How To Steam Clothes: easy tips for using your handheld or canister machine to take care of garments!

cat walking on two feet

Steam is a wonderful all-purpose tool! We use it for all sorts of things, from cleaning grills to disinfecting kids toys. Besides cleaning, though, steam is one of the best things you can bring to your wardrobe!

Why steam fabrics?

Steam, of course, kills germs and dust mites. These are two things which are absolutely everywhere in most wardrobes. While you launder most items to sanitize and clean the fabrics, there are all sorts of things (blazers, nice slacks, etc) which can’t be cleaned so easily. Steaming them will eliminate both allergens and germs. It’s a surefire way to deodorize, too!

It’s also a fantastic fabric treatment! Careful application of steam removes wrinkles without leaving as severe a finish as an iron. It freshens dry-clean-only/delicate items between washings, removing odors and preventing any rumples. Woolens in particular do very well with this kind of treatment. Woolens can’t be ironed, since that destroys the pile of the yarn. Steam does the trick gently and effectively! You can lower your dry-cleaning bill and reduce the wear on your fabrics at the same time.

We’ve also found that steam can be a great way to sanitize and freshen items you can’t wash or dry-clean. Upholstery, drapes, and many curtains can’t be laundered or brought to the cleaners but you can easily steam them! That’s a thorough way to reduce allergens and bacteria around the house.

It’s non-toxic–a far cry from dry-cleaning! There are no toxic chemicals used, there are no smells after the process, and you don’t have to worry about what you’re touching after your clothes have been treated.

It’s relatively cheap. You’re not paying for professional cleaning, and you don’t need to spend your valuable time driving to a facility, either. If you use a steam cleaner rather than a dedicated clothes steamer, you don’t even have to buy one separately! You just need water, a steamer, and a rack/hook to hang garments.

How to steam garments

steaming garments

Hang things up before starting

Just as you always want to iron on a flat surface, you should always steam garments while they’re hanging. Keep one hanger for steaming, so you don’t have to worry about melting or warping all of yours by accident (you shouldn’t do this unless you make a big mistake, but still!).

Set up your steam cleaner

You should be using either a handheld or canister machine for treating garments. Steam mops don’t usually have the kind of attachments you need for this, and most of them are too bulky to use like this.

We recommend using either a handheld unit or a canister system, with a garment attachment fitted. Most good sets come with one included. You can also use a small, flat nozzle from your cleaning set, but the benefit of a padded upholstery tool is that you can touch garments without risk of tearing or scuffing them.

Following the instructions on your specific model, fill up your water tank and wait for things to get hot.

Here’s how to see our recommendations for the best canister steam cleaner, and for the best handheld steam cleaner.

Cater to the garment

As you start to steam, make sure you’re considering the specific garment you’re working with! This is a gentle way to take care of fabrics, but you should still pay attention to what you’re doing.

over very delicate fabrics, and don’t get closer than 1” with your nozzle. This is a good approach for things with pleats or ruffles.

You can keep embellishments and prints safe by steaming from the inside out, rather than focusing any intense heat on the finishing elements

For most fabrics, you can come right up to the material without damaging it. That’s especially true if you’re using an attachment that’s been designed for garments.

Work methodically

Use downward strokes as you steam your garments, trying to spend a consistent amount of time on each inch of fabric. Work from top to bottom, inside to outside. Steam from shoulder to cuff on tops, waistband to cuff on trousers.

Let things dry afterward

Before you put them away or wear them, be sure to let your steamed garments dry thoroughly! You don’t want to spend all that time sanitizing and finishing them only to make them mildewy and have to start all over again.

What NOT to steam

Leather

Suede

waxed/outdoor fabrics

Synthetics

Anything with plastic or nylon

Anything while it’s on your body!

Anything with stains: the steam will set the blemish!