The Best Steam Mop - How to Pick One?
Steam mops use hot steam and cleaning pads to sanitize and clean various types of floors, including marble floors, tiles, linoleum, sealed hardwood floors, laminate, and similar.
Steam mops vary in many details, with the most common ones being onboard tank capacity, heater power and wait time, cord length, types of mop pads, design of cleaning head, availability of scrubbing system, unit weight, is the unit 'just' a mop or vacuum/mop combo and similar.
Going through all of these details before buying a steam mop can save plenty of time and money later.
Updated: April 18, 2023.
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Steam mops use mains power for operation since water heaters require plenty of power. When turned on, the water heater requires 20-30 seconds to heat up the water and to start to produce the steam. Most steam mops have heaters in the 1500 – 1600 W range.
The length of the power cord determines the area that can be covered using a single power outlet, and if one must change the power outlet, the water heater requires additional 20-30 seconds to heat up the steam again.
The common length of the steam mop’s power cords is around 25 feet (~7.6 m).
Cordless steam mops use both mains power and onboard batteries - when plugged in, their water heaters are operational, but when working in cordless mode, they are not producing steam. Instead, batteries are used to power water pumps to spray water and perhaps the cleaning agent on the cleaned area, to power the scrubbing system (if one is present), and to power electronics required for normal operation.
Using a battery for powering a water heater would significantly reduce operating time, or it would require a large, bulky, and very expensive lithium battery.
There are several mechanisms used by steam mops to clean the floors, but the most important ones are hot steam and cleaning pads.
One of the benefits of using steam mops is the fact that hot steam kills at least 99.9% of bacteria and germs on the floors, at least in lab conditions. In real life, this percentage can be even greater, if the steaming time is prolonged. This is very important for people with pets and kids.
Control buttons are usually on the handle or on the body of the steam mop, allowing the user to quickly change the steam setting.
Cleaning pads come in different versions, optimized for different floors and amounts of dirt. When they get dirty, they are easily replaced with a clean ones and after cleaning the floors, they are washed and reused.
In combination with hot steam, so-called "scrubby" steam mop pads are able to remove grout, grime, dust, sticky pet messes and other types of dirt.
One must be very careful when replacing a dirty pad with a clean one since the dirty one is probably very hot due to the use of steam for cleaning.
Some steam mops have edge bristles to help remove the dirt from the edges and corners, while others can have triangular cleaning heads to ease access to hard-to-reach surfaces.
To improve cleaning even further, some steam mops feature scrubbing systems that scrub the floor with cleaning pads up to 800-1000 times per minute, greatly enhancing the cleaning effect.
Note that a scrubbing system and hot steam should be used only on surfaces that tolerate such cleanings as tiles, marble, stone, and other, very resistant surfaces. The use of hot steam with a scrubbing pad system can damage surfaces like a hardwood floor, laminate, or even carpets. If there is a crack in the wood finish, steam can penetrate the wood and make it change shape and start to rot.
Rough cleaning pads can make scratches on sensitive surfaces of wooden floors and laminate, too. Also, if the cleaning pad picks a small stone or pebble or even sand, such dirt can cause scratches on sensitive surfaces. In order to prevent such damage and to speed up the cleaning, vacuuming before cleaning with a steam mop is recommended.
Before using steam mops on wooden floors, check if your flooring is certified for such cleaning and even if it is, test on a small area first. Better safe than sorry.
Most steam mops are not suitable for cleaning carpets – cleaning pads don’t glide over carpets easily. For such floors, many steam mops come with ‘carpet glider’, which enables the steam mops to be used for ‘refreshing’ the carpets - they clean and refresh the surface of the carpets, but most of the dirt embedded among the carpet fibers stays there.
Note: sensitive carpets should not be cleaned using steam mops - hot steam can damage the fibers and even cause discoloration of the cleaned surface.
Cleaning head width determines the area that a device can cover in a single pass. The wider the cleaning head, the larger the area cleaned in a single pass. However, a wider cleaning head requires more steam and hence a stronger water heater and thicker power cord. Also, the wider cleaning head has issues when cleaning around the edges and corners, around the furniture, stairs, and similar surfaces.
