What is a steam cleaning machine?

Ladybug steam applicationSteam vapor is a potent non-chemical cleaning and disinfecting agent, produced by using tap water heated within an electric boiler to yield low-moisture, high-temperature steam vapor. This process will use only a fraction of the water required (~5%) of traditional cleaning processes. It is portable, transportable, and versatile for many cleaning and disinfecting situations.



What is it NOT:

Steam Carpet CleaningIt is not to be confused with carpet cleaning machines, carpet extractors, or 'carpet steam cleaning' processes, that produce little if any steam, but consume many gallons of hot water per minute.

Nor should it be confused with "high-pressure steam cleaners", which use 3 to 5 gallons per minute, often have flame-heated boilers, and produce high temperature liquids applied with pressures of 1,000 - 4,500 psi.  Heavy-duty electrical pumps are needed to maintain such high pressures.

The resulting applied steam/water combination uses a steam “blasting” process that dislodges soils or contamination by the release of enormous kinetic energy, poses risks to operators and surfaces, forces collateral cleanup of affected areas to remove a large volume of water and debris; and, thus, rarely works indoors.

Steam Vapor Provides Solid Advantages Including:

• No added chemicals needed to clean and disinfect.

• Reduction or replacement of cleaning/sanitizing chemical inventories.

• No residue or rinsing.

• Removes existing residues and odors.

• Dry steam penetrates porous surfaces for deep cleaning.

• Dry steam penetrates areas chemical or mechanical methods can’t, enabling a wider range of cleaning and disinfecting.

• Ability to kill bacteria and viruses for disinfection and odor control.

• Ability to kill dust mites, fleas, and bed bugs and their eggs without pesticides.

• Ability to kill mold and mycelia (fungal roots that penetrate surfaces).

• Users, occupants not exposed to harmful chemicals.

• Minimal water use (90-95% reduction), fast drying time, water conservation.

• Provides increased control for simpler cleaning, disinfecting, and cleanup.

• A very manageable process for micro or macro cleaning requirements.

• Shown to be effective for sanitation and disinfection of textile materials.

• Requires little in the way of personal protective equipment unless dealing with the removal of blood borne pathogens.

Applications Include:

• Frequent Touch Points

• Restrooms

• Foodservice Areas

• Classrooms/Daycare

• Patient Rooms/Convalescent Care Facilities

• Upholstery, Carpet

• Blinds, Textile surfaces

• Intricate Surfaces including voids and crevices

• Virtually All Washable Surfaces (From Floors to Ceilings)


How It Works

Webster’s defines steam as: “The invisible vapor into which water is converted when heated to the boiling point.” Heat causes the water to expand into vapor.

Optimal working steam for cleaning and disinfecting is saturated and “dry” (about 5-6% moisture); it only becomes highly visible when it cools and condenses as tiny water droplets.

Proper heat and pressure produced within a well-designed boiler provides the target temperature range of 290 -330 degrees.  This steam is hotter and dryer than the steam coming from an open pot or kettle, and more closely resembles the temperatures found within pressure cooking appliances.

Steam vapor as applied ranges in temperatures of 200 -225 degrees, at low volumes through insulated tools, to clean and disinfect efficiently.

Application temperatures may be altered by changing the speed of travel across a surface, by extending the distance between the applicator tool and the target surface, and by changing the volume of steam applied.



Cleaning of hard surfaces most commonly involves transference of soil from surfaces to the applicator.  The best systems use a dry, folded/fitted cotton or microfiber applicator bonnet to trap the dry steam and its heat at the target surface. The bonnet then absorbs and transfers moist soil from the surface as the steam condenses. The process also causes surface pores to expand for a deeper clean and enhances soil extraction through capillary action and transference.

Disinfection occurs in seconds as moist heat trapped between the surface and the applicator penetrates and destroys organisms – both microbes and various pests (e.g., dust mites, fleas, and bed bugs) in all life stages.



For microbes, reductions are logarithmic (measured in multiple log reduction), surpassing the best chemical interventions or disinfectant applications for both range of organisms affected and the speed of occurrence (e.g., TANCS®–trademark, in this context, denotes claims validated for a particular steam vapor technology). An autoclave uses a similar principle, but actually sterilizes medical instruments using hot steam vapor applied with pressures of about 15-20 psi.

Steam applied at low volumes and pressures (15-20 psi) using a nozzle brush without a cloth applicator, agitates surfaces to enable soil removal or cleaning. The operator keeps the nozzle brush in gentle contact with the surface to assist in trapping the steam vapor at the target surface, maximizing the heat applied and transferred by saturated steam vapor. Moist heat is the active ingredient that breaks the bond of soils to the surface.

Low-moisture steam applied to pre-vacuumed carpet enables better soil removal, without over wetting carpet to prevent soil wicking.

Re-vacuuming a steam-treated carpet after it has cooled and dried, enables further release of particulate matter found at the base of the carpet fiber.



Dry Steam Carpet CleaningThis material is nearly impossible to remove from a wet carpet material, but is freely released when the fibers are cool and dry, having regained their initial shape and separation. It takes very little time for the dry-steamed carpet to dry, and only a short time to vacuum.  This adds life and resilience to the carpet.

When working on textiles or heat-sensitive surfaces, backing off the applicator nozzle slightly from the targeted surface allows the steam vapor to expand and cool to avoid heat damage.  Should there be any concern about the possibility of heat damage, test the process in an inconspicuous area.


What To Look For

Ladybug® MachinesLook for quality. Since the functional agent is low-moisture high temperature steam vapor, look for systems in which the combination of boiler and tool design enables creation and application of “dry” steam vapor as noted. This means the boiler should be robust to take the pressure, and the system should resist scale deposition.

Also, look for:

• Easy to control the volume of vapor being applied.

• Ability to vary the amount of vapor applied (starting with lower volume first).

• Ability to add water when machine is hot or in use (also known as “continuous or no-wait water refill”) to increase productivity with no waiting, enhanced safety and uninterrupted workflow.

• Water reservoir capacity of several quarts or liters (professional use consumes about 1.5 quarts or 1.4 liters an hour, so a larger reservoir enables more cleaning before refilling).

• Stainless steel boiler and other parts for durability, safety, and to prevent corrosion.

• Durability of hoses.

• Wheels for portability.

• Availability of service, support, and replacement parts.

• Credible research verifying efficacy, surfaces tested, and contact times for germ kill, (this is required by the US EPA for all disinfecting devices, e.g., TANCS®).

• Rugged, durable tools and accessories for a full range of multipurpose cleaning and disinfecting.

• Easy access to boiler drain for cleaning.

• Simple, informative gauges for user control of temperature and pressure.

• Technologies that reduce scale buildup in the boiler.

What to Avoid

• Systems (often low-cost) producing cooler, wetter steam that is less effective, leaving considerable moisture behind.

• Systems lacking rigorous testing to substantiate antimicrobial claims.

• Units lacking safety certifications (e.g., UL or ETL) and durability features.

HFI does not endorse products.