Eco Benefits of Steam Cleaning (Plus the Best Handheld Steamers!)

Here at The Eco Hub, I've covered many — and when I say many, I mean MANY — different ways to keep your home clean. From disinfectant sprays to DIY products that get your porcelain throne spotless, they've all marked a before and after in my cleaning kit, which I've updated gradually each time I found a new way to take care of dirt without compromising my well-being or the environment.

However, today while I was using one of my most beloved cleaning tools, I realized that all this time I had forgotten a cleaning method that, while it is not well-known in some places, you may know someone who already uses it: steam cleaning.

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Steam cleaners are as useful as they are versatile, and many people — myself included — use them for those same reasons. Among its many benefits is the ability to clean hard-to-reach corners, remove stubborn stains from clothes, and even bring stiff carpets back to life. But have you ever thought about the eco-friendly benefits of steam cleaners?

If you are interested in steam cleaning but are still hesitating to buy a built-for-home steam cleaner because you don't know if it will hurt our Mother Earth, don't worry, I'm here to clear up all your eco doubts. Some people say that once you learn more about steam cleaning, it's hard to go back to old-fashioned cleaning methods, so without further ado, let's dive right into this steamy post!

Are steam cleaners eco-friendly?

Basically, what a steam cleaner does is clean surfaces with super-hot steam using only tap water, without any extra products. The power and temperature combo of the steam itself loosens stubborn dirt and makes the use of chemicals unnecessary. This avoids pouring harmful chemicals down the drain, an unavoidable issue that happens when using conventional cleaning products.

As I have remarked several times on this blog, flushing dirty water full of toxic chemicals down the drain ultimately contributes to the pollution of our limited freshwater resources, so it's refreshing to know that there's an alternative available that takes this factor out of the equation.

Have you ever heard about VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds)? These are mainly toxic gasses that certain solids or liquids emanate when they are used. VOCs increase indoor air pollution, and as they encompass a variety of chemicals, some may have short and long-term adverse health effects.

A study conducted by Environmental Defence Canada showed that in 14 homes they tested, air quality decreased considerably by simply cleaning with conventional products. In contrast, if steam is used for cleaning, no toxic gasses will emanate from any source, so indoor air will remain full of oxygen and free of pollutants.

Steam cleaning benefits nature in another way as well: it eliminates the presence of packaging materials from cleaning products at home, which ultimately saves energy and raw materials, and reduces the amount of plastic waste that ends up in landfills.

Furthermore, cleaning using steamers is an exceptionally water-saving activity. A single litre of ordinary tap water delivers approximately 1,700 litres of steam, enough to clean an area of around 75 m². In contrast, wiping with a mop and bucket requires 5 litres of water for the same area, and when compared to pressure washers, the water usage is still considerably lower.

And when it comes to electricity use, it's only needed to turn tap water into deep-cleaning steam vapour — its consumption is still limited. Plus, you save money by not having to buy extra cleaning products!

So, are steam cleaners eco-friendly? The short answer is yes, they definitely are!

How does steam cleaning work?

Woman cleaning drain in bathroom with steam. Pin

Essentially, steam cleaning works by tackling dirt with heat — lots of it.

A boiler inside the steam cleaner heats water, creating steam inside a reservoir, which then can be released by simply pressing a trigger, giving the user full control over its cleaning power. In most household steamers, the steam temperature reaches approximately 121°C (250°F), which opens up surface pores and loosens dirt and grime, removes stains, and even moisturizes fabrics.

Steam cleaning is simple. However, there is a technique to it. For steam to work properly, there are a series of steps that are suggested to be followed:

If you are going to clean the floor, a carpet, or a piece of furniture, vacuum it first if you can.

Hold the steamer about 15cm above the item/surface you want to steam clean.

Start steaming left-to-right or up-and-down, always in sweeping motions.

Make sure not to hold the steamer in one spot for too long, and some materials may get damaged if you don't move quickly.

Allow the item/surface to fully dry, and only repeat the process if necessary.

With steam cleaning, dirt will be blasted away effortlessly, but will bacteria and germs be blasted away too? Let's find out.

Does steam cleaning really sanitize?

Steam cleaners can make your carpets, counters, floors, showers, objects, and other surfaces squeaky clean, but do they also sanitize? Well, some people use the word "sanitizing" as a synonym for "cleaning" — been there —, so before explaining whether steam cleaning sanitizes or not, let's brush up on some basic cleaning concepts:

On the one hand, cleaning physically removes dirt, dust, and food crumbs from surfaces or objects. While this may remove some germy dirt, it doesn’t kill or significantly reduce germs or bacteria on surfaces.

On the other hand, sanitization involves reducing the number of germs on a surface or object to a safe level. Sanitizing goes far beyond cleaning, as this is where you begin to kill or remove most bacteria from surfaces.

So, does steam cleaning really reduce the number of germs and bacteria on surfaces and objects? Yes! At 121°C (250°F) and above, steam is considered suitable for sanitizing surfaces, and as I mentioned in a couple of headings above, most household steam cleaners reach that temperature. Mind you, this only happens if used in the right way.

