they show a really clean toilet base..with no urine around it..no urine runs on the base of it either..so it either a brand new toilet..or someone has cleaned it before they use the steam cleaner…its been precleaned before the steam cleaner is used. so one is doing twice the cleaning in twice the amount of time..and the commercial shows different…and i find it totally misleading and false advertisement.

Peter says:
7 February 2018

Fully agree. I am professional cleaner from 8 years, sadly steam cleaners are not efficient at all when need to remove old grease in kitchens or deposit of limescale in the bathroom 🙁


Have used a hand steam cleaner for doing grouting with some success, but it gets very messy if your not careful and the tank constantly needs topping up. When looking at bigger cleaners for floors etc. I found plenty of reviews saying that people were left with damp floors/carpets that took ages to dry (irrespective of the claims by manufacturers) and a general suggestion of dissatisfaction in the results – hence dissuading me from purchasing a larger one.


I’ve have two steam ‘cleaners’ one I’ve had years and is primarily a wall paper stripper but does clean large flat areas well too but is awkward.to use The other is a lightweight multi purpose device that does everything from de-creasing clothing and drapes to cleaning windows and floors with special attachments -. this has some limitations.

First I have never been obsessed by “germs”. For the average healthy person – the present obsession is completely unnecessary. As my many years of tent camping testifies – as several reports support..

Now I have three large dogs who have free access the garden in all weathers and are not too particular whether they wipe their feet or not on the way in – But they do lick the floor – not to mention eat bones and treats off the floor – so I will not use bleach or other chemical cleaners – as I know of dogs being ‘poisoned’ by such additives – so much for safe.

For the steam cleaner to be effective it is best to clean the least dirty items first. My floors are tiled – plastic or ceramic – the bathroom and kitchen tiled. So I steam clean windows first – they dry smear free – Then kitchen units (the cleaner breaks up into three units – handle – steamer – head) These are easy to clean – though a longer time is needed for dried deposits but because the steam is hot and and damp even the most stubborn deposit melts.fast (as fast as any other cleaner I’ve used). Unless it is a BIG dollop (but that’s the same for traditional cleaning). Then last the floors – if slightly dirty they clean fast – dry while watching – and the removable mop head does the trick using only one head – if badly dirty (say wet outside) then two mop heads are required for just the kitchen.

As an entomologist may I point out hot steam is around 100 degrees (otherwise it wouldn’t be steam it would be water) – so “bug” eggs are boiled to death – Though to be honest I vacuum mattresses. May I also point out chemical cleaners do not destroy ALL the germs and bacteria and the survivors free to multiply – but worse many of them survive resistant to the cleaning agent used and so are even harder to eradicate.

The steamer does an excellent job cleaning the toilet bowl inside and out – plus in the corners around the sink. due to the special attachments..

Finally it is really excellent to steam the creases out of shirts or curtains – a hell of a lot easier than ironing – simply hang the item on a hanger and move the steamer and attachment up and down and the creases vanish, The shirt is dry ‘instantly’.

All in all an excellent product – as otherwise I would have to vacuum as well wash the floors with an increasingly dirty cloth- The steam cleaner with attachments does the job of both.

richard says:
3 February 2013

Thought I’d add that I bought two extra floor mop cloths for my steam cleaner – making it four in all – This allows me to steam clean all three floors in one day – The Ground floor contains the Kitchen with back garden dog door and the main living room plus the hall and front door. So this has the main traffic and is the dirtiest – So the mop picks up vast amount of dirt – two mops is only just enough to clean the floor (after doing the walls and windows) without leaving a deposit – as used to happen using the traditional squeegee mop and bucket.
The extra mops allow the other “cleaner” floors to be done in one go – one mop per floor. – So washing the dirty mops in one go. The larger mops are not used for the toilet or sink or bath – but the brush attachments do clean the ceramic items well – I usually finish off with the smaller mop head. The overall effect is good.


You make no mention of the makers name. I bought what I thought was a top of the range steam cleaner 6 or 7 years ago and paid £232 for it form a catalogue and it was totally useless. I am thinking of buying another one hoping technology has improved but I can’t make up my mind what to get !


Thank you for all your useful comments and advice.

I hadn’t even thought about the concern of a mattress getting dam if steamed.If you are keen to do it, it’s certainly a job that would need to be done first thing in the morning and left in a well ventilated room to air all day. If vacuuming instead to remove allergens, just be aware that this will increase the number for allergens in the air around 20 minutes.

