keep-your-delicates-looking-neat-with-the-best-clothes-steamers

Keep your delicates looking neat with the best clothes steamers

Science

A clothes steamer is the perfect tool to eliminate wrinkles quickly and easily on delicate clothing items or pieces that are too big to fit on an ironing board. Using a heating element and a water reservoir — like an electric tea kettle — a clothing steamer produces a powerful flow of steam that gently removes wrinkles and creases from nearly any fabric.

We put 13 handheld and upright clothes steamers to the test, tackling a variety of fabric types and articles of clothing. After evaluating each one’s performance, usability and build quality, we found three that’ll keep your clothes and furnishings looking tidy whether you’re at home or on the road.

Best clothes steamer overall

With a range of steam settings and attachments that let you take care of any type of clothing, and a stable, simple-to-use design, the Conair Turbo Extreme Steam Handheld Fabric Steamer combines ease of use with maximum functionality.

Best handheld clothes steamer for travel

The Chi Handheld Garment Steamer weighs just 1.1 lbs and, thanks to a stick-style design and included travel bag, is perfect for tossing into a suitcase or duffel bag.

Best upright clothes steamer

The Rowenta IS6520 Master 360 upright features a unique triangular head that’s effective on a variety of items and, combined with a convenient foot pedal and extra-large water tank, edged out the competition.

Best clothes steamer overall: Conair Turbo Extreme Steam Handheld Fabric Steamer

$69.99 $54.99 at Amazon

Straightforward controls, a wide range of useful steam levels, convenient attachments and a comfortable, well-balanced design made the Conair Turbo Extreme Steam the best handheld clothes steamer we tested, and our favorite steamer to use overall.

This steamer performed well in all of our testing right from the beginning. While its start-up time is advertised as 40 seconds, we timed it at just 20 seconds. The wide steamer head powered through our test shirt and dress, and was able to handle wide sections of curtains with each pass. The head’s slots (other models use a pattern of smaller holes) produce a consistent, steady flow of steam, and we experienced minimal spitting or dripping.

A single adjustment button lets you set how much steam you want to use (the current setting is conveniently indicated using a series of colored LEDs), and we were able to get exactly as much as we needed in our testing. The trigger-style main steam button is easy to press, and since it let us generate steam only when we wanted it, was much more convenient to use than other models that only had a simple off-on switch with a continuous steam flow. The small footprint makes the Conair easy to handle, and the design isn’t top-heavy like some other small steamers, letting us securely set it down between sessions.

At 7.3 ounces, the Conair Turbo Extreme Steam’s water tank is fairly small compared to other handheld models, but in our testing it was enough to provide about 20 minutes of steaming time per tank. And thanks to the steam trigger and the ability to adjust the output to exactly what you want, you’ll only use the amount of steam you need, maximizing the time between refills. Made of clear plastic, this tank was the easiest to see through compared to any other model’s, making it simple to know when it was running low. It was also easy to remove and reattach, thanks to a sturdy latch mechanism. We turned the steamer upside down repeatedly to test for leaks and never spilled a drop.

We were also impressed with the three attachments that Conair included with this steamer: a bristle brush for loosening fibers as you go, a spacer to provide some extra room while you are working with delicates, and our favorite, a silicone band that helps pull the fabric taut as you go, letting you work one-handed more easily, and reducing the chances of frustrating steam burns.

Best clothes steamer for travel: Chi Handheld Garment Steamer

$49 at Walmart

If you’re looking for a lightweight option that won’t take up valuable room in your suitcase, the Chi Handheld Garment Steamer is a great choice. Its slim, straight body and vertical steam head took a little getting used to, especially compared to the horizontal orientation of every other model we tested, but after a few minutes we figured out how to use it effectively. The slim head was especially effective when it came to eliminating wrinkles around the collar and on the short sleeves of a linen shirt — exactly the kinds of applications in which you’d be likely to use a travel-friendly device like this. The small steamer head and limited capacity make it impractical for use on larger items like curtains, but it’s really not meant for such jobs anyway. And if you’re only looking to occasionally tidy up creases in a shirt or dress, it’s perfect for occasional home use too.

