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Home Steamers - Types of Steam Cleaners and Steam Appliances

Making Sense of Steam Appliances, Steam Features and Steam Cleaners

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Steam is in - the must-have feature, but what does it really do? And trying to differentiate between all the steam related appliances, can be downright confusing.  There are several types of steamers designed for home use including steam cleaners, steam irons, steam carpet cleaners and steam generators, just to name a few. 

Some are designed for cleaning with steam, while others simply use steam in delivering their main function. It can be confusing shopping for a steam appliance as the term is fairly general in meaning, but this list should clear things up for you and provide a better understanding of what each type of steam appliance is commonly used for.

Cleaning is the main function of a few types of steaming appliances but what to clean will vary with each machine depending on design and accessories.  I've also included some cleaning tools that although may not actually generate steam, they usually have water heaters and are often referred to as steam cleaners.

There's nothing like steam for loosening dirt and grime, making it a very handy cleaning tool when it comes to reducing effort and cutting down on cleaning time.  It should be noted that in order to produce steam, heated water must reach high temperatures.  In other words, cleaning machines with water heaters may or may not achieve a sanitizing steam.  You should confirm this feature before buying, or it should be clear in product details.

1. Steam Cleaners for General Household Cleaning

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Steam cleaners are usually sold in portable wheeled or small machines that can be carried along while cleaning.  These small steam cleaners usually offer a variety of tips and extensions for getting into crevices, window sills, patio door tracks and other nooks and crannies, where dirt and grime accumulates. 

These general purpose steam cleaners do not use soaps or detergents, merely water to produce a powerful steam to clean, so there's no offending scents or chemicals.  There's also no expensive cleaning solutions to buy and you sanitize with only steam, as you clean with a steam cleaner.

Popular uses of steam cleaners are to clean and sanitize shower doors and tracks, range ovens, around sink fixtures and tile work, plus a lot more.  Depending on the type of accessories, you may also be able to clean stainless appliance fronts and sides, range hoods and cabinet doors.  Outdoors, a steam cleaner can help to dislodge grease and grime from aluminum boat exteriors and barbecue parts.

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2. Upright Carpet Cleaners for Cleaning Carpets

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Carpet cleaners have generally been called steam cleaners, but not all carpet cleaning machines can actually heat the water adequately to produce steam. Nonetheless, carpet cleaners with on-board water heaters are usually more efficient than those without.  Maintaining hot water through the cleaning session helps to dissolve the cleaning solution and that makes for better cleaning performance. 

Carpet cleaners are machines that look like bulky upright vacuums and they are used mostly on wall-to-wall carpeting, large area rugs and mats.  Smaller carpets and rugs are usually more difficult to do with a carpet steam cleaner, unless they are rubber-backed and can stay put during cleaning.  During cleaning, hot water and solution is sprayed on the carpet, rotating brushes help to pull dirt out of the rug fibers and water and dirt is pulled back out of the carpet with a suction process.  The carpet can be rinsed (without solution) and the damp carpeting is then allowed to air dry for a few hours.

If your home has carpeting, you'll either have to rent a carpet steam cleaner, buy one or arrange for a professional to clean your carpets, in order to keep them clean.  And buying your own has advantages over renting. If storage space is limited, there are plenty of carpet cleaners with a slim design.  Although they may be limited in way of features, most can still do a reasonable cleaning job without a large outlay or having to buy a bulky, hard-to-store machine

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3. Carpet Spot Cleaners for Removing Stains from Carpets

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Carpet spot cleaners are handy compact and portable cleaning machines that enable you to clean spots as they happen, rather than wait until your next full carpet cleaning.  There's a few models on the market in a wide range of prices and not all have on-board water heaters and steam potential. 

Since fresh stains and spots usually take only a few minutes of scrubbing, as long as you start with hot water, you can usually complete the cleaning even without a water heater feature. But, steam or heated water does make for a quicker cleaning. Carpeted homes might have a carpet spot cleaner, as well as a carpet cleaner to keep their rugs clean and looking good.

