Steam Mop Buying Guide

Spring and summer months bring on barbecues and backyard play—and a higher chance that dirt and mud will get tracked inside your home. That means you may need to clean your floors more often.

To that end, a steam mop seems to be a faster, more convenient tool for tile than an ordinary squeeze mop, with no sponge to squeeze and no pail of water to deal with. Manufacturers make claims that they loosen dried food spills effectively, and sanitize floors and other surfaces. However, our tests found that a sponge mop can do just as good of a job, if not better (though the mop is more of a hassle to use).

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 clean tiles. 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 soiled tile to identify how much soil was removed and how much remains. 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 need 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 appliance for your kitchen or bathroom? Though it isn’t recommended for every floor type, a steam mop might be just the ticket for pet owners who are frequently wiping up muddy paw prints or for people who get frequent spills on ceramic floors.

Killing Germs
On the packaging of all the steam mops we test are claims that the mops sanitize floors and other surfaces under controlled test settings, but those results may vary in your own home. Those claims may be true to some extent because most of the models are capable of producing steam. However, few actually 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.

Safe for Floors?
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.

Cleaning Up
The removable pad at the bottom of each 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, you should 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 the bed linens or kids’ school clothes. 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: In some steam mops, this feature may ease maneuvering in tight spaces.

Detachable steam generator:
Two models in our tests 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 16 to 30 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, between $60 and $250. 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 $200. Shark also makes robotic, upright, stick, and handheld vacuums.
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