When it comes to your kitchen, it’s important to keep on top of cleaning, wiping surfaces down each day after meals, and taking simple steps to avoid bacteria spreading, such as washing hands.

We’ve heard from a variety of reports that some steam cleaners work well on tiles and hard floors in particular. There certainly is a benefit to not having to use chemicals, whether this is to be environmentally friendly, cut costs or avoid using harsh substances where animals and children are concerned.

What type of steam cleaner have people found is more useful. And what jobs have they been better suited to? It appears that they really can multitask?


You make a very good point about vacuuming increasing allergen problems temporarily. We have very effective vacuum cleaners and some have very effective filtration, but the powerful exhaust will blow around dust on floors and walls even in rooms that are quite clean.

Asthmatics should vacuum their bedrooms in the morning and certainly not last thing at night.

Windchimes says:
29 May 2017

I have had a vax steam mop for around 2 years now. It was a best buy. It is quick on ceramic tiled kitchen and bathroom floors. The scrubber is particularly good for cleaning old grout, although it improved with repeated use, rather than instantly. Not impressive when used to clean the grout of bathroom floor tiles though, which is white and remains grubby looking .It dries much more quickly than the mop and bucket method. You do need to vacuum the floor well before steam mopping otherwise dust gets chased around the floor. Leaves a subtle sheen on ceramic tiles. Easy to use, although heavy to carry upstairs. Tried cleaning/freshening a light coloured carpet, found it ineffective. Fair result on berber type textured stair carpet. It has a replaceable hard water filter and vax steam cleaner liquid. I was also advised to use deionised water with it as tap water was likely to cause it to scale up rapidly. I like it as an alternative to the mop and bucket, it is a very efficient steam mop.


Hi Liz, I was wondering – is it okay to use steam cleaners on laminate flooring? So far, my parents have avoided steam cleaners because my Dad is convinced it will damage his floors. Do you know if that’s true?


Hi Jennifer

We’ve tested steam cleaners on wood laminate floors, which has been fine. However, it does depend on which model you go for as to what it is designed for and how well it actually works.

Take a look at our full advice guide for more tips and to see which ones did well in our tests: http://www.which.co.uk/home-and-garden/home-appliances/guides/how-we-test-steam-cleaners/

christine weatherley says:
3 January 2013

My cleaner just makes lots of steam……so walls etc get damp can’t see that this cleans anything…the oven is hot and wet…the shelves still have burnt of grease….the bathroom just filled up with steam as it is quite small when steam cleared wasn’t any cleaner but was damp….isn’t damp bad for things…..I had to have the extractor fans on…certainly grease wasn’t melting off anything………….

38tyler says:
6 March 2014

I could not agree with you more. I have 2 steam cleaners, a Shark and a Vax Duet and all they do is leave everything wet. I used the hand held Shark in the bathroom and achieved virtualy nothing. The grout was little difference and the whole bathroom took hours.Great if you want an impromptu sauna though.The floor Vax is probably as effective, removes NONE of the ingrained dirt, but does leave the floor shiningly wet.Overall synopsis, save your money, they do not work!

chetan says:
20 June 2013

I am from India and I am planning to buy Karcher Steam cleaner to clean my house espcially my toilets. Whether is worth buying Steam Cleaner?

Annette says:
27 July 2013

Hello is it ok to use a steam cleaner on a bath?

richard says:
27 July 2013

I use my H20 to clean the bath – it’s a lot easier than the usual method – the only wet surfaces I have are in the kitchen and toilet but easy to dry – so does kitchen and toilets really well – The rest of house are wooden floors which are dry when steamed – The only thing it doesn’t do well are carpets ( which are a minimum in my dog filled house – a couple of small squares) So I’m very pleased with the result – not theory as so many posts are – practical experience says with care modern light weight steam cleaners are great.


I strongly believe that the current obsession with eliminating germs destroys the bacteria that prevents hay fever and allergies.

I was born into a brand new home with brand new furniture that would have lacked germs. As a child, hay fever was virtually unheard of but I suffered with it badly.

None of my younger siblings suffered with hay fever. Our home was clean but there would have been traces of my grubby hands on walls, furniture, toys etc. that my siblings would have benefitted from.


Bacteria do not prevent hay fever and allergies.