How to Buy a Clothes Steamer

Woman holding a clothes steamer nozzle to striped shirt and slacks

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If you hate dragging out the ironing board and iron but also want to get rid of wrinkled clothes, then consider buying a clothes steamer. A clothes steamer is an easy-to-use and effective tool for removing wrinkles from clothing, linens, furniture slipcovers, and drapes. If used correctly, the high temperature of the steam will also kill bacteria on fabrics that cause odors and leave clothes smelling fresher between trips through the washer or dry cleaners.

As professional cleaners know, steaming is faster than ironing and will not scorch or damage most fabrics. However, if you desire sharp creases and crisp, starched shirts, a clothes steamer cannot produce those results and you will need an iron and ironing board.

As a laundry expert and consultant, I have tested many types of clothes steamers and can guide you as you decide what type of clothes steamer to buy. Once you have a steamer, you'll find that it not only removes wrinkles from clothes but there are many ways to use it all around the house to steam clean other surfaces.

Before You Buy a Clothes Steamer

How often and where you plan to use a clothes steamer will help you decide what type to buy. Handheld models are perfect for occasional use at home or for travel. Floor models are more powerful and ideal for longer, more frequent steaming sessions.

Buying Considerations for a Clothes Steamer

Features and Attachments

Before purchasing either a floor model or handheld clothes steamer, consider the features that are important to you.

  • Heat Settings: Having a range of heat settings will more easily accommodate different types of fabrics from delicate laces to sturdy cottons.
  • Water Tank: Compare the capacities of the water tanks when shopping for a clothes steamer. A larger tank will provide a longer steaming session between refills. A transparent tank is a plus to predict when the steamer will run out of steam.
  • Handgrip: If you plan to use a handheld steamer, test that it has a comfortable grip for your hand size. Most upright models have a much smaller grip.
  • On/Off Controls: If you are steaming multiple garments, you don't want the clothes steamer to continuously spew steam when you are not using it. Less expensive models may not have an "on hold" mode. A trigger lock to produce continuous steam is useful for longer sessions and prevents hand fatigue.
  • Safety: Stability is important to prevent hot water from spilling out when the clothes steamer is not in use. Does the model turn off automatically when not in use or if the water tank has run dry?
  • Attachments: For both handheld and upright models, a selection of brushes or steamer heads is a plus to accommodate a variety of fabrics. Compare the length of the flexible hose on upright models for the steaming drapes and wall hangings.
  • Accessories: A heatproof storage bag and a foldable hanger are desirable accessories for handheld steamers.

Energy Usage

Read the fine print about each steamer's wattage and energy usage. Large wattage equates to faster and hotter steam production but also creates higher energy costs. While clothes steamers are not rated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star program, some manufacturers have introduced energy-saving models.


Handheld clothes steamers can be tucked away in on linen closet or laundry room shelf. Floor models are significantly larger and require floor space for storage. When shopping for a handheld travel steamer, look for handles that collapse for ease in packing.

Types of Clothes Steamers

Where will you be using the steamer most often—at home or when traveling? Clothes steamers can be floor models or handheld.

Upright Steamers

Floor models or upright steamers are the most powerful and have large water tanks designed to handle longer steaming sessions of multiple garments. Most have built-in hangers for 360-degree access to garments and multiple heads to accommodate different types of fabrics. They are bulky, more expensive, and less portable than handheld steamers.

Handheld Steamers

Handheld steamers have smaller water tanks but are much more compact and easier to store than floor models. Many handheld models are just as powerful as an upright steamer but have smaller water tanks. Several brands offer multiple steam heads for different types of fabrics. These steamers are more affordable and you may find one that is small enough to pack for travel.

Travel Steamers

The smallest type of clothes steamer, travel steamers are lightweight, often with a collapsible handle, and easy to pack. These steamers are less powerful than other models, the water tank is small, and they usually come with only one steam head.


Clothes steamers can range in price from around $20 to well over $200 depending on whether you choose a travel-sized steamer or a deluxe upright model. Pricing is based on the water tank capacity, wattage, features, and accessories.

Many retailers offer the best prices during year-end sales for the holidays. When shopping for more expensive upright steamers, ask about purchasing a display model for savings.

How to Choose a Clothes Steamer

Clothes steamers can be floor models, handheld, or travel-sized. Selection should be based on how often you think you will use it, your budget, storage space, and where you plan to use it the most often.

How Often and Where Will You Use a Clothes Steamer?

Floor models or upright steamers are designed for use by a frequent and serious steamer. They have large water tanks and a higher wattage to handle long steaming sessions of multiple garments. While most models have wheels, they are bulky and not easily portable from the laundry room or dressing room.

Handheld steamers are much more compact and lighter to handle but are designed for short steaming sessions. Travel steamers are an even smaller, lightweight version of a handheld steamer.

Clothes Steamer vs. Steam Iron

While both appliances use steam to remove wrinkles, how a clothes steamer and a steam iron are used and the final results are quite different.

Clothes Steamer
  • Removes clothing wrinkles

  • Does not create sharp pleats or finishes

  • Requires no other equipment for use

  • More gentle on all types of fabrics

  • Faster to use than an iron

Steam Iron
  • Removes clothing wrinkles

  • Creates crisp pleats and finishes

  • Requires ironing board

  • Not suitable for all types of fabrics

Where to Shop for a Clothes Steamer

Clothes steamers can be purchased online or anywhere small appliances are sold. When you are ready to buy, carefully compare features between models and brands

  • Should I buy an upright or handheld clothes steamer?

    An upright steamer is the best choice if you plan to use the steamer daily or for longer sessions and you have a spot for easy storage. A handheld steamer works well for steaming one or two garments or for traveling.

  • What are the advantages of using a clothes steamer?

    A clothes steamer removes wrinkles from fabrics without the possibility of crushing the garment (ruffles) or fibers (velvet). Steaming is usually quicker than ironing and more gentle on fabrics. Steam helps to kill odor-causing bacteria and freshens clothes, drapes, and upholstery.

  • What are the disadvantages of using a clothes steamer?

    A clothes steamer cannot create sharp pleats or creases in trousers or produce a crisp finish like a starched shirt.