In Part One we looked at some basic selection criteria for choosing a new steam cleaner. Now let’s consider some additional features to refine our decision.
HOW MANY WATTS OF HEATING POWER DO I NEED?
More power is desirable, within limits. If you are plugging into a regular electrical outlet, you are getting 115 +/- 10 volts and 15 amperes. This will yield up to 1725 watts, but in practical terms, our electrical supply is subject to fluctuation, so it is common to get about 1500 watts from a regular outlet.
Most consumer units draw about 1100 watts, and most commercial units draw about 1500 watts.
Steam cleaners that draw more than 1500 watts are likely to blow fuses or trip circuit breakers. In North America, we should also confirm that the equipment is built to run at 60Hz. If you operate from a 230 volt outlet at 15 amps, you can power 3000 watts of heating element. At 20 amps and 230 volts you can get to 4000 watts. Always check the electrical rating on the manufacturer’s label. All equipment for use in Canada should meet standards of approval such as the CSA designation.
WHAT SIZE SHOULD THE BOILER BE?
A smaller boiler will heat up faster than a bigger boiler with the same heating element power. A smaller boiler in a commercial system with continuous steam re-generation will also maintain a good flow of steam for longer than a large boiler. In a consumer (batch type) steamer, a larger boiler will provide steam for a longer period of time, once it is fully heated.
HOW MUCH PRESSURE WILL I NEED?
Most 115 volt-15 amp-1500 watt steam cleaners will produce steam at 30—70 PSI (2-5 bar), but the actual operating range is normally 30-45 PSI (2-3 bar). The peak pressure of 70 PSI is rarely sustainable, and seldom desirable. More pressure in itself contributes little to cleaning effectiveness, which is mainly a result of the steam’s heat. Think about cleaning: you confront a small mess, aim high pressure at it, and turn it into a bigger mess, blowing and splattering the problem across a larger area. The real objective should be containment, which is best achieved with the lowest amount of pressure.
DO I WANT A DETACHABLE HOSE?
The hose is the most vulnerable part of a steam cleaner. I have seen people drive over it, slam it in a doorway, cut it on a sharp edge, and use it as a leash to pull the machine—around corners, up the stairs and even down the stairs. A detachable hose is easier to repair or replace than an attached hose. For this reason, detachable hoses are standard with commercial equipment. Different hose lengths are also available for commercial systems. A detachable hose usually contains wiring to allow the control switches on the hose handle to activate the electrovalves, which consist of a monoblock and solenoid valves. Consumer machines tend to have attached hoses, which are also shorter. Consumer machines are more likely to have a mechanical switch at the handle, therefore electrical wiring in the hose is not necessary (there is no electrovalve to control).
WHAT ABOUT THE WARRANTY?
It is very important to understand not only the length of the warranty period and the scope of the warranty coverage, but also to know the terms under which warranty claims can be made. Most equipment and appliance warranties require you to return the machine to the manufacturer or a specified authorized service centre. This can be challenging, costly and time-consuming if it means sending the machine to another country. Always look for a domestic service centre that carries parts for your machine, and that has trained repair staff. The best-sounding warranty is not helpful if you can’t get the service done promptly and affordably. Frankly, most equipment should outlive its warranty if properly maintained. So ask about post warranty service—costs, parts availability, turnaround time, and overall service guidelines.
In Part Three we will look at some interesting cleaning applications for which steam cleaners are ideally suited.
If you have any questions about steam cleaning, please contact me.