Rosie on the House: Steaming things up a bit

Steam easily gets rid of soap scum and mildew in the bathroom.

If you are seeking a cleaning system that is all-natural and eco-friendly, consider steam cleaning. Steam cleaners do not leave an odor — just a fresh clean smell that is germ and chemical-free. They are useful for deep cleaning and sanitizing with little effort involved.

Steam & How It Works for Cleaning

When water is heated, it evaporates. It turns into water vapor and expands. At 100 degrees C it boils, evaporates rapidly. At boiling point, the invisible gas of steam is created. The steam's molecules penetrate a surface's pores to force out dirt, grease, grime, and other stain-causing substances. When done correctly, steam cleaning can quickly kill 99.99 percent of germs and bacteria — without the use of chemical-based disinfectants.

Items & Surfaces to Safely and Effectively Steam Clean:

• ceramic or porcelain tile and grout

• glass shower doors and tracks

• patio door tracks

• metal pet cages and bowls

• stovetops and grills

• patio furniture

• countertops, sinks, and plumbing fixtures

• mattresses and bedding

• drapes

• ceiling fans

• garden tools

• precious gemstones

Depending on the type of steamer you use, you may need special attachments for specific tasks.

Do NOT Steam Clean:

The results of steam cleaning these surfaces will leave you steamed.

• unsealed, polished, waxed, or freshly painted surfaces

• finished wood — unless it has a polyurethane-base and can withstand heat and brief moisture.

• antiques — most have varnish or shellac finishes that will dull the luster or sheen and the finish could blister

• nylon mesh window screens

• laminate flooring — the fiberboard core can be ruined by moisture that seeps through the seams between planks

• musical instruments with a unique wooden finish

Buying a Steam Cleaner

There are several types of steam cleaners for home use. When selecting a cleaner, buy only certified electrical appliances that carry approval ratings from an official certification agency, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL).

Handheld Steam Cleaners:

Small, light, portable, and low-priced (starting at under $80), handheld steam cleaners are easy to use and store.

Rosie on the House: Steaming things up a bit

A handheld steamer is light enough to carry from room to room.


• Extremely useful for cleaning stovetop nobs, crevices between the stove and countertop, seams along the countertop

• Removing small stains from carpets.


• Not designed for cleaning floors or for large surfaces

• Has a small tank that offers limited operating time.

Steam Mops:

Designed for daily floor cleaning, steam mops are light and easy to handle. Similar to a broom, but with greater hygiene.


• models available as low as $35

• ready to use in a few seconds

• light and easy to use

• perfect for cleaning and sanitizing floors

• takes up very little space

Rosie on the House: Steaming things up a bit

Easily clean floors without the use of chemicals.


• difficult to clean corners or other hard to reach areas

• may not remove stubborn dirt

• may require a specific accessory to clean carpets

• the small tank may require frequent refills

Cylinder Steam Cleaners:

Similar to a vacuum cleaner, their size is determined by the boiler that generates high-pressure steam. Some models may be lighter and more compact can be strapped on during cleaning.


• versatile — good for cleaning and sanitizing the entire home in one cleaning project

• large tank so you don’t have to stop cleaning to water

• many accessories available

• effectively removes stubborn dirt, stains, and marks

• wide price range to fit any budget: from $99 to $659


• can be more difficult to handle than steam mops or handheld steam cleaners

Steam and Vacuuming Integrated Systems:

Ideal for maximum cleanliness in minimum time, this design combines the effectiveness of cylinder steam cleaners with a vacuum function — creating a single device able to vacuum, clean, and sanitize every washable surface in the house, without using chemical detergents.


• no need for a separate traditional vacuum cleaner

• versatile and capable of cleaning and sanitizing the entire home

• combined steam and suction action

• heats up quickly

• large tank

• many accessories available

• effectively removes stubborn dirt, stains, and marks


• prices start around $250

• needs more room to store

A note about tank size: The more water the tank holds, the longer you can clean before stopping to refill and reheat. Machines with a "continuous fill" come with a backup tank to keep you cleaning longer.

When selecting a steam cleaner, look for good customer service, a strong warranty, and long product life.

Cleaning Tips

• Use distilled water to prevent mineral buildup in the cleaner and on surfaces.

• Do not use a garment steamer on delicate fabrics, on colors that could run, or on items that cannot take heat and steam.

• When using tools with cloth pockets or covers, clean the items that are the least dirty first.

• Change the cloth covers on steaming tools when they become soiled. Otherwise, you will be smearing dirt over a surface rather than actually cleaning it.

• Don’t store damp cloths. They will grow or mold.

• Have all the attachments close at hand.

• Sweep and vacuum before steam cleaning.

• Clean top to bottom on door frames and thresholds.

• Keep attachments stored with the steamer bottle for quick retrieval.

• Do not linger on sealed wood, painted surfaces, or any area that has a paper, wood, plywood, or cardboard composite construction. On areas you are not sure about, test a small area first.

Caution: Remember, you are using boiling water.

• Read the cleaner’s manual first and use it for what it is designed to do.

• Wear closed-toe shoes.

• Use a portable steamer only on surfaces and materials that are sealed and can take high heat and moisture.

• Be aware of temperature variations that could cause glass or porcelain to break. For example, do not steam-clean a glass windowpane on a very cold day.

• Ensure that accessory tools are properly and securely attached.

• Steam continues to exhaust for several seconds after the trigger is released. Do not direct at plants or other items that cannot take moisture or heat.

• Unplug before refilling with water and before changing attachments.

• Use care when putting down a hot tool.

For more do-it-yourself tips, go to An Arizona home building and remodeling industry expert for 35 years, Rosie Romero is the host of the Rosie on the House radio program from 8 to 11 a.m. Saturdays on KTAR-FM (92.3) in Phoenix; KGVY 1080AM 100.7FM; 10 to 11 a.m. on KNST-AM (790) in Tucson.