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Updated May 17, 2022 2:02 PM

If the area under your sink is a hodgepodge of spray bottles and solvents meant to clean your hardwood floors, carpets, appliances, and upholstery, it may be time to downsize by upgrading to a steam cleaner. This could be all you need to safely and effectively sanitize your home—sans harsh bleaching agents—including all the various surfaces, fabrics, and materials that entails. In fact, steam is the CDC’s recommended method for sanitizing your home.

A steam cleaner does what it sounds like: heats up water until it vaporizes, then uses that water to disinfect and sanitize. Because it’s a green way to clean, it’s a great option for anyone eco-conscious or with allergies. Some studies have even shown steam cleaning to effectively fight mold, bacteria, viruses—even bed bugs (eek).

If you’re ready to invest in the best house cleaning tools, figure out what you need from the device before you buy. Will you be using it primarily on hardwood floors? Or is your home carpeted? Do you want something that will pull triple-duty as a floor-cleaning tool, a handheld contraption for hard-to-reach places, and an upholstery steamer? Then you need something multipurpose. Use our guide to find the best steam cleaner for your particular needs, even if you’re on a tight budget.

Features to consider when shopping for the best steam cleaners

The best steam cleaner for someone with rooms full of wall-to-wall carpet and upholstery may not be the right option for someone who’s just looking for an extra layer of sanitation on all the hard surfaces of the kitchen and bathroom. And it may be different, still, for someone who wants to break out the machine once a year for a super-deep spring cleaning. Whether you’re looking for a basic floor cleaner, something to deep-clean the carpets, or an upholstery cleaner to finally knock that seemingly permanent layer of dust off the furniture, there’s a device that’s right for you.

What should I look for in a carpet steam cleaner?

Instead of outsourcing your rug cleaning (expensive!) or just vacuuming (doesn’t sanitize), steam cleaning at home not only removes stains from your carpets but also disinfects thanks to the high heat. That means it can kill mold spores, germs, and bugs, while also refreshing your carpet, giving it new life.

Parents—of human children and furbabies alike—can also take comfort in knowing that steam cleaning uses nothing but hot water to get the job done. So your kids and pets are safe to roll around and do whatever it is they do on the carpet without your worrying about what potentially harmful solvents they’re lying on.

Things to consider when contemplating the best steam cleaner for you come down to what surfaces you’ll be using it for, whether you prefer something handheld or with a canister, and how much money you want to spend.

Best for carpets: McCulloch MC1275 Heavy-Duty Steam Cleaner



Though the best steam cleaner for carpet is heavier than some of its peers—12 pounds, to be precise—a 15-foot-long power cord and a 9-foot steam hose make it easy to maneuver all over your home or business.

What about the best floor cleaner for surfaces that aren’t carpeted?

If you’re working with hard surfaces, especially wood, you need to make sure the cleaner you’ve chosen is compatible to avoid any damage. First, double-check that your floors are sealed, and that goes for other materials, too, like linoleum, granite, and marble. If they’re not sealed, do not steam them. (The best thing to do is check with the manufacturer, but a quick test is to spill a few droplets of water on the floor. If they bead, you’re sealed.)

Once you’ve confirmed that your floors are appropriate for steaming, choose the proper gentle accessory—for example, a flat-surface tool (not a scrub brush or scraper) and make sure to set your machine to “low.” The last thing you want to do while sanitizing your floors is to accidentally damage them.

Best for floors: Bissell PowerFresh Slim Hard Wood Floor Steam Cleaner System



The best floor steam cleaner? A Bissell steam cleaner is pretty much the gold standard in the category. All the accessories conveniently hook onto the base, which still weighs only 6 pounds, making it easy to schlep around. The 25-foot power cord makes it easy to move around, and it can be used everywhere from your grout to the inside of your oven.

What if I want cleaning tools that I can hold in my hand instead of lugging around?

Handheld steam cleaners offer the most adaptability, versatility, and convenience. They tend to be relatively lightweight for easy maneuverability, especially in tight corners.

If you’re looking for something that can clean every surface of your house—from the soap stains on your vanity to the grease marks on your hutch to the wrinkles in your sheets—you can’t go wrong with a handheld. These are great for detail-oriented cleaners.

