Do Steam Cleaners actually work? We investigate..
I adore the art (and science) of infomercials. I remember sitting up late at night when I was younger, watching the food dehydrator infomercial and being mesmerized by Rom Popeil’s ability to sell something seemingly useless and make it look so fascinating and easy to use (and clean up). I loved the ‘easy payments’ scheme too…that’s how they get ya. Anyway, fast forward a few years and here I am, getting asked from all corners of the globe to examine how a steam cleaner works because many of you have seen them advertised on these infomercials. According to these commercials, steam cleaning is probably as exciting and innovative as the vacuum cleaner was when it came out. Can this technology live up to its hype?
At some point I know I’ll do one on a steam mop as well, but we’ll get started with the steam cleaning revolution in-depth examination using the portable steam cleaner. Tool on the exam table is the Shark Portable Steam Pocket Cleaner (also referred to as the Shark Steam Pocket Handheld Steam Cleaner, or some variation of those words).
Alright, you’re interested.
So, exactly do what do they do, why do we need them, can they replace all of my other cleaning tools and products and do they really work as well as the commercial says they do? We will put it through the paces and let you know these answers as well as some best practices for it if you do choose to use one.
First, what is a steam cleaner?
A steam cleaner is a machine that runs on water and electricity; the water is poured in, boiled and heated up, at which point vapour is let out through a nozzle and into a hose or attachment. The hose or attachment then allows the user to apply the steam to a variety of cleaning applications by using various nozzles, brush attachments and microfiber pads attached to hollow forms. Steam flows through so that you can use the attachment or pad to scrub, wipe or clean the bacteria or debris that the steam has loosened.
People love steam cleaning because it uses only water (i.e. no more chemicals), has the ability to disinfect a surface, it uses powerful and reusable microfiber pads and it can reduce the time and elbow grease you invest in getting challenging areas clean. These ultimately can save you time and money and keep your family healthier (what infomercial product can’t?).
The machine creates steam with plain water, steam that is hot enough to break down dirt and kill bacteria (extreme heat will kill bacteria on contact) and dries almost instantly. The steamer comes with a main body, and a small hose with attachments either with bristles or microfiber pads that are used to actually clean the surfaces. And that’s all you need to get the job done!
Steam cleaners like this are designed to heat up the water to a certain temperature and that high temperature is what gives you the ability to disinfect a surface quite quickly, like within 10-15 seconds, as opposed to the 5-10 minute wet ‘dwell’ time required for a disinfecting product to use. The steam also helps power through horrible messes that require a lot of scrubbing and product (which can potentially damage a surface). That’s pretty cool, I’ve got to say! Now keep in mind, higher-end steamers will heat up faster and clean and disinfect surfaces quicker because of their superior technology. However, for your home, a consumer product like this one is just fine.
Unboxing the Shark Steam Pocket Steam Cleaner
First, it’s purple (my favourite colour), so it scores some points there. When I ‘unbox’ something, I like it filmed so that my first impressions can be captured immediately allowing me to give an opinion without much humming and hawing. I took out the product and it had a variety of well-built tools and attachments, good quality microfiber cloths (I know microfiber like a sommelier knows wine) and a lightweight, well-designed body which is what Shark is known for.
So here’s what came in the box:
- Shark Steam Pocket Handheld Steam Cleaner
- Cylinder Cleaning Wand
- Wedge Cleaning Attachment
- 2 Micro-Fiber Cylinder Pockets (white)
- 1 Cylinder Dusting Pocket (purple)
- 2 Micro-Fiber Wedge Pockets (white)
- Direct Steam Nozzle
- Garment Steamer Kit
- 2 Bristle Brushes
- Scrubber Wedge Pocket (bluish/metallic)
- Squeegee Wedge Pocket (yellow)
- Tote Bag
- Filling flask
- Owner’s manual
I like this product. Shark makes good quality items. They feel strong and durable; however they are not heavy, clunky or burdensome.
I didn’t look at anything and doubted its functionality; in other words nothing looked flimsy. All of the parts had sturdy attachment pieces too, which may sound strange but sometimes attachment pieces snap off and that can render a product useless. The microfiber pockets were all really good quality (as mentioned above) and I liked the variety of the pads. The elastic closures reminded me of a Lulu Lemon garment – I like that system. I really liked the idea of including a storage bag with the kit, because all of those little parts would lead to a storage issue otherwise. I know you could have used your own bag and whatnot, but I liked the extra attention to detail. The downside of that is that there are a lot of small parts, and I know that at times I get flustered with a lot of parts and that has lead to me leaving something in the closet, untouched. I hope this isn’t the case.
