Mary Hunt

A compact clothes steamer is handy for removing wrinkles and stale odors from fabric, but is that all?

Just another single-purpose tool that sits on a shelf gathering dust? Don’t be so sure! I’ve been amazed to discover all the ways to use an ordinary clothes steamer to clean, sanitize, renew and refresh all around the house.

Basics. Before we get started, let’s go over a few steam clean basics.

Always use distilled water in a steamer. Tap water can leave behind traces of minerals, which can cause the steamer to clog up.

Never use steam on silk or other delicate fabrics. Always test first in an inconspicuous place for color-bleeding or spotting.

Do not use steam on freshly painted surfaces, vintage surfaces, waxed or polished wood or musical instruments.

Loosen carpet stains. A blast of steam can loosen a tough carpet stain that’s been difficult to remove. Hold the steamer a few inches away from the spot for at least 30 seconds and then blot it with a clean, white cloth. Repeat until nothing more is transferred to the cloth. If you still see evidence of the spot, it should respond more effectively to a good stain remover like Spot Shot. Just make sure you follow the instructions on the label, which may require rinsing once the stain is gone.

Remove labels and stickers. A blast or two from your trusty clothes steamer can soften and melt the adhesive on a stubborn label or sticker so you can easily remove it. Be cautious if you’re dealing with an unpainted surface.

Defrost a freezer. If your freezer is not self-defrosting, you need to defrost it manually from time to time to keep it working well. And that can be challenging if you have frozen items you’d rather not thaw in the process. Use your clothes steamer to quickly melt the frost and ice.

Free ice maker. Now and then, my ice maker gets jammed with too much ice. A few blasts of steam get things moving again.

Sanitize solid surfaces. As long as your steam reaches 212 F, you can use it to sanitize and sterilize surfaces like appliance handles, countertops, sinks, faucets and toilets. Steam can easily loosen the mineral buildup in cracks and crevices so it can be easily wiped away without any harsh chemicals.

Remove grease and baked-on gunk. While steam can make light work of removing grease and baked-on food from a stovetop, pan or oven, it is especially effective on a glass cooktop that could be damaged by harsh scraping or abrasive cleansers. Work in small areas, blasting it first with the steam and then quickly wiping away the residue.

Clean grout. Steam blasts away mildew and dirt that can be stubbornly lodged in the grout lines between tile on floors, tub walls and shower enclosures. Steam and then wipe. Repeat as necessary, working in small areas.

Clean glass and mirrors. Hit that smudge or streak with steam and then wipe it clean with a microfiber cloth to avoid making a new streak or leaving behind lint. Steam is so effective on glass that you probably won’t need to use any other products at all. Moisture, heat and microfiber are the perfect combination.

Detail a car. Steam is great for removing dirt and grime from wheels, trim, cracks and crevices on the outside of a car. And it works wonders inside the car as well. Steam clean the seats and floor mats, too. Sticky handles, armrests and steering wheel? Hit them with steam! While you’re at it, clean the car windows and mirrors, too. Always test first in an inconspicuous place.

Best inexpensive (IMO): Polardo Handheld Clothes Steamer. My favorite steam cleaner is the Polardo. It holds enough water for up to 10 minutes of continuous steam but is still small enough to tuck into a suitcase. Steam, remove wrinkles, sanitize, sterilize, soften, defrost and clean any type of fabric.

I love this little steamer because it heats up really fast and doesn’t leak, spit or sputter. It produces massive steam. It has an extra-long cord, which makes it handy to use all around the house.

Mary Hunt, founder of, writes this column for Creators Syndicate. Send tips or address questions to: Everyday Cheapskate, 12340 Seal Beach Blvd., Suite B-416, Seal Beach, CA 90740, or email her at

Load comments