The onboard tank capacity of most common steam mops is usually around 400 – 500 ml. The tank is filled with distilled, demineralized, or tap water or with a special cleaning solution based on distilled/demineralized water, with cleaning agents and fragrance for an increased feeling of freshness.
Tap water is much cheaper than distilled or demineralized water, but the use of tap water can lead to limescale buildup inside the cleaner. Also, tap water can leave marks on the floor. To increase the useful operating life of a steam mop, the use of distilled and/or demineralized water is highly recommended, and if one likes additional fragrances, they are available in the form of fragrance disks and liquids.
Special cleaning solutions are commonly used diluted with distilled water. They enhance the effect of cleaning and leave a pleasant scent that gives an additional feeling of cleanness and freshness. However, note that some steam mops prohibit the use of cleaning agents added to the water – for such units, the use of scent discs is a recommended practice.
A special type of steam mop is a steam mop and vacuum combination. Such devices operate like small steam vacuums – they vacuum the area first and then clean and sanitize it using hot steam in a single pass. This way, cleaning is much faster, since the device is doing two jobs at the same time and the cleaning pad can cover a larger area before it must be replaced with a clean one.
Also, as said before, any large dirt like stone or pebble that gets picked by a cleaning pad can cause scratches on sensitive floors, and if the steam mop has a scrubbing system, it can almost act as a sander and really damage the hardwood floor finish.
On the other hand, steam mop/vacuum combos cost slightly more than regular steam mops but have in mind that a very dirty area should be vacuumed first and only then cleaned with a steam mop. Otherwise, cleaning pads should be changed very often.
It is rather hard to recommend individual steam mop and to say, 'this is the best one' - choosing a certain model depends on the personal preferences and requirements of the individual users. Thus, here is the list of 5 very popular and, IMHO the best steam mops currently on the market, which are an excellent choice for most people.
Of course, the number of steam mops on the market is much larger.
Bissell 1940 PowerFresh Steam Mop is very popular and one of the best steam mops on the market - it is a rather affordable and reliable unit, and it does its job. Plain and simple! :)
Bissell 1940 PowerFresh Steam Mop weighs 6 pounds (~2.7 kg) and is light enough to be easily carried around - note that this is the weight with the water tank empty. The onboard tank capacity is 16 ounces (~0.47 liters).
The water heater is rated at 1500W, and it requires around 30 seconds to start to produce steam.
The power cord is 23 feet (~7 m) long, and the cleaning path is 12 inches (~30.5 cm) wide, allowing the unit to clean a relatively large area quickly.
It doesn't come with a 'Carpet Glider' accessory, but it features a very good swivel mechanism to allow the unit to maneuver easily around the objects like furniture, edges, walls, and similar.
Also, it comes with an 'Easy Scrubber' feature which helps in cleaning stubborn stains and dirt.
To help with cleaning different types of dirt from different types of floors, the unit comes with two types of cleaning pads - one is soft and gentle, and another is a 'scrubby' cleaning pad for tough messes.
Bissell 1940 PowerFresh Steam Mop comes with a 2-year warranty.
For more reviews and recommendations, check BISSELL 1940 PowerFresh Steam Mop Amazon link (link opens in the new window).
Shark Steam Pocket Mop (S3501) comes with a 1550W heater and 15 oz (~0.45 liters) water tank. Note that the unit comes with a filling flask which is used to fill the onboard water tank.
The power cord is 20 feet (6.1 m) long and is long enough for most of the tasks.
It features a double-sided mop head - when one side of the mop pad gets dirty, simply flip the mop head and use other side of the pad. This simple feature doubles the area that a single pad can clean.
This model is delivered with a rectangular mop head, but if required, a triangular mop head and carpet glider are available as well.
A triangular mop head is better for cleaning along the walls and when there are many objects in the cleaned area (bathroom, for example), while a rectangular mop head is better for cleaning wide-open areas with no, or almost no obstacles.
A carpet glider can be used to clean/refresh the carpet surface, but it will not help to clean deeply embedded dirt.
Shark Steam Pocket Mop (S3501) comes with a 1-year warranty.
For more reviews and recommendations, check Shark Steam Pocket Mop (S3501) Amazon link (link opens in the new window).
