Steam Vapor Cleaning for Hard Surfaces

Steam cleaning is a new and exciting trend for home cleaners wanting a quicker, greener way to clean and sanitize hard surfaces in and around the home.

Steam CleaningSteam Cleaning is Super Eco-Friendly!

Steam cleaning is a new and exciting trend for home cleaners wanting a quicker, greener method of hard surface cleaning. Commercial cleaning companies have been using steam for years to clean up all kinds of messes. Greener dry cleaners now use steam as part of their cleaning and stain removing arsenal. Car washes, dentists and jewelers have always used steam for cleaning. Why shouldn’t the non-professional, just regular folds use steam cleaning as well


There are two basic aspects to cleaning.

  1. Removing dirt and debris
  2. Sanitizing/disinfecting

You get the best of both worlds with a vapor steam cleaning system. At the simplest you get hot steam that loosens dirt, grease, gunk and grime. Right there you are on easy street for cleaning up. At it’s best, your steam cleaner can, if reaching the proper temperatures, safely sanitize and even disinfect your kitchen and bathroom surfaces for you. All you need is some mopping up cloths and you are finished. And even the mopping up could be forgotten if you get a unit that “extracts” or has an actual vacuum in it. Top of the line models will include a HEPA filter vac.

The obvious green attraction of cleaning and disinfecting with clean steam is that you don’t need all those bottles of cleaning chemicals. This could be an invaluable tool for people with extreme chemical sensitivities or mold allergies. Steam cleaning uses less water than washing the traditional way.

“Consider that it takes only 16 seconds to dispense 2 quarts of water from a tap. Every time you rinse a cloth, a wash mop or rinse a shower after cleaning with a chemical solution you consume gallons of water needlessly. By comparison, you can fill a 2-quart water supply for 1 hour of steam cleaning. Don’t forget the cleaner’s plastic bottle you must discard when empty. Steam is conservative and nearly waste less”. (from


The down side, I must add, is that you will need electricity to use a vapor steam cleaning machine or tool, and if you want to really evaluate the “greenness” of these cleaning appliances you would need to consider the energy used and the environmental pollution created in it’s manufacture and distribution. Not to mention possibly not so great working conditions for the workers in the manufacturing plants, most likely somewhere overseas. explains why they think steam cleaning is a superior way to clean,

“Steam Cleaners and Steam Vapor Cleaners – NO CHEMICALS used to harm ANYONE!
A recent EPA report concluded that the toxic chemicals in household cleaners are three times more likely to cause cancer than outdoor air pollution. The fumes you smell and often can’t smell from many cleaning products are likely to be harmful in some way. In one study conducted over a 15 year period, women who worked at home had a 54% higher death rate from cancer than women who had jobs away from the home…

[Steam] cleans your home, office, business and more – Cleans tile, grout, surfaces, equipment and much more without any harsh chemicals or acids. Clean, sanitize and deodorize almost any surface, glass, equipment, kitchens, bathrooms, spot clean & deodorize upholstery, carpets plus some models do floors and have attachments for other surfaces”.


  • Vapor steam cleaning systems are considered to be superior to older of steam cleaning units.
  • Vapor Steam cleans by loosening dirt from surfaces without the need for soap or chemicals.
  • Vapor Steam automatically sanitizes surfaces and also disinfects surfaces if it’s hot enough.


As I started researching steam cleaning for Natural Bubbly, I found discussions centering on vapor versus steam cleaning technology. Apparently steam cleaning is the old way, and vapor cleaning is the new improved way to deep clean, sanitize, and disinfect. Vapor is the new steam!

I deduced that what is being called vapor instead of steam produces less water than steam. This improvement makes the cleaning more on the dry side with less water to clean up, and makes the machine more versatile. Here is how todayshealthyhome describes the difference between steam and vapor:

“What is a Vapor Steam Cleaning system? – A vapor system looks like a vacuum but it is not. It is not the conventional “steam” cleaner nor is it a pressure washer. It is an appliance that provides Dry Vapor Steam to sanitize, clean and deodorize virtually any surface – without using chemicals, ONLY steam”.

I knew wouldn’t be happy until I figured out the difference between what is called steam cleaning and what is called vapor steam cleaning so I went to my favorite chemistry reference resource – The Cartoon Guide to Chemistry by Larry Gonick & Craig Criddle.

I learned that steam is just a layman’s term for hot water vapor. Vapor is the scientific term to describe the gas that rises from water. Boiling water vapor is commonly called steam. That’s about all there is to it scientifically speaking

Then again, I kind of like the way this UK Yahoo Answers commenter said about steam and vapor,

“When water boils, it turns into a colourless gas called water vapour. Unless you’re in the middle of a desert, there’s always a certain amount of water vapour in the air.

If the air cools, it cannot support so much water vapour so it condenses back into liquid water. Liquid water suspended in the air indoors is called steam. Outdoors it’s called clouds”. ~from UK Yahoo answers Old Know All

My guess is that the newer vapor cleaning machines and “vapor cleaning systems” have different ways that they force steam out of the machine onto your surface. I read somewhere there was a difference in the size of water particles. Just plain steam cleaners are typically cheaper than the vapor steam cleaners. There’s a difference you can easily quantify!