Even though it weighs just 1.1 pounds, the Chi steamer still has a solid, heavy-duty feel to it, — it isn’t at all flimsy like some other lightweight models. Plus, since the water tank is permanently located inside the handle and doesn’t detach like other models, there aren’t any moving parts that can be cracked or damaged during transport. Although its tank capacity is smaller than most handhelds we tested, it still provides enough steam for 5 minutes of use, plenty for the sort of touch-ups the device is designed for.

The main drawback of the Chi is the fact that it doesn’t have a base, so you can’t stand it upright when not using it. That said, the convenient trigger-style switch makes this less of an issue, since you can just toss it on a bed or tabletop without worrying about uncontrolled steam damaging anything.

Best upright clothes steamer: Rowenta IS6520 Master 360 Full-Size Garment and Fabric Steamer

$139.99 at Amazon

The Rowenta IS6520 Master 360 Full Size Garment and Fabric Steamer is well-built, really easy to use, and capable of getting the job done quickly. The Rowenta’s unique triangular steamer head let us reach under collars, into sleeves and along pleats and creases — areas that wide, flat steamer heads tended to struggle with. The top-mounted cradle for this steamer head also securely held it in place between steaming sessions, unlike some other models that felt unstable and flimsy.

Upright steamers need to have a sturdy, solid construction, and the Rowenta delivers, with a hefty base; a wide, oval-shaped pole; and a heavy-duty hanger on top that could hold an impressive amount of clothing. This stability, combined with the large, textured wheels, helps make this steamer comfortable to use and easy to wheel from room to room. The thick, insulated hose added to the feeling that this steamer was built to last.

This steamer also includes useful accessories, like a lint pad, a fabric brush and a steam bonnet to prevent any water droplets from contacting your clothes (although we never experienced this). The 1-gallon water tank was big enough to be used for a large quantity of items, and should really cut down on annoying refills.

The large foot pedal was another convenient feature. We loved not only how big it was, but also the raised shape that was easy to operate and the satisfying click when it powered on and off. (You could also just press this button with your hand if you prefer not to use your foot.) We only took issue with the relatively short power cord, which at 6 feet long is shorter than the other full-size upright steamers we tested.

How we tested

When sourcing steamers to test, we researched popular review sites and retailers for well-known standbys, and checked out social media to look for new products readers might want to know more about. Taking price, size and style into consideration, we eventually landed on a set of 13 upright and handheld steamers aimed at home and travel use. We then ran each steamer through a set of tests, comparing and contrasting how they performed while removing wrinkles from a range of fabrics, using three basic test pieces.

  • We bundled up a short-sleeve linen shirt and noted how long it took each steamer to eliminate the wrinkles. We did our best to pay close attention to how well each model worked in the collar and sleeve areas.
  • We bunched up a long cotton dress overnight for maximum wrinkles and used each steamer to smooth out creases. The long length of the dress also made it useful for comparing upright steamers and their ability to securely and conveniently hold them in place during steaming.
  • By steaming long window curtains, we were able to judge each steamer’s ability to process large fabric pieces. This was also a convenient way to judge each steamer’s portability and mobility, especially when reaching up high and down low.

We also judged the steamers on their overall durability, how easy they were to use and any special features and attachments.

Steaming your clothes is something you don’t want to spend a lot of time doing, so it’s important that steamers are simple to use once they’ve heated up. We paid close attention to how straightforward the controls were, as well as how comfortable the steamer was to use overall.

If you’ll be using your steamer on a variety of items, you’ll want it to be versatile enough to use safely and effectively. We compared any and all attachments that came with each steamer, as well as any settings that allowed you to adjust the steam output levels.

We compared the size of each water tank, which is an effective way to determine how long they’ll steam for and how many items they can get through. We also tested each tank for security and leakage, noting any potential issues.

We paid close attention to whether or not each steamer spit any water onto the fabric while steaming, something that is both annoying as well as potentially damaging to delicate fabrics. We also flipped each steamer upside down several times to test the security of its water tank.