Just be sure to read the instructions of the steam cleaner you intend to use and remember, this post will always be here for you if you want to know the basics on how to use one!

Is steam cleaning better than chemicals?

The cleaning power of steam yields endless possibilities without using chemicals, but is steam cleaning any better than cleaning with chemicals? Of course! Whoever cleans with steam protects the environment, themselves, and their family.

Unlike traditional cleaning products, steam doesn't leave any allergenic residue on the surface that has been cleaned. This is super important if you have toddlers at home because it’s no secret that they love to put things in their mouths willy-nilly. Also, using steam means that accidents due to the misapplication of a cleaning agent that causes skin irritations or other adverse health effects are no longer an issue.

And last but not least, another reason why steam is superior to chemicals is that the physical effort during steam cleaning is considerably reduced. When using chemicals, you often have to rinse the surface a couple of times afterward to keep it free of chemicals that can damage it if left for too long. In contrast, when you use a steamer, you just let the steam work for you. As simple as that.

What can I steam clean?

Steam cleaners can be used with different accessories, and if you use the right ones, you can steam clean a variety of surfaces. But long story short, you can steam clean a lot of things:

Smooth concrete, vinyl/ceramic tile, linoleum, and sealed hardwood floors, carpets, porcelain, glass, fabrics such as cotton and strong synthetic ones, countertops, sinks, kitchen appliances, toys, cars (both inside and outside) — and more!

While steam can be used to clean a wide variety of surfaces, there are some things and surfaces you won’t want to use steam to clean:

Don’t try to steam clean water-based paint, cardboard, delicate textiles, such as super-thin silk or velour, thin plastics, or super porous surfaces, such as stucco or — only if you have a high heat steam cleaner — marble. The results will be far from pretty and could even be dangerous.

Pro-Tip: Allow the steam to sanitize. If the surface is non-porous, using the steam cleaner on it once is enough. But if the surface is porous, you’ll have to steam it twice in order to properly sanitize it.

Benefits of steam cleaning

The beauty of steam cleaning is that it has many benefits besides being eco-friendly, such as:

It cleans and sanitizes items and surfaces.
It doesn’t trigger allergies.
It’s multi-purpose.
It works its way into cracks and otherwise hard-to-reach places.
It can be used in poorly ventilated rooms or places that need to be occupied immediately.
It's very effective for stubborn stains on carpets, clothing, or furniture.
It turns bedbugs into dead bugs.
It's awesome (for real!).

Nevertheless, like everything in life, there are always pros and cons — which I won’t sugar-coat. So, what’s the bad side of steam?

Cons of Steam Cleaning

The cons of steam cleaning aren't many, but you still have to keep them in mind if you want to add a steamer to your green cleaning kit:

We’re talking about super-hot steam here, so it can be risky if you don’t use protective gear like gloves.
It has a warm-up time. It’s more expensive than a mop and bucket combo.

Now that you know the good and the ugly about steam cleaning, are you ready to welcome one into your life? If your answer is "yeah!", keep scrolling because I'll be helping you a bit with that below ;).

Best Mini & Handheld Steam Cleaners For Home Use

In a nutshell, there are three types of steam cleaners available on the market:

Steam Mops: while infomercials may not be your cup of tea, I'm sure you've watched a very smiley Andy Sullivan promote one of these cleaning tools on the TV at least once. Steam mops are basically steam cleaners attached to a long handle and water reservoir, which allows them to quickly disinfect large areas like floors and carpets. Some even have a vacuum feature included, making the task of cleaning extra dirty floors a breeze.

Cylinder Steam Cleaners: Besides commercial steam cleaners, these are one of the largest household steamers you can get. They are similar to steam mops, but with an advantage — they offer longer steaming times due to their larger water tanks. In addition, they usually come with various attachments for cleaning small, hard-to-reach spaces as well as large areas. However, since they are one of the biggest steamers, they are also one of the most expensive ones.

Mini / Handheld Steam Cleaners: These steamers are essentially small and exceptionally convenient devices, often used for cleaning small areas — like countertops or cabinets — and hard-to-reach places, removing stains from sofas or carpets, sanitizing objects — children's toys or decorative pieces —, and even cleaning different kinds of fabrics. This type of steam cleaner may not be the best choice for cleaning large spaces, but it is lightweight, easy to carry, and will definitely get the job done. Plus, it's the most affordable one!

As you can see, there are different types of steam cleaners out there, each one for different needs. However, I strongly believe that among all of them, mini steam cleaners are a perfect investment for those who want to start cleaning their home with steam. They are compact and easy-to-store, and yet they still maintain their main function, which is to clean and sanitize. So just to make the shopping process easier for you, I did some research and put together 3 different models of handheld steamers that are not only user-friendly but also purchasable in just one click:

Bissell 39N7H Steam Shot Deluxe

If you're on a budget, this handheld steam cleaner offers excellent value for money. The Steam Shot Deluxe takes about one minute to heat up and provides reasonable cleaning power, a 6-meter cord, and an easy-to-press trigger.

