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Last month, the Government published guidelines for cleaning to reduce the spread of infection. Its advice mentioned the use of steam cleaners: “When items cannot be cleaned using detergents or laundered, for example, upholstered furniture and mattresses, steam cleaning should be used.” These guidelines are intended to help slow the spread of the virus in public spaces but the science is the same at home.

If you get a steam cleaner with a handheld attachment (ie not just a steam mop that’s intended for floors), you can use it as an added layer of protection around your home, to:

  • clean your entire bathroom, including high touch areas like your taps, sink and toilet flush
  • go over your kitchen counter, counter appliances, sink area, kitchen cabinet handles and exteriors
  • clean upholstery, bedding, mattresses and pillows

But a steam cleaner will also stand you in good stead for tackling much-loathed household tasks, including:

  • cleaning your oven
  • defrosting your freezer
  • cleaning garden furniture
  • cleaning curtains and rugs
  • cleaning grout
  • washing windows and shower cubicles
  • cleaning toilets
  • removing limescale
  • cleaning pets’ and children’s toys

How to use a steam cleaner

Although we know that, in ideal circumstances, steam will destroy 99+% of bacteria and viruses, there is no exact way to tell how long an item needs to be exposed to steam in order to be disinfected. That’s why, even if you also steam clean, you should follow the best advice on cleaning high touch surfaces in your home during the outbreak. These surfaces should be washed often with soap and water or disinfectant.

(High touch areas are the surfaces around your house that everyone touches – and touches often. They include light switches, door handles, toilet flushes, railings, cupboards, kitchen surfaces and tables and so on.)

To get the best sterilising power from your steam cleaner, hold it close to the item you are cleaning, otherwise the steam may dissipate without doing its job.

You should also hold it over each area for longer than you would usually expect to if you were just trying to remove a smudge of dirt.

If you are using a mop head attachment, the mop head will absorb some of the heat of the steam, so the mop will not sterilise the surface it cleans. However, like any cleaning process, it will help to capture and remove germs.  

Using your cleaner safely

Steam scalds, and can affect electrical outlets, so you should use a steam cleaner carefully:

  • Be careful not to get steam or water into or near plug points.
  • Don’t use it on light switches.
  • Don’t use it for overhead cleaning.
  • Keep it away from children and pets.

Above all, follow the instructions on your steam cleaner. The manual may include guidance for safe use on various surfaces. For example, it can damage the sealant around your bath or shower if held against it for too long. It may also be unsuitable for use on some surfaces. And never use a steam cleaner for anything other than its intended purpose.

What to look out for when buying

  • The steam-ready time: larger cleaners will take longer to heat up the water ready for cleaning.
  • Tank capacity: although smaller cleaners will heat up in only a few seconds, you'll get a much shorter cleaning time before you need to refill the tank.
  • Cylinder steam cleaners, like cylinder vacuum cleaners, are the most powerful but also the most bulky. They are ideal for tough jobs like steam cleaning a mattress but difficult to lug around.
  • Small, handheld steamers will only be useful for spot cleaning around sinks and counters and removing grime and limescale. They won't have the power or the accessories to clean bedding or carpets. 

Buy a steam cleaner now

Here are some steam cleaners you can currently purchase.

Vax cleaner

You can buy the Vax S84-P1-B from John Lewis for £59.99. It's a versatile stick/ handheld cleaner that produces steam in just 15 seconds and will give you 15 minutes of steam cleaning time. It comes with four cleaning accessories, so you can switch from floors to counters to bedding, and it has a 0.36 litre capacity tank. This is a good mid-range option that'll be useful for most jobs around the house, although if you have a larger home, you'll need to refill at least once mid-clean.

Dupray cleaner

If you're in the US, you can buy the Dupray home steam cleaner from Amazon.com for $239.98. Cylinder steamers such as this one are the most powerful and, with the largest tanks, will give you the most cleaning time.On the downside, it'll take a bit longer to heat up. In this case, it takes 8 minutes to be steam-ready, after which you will have 40 minutes of cleaning time. It comes with 14 cleaning accessories.

Karcher steam cleaner

If you want a cylinder steam cleaner in the UK, Argos is selling the Karcher SC3 Easyfix cylinder steam cleaner for £199.99. It has a 1 litre tank and will heat up in just 30 seconds, after which you'll get 23 minutes of cleaning time. 

Hoover steamer

Amazon in the UK is selling this Hoover SteamJet Express handheld cleaner (SSNH1000) for £39.99. It’s a 1000W appliance, it's very light (1.6kg) and has a water capacity of 0.4 litres. It comes with seven different cleaning head attachments. The steam function will be ready to use in 2 minutes and will give you 12 minutes of cleaning time per tank.

This is a fairly basic cleaner, without the option of different steam settings. It'll be useful for cleaning the sink and counter in your kitchen and bathroom and for getting at tough spots of grime but will be of little use if you want something that can steam clean bedding and upholstery. The same cleaner is also for sale from Argos.

You may also be interested in our articles on how to slow the spread of infection using household appliances you already own and how to keep your home clean during the outbreak.

Visit Home Hacks for more top tips and advice on dealing with the new normal.