Steam cleaning systems are a revolution in whole-house cleaning. They’ve been popular in Europe for decades, and are now catching on here in the U.S. A canister system steam cleaner provides a balance between the versatility of a handheld steam cleaner and the coverage and convenience of a steam mop.
You’ll be able to clean your floors with extra power, including all the cracks, crevices, and corners that you might miss with a mop. Plus, you’ll have an attachment set to use on pretty much anything you can think of around the house and in your car.
There’s quite an overwhelming variety of options, so we know it can be pretty confusing to know where to start looking for the right one.
That’s where we come in! As your steam cleaner experts, we’ve combed through the benefits and drawbacks of dozens of different cleaners, and read thousands of reviews from buyers like you. We narrowed down the options to find three great cleaning systems that will help you all over your house.
Below, you’ll find full reviews of each of our top choices. We’ve explained all the key features, and boiled down online feedback from previous buyers to bring you everything you need to know about these cleaners.
Here’s a quick look at our choices:
*Steam cleaner systems come in a whole range of shapes, sizes, and power. They range in price from $100-$1,000+, from budget models to industrial cleaning machines.
We’ve only included household steam cleaners here. There are industrial power models available to consumers, but we found them to be overkill in terms of power. They’re also a lot less convenient to store around the house.*
Best Steam Cleaner Reviews
1. McCullough 1275
This McCullough system is one of the most popular cleaners available today. This is a heavy-duty cleaner that manages to fit right in your home. We love it for its versatility–we’re hard-pressed to think of anything you can’t clean with this machine. The best part is that it costs no more than a good steam mop! Previous buyers say they’ve gotten years of powerful service out of this machine.
The heater in the McCullough is loaded with 1500 watts of power. That’s as good as it gets in this price range. The heater can get the tank up to full heat in 8 minutes. Once you’re at temperature, you’ll have enough capacity for 45 minutes of continuous cleaning.
The trigger features a lock mechanism, which lets the machine produce continuous steam without you needing to hold your finger on the trigger. That’s a great feature for when you’re mopping.
Of all the attachments, the jet nozzle provides the highest pressure and highest temperature. It’s great for blasting the toughest spots and sanitizing any surface. It’s also ideal for dealing with bedbugs. Reviewers loved it for sliding door tracks, faucets, windowsills, and other areas that are hard to reach with traditional cleaners.
You have the option of using small bristle brushes or the larger scrubbing pad for other surfaces. That means you can use the small, intense attachments where you really need them, and then do the rest of the project more quickly with the larger pad.
There are also a few types of brushes. The nylon bristles are good for grout, while the metal brush is strong enough to scrub grills and car parts.
There are also two extension wands, so you can adjust the length of your attachments as needed. At full extension, it’s long enough to use comfortably as a mop, without having to bend over. The mop head is extra big, too, so you’ll be able to mop more quickly than you would with other mops.
There are two mop pads included, which are good for any tile or wood surface. They’re microfiber, and are machine washable. The McCullough also gives you a bit more coverage than many mops, with a 13×8.5” mop pad.
The triangle brush helps you clean in corners, on flooring, counters and ovens. It’s compact. All the tools and the power cord can be stored onboard.
The mop pads aren’t great for tile grout. We’d recommend cleaning the grout with a narrow nozzle before going over the rest of the floor. Also, you only get two pads, and they wear out quickly.
There isn’t a fabric attachment. You can use the wide head, but you’d have to use the mop pad to prevent fabrics from being damaged. Obviously, such a wide tool isn’t ideal.
It’s quite loud.
Reviewers said it wasn’t really up to cleaning engines, as advertised. While it’s certainly powerful enough to handle most things around the house, McCullough’s advertising is a bit optimistic.
2. Reliable Enviromate E5
This Reliable canister system is a powerful, efficient solution for whole-house cleaning. While its price is high, it’s a well-designed, highly durable machine that we think is truly impressive. Previous buyers said its sheer ease of use and smart design made it the pricetag. It’s a good choice for people who know they’ll get lots of use out of their steam cleaner system, and will appreciate the extra quality.