With a power of 1000W, it definitely packs a lot of punch — it has a 15-minute run-time, and although it's not as efficient for cleaning floors as a steam mop, it's got 360 ml of water capacity which will allow you to thoroughly clean your countertops and objects.

However, there's a drawback to this steamer: according to some reviews, if you continually hold down the trigger, you get about 30 seconds of steam, then you'll have to wait 15-20 seconds for it to regenerate. If you're a patient person, this won't bother you, but if you want to clean a large surface in the shortest amount of time possible, the wait times may off-put you.

Also, as you would expect, the Steam Shot comes with a variety of accessories. These include one measuring cup, an extension hose, a window squeegee, a fabric steamer tool, an accessory nozzle, a flat scraping tool, an angle concentrator tool, 3 colour-coded round detail brushes, and last but certainly not least, a grout brush! If the grout on your kitchen or shower floor is as dirty as Xtina's 2002 single, this steam cleaner can come in handy to rinse off the DIY cleaning mixtures I posted a few weeks ago.

Buying a high-end steam cleaner is certainly a good long-term investment. However, if you're on a tight budget, this is a great buy for everyday maintenance clean-ups. BTW, Bissell backs the Steam Shot with a 1-year warranty — a great plus!

KoolaMo Handheld Pressurized Steam Cleaner

The KoolaMo steam cleaner climbs a step up the price ladder, but for justifiable reasons.

Like most mini steam cleaners, it's lightweight and easy to use. It may not be small enough to slip into your pockets, but it’s easy to store in a cabinet once you finish your cleaning session.

It has a 3-meter cord, a 350ml tank, and a whopping 1050W of power. Thanks to this power boost, this model doesn’t take long to start emitting steam, generating an efficient and stable output flow in less than a minute.

Moreover, this power boost makes the KoolaMo mini steam cleaner operate for a good 15-20 minutes, and hear me out: the steam flow is continuous! No waiting time like the previous steamer.

It also comes with a 9-piece accessory kit that facilitates its cleaning functions, including a measuring cup, a funnel, a window cleaning tool, one round nylon brush, an upholstery tool, a towel cloth, a jet nozzle, a bent nozzle, and one flexible hose with a gun nozzle. What more could you ask for?

Oh, and last but not least, it features a child lock and a safety cover. Both accessories will not only protect your steamer from accidents but will also protect your children from activating it by mistake.

Vapamore MR-75 Amico

I know, this handheld steam cleaner falls outside of the budget-friendly spectrum, but what makes the Vapamore MR-75 Amico stand out from the rest, though? Its lifetime warranty. Most steamers have warranties of only 1 or 2 years, or in the case of the unbranded ones, none at all, but Vapamore ensures to protect you from any manufacturer defects.

Like the previous steamers, this one isn't shy when it comes to having a handful of accessories to get the most out of it and use it on as many surfaces as possible. The only difference from the accessories of the previous steamers in this list is that this one doesn't include 9 or 12 pieces, but 15. Starting with a steam hose with connector, an accessory tool adapter, a jet nozzle tool, a detail scraper tool, a nylon brush, a straight nylon grout brush, a nylon medium duty brush, a large nylon brush, a small brass brush, a large brass brush, a large stainless steel brush, a fabric steamer and squeegee, 3 cotton covers, a measuring cup, and a carrying case.

A mini handheld steamer should be light enough for one to handle it freely, and this steamer is no slouch in terms of portability — it weighs only 1.60 kg. And the best part of all? It can clean with a constant flow of steam for 20-30 minutes. Fun fact: Vapamore named this steamer "Amico", which literally means "friend" in Italian. They wanted to give a friendly vibe to their product, and they certainly understood the assignment.

P.S: Every steam cleaner on this list can run on tap water without any major problems, but if you want them to run smoothly for as many years as possible, I suggest that you use distilled or demineralized water if you have hard water. Minerals and salts found in hard water can damage and corrode the inside of a steam cleaner over time, so keep that in mind!

Steam Cleaning Is An Effective Way To Disinfect & Help The Environment!

When you spritz and spray traditional cleaning products all over every surface and item of your home to keep them clean and sanitized, it's obvious that they will do their job and at first, glance, seem like the best cleaning option out there. But, unfortunately, those chemical cleaning products are actually doing more harm than good.

Yes, they may sanitize and make your house look clean, but they leave behind a harsh-chemicals-filled biofilm that can harm you and your family, especially if they are prone to allergies. And don't get me started on dumping the chemical-filled water that's left behind when you're done cleaning. That’s the biggest enemy of all waterways around the world.

However, steam cleaning has the 3 golden E’s: it’s effective, efficient, and eco-friendly. It’s the do-it-all green solution that allows you to clean and sanitize your home — and more — simply using water and heat, no toxic chemicals or extra products allowed. So if you’re looking for a safe, chemical-free way to tackle dirt and germs, then you’ll definitely need a steam cleaner in your life. Embrace the power of steam!

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