How to Use a Clothes Steamer

Man holding a clothes steamer nozzle to a blue dress shirt

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Project Overview
  • Working Time: 5 - 15 mins
  • Total Time: 10 - 20 mins
  • Skill Level: Beginner

A clothes steamer is a must-have if you refuse to iron clothes as an easy-to-use and effective appliance for removing wrinkles from clothing, linens, furniture slipcovers, and drapes.

Whether you choose a larger home model or a small travel steamer, the fabrics in your wardrobe and home will look and smell better. A clothes steamer can even be used to clean away tough grime and sanitize hard surfaces around the house.

Before You Begin

Clothes steamers work by heating water to produce steam that is distributed through a directional nozzle. Since every model is slightly different, it's a good idea to read the user instructions and safety information before you use the steamer for the first time.

Here are several tips for successful use that apply to every type of steamer:

  • Fill the tank with cool, distilled water
  • Do not overfill the tank
  • Make sure that all components are connected correctly
  • Allow the water in the steamer to fully heat before attempting to use the steamer, especially after refilling during a long session
  • Never allow the tank to run dry while the steamer is in use to prevent damage to the heating element

Warning

The steam from a clothes steamer will reach 212 degrees F. and burns can occur more quickly than you think. Never direct the steam toward your hands or attempt to steam a garment while you are wearing it. While using a steamer, be sure to keep it upright to prevent spills and keep it away from children.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Clothes steamer
  • Lint roller or brush
  • Clothes hanger
  • Hanging rod or hook

Materials

  • Distilled water
  • Distilled white vinegar

Instructions

  1. Fill the Water Tank

    While you can use tap water to fill the water tank of a clothes steamer, it is best to use bottled distilled water. The minerals in tap water, especially if you live in a hard water area, can cause build-up that can block the steam nozzles.

  2. Power Up the Steamer

    Once the tank is full, assemble all of the components and plug in the steamer. Allow the water to reach its maximum temperature.

    Tip

    Allowing the water in the steamer to heat completely will help prevent sputtering of the water before the steam appears. Water sputters can leave stains on some fabrics and take longer to dry. Test the steamer on a kitchen towel to be sure there is a full head of steam.

  3. Gather and Hang Items for Steaming

    For an efficient steaming session, gather all of the clothes that you want to steam. Place the garments on hangers and hang them from a clothes rack, shower curtain rod, or hook.

    Hanging the clothes gives you 360-degree access and the weight of the freshly steamed clothes will help pull out wrinkles. Additionally, allowing the garments to hang until they are completely dry will help prevent new wrinkles from forming.

    If you are steaming drapes or shower curtains, install them on the rods and then steam to remove wrinkles.

    Warning

    If steaming a tablecloth to remove creases, be sure the table has a waterproof and heat-resistant finish. If not, place a waterproof tarp under the cloth before using the clothes steamer.

  4. Direct the Steam

    Hold the steamer nozzle upright to prevent hot water spills or dribbles. Cotton, wool, synthetics (polyester), and mixed-fiber fabrics can be steamed from the right side of the garment. Lightly brush the fabric with the nozzle as the steam escapes.

    Delicate fabrics like silk, chiffon, and velvet should be steamed from the underside to prevent watermarks, streaking, and crushing. Do not touch the nozzle to the fabric. Hold it at least one inch away from the fabric surface. If you are not sure that is safe to steam the fabric, read the care label or test the steamer on a hidden area.

    Straighten the fabric and hold the garment at the hem. Use a lint roller to smooth fabrics and capture any lint as you work.

  5. Allow Fabrics to Dry

    For optimal results, allow time for the fabric to dry. Leave the garment hanging until it is fully dry. To speed up the drying time, use a rotating fan.

Care and Cleaning of a Clothes Steamer

To keep your clothes steamer working at its best, follow these care and cleaning steps.

  1. Store Properly

    After each steaming session, allow the steamer to cool completely and empty the water reservoir. Allow the components of the steamer to dry thoroughly before storing the appliance.

  2. Clean Regularly

    Even if you only use distilled water in the tank, the steamer still requires regular cleaning. Frequency depends on how often you use the steamer, but it should be cleaned at least quarterly to remove limescale and minerals that can clog the wand and nozzle openings.

    Fill the water reservoir with distilled white vinegar and allow it to heat up completely. Hold the steamer over a sink and shoot out the steam until the reservoir is nearly empty. When the vinegar is gone, fill the tank with distilled water and allow that to heat completely. Shoot out all of the water into a sink. Allow all of the components to dry if you are storing the appliance or refill with distilled water for a fresh steaming session.