Steam mops claim to make cleaning grimy floors (and other surfaces) easy and chemical free, using the power of steam to shift the stubborn dirt. Some claim that their steam also helps kill bacteria and mites. They’re suitable for most hard floors, including vinyl, tiles and sealed timber. But are they really that much better than an ordinary mop and bucket?
Like vacuum cleaners, steam mops come in stick and canister forms, but they don’t have suction power; if you need to clean up large amounts of spilled liquids, you’ll need a conventional mop or a wet and dry vacuum cleaner instead.
See our test of steam mops to find out which ones are worth buying (and which ones are no better at cleaning than a ordinary hand mop).
Steam mops have an internal water boiler which creates steam that is pumped out of a cleaning head. In theory, this steam loosens grime and the cloth cleaning head wipes it away. The temperature of the steam is often also claimed to kill bacteria and mould.
- The best models are good at shifting stubborn grime and residue - better than a hand mop (when using plain hot water).
- You don’t need to use detergent of any kind, so they may suit those with allergies.
- They claim to kill bacteria, mould and dust mites (though it's not clear how effective they really are at this).
- They work best on lightly soiled, regularly cleaned surfaces, though the best can shift really stubborn grime too.
- They are suitable on most hard floors, including sealed hard surfaces such as varnished timber, ceramic tile, marble or lino.
- Some come with attachments for refreshing and lightly cleaning carpet.
- They are unsuitable for cork and cork tiles, unsealed timber and waxed surfaces — because they’ll remove the wax.
- They can damage some surfaces if you leave the head on one spot for more 15 seconds.
- They cost from about $100 to $400+.
- They can be time consuming to use and dangerous if your technique isn't right.
- They can take a few minutes to heat up and cool down, though some models heat up in less than one minute.
- If you run out of steam before you finish, you may have to wait for the unit to cool down before topping it up with more water. Some models can be refilled on the go as they have a separate water tank and boiler.
What to look for
If you decide a steam mop does suit your needs, look for one with:
- An easy to change cleaning head that you can buy replacements for.
- A power cord of reasonable length.
- A water tank that’s easy to fill.
- Extra crevice tools and accessories that allow you to access hard to reach places.
- Low weight and compact design.
If you like the idea of cleaning your floors and other surfaces with just steam, thus reducing your use of chemical cleaners, then see the 2010 CHOICE test of steam mops. We found several easy-to-use models with good cleaning performance, though some were no better than a hand mop.
However, steam mops can be expensive, so if you don't mind using chemical cleaners (or muscle power), an old-fashioned hand mop is still a cheap and effective option. For chemical-free cleaning you could also try microfibre cleaning mitts.