What Does a Steam Feature On a Washer Do?

For some people, the steam feature is a great option.

Washing machine
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If you've shopped for a washing machine recently, you may have noticed that some models offer a "steam wash" feature. Is this feature worth considering? It depends on your cleaning needs and your budget.

What Does the Steam Feature Do?

The website How Stuff Works actually looked at LG's steam washing patent to find out exactly what steam cleaning can do. Here's what they learned:

  • Pre-wash phase: While the water loads into the wash tub, the steam works with the water to help soak the fabrics more thoroughly.
  • During the washing phase: If added while the detergent is mixed with the water, the steam increases the temperature of the wash tub to improve the cleaning power, which also helps to activate the detergent. It does this by dissolving the detergent more effectively, to get the most out of it as possible.
  • Post-wash phase: Steam added after washing lends more high temperatures to the tub to sterilize the clothes. It also softens the clothes to remove hard wrinkles that formed while the clothes tossed in the tub.

Who Should Consider the Steam Feature?

As you can see, steam is a terrific option if you are likely to have very dirty clothing or if you need very clean clothing. It can also be a good choice if you're concerned about wrinkles (or want to avoid ironing as often as possible!). With that said, you might benefit from a steam washer if:

  • Your work or fun involves getting extremely dirty (you work with machinery or in the garden, you enjoy outdoor sports, you're an artist working with washable materials)
  • You or a member of your family is unusually sensitive to allergens or has an autoimmune condition. The higher the temperature reached, the better for killing bacteria, especially dust mites, a claim that some models are making. When it comes to bacterial removal, it would be very convenient to be able to kill germs and viruses from bedding and towels, after someone in the home has had the flu.
  • You are likely to be treating stains or are particularly fastidious about getting your clothes very clean. Steam can loosen dirt from fibers and help with stain removal, similar to a pretreatment. Deep cleaning with steam has been proven to be somewhat effective in stain removal and could make pre-soaking a thing of the past.

How Much Do Steam Washers Cost?

While most steam washers are at the higher end of the price scale, at least one model (Whirlpool) is available for $1000 or less. Not all steam features are the same, though, they vary in intensity and temperature achieved.

When it comes to paying for this feature, it really depends on the efficiency of the steam and how often you might use it, as well as the price difference of the washer compared to one without steam. If you're looking at $100 for the feature, you need to weigh the convenience against this extra cost. If germ control is important to you, this is a small cost to pay for the added protection. On the other hand, an extra $400 may negate the benefit.

Take time to ask about the steam feature when looking at a washer and confirm the temperature achieved so you can weigh the benefit against the extra cost for that machine.