Tired of hauling buckets of water to mop your floors? Sick of disposable mopping products that can't even clean an entire room? If you live in a home with hard, sealed floors (i.e., NOT hardwood), keeping them clean can become so much easier with a steam mop. But not all steam mops are created equal — some are better at getting under furniture, some excel at getting out old stains, and others work just as well on your shower tiles as your synthetic flooring. To figure out which type of steam mop will best fit your needs — and your budget — read on.
But First, the Floor
Before you get all excited about your new steam mop, do some digging to find out exactly what your flooring is made out of. Many commonly used flooring types simply cannot handle the high heat a steam mop puts out, including hardwood, laminate, and vinyl. While many people say you can carefully clean these surfaces with a steam mop by keeping it moving and using a low temperature, doing so may not only still destroy your floor but may also void your warranty.
Synthetic floors are made by pressing layers together and adding a sealant on top, and the heat, even from low steam, can cause them to bubble, peel, and crack. Hardwood floors are porous, even when sealed, and blasting hot water into them is a sure way to cause warping and premature decay. Even floors with waterproof ratings made of any of these three materials are still not up to the task of withstanding a steam mop over an extended time.
Sure, if the seal on your floor is perfect, it should be protected from any negative impacts of steam. However, seals don't last forever and often have imperfections even when the floor is brand new. Any crack in the seal will then let in steam, which in turn can lead to mildew problems and warping. Bottom line, we wouldn't feel comfortable using steam mops on the wood and laminate floors of our own homes.
Benefits of Steam Cleaning
Once you know your floors can handle it, there are many benefits to steam cleaning over traditional mopping. Some of the models available also have even more benefits specific to their design, features, and attachments.
If you've been using the old mop and bucket routine, we don't have to tell you how annoying it is to cart around a bucket of dirty water while you try to clean every room in your house. It's easy to spill, and an old spongey mop often leaves the floor quite wet after you're finished cleaning. A steam mop takes away both of those problems. With a water tank right on the unit, you'll never have to cart an open bucket of water around again. Simply fill it up at the sink and empty it the same way. Additionally, as anyone who's ever hand-washed dishes can attest to, using hot water to clean is far more effective at removing grime and stains than using lukewarm or cold water. Steam cleaning also uses far less water than traditional cleaning and allows your floors to dry much faster.
Much like a vacuum or a broom, having a simple tool that works exactly the way you want can help you build cleaning habits. With a steam mop in your arsenal, you no longer have to walk through the front hall, pretending you don't see the footprints or last month's mud. Simply pull out the steam cleaner as part of your regular routine. If you're really into cutting down your cleaning routine, look into a steam mop that combines several aspects of cleaning into one single unit — some can vacuum and mop, saving you time on that end. Others can mop your floor, scrub your shower, and clean your counters by just swapping attachments.
Though it's tempting to say that using a steam mop is faster than the traditional way of mopping, getting efficient with your mop takes some time. You'll still need to sweep or vacuum your floors beforehand (unless you get a vacuum/mop combo unit), and it does take time for the water in the tank to heat up. The mop pad must also cool before you can remove it (unless you're buying one of those hands-free models), and you'll need to wash the mop pads between uses — either by hand or by tossing them in the washing machine.
Most traditional mopping routines involve adding some sort of soap or chemical treatment to your bucket of water before spreading it all over the floor with your mop. While this old method probably does kill some bacteria and may help treat your floors, it's very outdated and can easily introduce chemicals into the natural world on the bottoms of your feet as you walk outside. Even using disposable wipes isn't a particularly environmentally friendly option, as they still leave behind chemicals and create waste as you toss them in the trash.
Steam mops, on the other hand, use the high heat of steam as a method of disinfecting, eliminating the need for you to purchase and use extra chemicals that can contribute to the poisoning of your local ecosystem. Though we didn't test these mops' abilities to remove bacteria, it's the same proven principle as boiling water. If sanitation is high on your list of reasons to mop your floor, a steam mop makes that both easier and less environmentally damaging.
Stubborn Stain Removal
Because steam mops pump out hot steam, many of them are far better at removing seriously stubborn stains that just won't come out with simple elbow grease and a scrub brush. Quite a few of them have brushes that can either be flipped into place for spot cleaning or fully attached for serious scrubbing. We've never had such clean grout and under-counter areas as we do when we're using a steam mop with a scrubbing attachment.
More Than Just the Floors
While many steam mops keep things simple and just clean the floor, a growing number of models include a great array of attachments and features that help them clean hard surfaces all around your home. Some of the models we tested are great for cleaning your entire tiled shower, the stone backsplash behind your kitchen sink, and even those new granite countertops.
How Do I Choose the Right Steam Mop?
