Steam Mop Buying Guide

You might expect a steam mop to be more convenient than an ordinary squeeze mop, with no squeegee to squeeze and no pail of water to deal with. You might also expect the steam to loosen dried food spills effectively, and perhaps even sanitize floors and other surfaces. But not all of these expectations matched the reality when we last tested these products. 

Steam Mops in CR's Labs

How We Tested
In our series of cleaning tests, we apply a measured amount of each of ketchup, mustard, and jam to the surface of a ceramic tile. After the food dries, we photograph the soiled tile and then placed it in 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.

A Low-Tech Alternative
We repeat our tests with an ordinary squeeze mop, using only hot tap water. The low-tech squeeze mop cleaned our floors better than a steam mop when we refreshed the sponge in hot water as needed.

How to Choose A Steam Mop

Not sure if a steam mop is the right appliance for your kitchen or bathroom? Though they aren’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 other spills on ceramic floors.

Killing Germs
On the cartons of all of the steam mops we tested are claims that the mops sanitize floors and other surfaces under controlled test settings but that 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 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 of the models we tested left 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 from 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 we 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.

Steam Mop Features

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

Empty Light 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 let you detach the working end from the base so you can use it as a handheld steamer.

Power Cord: Cord lengths on the models we last tested 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.

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