Steam Mop Buying Guide

    Steam Mop Buying Guide

    If your floors look like they’re crying out for a good cleaning, it may be time to invest in a steam mop. A steam mop can be a faster, more convenient tool for cleaning tile than an ordinary squeeze mop, with no sponge to squeeze and no pail of water to deal with.

    But like squeeze models, steam mops come in a variety of styles, sizes, and prices. And some models do a better job than others of removing dirt, crumbs, and other debris from floors. 

    We currently have eight models in our steam mop ratings. Read on to find the right steam mop for your home. 

    How We Test Steam Mops

    In our series of cleaning tests, we apply a measured amount of ketchup, mustard, and jam to the surface of a ceramic tile. After the food dries, we photograph the soiled tile, then place it on a floor among similar tiles that are clean. We then take several passes at the floor with a steam mop, focusing on the soiled tile while controlling the speed and back-and-forth strokes of the mop.

    After cleaning the floor and letting it air-dry, we take another photo of the tile to identify how much soil was removed and how much remains. Our testers found that mustard is the most difficult to clean and ketchup the easiest.

    For comparison, we repeat our tests using an ordinary squeeze mop and hot tap water. The low-tech squeeze mop cleans our floors better than all the steam mops we’ve tested. However, you need a bucket of hot water, and you have to squeeze out the sponge periodically—which may be unappealing.

    How to Choose a Steam Mop

    Not sure whether a steam mop is the right cleaning tool for your kitchen or bathroom? Though it isn’t recommended for every floor type, a steam mop might be just the ticket for people who get frequent spills on ceramic floors or for pet owners who are regularly wiping up muddy paw prints.

    Germ-Killing Claims
    On the packaging of all the steam mops we test are claims that the mops sanitize floors and other surfaces under controlled test settings. Those claims may be true to some extent, because most of the models are capable of producing steam, but results may vary in your own home. Few come close to 212° F, which is water’s boiling point and the temperature needed to kill germs, though many can deliver temperatures above 175° F, which is hotter than you can get using tap water.

    Floor Damage Risks
    Many manufacturers indicate that their steam mops can be used on various hard floors, including laminate, tile, and sealed wood. But all the models we test leave some residual moisture. A wood floor that appears sealed might have crevices where water can seep in and cause damage. Also, some wood finishes or older waxes might haze over. If your flooring is still under warranty, check with the manufacturer to make sure using a steam mop won’t void it.

    Mop Pad Cleanup
    The removable pad at the bottom of a steam mop can hold only so much grime before it just pushes the excess debris along. Before removing a dirty mop head, place the unit on a horizontal surface, such as a countertop or floor, to prevent any water in the tank from dripping out. If you must raise the mop head above the height of the tank, empty the water tank first.

    Some manufacturers suggest cleaning the pad in a washing machine, but you wouldn’t want to toss a grungy pad in the same load with bed linens or kids’ school clothes. That said, running an entire washing-machine cycle just for one or two pads seems wasteful. Instead, you can wash the pads in the sink using hot water and soap, then rinse them and hang them to dry.

    Steam Mop Features

    Steam control: This feature, found in most models we test, lets you control the amount of steam delivered.

    Empty-reservoir indicator: A light in some steam mops warns you when it’s time to refill the reservoir.

    Swivel head: On some steam mops, this feature may ease maneuvering in tight spaces.

    Detachable steam generator: Some models let you detach the working end from the base so that you can use it as a handheld steamer.

    Power cord: Cord lengths on the models we test range from 20 to 25 feet. A short cord may limit you to a small cleanup job in a small room. And an extension cord may be unsafe with these high-wattage appliances.

    Additional cleaning accessories: Some models come with extra tools for cleaning grout and other surfaces.

    Steam Mop Brands

    Bissell steam mops are available at a variety of mass merchants, including Target and Walmart. Models tend to be moderately priced. The Bissell steam mops we’ve tested range from about $90 to $165. Bissell also makes hand and stick vacuums, canisters, and deep carpet cleaners, and it recently entered the robotic vacuum market.

    Once known as an infomercial brand, Shark has leveraged its promotional advantage to gain placement in national retailers, including Bed Bath & Beyond, Kohl’s, and Walmart. Shark’s steam mop models are priced from $70 to $180. Shark also makes robotic, upright, stick, and handheld vacuums.