Go beyond the basics and utilize your steam cleaner for everything from exhaust fans to compost bins.

By Jill Waldbieser
July 15, 2020
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With cleaning and disinfecting on everyone's minds lately, you might be delighted to learn a dirty little secret: Steam can do both, and way more easily than most other tools in your household arsenal. Although handheld steam cleaners are usually reserved for treating fabric or carpet stains or getting wrinkles out of clothes, they come in extremely handy for a lot of other grimy jobs around the house, and particularly in the kitchen.

"The great thing about steam is that it acts as a disinfectant," says cleaning guru Melissa Maker, founder of Clean My Space. The temperature at which water turns to vapor, 212 degrees Fahrenheit, will kill bacteria, including the kind that cause odors, so look for a quality machine that reaches that temperature at the nozzle tip, Maker advises.

These are some of the top-rated handheld steamers on Amazon:

Hoover ONEPWR Spotless GO Cordless Carpet and Upholstery Cleaner, $125; amazon.com

BISSELL Steam Shot Deluxe Hard-Surface Cleaner, $50; amazon.com

PurSteam Handheld Pressurized Steam Cleaner with 9-Piece Accessory Set, $40; amazon.com

Once you know how effective a steam cleaner is on grease and dirt, you'll be tempted to use it on everything. But, much like your countertop pressure cooker, steam cleaning works best for some applications, but definitely not all of them. "You don't want to steam anything that could potentially melt or react badly to moisture, and it's just not efficient for large surfaces," Maker says. For the following household chores, however, steam is a dream:

Freshening Up the Microwave

Ever use the trick of nuking a glass of baking soda in water? It's the same principle. "Steam will loosen anything that's been hardened onto the microwave, and then you can easily wipe it away with a microfiber cloth," says Maker. And, bonus, it also disinfects an area that frequently comes into contact with food.

De-greasing the Range Exhaust Fan

"Lots of people don't realize it, but the metal filter gets filthy," says Maker. You can remove it, lay it on a flat surface, and blast steam at it. "It pushes the grease right off," she says. "It's like watching an infomercial."

Cleaning Tile Backsplash

This has got to be up there with the most-hated kitchen chores. It's a pain to scrub and hard to reach tile backsplash. But a blast of steam can get in all the nook and crannies and peel off dried-on splatters easily. 

Disinfecting Countertops and Cutting Boards

After cutting or handling raw meat, poultry, or fish, a quick wipe down then stream of steam will kill any lingering bacteria and leave your counters spotless. Just make sure the materials are ones that can withstand the heat, like natural stone or silicone.

De-greasing the Oven

Thought your microwave was bad? Ovens get way more caked-on residue, and can be tough to access. Steam will loosen it up so you can simply wipe it away.

Deodorizing Trash Cans, Compost Bins, and Recycling Containers

Steaming does double duty on these by loosening up any dirt or scraps that make their way outside the liner, and killing the bacteria that causes funky smells.

Polishing Stainless Steel Surfaces

While stainless steel surfaces are a popular decorating choice, they collect fingerprints and streaks like nobody's business. But steam makes it all better. Just wipe appliances, drawer pulls, faucet handles, light fixtures, whatever with a microfiber cloth after steaming and they'll look pristine again.

Restoring Glory to Your Grill

Gas grills can be tough to clean, but a steamer will do the job inside and out. Grab those grates, then scrub with a wire bristle brush. Do the exterior while you're at it for a brand new looking grill.

Dusting Baseboards and Cabinet Ledges

The dust that gathers in the kitchen is like no other, because it's sticky with accumulated cooking grease. Steam these nooks and crannies and wipe them down with a soft cloth and voila — like new!

Purifying Ice and Water Dispensers

These tend to get hard water deposit buildup on them. The next time you have to change the filter, remove the unit, let it come to room temp, and steam it, says Maker. You'll kill any germs and clean the dispensers so your drinking water stays free and clear.

Removing Stains From Grout

While you technically could steam an entire kitchen floor, it's super time consuming, Maker says. But for tough stains like tomato paste that's discoloring your grout, steam can work wonders.

Getting Smudges Off Glass

Steam up your windows, sliding glass doors, or even drinking glasses and wipe them with a soft cloth to remove fingerprints and streaks.

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