We timed how long it took each steamer to begin producing steam after being plugged in, as well as whether or not that steam was powerful enough to effectively eliminate wrinkles.

We also looked closely at design and build quality, noting whether the steamers felt solid and sturdy or cheap and flimsy. We examined trigger and control mechanisms, water tanks, accessories and wheels and support poles of the upright models. We noted both the type and variety of accessories included with each steamer, as well as whether or not they were actually useful and whether they were well-made or loose and flimsy. We even looked at extras like protective gloves and wrenches or other tools provided by the manufacturer for assembly.

Finally, we noted the length and specifics of each steamer’s warranty and the type of coverage it offered.

What’s the difference between a steamer and an iron?

While they both use heat and moisture to smooth out wrinkles, steam irons and clothes steamers (you’ll also see them referred to as “garment steamers”) get the job done in different ways. Steamers use heat (supplied via hot water vapor), and since they barely come in contact with the fabric, apply much less stress to the individual fibers of your clothes, making them great for delicates, items that typically need dry cleaning and pressing and the like. And since you don’t need a flat surface to work on, a steamer can be used on large items like curtains.

Irons use pressure and heat along with steam to physically smooth out wrinkles — they’re perfect for achieving a crisp dress shirt collar or razor-sharp crease. While compressing the fabric fibers makes ironing a bit more effective, it also increases the chances of damage to your clothes, potentially burning them if you leave the iron’s face in contact too long or even melting synthetic fabrics. Since they require an ironing board or other type of flat surface, the process of ironing also takes up more space than even an upright steamer.

With speedy heat-up times, combined with the fact that they don’t require a bulky ironing board, steamers can be a considerable time-saver compared to an iron. They’re great for quick touch-ups, and smaller handheld models are perfect for travel.

Either way, if you’re interested in keeping your clothes neat and looking like new, one of these tools should quickly become an essential part of the laundry process.

How do you use a steamer?

A clothes steamer is simple to operate — easier than the irons you’re used to. First, place the item you’re steaming on a clothes hanger; an upright steamer incorporates its own hanger or has a hook to hang yours from. If you’re using a handheld steamer, you’ll probably just want to hold the hanger in one hand and steam with the other, or hang it on a shower rod or the back of a chair.

After filling up the steamer with water and plugging it in, you simply wait a few minutes for it to warm up and begin emitting steam (depending on the model, you may need to press a trigger or button to produce the steam after heating up). Now, simply run the steamer head gently down the fabric. You don’t need to press down extra hard or anything, just let the steamer do all the work. Stubborn wrinkles may require multiple passes to eliminate them. If you’re still having trouble, try steaming your garment from the inside out.

Can a steamer damage my clothes?

Since they barely come in contact with the fabric, steamers are extremely gentle on your clothes; for delicate items, they’re safer than irons. If you’re concerned about damaging any delicate items, make sure to choose a steamer that includes either a low steam setting or attachments that create an extra protective barrier between the steamer face and your fabric.

You should never steam suede, leather, waxed cotton or any plastic material, any of which can be ruined by heat or moisture. If you’re not sure, always review the care tag on your clothes, as well as the steamer instructions.

Do I need a handheld clothing steamer or an upright clothing steamer?

Clothes steamers are available in two types: handheld, small, portable units that you hold in your hand, and upright, larger machines with large water tanks that are connected to the steamer head with a hose, like a canister vacuum. Handheld steamers are convenient to carry around the house, although their relatively small water tanks make them less than ideal if you are working on a big pile of laundry or a wall of curtains — you’ll be refilling often in such cases.

Upright models are best for those big steaming projects, and their integrated hanging capabilities make it convenient to do all your steaming in one place. Since they don’t integrate the water tank, the heads of upright steamers are also much lighter than handheld units, making them easy to handle and ideal for those who don’t feel like holding extra weight in their hands.