They are fairly straightforward and simple, but read them for goodness sake! I am not going to cover every warning and cautionary word in this blog post, you must do this yourself! Learn how to put everything together, learn how to keep yourself and your finishes safe, learn how to change up the nozzles, hose and attachments and you’ll be all set. In the end, you’ll save time because you will actually know what to do from the get go.
Assemble the steamer to your preferred configuration before plugging it in. We opted for the wedge tool and an all-purpose pocket (the white one), which was attached by the hose. I then unscrewed the water reservoir and filled the filling flask (aside: while shooting the video, my husband and I couldn’t stop saying that like a bunch of drunk cowboys! Fillin’ flask! ) with water twice and then plugged in the steamer. Although the box claims that it heats up in 25 seconds, we found it took longer. Let it sit for a couple of minutes when you first plug it in to get things going and then start your cleaning.
It should be stated that you need to wipe the surface clean of debris before steaming it. In other words, the steam cleaner will not pick up crumbs and debris, you need to. So give any surfaces a quick preliminary wipe to remove debris before using the steamer. It is designed more to remove sticky, tough stains, not pick up debris.
This steam cleaner is well designed because it keeps the water cool in the reservoir until it is turned into steam. That’s a good feature, or else we’d be hearing about people being burned with their steam cleaners.
Are you wondering just how hot these get? I was too, and when I spoke with Shark about this, I was told ‘the temperature of the steam directly at the nozzle gets to 121 C’. That’s pretty hot, hot enough to melt grime and kill bacteria.
What can all of these wands and wedges actually do? Here’s my framework for what these tools can actually do for you around the house:
The microfiber wedge and cylinder pockets
Are used for general cleaning, meaning you can tackle anything from cleaning all general surfaces in the house including countertops, sinks, stainless steel appliances, bathroom fixtures and tubs. The two different shapes (4-sided wedge and slender cylinder) allow you to maneuver through parts of your home with ease.
The cylinder dusting pocket
Can be used to clean window coverings, ceiling fans, dust hard to reach areas, awkwardly shaped items that need dusting (like a wine cellar with a lot of bottles that you don’t want to remove), and general dusting.
Direct steam nozzle
This monster just powers through grime, it’s amusing to watch actually. Use it to blast away grime in your oven, tough, sticky stains and areas that you feel nothing else can actually help (think: you’ve used 16 SOS pads on the area already to no avail). The direct steam nozzle (depending on how daring you are) can also be used in the bathroom to blast your toilet clean. The nozzle can fit under the rim and can get into grimy corners. Make sure you sanitize the nozzle when you are done.
If you watch my videos, you will often hear me refer to ‘the cleaning toothbrush’ which is an absolute requirement for proper and deep cleaning. Essentially, a toothbrush can get in to those tight spaces we just can’t reach with anything else (sound like a toothbrush commercial?) and cleaning our spaces is no different. These bristle brushes are what to use for cleaning grout (it’s amazing on grout), grimy surfaces, around faucets, and into other sneaky spots where you need steam and scrub to get the job done. Be sure to clean them well when you finish using them.
Garment steamer kit
Goes without saying; you can use this to steam your clothing to wrinkle-free status. I have an actual Rowenta steamer at home and this one did effectively the same job. The little bonnet can be used to steam and clean surfaces such as upholstery and drapes.
Scrubber wedge pocket
Is amazing on grimy surfaces like inside the oven, cook tops and the scummiest shower tiles. Wash well when completed! Put your biggest challenge up against this pocket.
Squeegee wedge pocket
Works wonders on glass. It features a heavily-matted flat-weave microfiber material that is very absorbent and can power through dirty windows and will clean mirrors using less effort and leaving less streaks (if any) than you would get with traditional glass cleaner.
For the techies, here are some product specifications
- Warranty Terms – Parts: 1 year limited
- Warranty Terms – Labor: 1 year limited
- Product Height: 10-1/4″
- Product Width: 9-7/8″
- Product Weight: 2.6 lbs.
- Product Depth: 5-1/8″
- Motor: 1500W
- Cord Length: 20′
Since I’ve used the product and know how to get it to purr, I figured I’d share some of my best practices with you.
