The traditional mop is centuries old. And when you're swabbing the kitchen lino, with sudsy, grimy water flicking everywhere, you can start to feel a kinship with Downton Abbey's lowliest scullery maids. If you feel an update is in order, there are loads of fancy, squeezy, hi-tech microfibre mops and heavy-duty floor detergents on the market. But your other modern option is the steam mop.
Steam mops have an internal water boiler that creates steam, which is pumped out of a cleaning head. In theory, this steam loosens grime, and the cloth cleaning head wipes it away. Steam mops claim to make cleaning grimy floors easy, as well as chemical-free; some claim that the hot steam also helps kill bacteria and mites. They're suitable for most hard floors, including vinyl, ceramic tiles, linoleum, marble, stone and sealed timber, although they can damage the surfaces of cork tiles and unsealed or waxed timber.
Video: Best steam mops? We review the pros and cons
What do I need to know?
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.
Steam mops aren't great at stain removal but keep in mind that this is dependent on the flooring you have, as some stains soak more easily into certain types of floors over others. While they aren't perfect, steam mops do remove stains better than a mop and bucket.
Most models claim to rejuvenate carpet and upholstery, and while we've found they do refresh the carpet's appearance, they don't actually clean it.
Steam mops can be expensive, so if you don't mind using chemical cleaners (or muscle power), the old-fashioned hand mop is still a cheap and effective option. For chemical-free cleaning, you could also try microfibre cleaning mitts.
Features and specifications
Look for a water tank that can be refilled while cleaning without having to first turn off the mop and let it cool down.
These are usually microfibre to trap and carry away the shifted dirt. Some come with more than one pad, sometimes of different types, which is handy for swapping over during a long cleaning job, or if one is in the wash when you want to do some steam cleaning.
An attachment for using the mop on carpet. This is handy for refreshing carpet and removing light soiling, but for heavy soiling or stains you'll probably need a heavy-duty steam cleaner (and/or carpet shampoo).
You might want one of these for sitting the mop on during a cleaning job (if you take a quick break to answer the phone, for example), so it can sit in one place for a while without damaging the floor.
A telescopic wand
When you can adjust the wand to suit your height, you don't have to bend your back too much.
The power cord
This should be long enough that you have good reach from the power point. Know where your power points are before you shop for a steam mop.
Tools such as a jet nozzle or brush can be useful for cleaning grout, shower cubicles and other areas.
It's handy to have a feature that tells you when the steam generator has heated up and is ready to run.
Steam-on lock switch
An on-lock activates continuous steam flow, so you don't have to hold down a trigger or button to keep the steam coming.
Steam-off lock switch
An off-lock is a safety feature – like a safety catch – to help prevent accidentally turning on the steam flow.
If you want to quickly get your steam mop out, you'll want it to heat up quickly! Heat-up times can range from 20 seconds to several minutes.
Time in use
Ideally, you shouldn't need to keep refilling the water tank in the middle of your cleaning – particularly if refilling is tricky or can't be done on the go.