A Tiny Chemistry lesson from The Cartoon Guide to Chemistry

“ . . . boiling begins precisely when vapor pressure equals external pressure”. (p. 119)

That means that water boils at a very low temperature high up on a mountain and at very high temperatures below sea level. It has to do with the external air pressure!

I will be using the terms Vapor and Steam interchangeably from now on.


Steam Cleaning

Steam vapor cleaning is amazing how it does all the work for you in terms of scrubbing. If there is an extractor, vacuum, suction, or sweeper feature on the machine, you won’t have to do much wiping up afterwards. Steam cleaning without the suction means you have to wipe up all that water and crud after you are done with the machine.

You can clean just about anything with a steam cleaner as long as you have the proper attachments.


If you go to this link at you can watch a video and see photos of steam cleaning in action. It’s fun to watch!
Steam Vapor Cleaning in Action


What’s important about using steam or vapor cleaning machines for disinfecting and sanitizing is that the machines must be capable of creating, at minimum, the temperature of 212 degrees F as it comes out of the nozzle or attachment immediately onto your surface and it won’t be killing any germs for you. This means that even if the water is boiling (213 degrees F) out of the tank, it may not be 212 degres F when it comes out the nozzle. Temperatures between 212 and 240 degrees F are sufficient for sanitizing surfaces in our homes. Sanitization is when you reduce bacterial populations to safe levels. Disinfecting is when you kill entire bacteria and virus germ populations on contact.

We don’t need intensive steam cleaning in our homes if we are healthy and not suffering from an immune disorder for example. But, for situations where you need to totally de-contaminate surfaces you will need higher temperature steam vapor. I quote again,

For the controlled environment where contamination, particulate removal or bacteria reduction is critical. Steam Vapor (240° F – 270 F at the Nozzle Tip, Surface contact, 94% dry) sanitizer, cleaner with simultaneous extraction – all in one unit.


You can get steam cleaning machines and systems in a variety of price points. The simplest home handheld steamer can be had for $30.00 or so. You might consider trying one of these out first just to get an idea if you enjoy cleaning this way. If you do you might consider investing more money in a better machine.

Steam CleaningThe highest end choice will be something like a Vapor Steam Cleaning System that includes a canister style machine with stainless steel boiling reservoirs, a heap filtered vacuum, and a variety of attachments and bells and whistles so you can use it in every room of your house for almost any cleaning project.

When researching high end models, first of all consider the water reservoir, or boiler as it called. Stainless steel will be your best quality boiler, but it is heavy compared to aluminum. Aluminum boilers would make the machine lighter and less expensive. If you plan on using your steam cleaner to clean surfaces all around your house, you should consider the weight of the machine.

What about the boiler running out of water before you are finished? There is a new technology called ‘Continuous Fill’ which uses two boilers instead of one allowing one to remain unpressurized and re-fillable while the machine is running. Small jobs don’t require a lot of water to be completed, but larger jobs do. Waiting for a hot machine to cool off so you can refill the boiler, and then waiting for it to heat up again could waste a good hour!

Steam-cleaning the running gear of an "H&...

Steam-cleaning the running gear of an “H” class locomotive, Chicago and North Western Railway, 1943.

Having some steam pressure control would be nice for really tough problems. If you get a unit with around 60 psi, then you can clean anything in your house or garage! Otherwise, a lot of pressure is not required for proper steam cleaning a lightly soiled surface. Then you could get away with 20-30 psi. And you could keep more of your money as well!

For canister steam cleaners that use handheld hoses, check the quality of the hose material as well as it’s length. Beyond 8’ the steam going through the tube cannot retain it’s bacteria killing heat so becomes ineffective. If the boiler temp is listed as 300 degrees F, for example, then it still needs to be 240 degrees F or more by the time it reaches your contaminated surface to effectively disinfect.

I have never used a steam cleaning machine but I researched the the topic like I was going to buy one. And I just may! In the end, you and I will have to weigh the pros and cons of purchasing a simpler machine that may be less likely to break versus buying a machine loaded with features that could be prone to breaking down. That is the general rule for buying appliances and electronics–the simpler the better if you want it to work reliably forever without a lot of servicing.


When trying to figure out what type of steam vapor cleaning system to purchase, I advise looking for a commercial manufacturer’s machine designed especially for home use. These companies have been perfecting steam cleaning technology for years and I believe you will get a better machine this way. And, because it doesn’t need to be as sturdy as a commercial machine, because presumably it’s used a lot less, you will pay a reasonable price.

Purchase from reputable appliance seller. Here are a few more things to be aware of when shopping for a steam vapor cleaning machine.

If the unit has a vacuum in it, they will tell you. In the world of steam cleaning the term “extractor” is often used, but it could also be called “suction” or “sweeper”.

If you are interested in green cleaning without unknown chemicals, avoid those cleaning tools that provide prewetted cloths since they are soaked in toxic chemicals and are also non -washable. Better, more versatile appliances made for home use by commercial cleaning appliance manufacturers will have the option to use your own cloths, or to use washable cloth covers that come with the machine. That’s greener.

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Welcome to my website!

Julia has been practicing green cleaning for several years as the owner of As You Like It Home Cleaning and organic gardening for almost 20 years running Julia Houriet Custom Gardening. She studied landscape design at Radcliffe Seminars in Cambridge Massachusetts. Her expertise is gleaned from education and years of experience.

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