How do you find the best steam mop? Turns out it's a bit like being a kid; you make a big mess, and then you have to clean it up. Over and over again. Except, at least for now, we didn't have any parents yelling at us.
A steam mop is useless if it doesn't properly clean the floors, so this was our most heavily weighted testing metric. We focused most of our testing on tile and stone flooring, as these are both the safest surfaces on which to use a steam mop and the ones these mops tend to clean the best. We also did some tests on vinyl flooring, but we would not recommend using a steam mop on such a surface. In fact, many vinyl flooring manufacturers count using a steam mop on their floors as grounds for voiding the warranty. So why did we do this test? Because even though we personally would not use a steam mop on our own vinyl flooring, we know that many people out there will want to do so anyway.
For all the surfaces where we tested cleaning performance, we first made a uniform and realistic mess. This involved mixing dirt and water in a paint tray to make mud, sloshing our feet in said mixture, then walking around the floor in a grid pattern. In the other areas, we painted on a concoction of ketchup and coffee grounds. After all that mess-making, we let everything dry and set for 2 hours, then got to cleaning. We divided each floor into lanes, using one mop on each to compare their cleaning side-by-side.
Old stubborn, set-in stains were a bit harder to come by. Luckily our neighbors granted us access to their floors, and we were able to find enough old stains to effectively test all of our mops in these types of scenarios.
As mentioned above, we spent a lot of time cleaning with all of these mops. Throughout that process, we took careful notes on all of the little annoyances we encountered while using them. We focused on how easy it was to fill the water tanks and how easy it was to change the cleaning pads. We also noted whether or not the water tank was clear so you could check in on the water level and how quickly each model was able to get up to steaming temperature.
Our maneuverability testing focused on two things: how smoothly each mop glided along the floor and how easy it was to get into corners and edges. Mops with smoother glide were much more pleasant to use. Most mops have cleaning pads that could easily get into corners and along edges, but some mops couldn't get as much steam to the edges of the cleaning pad. If a mop could clean an edge in a single pass, it earned a perfect score in this test. If the steam was weak at the extremes of the cleaning pad, requiring multiple passes and some scrubbing to get the edges clean, the mop earned a lower score.
Many people are attracted to steam mops because of the potential accessories meant to clean more than just floors. In our features testing, we evaluated all of the different accessories each model provides. The highest scorers could clean stovetops and even steam clothes, while the lowest scorers were only capable of cleaning floors.