1) Always have a microfiber cloth at the ready to wipe up any blasted-away grime, residue or excess liquid. Since you want to have a streak-free finish, you will need to quickly dry areas once you’ve cleaned them as the pocket gets used. Reason being, the pocket cannot be rinsed, wrung out or dried and since it is receiving a constant stream of steam so it is bound to get wet. This means that you will notice film and liquid can get left behind. Plus, you don’t want to re-distribute that crusty grime from your sink all over your counters.
2) Change your pockets when they are heavy and soiled. They will reach the tipping point where they’ll no longer be effective and will produce more film than clean surfaces. On the Shark website, you can purchase replacement (or additional) pockets for about $30. It’s good to have spares, you’ll get your cleaning done fully and effectively as opposed to waiting until the pockets have been laundered and start at it again.
3) Don’t let the steam sit in one delicate area for too long, namely wood. Keep it moving or else you can damage the surface. Always test a small area first of any finish you are uncertain about. Visit the Shark website for more information about this.
4) Clean your pockets after each use using gentle detergent that is free of fabric softeners or bleach. Hang them to dry!
5) Don’t put your hand directly in front of the nozzle, you’ll have no time to clean if you are sitting in the emergency room with a burn. I kept quickly testing it this way and admittedly, almost burned my hand.
6) Move in one continuous motion instead of starting and stopping this will allow the steam to work effectively without over-dampening the wedge. If you have to go over an area afterward (I usually run my hand over the surface to see if it is fully clean), then you would simply ‘touch up’ that area as opposed to wasting your time starting, stopping and checking.
7) Feel it out because it will seem very awkward when you start using it. You need to administer the steam with one hand by depressing a button on the unit (which I did with my left hand) and operate the wand or tool with your right hand (unless you are not using the hose). You’ll need to get strategic about where you clean so that you prep your area first (or figure out a way to get a 3rd hand). As an example, I cleared off my kitchen counter before cleaning it or else I wouldn’t be able to move items with my left hand as I cleaned with my right hand.
Stainless steel sink: pretty good, took a few passes but got up all the grime. I’d probably use the cylinder tool next time since it would be easier to maneuver than the wedge. My sink looked shiiiiny!
Cruddy countertop: The wedge was perfect for this. It wiped away juice, ketchup, salsa and chocolate sauce that had been sitting there for a few hours prior to filming. I wiped away the chunky debris with a paper towel first and then steamed the surface clean. It was pretty sweet.
Cupboard doors: I used the wedge but would probably use the cylinder next time so that I would be able to access the areas behind the hardware (which tend to get grimy). Worked well and the greasy spots came right off. Loved it.
Stove exterior: The glass cooktop came out nice and clean. I think I would still have to work at those tough burned-on spots in some of the other methods I’ve discussed before (How to clean a stovetop VIDEO BLOG INSERT HERE) but to get it clean and shiny, this worked well. It was also good for sanitizing the stove dials which can harbour bacteria.
Overhead exhaust: It got rid of any dust or stickiness built-up from cooking. It also made the stainless steel shine. I like that!
Interior stove door: Wow, this was most impressive. It blasted away those burnt-on grease spatters with ease. It was like watching something on the Discovery Channel, very cool and very effective! I used the direct steam nozzle for this task.
Stainless steel fridge: I used the wedge and just worked my way from top to bottom using an ‘S’ pattern. It worked beautifully and took next to no effort to have a shiny fridge.
Lime scale build-up in sink: I used the direct steam nozzle for this and didn’t have much luck. I was hesitant to use the bristle attachment because I didn’t want to scratch anything.
Toilet bowl (not aired in video footage): It did work at blasting away build-up, however I didn’t like that the steamer had to be used on an angle which steamed in my face. There’s something quite unappealing about toilet bowl vapours. I will stick to the ol’ brush method (check out our toilet cleaning video here).
Toilet seat hinges (not aired in video footage): This worked, it blew away any build-up around the toilet seat hinges and didn’t require much effort. All I had to do was wipe up the remnants. I used a paper towel instead of microfiber cloth so that I could toss it when I was done. Good for sanitizing the commode, that’s for sure.
Toilet flusher hinges (not aired in video footage): I blasted steam with it using the direct steam nozzle and wiped clean with a paper towel. Clean and sanitized. Nice!