4. Steam Mops for Cleaning Hard Surface Floors

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Steam mops have taken floor cleaning to a newer and more enjoyable level, reducing both time and effort.  They use no solutions, so there's no nasty chemical residue or soap build-up and also no scents.  They're pretty easy to use, but prices may surprise you - they vary considerably depending on features. 

You should only use a steam mop on sealed hard surfaces and there's a few things you should not do with them.  Since most steam mops will attain higher temperatures, you can sanitize while you clean and that's pretty nice, especially when it comes to bathroom floors.  Vacuuming floors before using a steam mop is generally recommended, unless the steam mop also has a vacuum feature, such as Shark's Vac and Steam machine.

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5. Hard Floor 'Steam' Cleaners for Cleaning Hard Surface Floors

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These are basically upright hard surface floor washers, that look similar to stick vacuums.  They do require a floor cleaning solution which is released to the floor with hot water, followed by some brush cleaning action and suction to remove dirt and water from the floors. Hard surface floors should be sealed and be able to take a burst of steam and water.

A heater usually helps to partially or fully dry the floor at the end of the cleaning.  These hard floor cleaners aren't suitable for all floor types and they require a little more room than a steam mop, to store.  But this hard floor cleaning tool reduces effort and time and is a nice cleaning option to consider.

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6. Vegetable Steamers for Steaming Vegetables, Rice

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Steaming is the best way to cook vegetables if you want to retain their natural flavors and nutrients.  Vegetable steamers are available in either basic non-electric or electric models.  A basic non-electric steamer is either a stainless bowl-shaped utensil that adjusts to fit inside various pot sizes to keep the veggies out of the water so that they are steamed, while simmering on the stovetop, or a plastic steamer for microwave use.  Durable and inexpensive, these types of steamers offer convenience at value pricing.

With an electric vegetable steamer, there are usually preset cycles and a keep warm setting, so guesswork is limited, when it comes to time required.  This type of appliance usually also has a setting for long grain rice.  An electric vegetable steamer can be very convenient for reducing congestion at the stove.

Many rice cookers have steaming capability, which can reduce the amount of appliances required on the counter.  You can usually steam vegetables (or meats, fish) in the top basket of the cooker, while rice is cooking below, adding to the versatility of the rice cooker.

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7. Warm Mist(Steam) Humidifiers for Adding Humidity and Medication to a Room

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Often called a room steamer, a warm mist humidifier releases a comfortable steam to add moisture to a room.  Warm mist humidifiers are often used for health reasons and they are designed to steam medication while humidifying. There are actually two types of portable humidifiers - cool mist and warm mist, and it can be difficult to decide which type to buy. My tips will help you to know the difference.

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8. Garment Steamer for Removing Wrinkles from Clothing, Bedding, Draperies

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A garment steamer is handy for removing wrinkles and giving clothing a refreshed look.  They do not clean the garment and could actually set in stains, so they are best to use only on clean clothing. Garment steamers are also handy for removing wrinkles from draperies and bedding. This type of 'pressing' does not require an ironing board; clothing are steamed while on a hanger.

Garment steamers are often called portable steamers and it can be difficult to differentiate between them, but they have different functions - garment steamer (pressing) and steam cleaner (cleaning).  However, some portable steam cleaners offer attachments that convert them into garment steamers, making them even more versatile in the home. Garment steamers are sold in wheeled models with or without a clothing hanging frame, in handheld steamers and in smaller travel models.  A small garment steamer is a popular travel appliance.

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9. Steam Iron for Ironing (Pressing) Clothing and Other Fabric Items

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For many, a steam iron is still an essential fabric care appliance, though some do prefer using a garment steamer or simply freshening clothing in their dryer.  Not all clothing irons have steam features, but an iron with steam is the best when it comes to good ironing results. Ironing skills are quickly learned but you do need an ironing board for best ironing results. Steam irons are very affordable and prices are influenced by power and features.

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10. Steam Generator Iron for Pressing Garments and Other Fabric Items

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Though similar to a steam iron, a steam generator iron produces a much higher heat and steam volume, making this type of pressing much more efficient than with a regular steam iron.  Steam generator irons are more expensive than a steam iron to buy and bulkier to store or place to use.  You use it along with an ironing board. Though you do need to know how to iron clothing to get good results, your clothing can have that professionally-pressed look.

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