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How Do Steam Vacuum Cleaners Work?

Megan Martin
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If you have carpet, you know that steam cleaning your carpet and rugs is supposed to help keep them clean and fresh smelling and even improve their appearance. But how do steam cleaners work? Are they really more effective than vacuum cleaners? And which type of steam cleaner does your carpet need?

Steam cleaners work differently than vacuum cleaners.

Steam cleaners work in different ways depending on the model. It's important to understand the distinctions in order to choose the right one for you.


Steam cleaners work to remove deeply embedded filth, mold, fungus and bacteria from carpets and rugs. They can disinfect and sanitize a carpet as well. Steam cleaners come in a variety of sizes, from hand-held varieties that spot clean to huge, industrial steam cleaners.

How They Work

Inside every steam cleaner is a boiler. When water is added to the steam cleaner, the boiler heats the water to a very high temperature and produces steam. When you clean with a steam cleaner, the steam is sprayed at high pressure onto the carpet and worked into the fibers with rotating brushes. The high heat and pressure helps to loosen dirt and stains. Some steam cleaners also use chemicals to remove stains, while others just use steam and brushes.

Differences Between Vacuuming and Steam Cleaning

Vacuum cleaners suck up only the top layer of dirt. They do not actually clean the deeper layers of the carpet. Steam cleaners penetrate the fibers of a carpet, loosen dirt, and pull the dirty water back up so that you can discard it. They leave you with a cleaner carpet than vacuuming does.

Benefits of Steam Cleaning

Because steam cleaners are so high powered, they can keep you from having to scrub by hand to remove stains. They can also reduce the use of cleaning chemicals. Steam cleaners penetrate not only the surface of the carpet like vacuum cleaners, but they can deeply clean the fibers of the carpet as well. High temperatures kill bacteria, mold, mildew and dust mites. Steam cleaners are often seen as being more efficient than other cleaning methods.

Conventional Versus Vapor Steam Cleaners

Conventional and vapor steam cleaners are two common types of steam cleaners that work a bit differently. A conventional steam cleaner cleans with steam and hot water. This can lead to wetter carpet. You may need to wait for several hours for the carpet to dry out. Conventional cleaners often use chemicals along with steam and heated water. They still sanitize the carpet. Vapor steam cleaners clean with dry steam at a temperature of 500 degrees Fahrenheit. They often deliver steam at higher pressures, around 60 psi. They do not leave carpets damp and do not require the use of extra chemicals. Vapor steam cleaners are typically more expensive than conventional steam cleaners.