Steam mops

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Do steam mops really work?

Steam mops are touted as a chemical-free and “sanitary” way to clean floors. But they’re an expensive alternative to the conventional sponge mop and elbow grease. We’ve tested 25 models – find out how well they performed.

From our test

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How they work

Steam mops create their own steam with a built-in water container and an electric heater.

The steam is pushed through a washable cloth pad on the cleaning head to loosen grime for the pad to wipe away.

The mops plug into the wall like a vacuum cleaner, but they don’t have suction to suck up spills so floors must still be vacuumed or swept before steam mopping.

Steam mops don’t use chemicals for cleaning so may be useful for people sensitive to chemical cleaners.

About our test

We test steam mops on a sheet of vinyl, staining it with red wine, tomato sauce, mud, mustard, coffee and soy sauce. Then we let the whole mess dry overnight, before mopping up excess material with a damp cloth.

Then, we fire up our steam mops and get to work. Each mop’s performance is converted into a stain-removal score.

We also look at how much water is left on the floor after mopping. Steam mops should leave very little residual water: the models in our round-up with very good floor wetness scores (eight or above) left the vinyl almost completely dry after mopping.

To see the results of our test you need to become a paying Consumer member or log in at the top of page.

Features to consider

If you’re thinking of buying a steam mop, here’s what to consider.

  • Swivel head: Helps with manoeuvrability and prevents the mop catching on corners or tipping over when it’s stored.
  • Head size: A manageable head size makes it easier to get into small corners.
  • Cord length: Make sure the cord is long enough to reach from the power point to the furthest corner of the room you want to mop. Cords for the models in our test ranged from 4.3 to 9.6 metres.
  • Weight: Choose a model with a weight you can easily manage. The design and weight distribution of the mop can affect how heavy it feels when in use, so try it in a shop first if you can.
  • Height adjustable: Useful if you are taller or shorter than average, or suffer from back pain.
  • Tumble dryable cleaning pads: Cleaning pads are machine washable and while most pads can be tumbled dried, manufacturers don't recommend it as it reduces the life of the pad. It can take several days to dry a pad without using a dryer. Most mops come with 2 pads.
  • Turbo steam button: Sprays a strong burst of steam onto difficult-to-remove stains. The button is on the handle and may be difficult to press while moving the steam mop.
  • Steam-on lock switch: A lock switch means you don't have to keep holding the trigger button to get the steam going.
  • Heat-up/cool-down pad: This is a landing pad on which to park the hot steam mop without damaging the floor. Useful while the mop is heating or if the phone rings in the middle of your cleaning session.
  • Carpet attachment: Some steam mops claim to "refresh" carpets and come with attachments that fit under the pad, pushing the steam into the carpet.
  • Water tank: A removable water tank is easier to fill than one that’s attached to the mop head requiring the use of a cup. Cups are supplied if they’re needed.
  • Cord storage: Most mops have clips for winding the cord around when stowing it away. They can also be handy for keeping a long cord out of the way when the mop’s in use.

Where to use them

Steam mops can be used on most hard-floor surfaces – but not on cork tiles and unsealed or waxed wooden floors. Most manufacturers suggest testing on an “inconspicuous area” first. If you’re unsure, we recommend checking with the manufacturer of your flooring product to ensure they don’t recommend against steam cleaning.

Some models come with a carpet attachment. We found these fine for “refreshing” carpet but unsuitable for heavy soiling or stains.

Some steam mops can also be used on sofas, beds and soft toys.

Hot spots

Leaving a hot mop for too long in one place can mark a floor – especially if it’s varnished or polished wood (the steam can damage it). This can be an issue when a steam mop’s heating up or cooling down.

Some manufacturers recommend holding the mop in one spot to “disinfect and sanitise”. Don’t do this for too long.

Also read the instructions about this carefully: it might be suitable for some floors and not others.

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Through the roof

Recently, a member asked if he could use a steam mop to clean the ceilings of his motel. It was a good question – but we urged caution, as the steam is likely to eat away at paint and could damage plaster or cladding. Some models don’t have a great seal around the water reservoir, so you risk getting wet.

Instead, we recommended filling a spray bottle with a mixture of ammonia, baking soda, vinegar and warm water, then spraying it directly on to a telescopic mop with a soft cleaning head.

Before using a steam mop on any surface, we advise trying it on a small, inconspicuous area and waiting an hour, to ensure it won’t cause any damage.

Barrel vs. stick

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Our view

  • Steam mops are a good way of cleaning a lightly-soiled hard floor – and their lack of chemicals may be useful for people sensitive to chemical cleaners. But they’re far more expensive than a conventional sponge mop.

  • For everyday stains that you clean up immediately, warm soapy water and a conventional sponge mop are still a great option.

Third-party heads

One of the most expensive things about a steam mop is replacing mop heads. The branded heads can be expensive and are sometimes hard to find.

Some shops sell cheaper third-party steam mop heads that are claimed to fit certain models. While this is often cheaper, it pays to ensure the mop heads fit. If in doubt, take your current mop head into a store to compare it to the third party head.

Reliability

We received information on 913 steam mops in our 2017 appliance reliability survey.

To see which brands are trustiest, become a paying Consumer member or log in.

Monster wins Top Brand

The Top Brand award recognises brands that perform consistently well across product testing, reliability and customer satisfaction.

We've crunched the numbers and awarded Monster our Top Brand award for steam mops. Consumers can be confident a brand touting this award has delivered top results both in the lab and in our surveys.

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