Now that you know just how much your floor and your lifestyle can benefit from having a steam mop handy, how do you go about choosing the right one? We'll go through it, step by step, to help you narrow down the type of mop that will work the best for you.
Step 1: How Much Surface Area Do You Need to Clean?
Just like cleaning with an old mop and bucket, at some point, everything is too dirty to continue. In the case of steam mops, swapping out a mop pad is simple enough. The only catch is that when you're using hot steam, you'll need to wait a bit for the pad to cool down before you can put on a new one. In our experience, waiting for it to cool takes less than a minute. If you'd rather not wait, a few models we tested have a hands-free option for removing the dirty mop pad and replacing it with a new clean one.
If you have a large floor you're hoping to clean all at once, having multiple mop pads is a great way to get all the way through your cleaning before needing to rinse any of them. And while you can throw just about all of the pads in the washing machine, if you need to rinse and replace them on the go, they're pretty simple to clean in your kitchen sink.
Most of the steam mops we tested can make it through the "normal" dirtiness of two medium-sized rooms (like a kitchen and dining room or a kitchen and two smaller bathrooms) before the mop pad is dirty enough to warrant being swapped out. Of course, extra messes and larger areas will change that. It's ideal to find an option that includes at least two mop pads, though not totally necessary if you're willing to hand rinse them between rooms.
What About Water Tank Capacity?
If you have very large areas or many rooms to clean, aiming for a model with a larger water tank can prevent you from having to refill partway through. The vast majority of the units we tested have 300-500ml tanks, which proved more than adequate for our standard cleaning. If you need to scrub many big rooms or spend longer spot cleaning counters or extra dirty areas, it's possible to run out, but a little steam goes a pretty long way. Unless you're a chronic deep cleaner, the average water tank size will get you through most jobs.
Step 2: How Messy Is Your Surface?
Most models will do the trick if all you need is to clear away the daily or weekly dirt that accumulates from pretty normal use. Or perhaps you're less of a regular cleaner and more of a once-a-year spring deep cleaner. In that case, consider investing in a burlier model that performs better on deep stains and built-up grit. Notably, models with scrubbing parts and adjustable steam will help here.
Step 3: How Much Steam Do You Need?
In general, less is more when it comes to steam cleaning — if you're doing it regularly. However, if you don't have a set cleaning schedule, consider getting a model with adjustable steam. When dirt is minimal, low steam will do the trick. But if it's been a few months or there's been a particularly dirty incident in your home, you may need high steam to really get the grime out. If you're not sure how often you'll be using your steam mop, we recommend getting one that has at least two steam settings on it to give you the ability to tailor it to your needs.
Step 4: How Hard Do You Want to Work?
Things that may seem minor, like how easy it is to fill the water tank or how responsive the controls are, can actually make or break a steam mop. While most are easy to use, a few force you to jam the entire unit sideways under your kitchen sink to fill the reservoir. Not all mop heads are created equal, either. If all you have in your home is smooth tile, just about any will glide easily over the surface. That's not necessarily the case for ceramic or stone flooring, so be sure to read our reviews about how each model performs over different types of surfaces.
Additionally, though it at first seems like a simple detail, the inability of a steam mop to stay standing upright on its own can quickly become very annoying. If it falls over every time you stop to go get a new cleaning pad or move a piece of furniture, you might get annoyed. Free-standing models take the worry out of walking away from your steam mop — it won't come crashing down when you turn your back. Some even go the extra mile, with hands-free power buttons, hands-free mop pad replacements, and simple-to-remove attachments.
Step 5: How Far Do You Need to Reach?
If it's hard to get your steam mop into all the nooks and crannies around your home, you may end up pulling out a hand rag or even a traditional mop to do that touch-up work. To avoid making your job even harder, look closely at the steam mop you're considering purchasing. Straight mop head edges and a pad that wraps all the way around those edges make it easier to glide along baseboards, while narrower heads are better for reaching between appliances or into narrow spaces. If you plan to mop under furniture, look for a steam mop with a pivoting head that allows you to stretch it below your couch without too much effort.
Step 6: What Accessories Do You Need?
If you're a fan of cleaning a bunch of different things in your house all at the same time, consider models with additional attachments. While many include more obvious options that help you spot scrub the floor, some go above and beyond. We tested some steam mops that stretch far beyond the floor, with hoses and attachments that will allow you to get the gunk out of the shower grout and sanitize the kitchen counters all in one go. If you'd like to steam clean more than just your floor, look carefully into the attachments and hose length of the model you intend to purchase.
Though not every surface can handle a steam mop, they're a fantastic addition to your cleaning arsenal — as long as you're not in danger or ruining anything with their high heat. No matter if you want to ditch the old mop and bucket, are looking for a more eco-friendly and chemical-free cleaning option, or want to deep clean every hard surface in your home, there's a steam mop that can do the job.