Faucet: It blasted away little bits of hair and debris (my husband sports a wicked half-shaven look, so this comes compliments of his face) and made for an easy wipe up.
Drain surround: I tried both the direct steam nozzle and the bristle attachment to clean the gunk In the drain surround (the part where the metal meets the porcelain – there’s always something growing in there). I didn’t have much luck with this area, to my disappointment.
Bathroom sink: You can’t see much of this in the video, but we did attempt it. However, I used the direct steam nozzle and bristle. Since neither worked, I can tell you that it would require the scrubber wedge pocket to remove build-up for certain. I didn’t try these out in the bathroom, but I know for certain that the scrubber wedge would clean the toothpaste spatters out of the sink and leave it clean and sanitized.
Tile grout (not aired in video footage): I didn’t put this in the video but I have tried it in the past and can tell you with certainty that it works. I may do a separate video on more uses for the steamer including this, since it’s a great visual. It is pretty powerful and can blast stains and mildew right out of grout. Have a cloth handy to wipe up the blasted-out gunk!
Fireplace vent: the small purple ‘fingers’ got right into that vent and made dusting pretty straightforward. However, dusting that area isn’t otherwise challenging so it’s neither here nor there for me.
Upholstered pillow: I like the idea that it ‘refreshes’ the upholstery, especially considering that our cats plant themselves on every conceivable horizontal surface in our home, and I sometimes fall asleep on that pillow. Having that pillow steamed makes for sweeter (and less paranoid) dreams, that’s for sure.
Sofa (not aired in video footage): Same idea as pillows. The results were not visually obvious, but after waiving the wand atop my sofa, I feel better (cleaner) about sitting on my couch. The sofa isn’t even a year old so didn’t notice much difference in odour-removal (I’d like to think it doesn’t really smell). However, professionals use steam to ‘clean’ upholstery so the same principle must apply in this situation too, although it was sight unseen (or smell un-smelt) for me.
Frames, decorative objects (Some aired in video footage): It did a good job on the frames, however if they were very dusty and the wand was very damp, then some of the dust could stick to the frames. Just beware of this. Again, this is something that could or could not be done with a steamer and I think it may be easier to do this with a microfiber cloth. It’s not like the frames or décor objects need to be disinfected.
Silk skirt: Super sweet. It got rid of the wrinkles in a quick and effective manner. I like!
Cotton dress shirt (not aired in video footage): Took longer, wrinkles didn’t come out. However my Rowenta steamer(specifically designed for this purpose) can’t really do better, so I think if one has a cotton shirt, one must wield ye olde iron to remove the wrinkles.
Microfiber is the most powerful cleaning material we know of. Steam breaks up even the toughest dirt, grease and grime and kills 99.9% of bacteria in the process. With these two combined and leveraging the good design and quality of Shark, how can you not love this cleaning tool?
Pros: Re-usable microfiber pockets, well-designed and quality tools, powerful steam, simple to use (once you read the instructions) and for the most part, holds true to its claims. I also like that it is chemical-free and uses cheap, easily accessible water to do its dirty work. It did make my cleaning (of certain areas) easier and I appreciated that. It kicked butt on the tougher jobs that usually require heavy-duty product, lots of elbow grease or specialized tools.
Cons: I will state it is not perfect. My main issues with it are that there are some design flaws (namely the challenge in cleaning with one hand as opposed to two when the hose is in use) and it didn’t work on every surface. It also didn’t heat up in 25 seconds when I first turned it on. It did not power through every single challenge I put it to in my home and finally, I think that some of the touted cleaning uses are superfluous. Finally, there’s a bit of a learning curve with it for certain and a definite adjustment of your cleaning routines. Some people may find this frustrating. Others may be too lax to take the time to use all tools and therefore find it ineffective. But, if you can get past these two metal obstacles, you will learn to love this tool.
So you want it, right? Well, don’t get it because you think it is going to make your everyday housekeeping easier. It’s not. Keep doing what you’re doing. Get it because you dislike cleaning up the heavy-duty messes and leave them because you don’t want to expend your precious time and energy on it. Get it because you don’t want to use chemicals to get rid of oven soot or soap scum. Get it because the idea of sanitizing with just steam delights and excites you. This tool will make heavy-duty cleaning and sanitizing much easier and you can expect to cut your cleaning time in half on those tasks.
What do you think about the Shark Steam Pocket Handheld Steam Cleaner? Are you going to get one?