Other clothes steamers we tested

Jiffy Steamer Esteam Handheld

$75 at Amazon

This steamer has a great reputation and hassle-free operation, but condensation issues ultimately kept it out of the top spot in our travel steamer testing. It performed well, but quickly accumulated condensation on the steamer head, which left wet spots on fabric as we worked. This was a relatively minor issue, and if you’re an organized traveler and don’t expect to be working on clothing pieces you’ll be putting on right away this likely isn’t going to be a dealbreaker for you.

The Jiffy Esteam’s oversized handle is comfortable to hold, and at just 2 pounds, it is easy to lift when working on bigger tasks like window curtains (its 10.5-ounce water tank was the largest of any of the handheld steamers we tested, so curtains aren’t out of the question).

We do wish it had a power button or trigger, however. It starts to heat up as soon as it’s plugged in and emits a continuous stream of steam until it’s unplugged, which was more inconvenient than our top picks. And it’s expensive for what it is — a simple boiler, without controls or moving parts. That said, the minimal design of this steamer should contribute to a long lifespan.

Rowenta X-Cel Steam First Handheld Steamer

$35.99 at Bed Bath & Beyond

Although this Rowenta steamer is comfortable to use and has a sleek, futuristic look, its lack of a flat base means you’re unable to place it upright, which is inconvenient if you’re short on space. The limited capacity of the water tank is a drawback as well, and at 2.5 ounces it is smaller than the majority of the steamers we tested. It did heat up extremely quickly though, and tackled all of our testing really well. We were also big fans of the trigger control, which allowed us to only emit steam when we were ready. It didn’t include as many attachments as some other models, but the brush accessory was well-made and connected to the steamer head with a nice and tight fit. It is relatively inexpensive, so if you’re only looking at small tasks, it is a reasonable option if you’re looking for something on a budget.

Black + Decker Advanced Handheld Garment Steamer

$59.99 $46.72 at Amazon

The extremely wide base of this Black + Decker model gave it a sturdy, bottom-heavy feel. This base doubles as the water tank, and was easy to remove and refill when it started running low. We were also a big fan of its trigger lock, which allows you to either press the trigger to get intermittent steam or lock it into place for a continuous flow. The 15-foot power cord was almost twice as long as the other models we tested, making it convenient for those who don’t want to be limited by a short cord. The three head attachments were also well-made and attached to the steamer face securely, and we were especially interested in the shag-carpet-like cover intended for upholstery work. Initially this model performed well in our testing, but unfortunately began spitting water and dripping from the vents. The rubber gasket surrounding the vent plate also became loose after a few minutes of steaming, which no doubt contributed to the leakage.

Conair Turbo Extreme Steam GS108 2-in-1 Steamer + Iron

$79.99 at Bed Bath & Beyond

Probably the most versatile model we tested, this Conair steamer features a steam face that doubles as an iron. This iron feature worked reasonably well in our testing, although its round shape isn’t as effective as a traditional triangular iron, so it probably isn’t going to serve as a real replacement. The multiple attachments were a nice benefit though, and the four steam settings, combined with the LED screen, could be really useful for those working with a wide variety of fabric and materials. We also liked the “smart sensor” feature, which automatically turns off the steam when the unit is placed on a flat surface. The wide base gives it a firm foundation, and we never felt like it was in danger of getting accidentally knocked over.

The Conair’s water tank design was a big drawback, though. It is difficult to remove and reattach, even when carefully following the instructions, and it is made of a dark blue plastic that — although technically transparent — still makes it difficult to easily see the water level.

Jiffy J-2000 Personal Clothing Steamer

$219 at Amazon

If you need to steam a big pile of wrinkly clothes and time is a priority, this no-frills upright steamer from Jiffy is exactly what you need. It doesn’t have the bells and whistles of other models, and we prefer the triangular steamer head on the Rowenta, but the Jiffy’s straightforward operation makes it ideal for efficient, large-scale steaming. Its minimal design makes this steamer feel nice and sturdy, and combined with the brass couplings and thick plastic body gives an overall feeling of durability.