Light 'n' Easy Steam Mop is a very popular unit due to its affordable price, lightweight design, and simplicity of use.
Light 'n' Easy Steam Mop weighs just 4 pounds (with an empty water tank).
Unit is rated at 1150 W and it takes ~30 seconds for the mop to start to produce steam. Also, it comes with 19.6 feet (~6 m) long power cord.
Water tank capacity is 7.4 ounces (~0.22 liters) and is enough for quick cleanups, but for larger areas, it has to be refilled using a filling flask.
A carpet glider is optional and if required, it must be purchased separately.
Light 'n' Easy Steam Mop comes with a 1-year warranty.
For more reviews and recommendations, check Light 'n' Easy Steam Mop Amazon link (link opens in the new window).
Bissell 1543A Symphony is a steam mop and vacuum combo unit. It is slightly more expensive than other steam mops, but it is still a very affordable unit that saves time, especially when cleaning heavily soiled and dirty bare floors.
Bissell 1543A Symphony comes with 'Easy Touch' digital controls which allow the user to quickly choose between low-steam, high-steam, and vacuum cleaning modes.
The unit comes with an 1100 W water heater which requires ~30 seconds to prepare the steam. Also, onboard vacuum, when in use, require an additional 400 W.
The power cord is 25 feet (~7.6 m) long and with 11 inches (~28 cm) wide cleaning path, unit helps the user to clean a rather large area without changing the wall power socket.
The water tank capacity is 12.8 ounces (~0.38 liters).
The unit doesn't feature a full swivel head, and although it weighs 9.74 pounds (~4.4 kg), the unit is easy to maneuver around the objects and floor obstacles - perhaps not as easy as some much lighter units, but easy enough to be used comfortably.
Bissell 1543A Symphony comes with a 2-year warranty.
For more reviews and recommendations, check Bissell 1543A Symphony Pet Steam Mop and Steam Vacuum Cleaner Amazon link (link opens in the new window).
O-Cedar Microfiber Steam Mop comes with a triangular steam head, allowing it to more easily clean along the walls, in the corners, and around other objects and potential floor obstacles.
The maximum width of the steam mop is ~12 inches (~300 mm).
The unit weighs just 5 pounds (~2.27 kg), and thanks to the swivel mechanism, it is easy to maneuver during cleaning.
Unit is equipped with a 1550 W water heater powered via 20 feet (~6.1 m) long power cord.
Thanks to its design, it takes only 20 seconds for the unit to start to produce steam.
Tank capacity is ~14 ounces (~0.4 liters), and the unit comes with a 200 ml filler flask.
A carpet glider is included and is used for cleaning and refreshing the carpets.
O-Cedar Microfiber Steam Mop comes with a 1-year warranty.
For more reviews and recommendations, check O-Cedar Microfiber Steam Mop Amazon link (link opens in the new window).
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some of the most common Frequently Asked Questions about steam mops:
What is the highest-rated steam mop?
Finding the "highest-rated" steam mop is like saying one steam mop is "the best", regardless of the floor type, dirt type, user habits, and similar.
Steam mops with good ratings are a good starting point when looking for a new steam mop, but in the end, choose according to your own needs and preferences.
Do steam mops actually clean better?
Steam mops are excellent in cleaning and sanitizing various floors without chemicals.
However, not all surfaces tolerate hot steam - so, for sensitive floors, use vacuum cleaners, mops, and similar cleaning aids, and for tough and durable surfaces, consider using steam mops as well.
Is it worth getting a steam mop?
Yes, steam mops are fairly cheap, and they last a long time when used and maintained as recommended by their manufacturer.
Is mopping or steaming better for floors?
Again, this depends on the floor and dirt type. Sensitive floors or waxed floors can get damaged by hot steam, while glazed tiles, for example, can be both cleaned and sanitized using steam mops.
Where does the dirt go when you steam clean?
Few Final Words
For people with large hard floor areas, and with pets and kids, steam mops can be a really helpful tool in keeping the home clean and safe. A good steam mop can easily clean and sanitize large areas of bare floors, just be sure that your floors tolerate cleaning with the hot steam.
When choosing the right steam mop for yourself, be sure to read the features and specifications of these models carefully while considering your own personal needs and preferences.