What a steam cleaner does, in essence, it is heated water to near boiling or even considerably above boiling, resulting in steam that is low in moisture and under slight pressure. The low moisture, slightly pressurized steam is delivered directed via nozzles or brushes to the area that needs cleaning. On hard surfaces the heat and slight pressure can loosen and remove dirt.
Because the steam is at a high temperature, near or above boiling, steam cleaning is effective for sanitizing surfaces without the need for disinfectants. When used to spot clean carpet or drapery stains, the steam penetrates the surface lifting dirt and other materials, sometimes without adding any chemical cleaning product.
After the item being cleaned is exposed to the steam under slight pressure, the water and any other material such as dirt or grease is suspended in the water and usually vacuumed up and held in a tank to be disposed of later.
The water in a steam cleaner is not reused so the unit must be periodically refilled. Some other common uses for steam cleaners are bed bug and dust mite control, and deodorizing.
- Accessories – Steam cleaners usually include a collection of accessories especially brushes which are made from steel, brass, or nylon. Nylon brushes are for more delicate applications and provide slight abrasion. Brass brushes are most often used on harder metal surfaces. Steel brushes are for heavy duty cleaning jobs such as barbecue grills or in restaurant applications. Other typical accessories include squeegees for cleaning glass doors, mirrors and windows, and plungers for sink drains.
- Automatic Refill – Industrial steam cleaners sometimes have a line which connects the machine directly to a water source and refills the water tank as needed.
- Boiler – The boiler heats water and turns it into steam. High heat and pressure are hard on boilers, so many of them are made of stainless steel. An optional feature of some steam cleaners is a replaceable heating element, which is much less expensive to replace than an entire boiler.
- Detergent tanks – Detergent tanks store and release cleaning solutions when required. Some have manual mix control options that allow the amount of detergent or other chemical added to be adjusted. If chemical or detergent is needed, it can also be applied prior allowing time to dwell providing better cleaning performance.
- Refill Tank – Refill tanks hold water for later use in a second tank. This allows the steam cleaner to be operated without any down time. When there is only one tank the machine has to be shut down while the boiler heats water. With a two tank system, one tank is held in reserve during cleaning, while the other tank is used up. When the machine needs to be refilled the unit continues to heat water and can be used to clean while the auxiliary tank is being refilled. This can save up to about 20 minutes per refill compared to a single tank unit.
- Steam Vacuum – An integrated vacuum with steam can make the cleaning process faster allowing the operator to suck up debris using the same hose. Collecting the steam before it condenses will leave any dirt and grease suspended in the vapour. If not vacuumed up again the water vapour and any dirt or grease trapped in it will condense on the surface creating a new mess. The vacuum is a vital component as it takes the mess away instead of just moving it around.