Choosing the right steam cleaner – Part 1
Steam cleaning continues to grow in popularity because it makes so much sense:it is totally green, no chemicals required, produces superior results: cleaner surfaces, superior disinfection (log 7), better indoor air quality, lower costs, no WHIMS, no MSDS, no gloves, no masks, no protective clothing, no locked storage for chemicals, fewer repetitive strains, little physical exertion, can be done during normal business hours. Another key benefit is the complete versatility of steam systems which can be used on all types of surfaces — floors, walls, ovens, toilets, freezers, exhausts,wheelchairs, mattresses, upholstery, draperies, equipment, and so on. This growing popularity has encouraged a number of new suppliers into the business, which makes it timely to review the most important selection criteria in choosing a new steam cleaner.
WHAT TYPE DO I NEED? There are basically 2 types of steam cleaners – dry steam vapour, and saturated (or wet) steam. Dry steam is uses litres per hour of water, whereas wet steam requires gallons per minute of water. Wet steam is typically used in industrial or large-scale outdoor applications. Dry steam is used indoors for degreasing, disinfecting, detailing and deep cleaning. Note that carpet machines are sometimes mistakenly called steam cleaners, although there is no steam to be found in them.
WHAT FEATURES DO I NEED? Once decided on a type, let’s assume dry steam, you will find both Batch steamers and Continuous steamers. As their descriptions suggest, a batch steamer makes one batch of steam at a time. This is typical of consumer models, where it is not critical if you run out of steam during a job. A batch steamer has a vital safety cap to prevent the escape of steam from the boiler. A continuous steamer has a non-pressurized reserve water tank, which feeds the boiler on demand, to make replacement steam while you are using the steam cleaner, ensuring that you will not run out of steam. You can open the water tank to add water at any time, even while the machine is running. Commercial steamers are continuous steamers.
WHAT ELSE SHOULD I INSIST ON? Most of the best quality machines are made in Italy, constructed with a stainless steel boiler, supplied by a well established distributor, offered with a strong warranty, and with clear service and repair capability. Of course, all machines should be properly certified by CSA or a comparable agency such as UL, to meet product quality standards. As with any important purchase, make sure that you are dealing with a reputable supplier who will stand behind his product. It is not unreasonable to ask for references. When a salesman tells me that his product will last at least 5 years, I like to hear that verified by a satisfied customer who has used the product for 5 years.
WILL I NEED SPECIAL TRAINING OR SUPPLIES? No. Steam cleaners are easy to use, require only regular tap water, and a modest amount of practice to get the most out of them. A professional supplier will review the operation of the equipment with you, to ensure you are comfortable with it. There is no need for specially treated water, distilled water, reverse osmosis water, softened water, or anything other than tap water. You should never use any chemicals in, or with your steam cleaner, as chemicals are completely unnecessary and unhelpful to the steam cleaning process.
ARE THERE MAINTENANCE REQUIREMENTS? All equipment of any type should be operated with preventive maintenance procedures. Steam cleaners should have their boilers drained regularly to prevent scale build up. If you use your steam cleaner every day in a commercial setting, drain your boiler once a week. If you use your consumer steam cleaner at home once a week, drain your boiler monthly for maximum extended equipment life. Do not put any chemicals into your steam cleaner, ever.
HOW MUCH SHOULD I PAY? Consumer steam cleaners can be purchased very inexpensively, but remember that you usually get what you pay for. It is unlikely that you will find an Italian made steam cleaner with a stainless steel boiler, a good warranty and CSA approval for less than a few hundred dollars. A commercial system with continuous steam re-generation, CSA approval, stainless steel boiler, strong warranty, and after-warranty service capability, along with a good accessory package and product support will generally cost upwards of $2,000. Cheaper systems usually compromise some of the product quality ingredients that you should consider.