It uses a pressurized system to provide consistent output at 58 psi. This also means there’s a constant reserve of steam, so you won’t have to stop and go.
The heater is powered at 1780 watts, even more than the McCullough! It provides more than enough power for anything you can think of. Previous buyers raved about its effectiveness on food grease, adhesives, and paint spills, to name a few.
There’s also enough power for tougher jobs like removing wallpaper and caulking. It takes nearly all the elbow grease out of redoing your walls or floors. Previous buyers said it makes light cleaning almost effortless, and really accelerates deep cleans.
The Reliable uses a proprietary “CSS” continual steam system to provide a constant supply of it. The system also allows you to add water while the system is heating, with no danger of splattering. This feature cuts out a major inconvenience inherent to steam cleaners. With most models, you have to wait for the system to cool completely before refilling the tank. By the time you’ve done that and waited for the whole thing to heat up again, you’ll have wasted a good half hour. Not with the Reliable!
It’s also guaranteed to be 220 degrees at the tip, not just at the boiler. Many other machines have lower-temperature water, which dips below 220 degrees by the time it emerges. This can compromise a cleaner’s function as a sanitizer and a bedbug-killer.
With most other machines, you have to wait, in order to prevent splashing. This can cause scalding and injuries.
Another smart feature is the automatic shutoff. If you’re in the middle of a tough cleaning job, you don’t want to have to keep eyeballing the water level. This handy function means you won’t accidentally damage the boiler by letting it run on empty.
The boiler system has a lifetime warranty. Other parts are easy to order, and affordable to replace. Thankfully, the boiler is the costliest part–and you’ll never have to buy a new one!
It’s made in Europe–not just designed there, but also built there. Overall, the build quality completely trumps its lower-priced competitors. The main hose is built from stainless steel, which won’t dent or break. The other parts and attachments are built from thicker, heavier plastic than many other cleaners.
The hose detaches for storage. With flexible steam control, you can adjust it to your needs on any given day (anywhere from 0-58 psi). That’s a big advantage over the McCullough, which is a bit industrial for some delicate household surfaces.
It’s a lot more expensive than some competitors. However, it’s the closest you’ll get to the power of an industrial cleaner in a household-sized package. Plus, it balances its power with versatility and adaptive power.
Some reviewers questioned how hot the water was when using both extension wands.
The power cord is quite short, at only 10 feet. You’ll probably want to use the E3 with an extension cord.
Because of the metal tank and wand, as well as the heavier plastic, the machine ends up being a bit heavier overall. It’s easy to roll around on the caster wheels, but it’s still a solid 20 pounds with an empty tank.
The Steamfast is a lightweight, less heavy-duty version of the McCullough. It’s a very similar design, with fairly comparable function. We’ve provided it here as a slightly cheaper option for budget buyers. While we don’t recommend it for frequent use, it’s a good budget option for folks who want to be able to use steam once in a while without spending a premium.
It comes with a big set of 17 attachments. It’s basically the same set that you get with the McCullough and the Reliable. There are a few basic brushes, extension wands, a mop head with pads, and a window squeegee.
Our favorite attachment is unique to the Steamfast. It’s a corner tool, which can be outfitted with a sponge or scrubbers to clean into corners without scratching woodwork or grout. It’s the only corner attachment we’ve seen that isn’t hard plastic.
It’s almost as powerful as the McCullough, with an on-par 1500-watt steam unit. However, it’s a bit gentler on home furnishings. The steam is less aggressive on delicate wood finishes, making this one a good choice for you if you want to clean your furniture more gently.
It’s very lightweight, weighing in at just 8.5 pounds. It’s extremely inexpensive, and about the same price as the average steam mop. However, it covers even more ground. Reviewers loved it for a bargain-priced cleaning bundle, and we think it offers a lot of value for the price.
