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Steaming away dirt

Choosing the right cleaning machine

In the ideal world, no one would spill spaghetti sauce on the light carpet, and the dog would never track in mud. Most of us live in the real world, however, where a good machine could save the day after a spectacularly clumsy moment or just the daily dirt intrusions of family life.

When choosing a steam cleaning machine, first consider the kinds of flooring you have and what tools and equipment you already own. Although vacuums pick up dirt and dust, they don’t remove stains. To fill in the gaps, many consumers are turning to steam cleaners and mops—some of which are intended for hard flooring such as vinyl or tile, some for carpet, and certain models for both.

Note these two important cautions. Although some manufacturers claim their steam cleaners are safe for laminate floors, some makers of laminate floors disagree. Additionally, using a steam cleaning machine on ceramic tile may temporarily soften the grout.

TECH TIPS

How to get the best results

Make sure the model you’re considering is a good match for your type of flooring. Many steam mops are meant specifically for cleaning hard-surface floors. Canister-style models sometimes also come with attachments that can be used to clean other surfaces, such as countertops, upholstery, or mattresses. Some models come with carpet-glider attachments, so the machine can transition from a hard surface such as tile to carpets or rugs.

And here’s an important cleaning tip: remember to empty out the water tank between uses to keep odors and mineral deposits from building up.

SMART SHOPPER

Comparing features

Many consumers think that instead of simply shampooing carpets or mopping floors the old-fashioned way, using a steam clean machine will penetrate more deeply to remove allergens and dust mites. When comparing steam floor cleaners, pay attention to how long it takes to heat the liquid to the maximum temperature, and what that level is. Hotter temperatures will likely clean faster and perhaps kill bacteria more effectively. Models with bigger water tanks will likely have to be refilled less frequently—but also may be heavier to lug around, or haul up and down stairs.

What’s best, plain water or detergent? Some consumers with allergies might prefer pure steam cleaning, thinking that it’s better for the environment not to use harsh chemicals. Be aware that models that use detergent instead of water may say that the only detergent that should be used is the brand specifically sold for that machine. Nearly all steam cleaners, whether they use water or added chemicals, have removable pads that can be cleaned in the washing machine.

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