We were initially put off by the stiff rubber hose, but once it warmed up from the steam it became loose and pliable, and really easy to manipulate. Its four rolling casters — unlike the two-wheeled models that needed to be tipped over to roll — were our favorite feature of this steamer. They’re by far the smoothest wheels we tested, and effortlessly rolled across the floor while we worked.

The Jiffy’s transparent tank can hold .75 gallons, which should provide up to 1.5 hours of continuous steaming time. I’ve personally known set designers and costume professionals who swear by this steamer, citing its large capacity and no-nonsense operation as essential for getting through a lot of fabric quickly and easily.

The major drawback for me was the fact that the cradle for the steamer head wasn’t the easiest to use and took a little maneuvering to get it to fit securely. It also doesn’t include a coat hanger or any kind of attachments, but if you prefer a low-profile appliance or plan on transporting it in your car, this could end up being a benefit.

Conair Turbo Extreme Steam GS121 Professional Steam & Press

$99.99 at Walmart

Unlike other upright options that use a minimalist steamer head, this one uses a head similar to a handheld model, with multiple settings to control the steam output. This could be helpful for some who want more control, but we found it to be bulky and awkward to use, and much preferred the lightweight heads of other standup steamers. We were most impressed with the integrated valet-style hanger, which has a series of slots, allowing you to hang up six hangers at the same time. We found this to be a real time-saver that kept our on-deck items ready to be steamed, as well as a place to hang our finished items. We also found the additional set of fabric clips located on the bottom of the support pole to be a unique and helpful feature. They were the perfect distance from the top-mounted clips to hold pants taut while being steamed, something we didn’t find on any other option.

Steamery Cirrus No. 3 Steamer

$180 at Steamery

The large, wide handle of this steamer allowed for an extremely sturdy grip during use, and combined with the dark grey color, gave it a sophisticated, high-end look. This stylish, minimal design made it impossible to see the level of the water tank though, so it was difficult to tell when it was ready for a refill. The main drawback to this steamer is its narrow base, which makes it a bit top-heavy and didn’t feel as sturdy when placing it on a flat surface. It’s also very expensive compared to similar models from more established manufacturers.

We did appreciate the rubber cover that fit snugly over the face of the steamer for use on delicate items though. This rubber cover was a stylish and refreshing alternative to the plastic attachments of other models, and added to the high-end feel of this steamer. The Steamery Cirrus was definitely the best-looking steamer we tested, and if that’s a priority for you — nothing wrong with wanting an attractive appliance — this is an effective, high-quality option.

Steamery Cumulus No. 3 Home Steamer

$288 at Steamery

Similar to the other Steamery model we tested, the Cirrus portable, the upright Steamery Cumulus steamer has a stylish, high-end look. The all-grey finish is easy on the eyes, and the bulbous base gives it a futuristic look. That said, we wish this steamer had wheels! All the other upright models we tested had either two or four wheels, and by comparison, this one was significantly less convenient to transport or move around a room when, for example, working on drapery. The steamer head was lightweight and comfortable to use, and the brush head attachment works for a range of fabrics. We were pleasantly surprised by the protective glove included with this model, something no other model included. As someone who has occasionally burned themselves while steaming, or at least been annoyed when trying to manipulate a large clothing item, this glove was a useful addition. Like other Steamery products, it’s priced higher than models from traditional brands.

Reliable Vivio 500GC Professional Garment Steamer

$219 at Amazon

This is a great upright option for those who don’t have a need, or desire, for a bunch of extra attachments and accessories. The hassle-free design was our favorite aspect of this steamer, and with just a brush attachment and a removable hanger, it won’t take up much room. We also appreciated the metal fittings that connect the hose with the base, which gave the entire unit a well-built, high-quality feel. It even included a wrench for easy assembly. We also enjoyed the small, minimal design of the steamer head, which made it easy to lift and maneuver around and securely fit into the Y-shaped cradle. Although the water tank was larger than any other option we tested at 1 gallon, it wasn’t transparent, which was a major drawback for me. This might not be a dealbreaker for those who steam infrequently, but if you plan on using your steamer a lot, it’s really helpful to know when you need to refill.