The warranty is only for a year. However, customers generally had very good experiences with Steamfast customer service.
It’s quite loud. The steam is “wetter” than some more expensive cleaners (i.e., less hot). This means you’ll have more residual moisture to wipe up. The cord doesn’t wind into the canister. This makes storage a bit awkward.
There’s no attachment for cleaning fabrics or delicate upholstery.
The plastic brushes warp under full power. You’ll be better off alternating steam and scrubbing, so the brushes don’t build up too much heat. Other plastic parts, like the wands, aren’t really up to heavy use.
Which steam cleaner is right for you?
The Reliable is ideal for people who expect the most out of their cleaner. It’s a big investment, but if you’re planning on doing most of your cleaning with it, it’ll be worth the money. It’s by far the most powerful and most versatile of our three choices.
The McCullough is our recommendation for most buyers. It’s extremely popular, so there’s quite a bit of feedback about it online–most of which is overwhelmingly positive. It’s very inexpensive, and will clean just about any surface well. Plus, it comes with a huge accessory set to help you with each job. However, it’s not as industrial as advertised, and it won’t last as long as the Reliable.
The Steamfast is our choice if you’re on a budget and will be using it for light household cleaning and the occasional deep-clean. Reviewers said it’s capable of cleaning most household messes, and is reasonably durable. However, since the McCullough is only slightly more expensive, we’d recommend spending a little more for a nicer machine.
Weigh Cost vs. Cleaning Power:
More expensive steam cleaners are more powerful overall. They produce higher-temperature steam, which leaves less residual moisture. They also build up higher pressure in the boiler, so steam comes out with more force for cleaning.
They’ll also have more complete attachment sets. Generally, these all include the same tools. However, cheap brushes don’t last long, nor do thin plastic hoses. Higher-quality machines will have better accessories in the package.
You can also expect better durability from top-of-the-line cleaners. They’re built better, and backed by longer warranties.
The price difference between the cheap ones and the decent ones isn’t huge ($100-200), but then there’s a big jump from decent to very good ($500+).
Depending on your house and your other cleaning equipment, you’ll need different attachments. If you have grout, for instance, or want to clean a grill, you’ll need higher steam pressure and metal brushes. Make sure your steam cleaner will cover everything you need it to.
Tips for Steam Cleaning:
1. Make a Day of It
It can be quite a long process to get a steam cleaner up and running, and it takes just as much time for it to cool down when you’re done. You’ll want to make a list of cleaning jobs before you start cleaning, so you’re not wasting any steam time. If there’s one obvious spot to clean, there’s probably a few more hiding just beneath eye level!
2. Check Warranties and Test A Spot
While steam cleaners are meant to work on just about any surface, you will want to make sure the surface is intended to be steam cleaned. Check the warranty on your carpets and hardwoods before you start cleaning. You don’t want to void the warranty or cause unintended damage!
It’s also a good idea to steam clean a small patch of a carpet or upholstery somewhere that’s hard to see. That way, if it changes the appearance of your furnishings, you won’t have ruined the whole thing. Some carpets may only need dry cleaning so know the difference between dry cleaning and steam cleaning.
3. Use Distilled Water
The vast majority of steam cleaners will recommend using distilled water in the manual. That might seem expensive, given the tank size on some of the larger canister models. However, this preserves boiler life by preventing mineral buildup and deposits. And you’re saving lots of money on cleaners and rags, so a few gallons of distilled water is a worthy investment.
4. Use a Bit of Elbow Grease
Steam cleaners can work wonders, but steam won’t do the whole job by itself. You should expect to do a bit of scrubbing work on tough jobs, even with the best steam cleaner.
If a spot won’t come clean, hold the steam over it, then try wiping it away. You can also try alternating steam and scrubbing. This stops moisture from building up on the cleaning surface, and prevents the brushes from warping under constant heat.
For more, be sure to read more of the best steam mop reviews!