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Cheap Steam Cleaners Buying Guide

You can use a cheap steam cleaner on hard-surface floors, instead of a Swiffer or mop and water, and on carpets and rugs instead of a carpet shampooer. Frugal consumers who have made the switch report more than satisfactory results.

When cleaning carpets and rugs, though, you'll still need a vacuum to remove surface dirt before you steam away, and first clearing hard surfaces of particles and dust balls is likewise important.

Hoover, Bissell, McCulloch, Dirt Devil, and Eureka are some of the major players in the steam cleaning arena. As the brand names reveal, most of these companies specialize in vacuums, and you'll find some cheap steam cleaners that resemble these cleaning machines. Often billed as vacuums with steam cleaning capabilities, steam vacuums are a lot like carpet shampooers: They deposit a mix of hot water and cleaning agent and suck up the moisture. But cheap steam vacuums are more multi-functional than carpet shampooers because they brush and scrub hard surfaces in addition to carpets, rugs, and upholstery. Another approach to steam cleaning is the cheap steam mop. Significantly lighter than cheap steam vacuums and more adept at hard surfaces than carpets and rugs, steam mops clean and sanitize with steam only, no detergent necessary. Given the price divide -- cheap steam mops generally cost less than $100 and cheap steam vacuums start at about $130 -- and the distinct strengths of each, your cleaning needs and your budget should guide your choice between cheap steam vacuum or cheap steam mop.

Want to know what you'll get from a more expensive steam cleaner? The Rug Doctor 95341 Wide Track Professional Carpet Deep Cleaner (starting at $939), for example, is designed for personal use at home or commercial use in offices. It's got a 12-foot hose and a three-step hot water extraction that clears dirt, allergens, and bacteria from deep inside the carpet. This upscale model is the only consumer- and professional-use machine to earn the Carpet and Rug Institute Seal of Approval. Generally speaking, deluxe steam cleaners deliver steam at higher pressure, contain a larger water tank for extended cleaning time, and come with more attachments and more features (e.g., a pressure gauge, steam volume control, and low-water light) than discount steam cleaners.

Any cheap steam cleaner worth buying should have the ability to eliminate most stains and ground-in dirt from whatever surface you're cleaning. If your preference runs to cheap steam vacuums, look for a model with rotating brushes in the head and an accessory hand tool for stairs and upholstery. A good cheap steam mop should turn water into steam in about three minutes (longer is acceptable for larger water tanks); note that once the tank runs dry, usually after 15 minutes or so of continuous cleaning, you'll have to wait until the steam mop cools down before refilling and steaming up again. Cheap steam vacuums don't need any warm-up time because they're filled with hot tap water along with the cleaning agent and get to work right away. Still, a good cheap steam vacuum should hold at least a gallon of water so you can clean without too many interruptions.

Our research found that consumers consider cleaning ability, durability, and ease of use to be the most critical performance criteria. Most users seem reasonable in their expectations, going relatively easy on cheap steam cleaners that don't completely pick up especially nasty and long-standing stains but enthusiastically noting when a cheap steam cleaner makes an old carpet look almost new, a tile floor shine, or a grimy stove sparkle. Users pay attention to how sturdy and durable their discount steam cleaners are and shave points from their assessments if the machine dies prematurely or needs repair at a tender age. Portability also matters because consumers traverse the home landscape as they clean and don't want a clunky steam cleaner -- even an inexpensive one -- holding them back.

Based on the steam cleaners reviews we read, the Hoover SteamVac Carpet Cleaner with Clean Surge F5914900 (starting at $130) and Haan Deluxe Total Home Steam Cleaning System (starting at $168), which includes a separate hand-held unit and an upright steam mop (the components may be bought separately), are the best discount steam cleaners. Users praise these models for their ability to tackle tough stains, especially those produced by kids and pets. The Euroflex Monster EZ1 Steam Mop and Floor Steam Cleaner (starting at $88) and McCulloch MC1246 Portable 1500-Watt Power Steam Cleaner (starting at $79) are the next best cheap steam cleaners. Users commend the Euroflex Monster for its work on bare floors, and they like the McCulloch MC1246 for its ability to tackle surfaces inside the home as well as out, on the grill, say, or in the car. The Hoover SteamVac Carpet Cleaner All-Terrain F7452900 (starting at $235), one of the priciest of the cheap steam cleaners, fails to win consumers' favor primarily for what they say are durability problems.

Review continues below

Steam Cleaner Features.

Cheap steam cleaners are handheld or upright, and upright models are either steam mops or steam vacuums. Any type of cheap steam cleaner is appropriate for surfaces that can take heat and moisture. This means antiques and surfaces covered with paint or made of cardboard or composite are out, but sealed hardwood floors, linoleum or tiled floors, carpets, upholstery, countertops, stoves, and the like are in. Really tough stains might need extra work no matter how powerful the cleaning machine, and most discount steam cleaners still require that you first clear the area of loose particles and dirt (don't throw away the vacuum or broom) and perhaps pre-treat stubborn stains.

Handheld Steam Cleaners.

