How to Select and Use a Clothes Steamer

Man steaming his jacket in bedroom at home
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Clothes steamers are a quick and effective tool for removing wrinkles from clothing, linens, furniture slipcovers, and drapes. Steamers are easy to use and following just a few tips will make you look like a professional. You may even find ways to use it all around the house.

Before You Buy

Before you buy a clothes steamer, take time to review these tips to help you make the right decision. As professional cleaners know, steam is a gentle and effective way to remove wrinkles, remove odors and freshen fabrics. Steaming is faster than ironing and will not scorch or damage most fabrics.

  • Type: Where will you be using the steamer most often—at home or when traveling? Home steamers can be floor models or handheld like the Black + Decker Advanced Handheld Steamer. If you select a handheld model, you may find it is small enough for travel as well.
  • Set Your Price: Steamers come in a wide range of prices. Determine your budget; you may have to make trade-offs when comparing features and prices.
  • Performance Ratings: Research each model's performance rating on independent sites such as Study how quickly each steamer heats up, the capacity of the water well, its volume of steam output and its stability to prevent hot water spills and burns.
  • Features and Attachments: Review every model's attachments and features, like brushes, collapsible handles and heat, and steam settings.
  • Energy Usage: Read the fine print about each steamer's wattage and energy usage. Some large residential models require significant power to run them. You can then weigh that against paying dry cleaning bills for pressing.

Using a Steamer

Before working on any fabric, allow the steamer to heat completely. This will prevent sputtering of water that can leave marks before the steam appears. Test on a kitchen towel to be sure that you have a full head of steam.

Always steam fabrics in a vertical, upright position. Hang garments from a hook and leave curtains hanging on the rod. Pressing down on a garment will not help to release the wrinkles. It also allows the condensation in the steamer hose to flow down, not dribble out.

To use the steamer, touch the material lightly with the steam head and wrinkles will instantly vanish. This allows the steam to penetrate and relax the fibers of the material, thus removing the wrinkles. Do not directly touch velvet with the head of the clothes steamer. Some fabrics, such as silk, should be steamed from the underside to prevent streaking or watermarks. 

Never hold your hand directly in the steam. Burns can occur more quickly than you think. Keep it away from children. Never overfill your steamer or allow it to run dry which can damage the heating element. Keep the water container upright to prevent spills. Unplug the steamer and empty excess water before storing.

Cleaning the Steamer

The best way to keep your steamer in good working condition is to only use distilled water. This prevents limescale and minerals from building up in the tank and in the steam outlets or jets. If you have used tap water, you probably need to clean the steamer often to keep it performing well and to prevent sputtering.

White distilled vinegar is the perfect thing for cleaning the steamer. Pour the vinegar into the water reservoir and allow it to heat up completely. Shoot the hot vinegar into a sink until all of the vinegar is gone. This will remove limescale and minerals that are probably clogging the wand and steamer head.

When the vinegar is gone, fill the tank with distilled water and allow that to heat completely. Shoot out all of that water into a sink. Refill with fresh distilled water and you are good to go.