If you have young children or pets, it’s likely that your hard floors will be in constant need of cleaning. If this is the case, consider investing in a steam cleaner. These machines do all the hard work for you – and very fast. They heat up water to produce steam at high pressure which tackles germs and dirt on home surfaces without the need for harsh detergents, which is better for you, the environment and the surfaces themselves.

With so many options on the market – Karcher, Shark and Vax are some of the brands to look out for – it’s worth doing your research before splashing out. One of the most popular models is the steam mop: an upright machine, with a water tank attached to the handle, designed to clean hard floors. Then there’s the handheld steam cleaner, which cleans everything in the home including windows, grouting, clothing, mirrors, curtains, ovens and showers.

Some particularly versatile models combine the two – an upright model with a removable hand-held unit, for example – and might include an assortment of attachments for cleaning different surfaces, including carpets. The cylinder-style steam cleaner combines the roles of the steam mop and handheld cleaner, and can steam for longer but tends to be more cumbersome.

Check your chosen machine will do all the jobs you need it to: does it have an attachment for cleaning grout? How long does it take to heat up, and how long does the tank last? Bear in mind that if you are in a hard water area – that’s London included – you will need to fill the machine with deionised water or opt for a machine with an inbuilt filter.

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Shark Klik and Flip S6003 Automatic Pocket Mop: £94.99, Amazon

The klik and flip feature (being able to flip the mop head to a fresh clean side), the extra-long eight metre mains cord, and decent sized tank make this steam mop ideal for cleaning large areas. Its 1200W is a lower power compared to other models featured here, but it is still ready for use in under a minute and produces an even spread of steam which means that the floor dries quickly. 

Boasting a powerful steam jet for spot cleaning that is easily operated by angling the head, it even enabled us to remove stubborn stickers left by toddlers. The machine feels robust thanks to a high quality build, with plenty of metal and a soft grip handle, but its sturdiness does add extra weight to drag around, and the bulky rectangular mop head is less practical in small spaces. It has three steam settings, and a 12 month guarantee, with an extra year if you register. 

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Bissell 23V8 Steam Mop: £69.99, Bissell

Don’t expect the bells and whistles of extra features here (there is no carpet glider, for example), but despite being one of the cheapest mops on our list, the Bissell is our favourite for straight-up hard floor steam cleaning. While there is only one setting, the even distribution of steam from the mop makes it perfectly effective and also helps with floor drying time. A conveniently positioned button on the handle operates the machine and, at 1600W, it heats up quickly.

It’s also sturdy, even in the hands of a heavy-handed cleaner, thanks to much of the model being comprised of metal. The elastic pull cord mop pad is a useful feature, making its fitting on the mop head snug and easier to get into corners. The tank is small, lasting for about 10 minutes – but filling it up is straightforward. This lower-priced machine is user-friendly, lightweight and easily stored – and it comes with a one year warranty.

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Black + Decker FSMH1351SM-GB 9 in 1 Steam Mop: £128.85, Amazon

This versatile machine operates as a steam mop with variable steam settings for floors, with a detachable handheld Steambuster which is useful for cleaning bathroom tiles, ovens, windows and clothing. Once you’ve got to grips with it, the innovative SteaMitt gives you better control when cleaning, without needing to lift the Steambuster itself, and the 180 degree pivoting head gives good flexibility and reach.

Also handy is the six metre long mains cord and range of accessories, including a window squeegee and brush for tiles and grouting. It is on the lighter side, and doesn’t leave the floors too wet and comes with a two year manufacturer’s guarantee.

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Vax Steam Fresh Power Plus Steam Mop: £99.99, John Lewis

Unlike other steam mops, the Vax can be used with detergent, which we find removes grease marginally quicker than steam alone, and neutralises smells. Beware that filling up the tank can be fiddly, as the rubber bung is tricky to slot back in, and that the water container tends to pop out when too much pressure is applied on the floor during cleaning. Steam escaping from the front of the mop hampers its efficiency, and the handheld unit, with its inbuilt water tank, is heavy.

However, the water tank lasts for 10 minutes on a high setting, and much longer on the lowest, and the assortment of accessories makes it versatile for cleaning a wide range of areas such as walls – we particularly like the scrub brush for removing persistent stains. The Vax doesn’t have the build quality of the Shark, but is still robust, comes with an extra-long mains lead (eight metres) and – with its high power (1600W) – it heats up in less than 30 seconds. It also comes with a two year guarantee.

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Karcher SC3 Easyfix: £139.99, Amazon

Like the Vax, this versatile cylinder-style cleaner is powerful and offers a range of uses. Not only is it a steam mop with three steam level settings, but a handheld steam gun, for use on hobs and walls, that is lightweight with a slim head – easy to get into tight spots. It’s not as tidy as the others as there’s no simple way of packing the leads and attachments up. This is the only cleaner for which we needed the instructions, mainly for the water filter, which means those in hard water areas needn’t worry about limescale; filter cartridges are £11.99, but last for ages.

It heats up extremely quickly (1900W) and has a one litre tank to cover large areas – no filler cap means easy topping up. The short (four metre) lead can be frustrating, but the machine does a decent job on grouting, skirting boards, tiles and walls stain. The two year guarantee is topped up by an extra year when you buy direct from Kärcher.

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Thane H20 HD Steam Mop: £89.99, Currys

An update on the H20 X5, this latest model from Thane functions as an upright mop for floor-cleaning, including sealed wood and laminate, marble, stone, ceramic and carpet, and converts to handheld cleaner for grouting. It comes with a range of attachments including carpet glider, brushes, an angled jet nozzle for targeting areas like bath plugs, extension hose, an assortment of washable cloths and tools for window cleaning and dusting.

But our favourite aspect is the large swivelling head, which makes light work of getting into tricky corners. The 450ml removable tank lasts for more than 10 minutes of steaming and it has a limescale filter inbuilt – but you do need to let floors dry off afterwards. At around 2kg, this is one of the lightest machines on the market, but not as sturdy as other brands.

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Vileda Steam Mop: £64.99, Amazon

The Vileda has a dial for the amount of steam required which is a useful feature when cleaning hard sealed floors such as tiles, vinyl, wood and laminate, and carpets (a glider is included as well as two microfibre cleaning pads). However, the uneven spread of steam means you might have to go over stains twice and floors are left wet.

Like the Shark, the tank is not removable, but a filler jug is provided making it easy to fill up.It’s very light, making it easily manoeuvrable, yet strong with its metal attachment handle bar. At 1550W, it heats up fast, in less than 30 seconds.

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The verdict: Steam cleaners

If you want a basic upright steam mop, for price and user-friendliness you can’t go wrong with the Bissell. For a more versatile machine, that tackles carpets, upholstery, grouting, kitchen hobs as well as hard flooring, the latest Karcher is a powerful machine with plenty of attachments and functionalities making it worth the cost. But our favourite is Shark's offering, it's great for large areas or flooring with persistent marks, and it's reliable and robust.

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.

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