Cheap handheld steam cleaners, like the 2.8-pound HS-20 personal sanitizer that's part of the Haan Deluxe Total Steam Cleaning System or the 3.3-pound SteamFast SF-226 Handheld Steam Cleaner (starting at $31), don't do floors unless you want to get on your hands and knees but they do possess some inherent benefits. Cheap handheld steam cleaners are lightweight, easy to carry around, and useful for a variety of cleaning tasks -- from mirrors to clothing to ovens to mattresses -- that require a few zaps of steam through a long nozzle or brush attachment. Low-cost handheld steam cleaners are environmentally-friendly, requiring water only, please.

Steam Mops.

Some cheap upright steam cleaners, like the Haan FS-20 floor sanitizer (the second unit in Haan's Deluxe Total Steam Cleaning System) or the Euroflex Monster EZ1 Steam Mop, are actually steam mops. Cheap steam mops are chiefly intended for hard-surface floors and clean by releasing steam from jets on the bottom of the unit; the Euroflex Monster EZ1 also features four jets on the front of the head. Their wheels make them mobile and their light weight (less than 10 pounds, with some models weighing little more than three pounds) makes them easy to use on stairs. Many cheap steam mops come with several accessories, like carpet glides, brushes, and upholstery attachments, that let you steam and sanitize other surfaces, as well; the cleaning pads that attach to the bottom of the unit are usually washable and reusable. Like handheld steam cleaners, steam mops take only water, which on the Haan FS-20 floor sanitizer heats to at least 212 degrees and on the Euroflex Monster EZ1 heats to a maximum 266 degrees.

Steam Vacuums.

Cheap steam vacuums are also upright and wheeled or carried from place to place. These are heavy-duty machines designed to shampoo carpets or rugs, and often bare floors, with a mix of hot tap water and cleaning detergent; rotating brushes scrub as you go, and the dirt and moisture are then suctioned up into a holding tank. Most cheap steam vacuums also come with hand tool and brush attachments that expand their cleaning range to upholstery and other non-floor surfaces. Cheap steam vacuums are not light: the Hoover SteamVac with Clean Surge F5914900 and its sibling SteamVac Carpet Cleaner All-Terrain F7452900 weigh in the neighborhood of 30 pounds and the Bissell ProHeat 2X Select Upright Deep Steam Cleaner (starting at $249) is a tad lighter at 26 pounds.

Portable Steam Cleaners.

Although all discount steam cleaners are portable (light enough to push and carry), some are exceptionally so. One we found is the McCulloch MC1246 Portable Steam Cleaner, which looks like an oval tank with a hose and shoulder strap. The design of this cheap portable steam cleaner lets you take it where steam mops and steam vacuums cannot tread. At 5.5 pounds, the McCulloch MC1246 weighs more than cheap handheld steam cleaners (and even some cheap steam mops) but is easily carried to cleaning jobs both indoors and out, from carpeted and bare floors, furniture, and countertops to barbeque grills, car engines, and boat decks. Like steam mops and handheld steamers, the McCulloch MC1246 cleans with steam only.

Steam Cleaners Heat-Up and Clean Time.

Once you're in the steam cleaning groove, you'll want to keep the momentum going. That means you want a cheap steam cleaner that's ready to use ASAP and doesn't quickly run dry. Most cheap steam cleaners heat up within minutes -- the Haan upright FS-20 and handheld HS-20, Euroflex Monster EZ1 steam mop, and handheld SteamFast turn water into steam in just three minutes, while the McCulloch MC1246 Portable steam cleaner needs six minutes. Cheap steam vacuums, like the Hoover SteamVac with Clean Surge, Hoover SteamVac All-Terrain, and the Bissell ProHeat 2X, are good to go as soon as you plug them in because they don't create steam; the cleaning action comes from hot tap water (sometimes given a boost by heat from the motor) and detergent that's added before they're powered up.

Whichever type of steam cleaner you're using, it will need a liquid refresher after a while. The cheap handheld steam cleaners we researched have small tanks that hold less than a cup of water and provide steam for up to 10 minutes (SteamFast SF-226) or 15 minutes (Haan HS-20). The tank in the portable McCulloch 1249 is significantly larger -- 33 ounces -- and steams away for 30 minutes or more. Maximum run time for the cheap steam mops on our list ranges from 20 minutes for the Haan Deluxe FS-20 with its 11.83-ounce tank and 30 minutes for the Euroflex Monster EX1, which holds 17 ounces of water. (Remember, with any steam cleaner that produces steam, there's a cool-down period before you can refill the tank and another short wait for the steam to rise.) The cheap steam vacuums we researched hold a gallon of clean water, plus detergent, and provide about 15-20 minutes of continuous cleaning action.

Steam Cleaners Power.

Power in steam cleaners is measured in watts or amps; generally speaking, the more power, the easier it is to remove stubborn stains. Cheap steam mops and cheap handheld steam cleaners feature engines in the 800- to 1500-watt range and the models we researched run the gamut. The McCulloch MC1246 Portable, for example, boasts a powerful 1500 watts, the handheld Haan HS-20 and upright Euroflex Monster EZ1 steam mop each use 1,000 watts of power, while the Haan FS-20 steam mop features an 800-watt engine. Like many vacuum cleaners, the cheap steam cleaners we researched -- the Hoover SteamVac with Clean Surge, Hoover SteamVac All-Terrain F7452900, and Bissell ProHeat 2X 9400 -- sport 12-amp motors.

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