Beyond floors – Steam cleaners aren’t just for hard flooring. Find out how to use them for other surfaces too.

updated: May 21, 2019

When you hear the words steam cleaner, you may automatically envision floor cleaning. Yes, they’re great for cleaning floors, both carpet and bare. The truth is that steam cleaners are much more versatile than that.

Why steam cleaners should be part of your cleaning arsenal

Steam cleaning

  • No chemicals necessary – They use the power of water, and that’s it. No harsh chemicals that can irritate sensitive skin, kids, or pets. Note: Carpet shampooers that produce steam use detergents.
  • Natural disinfection – The heat produced from steam cleaners naturally kills up to 99.9% of all bacteria and viruses when used as directed.
  • Fast drying – The steam produced while cleaning evaporates quickly, preventing damage to surfaces such as wood that are sensitive to moisture.
  • Deep cleans – Steam can reach crevices and corners easier than a wet rag or mop and can penetrate deeply into porous surfaces such as grout for a more thorough clean.
  • Removes stuck-on grime – Steam breaks down stuck-on messes like dried drink spills, gum, glue, paint, wax, etc.

Tips for steam cleaning carpet

Most carpet steam cleaners are carpet shampooers that use steam to break down dirt and stains. While you can always hire this out, you can save a lot of money doing it yourself with a quality steam cleaner. Be sure to follow all the machine instructions thoroughly, as they will differ between machines. Also, make sure your carpet can handle the steam and that the detergent will be safe for the fabric. Test clean a small, hidden area before you commit to the whole floor.

Carpet cleaning
Here are some basic tips for steam cleaning your carpet

  1. Remove all items from the floor. For the most thorough clean, try to clear as much of the floor as you can, even big items if possible. Move heavy furniture (get help if needed) to another room or move it all to one half of the room. Clean the empty half, wait til it dries, then move all the furniture to the clean side and work on the other side.
  2. Dust all surfaces thoroughly. Remove dust from baseboards, ceiling fans, picture frames, window sills, and all other surfaces before you clean the carpet so it won’t fall on there after you’re done.
  3. Vacuum thoroughly. Steam cleaners are not meant to be used as vacuums, even when they have a powerful suction. Vacuum first to remove all loose, large particles and hair that could clog your steam cleaner. It also fluffs up the fibers so the shampoo and steam can penetrate better. Don’t forget the edges by the walls – use a crevice tool if needed.
  4. Pretreat set in stains. Either spray your pretreater on the stain and let it sit for a while before you use the steam cleaner or blot it up with a cloth.
  5. Fill the tanks. Fill the steam cleaner tanks with hot water and detergent. Some machines have separate tanks for these. Follow manufacturer’s directions.

    Expert tip: For those who are sensitive to detergents, try a 50/50 mix of water and white vinegar.

  6. Start steaming! Start in the far corner of the room (farthest from your water source) and work backwards so you’re never walking on the wet carpet.
  7. Go slowly. Steam cleaners are slower than vacuums, so walk slowly, about one step every two seconds. This will give the cleaner time to break down and suck up the dirt while removing excess water.
  8. Work in sections. Run the machine in long lines, not short strokes like you would a vacuum. Overlap each pass by an inch or so to avoid leaving lines of dirty carpet.
  9. Dry your carpet thoroughly. Keep all objects off the floor. Don’t walk on the carpet if at all possible, or at least keep dirty shoes off it until it’s dry. Set up box fans, turn on ceiling fans, or open windows to facilitate faster drying. This will help prevent mold and mildew.
  10. Practice good carpet maintenance. Vacuum at least twice a week. Use doormats at every exterior door. Remind everyone to wipe their feet. Even better, make it a routine for everyone to remove their shoes as soon as they come in. Have slippers available (even for guests) for use indoors.

What else can you steam clean besides carpet?

A number of household surfaces can benefit from a good steam cleaning. Some of these may surprise you. Many require a handheld steamer or hose attachment.

Furniture cleaning

  • Furniture fabrics, drapes, & mattresses
    (Steam can remove stains and kill dust mites. Keep the steamer moving constantly to avoid soaking the fabric.)
  • Doorknobs & light switches
  • Grills
  • Patio furniture
  • Pet cages
  • Removing wallpaper
    (For stubborn wallpaper, first score the paper, then hold the steamer on it long enough to penetrate the paper and soften the glue. Test every few seconds to see if it can be pulled up. Use a scraper to remove the paper so you don’t burn your hands).
  • Sealed hard floors, including wood, laminate, tile, and vinyl
  • Glass & mirrors
  • Kitchen appliances
  • Children’s toys, cribs, and diaper changing table
  • Shower doors
    (Use a squeegee attachment if available, starting from the top, and work your way down. Wipe the doors with a clean, dry microfiber cloth when finished).
  • Freezer defrosting
  • Ovens
  • Dusting artificial plants
  • Garden tools
  • Ice/water dispensers

Daniel Zeichner - Cleaning Expert
Steam mops such as the Shark Steam Mop Lift Away include a detachable handheld steamer with a hose and cleaning pad to reach all kinds of above-floor surfaces.
Daniel Zeichner
Our Expert Team


What NOT to steam clean

There are some surfaces that should either not be steam cleaned at all or steam cleaned with extreme caution. Take wood flooring, for example. Some sealed wood floors can handle a steam mop, but it’s super important to make sure there is no excess water left behind.

Here are other surfaces you should either avoid or be very careful with when it comes to steam cleaning:

  • Any unsealed, waxed, polished, or freshly-painted surface
  • Delicate fabrics. If it says “dry clean only”, don’t steam it. Always read the tags for proper cleaning instructions.
  • Musical instruments
  • Anything made of wood. If it’s sealed or painted, at least do not linger for long with the steamer. Make sure it’s totally dry after cleaning, and test in a small spot first.
  • Antiques
  • Nylon mesh window screens
  • Unpainted, primed, or flat-painted drywall

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