Best handheld: Handheld Pressurized Steam Cleaner



This lightweight, 350-milliliter capacity, handheld steam cleaner is great for whipping out at a moment’s notice. Toddler spill something? Pet make a mess? Just want to give that wrinkly dress of yours the once over? Grab the handheld steamer and you’re set. It heats up in three to four minutes and delivers 20 minutes of steam.

What if you need a device that doubles as an upholstery cleaner?

The best upholstery cleaner is a spot cleaner, which uses suction and vapor to get into even the most down and dirty stains. And the best part about steaming your fabric-covered furniture is that because you’re using only water, you’re relatively safe from damage. (Just use your instincts. For example, don’t use a steamer on your leather armchair.)

Especially if you have fabric-covered furniture and you also have pets, an upholstery cleaner is a must. You’ll suction up and destroy dirt, dander, germs, and whatever else your pets (or guests) may have tracked in.

Best upholstery cleaner: Hoover ONEPWR Spotless GO Cordless Carpet and Upholstery Spot Cleaner



You get their Paws & Claws stain remover with your purchase of the best upholstery cleaner, which is great if you’re looking to amp up the power of your steam cleaner beyond plain water. Just always remember two words before you get started: Patch. Test.

I can’t decide which kind of steam cleaners are best for me—is there one that does it all?

There is! A multipurpose cleaner delivers concentrated shots of vapor into those hard-to-reach places you may have never thought about steaming. Ever knelt down and use a Q-tip to clean the goopy track of your shower door? No longer! What about the grimy grout between all your tiles? Forget about it.

A multipurpose steamer lets you seriously sanitize—with minimal effort—those places you dread the most. High-pressure concentrated vapor wipes out dirt with no additional cleaning solvent or elbow grease required.

Best multipurpose: Bissell Steam Shot Deluxe Hard-Surface Cleaner



At just 4.5 pounds, you can tote this Bissel steam cleaner around looking for surfaces begging to be blasted. And it takes just 30 seconds to warm up. Steaming can tackle ceramic, laminate, vinyl, granite, marble, fabric, and sealed wood, making it our pick for the best multi-purpose steam cleaner.

Best on a budget: What you can get for under $55

Expensive isn’t necessarily better when it comes to finding the best steam cleaner for you. Especially if you end up intimidated by contraptions with lots of bells and whistles (and therefore end up not using them), there’s nothing wrong with keeping things simple and affordable. You may end up with a smaller capacity tank, or a model that takes a little longer to heat up, but the best device on a budget will still get the job done.

Best budget: LIGHT ‘N’ EASY Floor Steamers Steam Mop



A flexible head and 20-foot cord let you get into hard-to-reach places. This cheap floor mop uses vapor to clean and also heats up in only 20 seconds. But if you want to use this one on the rugs, you’ll need to buy separate accessories.


Q: How long does steam take to kill bacteria?

No time at all! Well, practically no time. As long as the steam is hot enough (between 175 and 212 degrees Fahrenheit, though even higher is better), three minutes should do the trick. When you’re using a steam cleaner on floors, remember to vacuum first.

Q: What happens to the dirt when you steam clean?

It’s true: Matter cannot be created or destroyed. So if you’re steaming a surface in order to clean it, even though it looks like the grime may have just disappeared, it hasn’t. The dirt gets picked up when you wipe it away. You steam mop the floor, and the dirt adheres to the reusable or disposable pad.

Q: What should you not steam clean?

Avoid delicate fabrics like silk, leather, and suede; porous surfaces like stucco and brick; any unsealed wood, granite, or marble; and anything that’s been painted. When in doubt, skip the steam.

A final word on shopping for the best steam cleaners

Whether everybody in your house has a cold and you want to sanitize every single surface, or you’re just looking to upgrade your arsenal of cleaning tools with an easy-to-use, convenient, hypoallergenic machine, a steam cleaner may be for you. With nothing but piping-hot water, the best steam cleaner will wipe out every dust mite, microbe, and dirt fleck that dares set foot in your home.