Steam cleaners seem to be all the rage at the moment, and retailers report that sales have been booming.
With handheld models starting at under £40 they are an affordable and effective cleaning gadget to have around the home, perfect for cleaning floors, mirrors, tiles and grout, or for de-greasing cooker hoods, hobs and grills.
By generating high-pressure steam, these cleaners attack dirt and grease without requiring detergents or other cleaning agents, and can be used in hypoallergenic environments; steam cleaning has been shown effective in combating mould, funguses, bacteria and viruses too (steam is used to sterilise medical instruments in doctors’ offices and hospitals).
Steam cleaners vary widely in style and cost, but basically fall into one of three types:
These are upright cleaners with long handles where the water is usually stored; they are used primarily for cleaning floors. Mop cleaners use cloths which need to be cleaned regularly (most are machine-washable) and replaced when they wear out. A good buy in this category is the Bissell 90T1E which is suitable for all hard floors and can clean for 14 minutes before needing a refill. This model was named Which? Best Buy recently. Cost: around £70.
These are portable cleaners roughly the size and shape of jug kettles. They are compact and useful for small areas. A good example is the Polti Vaporettino Lux Steam Gun is compact, easy to handle, has good steam pressure and comes with several accessories. It can be used to clean the hob, oven, grout, glass and bathroom fixtures among other areas. Cost: under £40.
These are often the heaviest types, but usually carry more water so you don't need to refill them as often. They are equipped with different nozzles and attachments making them very versatile, and the larger water reservoirs mean longer cleaning times between refills (but also longer heat-up times). The Karcher SC5.800C is an excellent model of this type, with some unique features which give genuinely professional results, but it comes with a professional-level price tag of over £300 too!
Steam cleaners like this cannot be used as all-over carpet cleaners (you need a specialist bit of kit for that) but they can be used to help with stain removal and spot cleaning of carpets, rugs and upholstery.
Personally I have a Vax S5 cylinder model which comes out when I get the urge to deep-clean the bathroom or when the oven is starting to get a build-up of grime. I think for day-to-day use I should keep a handheld model nearby which I’d be more inclined to just grab and use – getting the Vax out with its dozens of accessories is always a bit more of a chore, but it certainly does a great job when it’s used.