How to Use a Portable Steamer or Steam Cleaner

Steamers can be very handy, but use one wisely

A hand cleaning gray drapes with a portable steam cleaner
Flickr CC 2.0

Portable steam cleaners are small, most are compact and easy to store, but their biggest feature is the steam they generate that can sanitize or blast dirt out of crevices, making the cleaning process quicker and easier. And when you add tools to the main steamer bottle, it becomes a multi-function cleaning machine. Though there are other types of steam cleaners such as carpet steam cleaners or steam mops, these tips relate more to using a small portable steamer or steam cleaner.

There are things you can clean with a steamer and some that should never see the steaming end of this cleaning tool. For best results, use a steamer for purposes intended; read the product manual and learn some useful tips to help you with steam cleaning.

General Use Tips

  • Use a steamer only for what it is designed to do.
  • Always wear shoes when operating any kind of electrical steaming device.
  • Only buy certified electrical appliances.
  • Use only on surfaces that are sealed and can take high heat and moisture.
  • Be aware of temperature variations that could cause glass or porcelain to break. Example: Do not steam clean a glass window pane on a very cold day.
  • Ensure that accompanying tools are properly and securely attached.
  • Steam continues to exhaust from a steamer for several seconds after the trigger is released; use care to not direct steam at plants or other items that cannot take moisture or heat.
  • When using tool pockets or cloth covers with a steam cleaner, remove them after use and wash/dry as per manufacturer recommendations. Never store damp cloths.

Common Uses for a Steam Cleaner

Common uses for a steam cleaner include cleaning sealed, glazed ceramic tile and grout, shower door and track, patio door track, wire pet cages, appliance exteriors, patio furniture, countertop, and to clean and sanitize around sink and taps.

You can also sanitize and refresh a mattress, bedding or drapes with a steam duster as well as clean a ceiling fan. There are many outdoor surfaces that could be cleaned with steam including boats, garden tools and so on. The inclusion of steam cleaning tools and cloth covers increases the cleaning function to other flat surfaces such as stainless steel, glass, appliance sides and more.

What NOT to Clean With a Steamer

  • Do not use on unsealed, polished, waxed, or freshly painted surfaces. Though some like steaming walls, steam cleaning painted surfaces is not recommended and you should proceed with care.
  • Do not use a garment steamer on delicate fabrics, colors that could run or items that cannot take heat and steam.
  • Never steam dust musical instruments - they have a unique finish, unlike wooden furniture.
  • Do not linger long on sealed wood, painted surfaces or any area that has a paper, wood, plywood or cardboard composite construction.
  • If using for walls or other areas you are not sure about, always test a small area first and use at your own risk.
  • Do not use a steam duster on finished wood unless you know that the finish is polyurethane-based and can take a little heat and moisture. Refer to their cleaning instructions.
  • Do not use a steamer to dust or clean antiques. Most have varnish or shellac type of finishes that cannot take the heat. The luster/sheen may be affected and the finish could blister.
  • Unplug a steamer before refilling with water.
  • Unplug a steamer before changing attachments.
  • Use care when temporarily putting down a still-hot tool. They can stay hot and moist for quite awhile. Propping it across a wastebasket temporarily ensures it will not damage a table or the floor.
  • If you have hard water, use distilled water in your steamer.
  • Do not use on nylon mesh screens which may not be able to withstand heat.

Save Time by Planning Your Cleaning Approach

  • Clean top to bottom of a door frame and threshold, to avoid having to backtrack to re-clean an area.
  • When using tools with cloth pockets or covers, clean those items that are the least dirty first -- to keep the cloth cleaner, longer.
  • Plan your cleaning route and time, so you can start and finish without too many interruptions.
  • Change cloth cover on steaming tools when soiled. Otherwise, you will be smearing dirt over a surface, instead of actually cleaning it.
  • Have all the attachments you're likely to need, close at hand.
  • Take time to vacuum or sweep up any loose particles, dust or debris to keep from dragging this dirt along with you as you steam clean.
  • Keep all the attachments stored along with the steamer bottle for quick retrieval when needed.
  • Empty the steamer of water and wash/dry any tool pockets or cloths so they are ready for the next cleaning task.