- Clothes steamers remove wrinkles easily and are gentler than irons on most delicate fabrics.
- Sunbeam's steamer lets you control the force of steam and has a protective shield for your fingers.
- Read more: The best clothing irons
Steamers can do lots of things that irons can't - de-wrinkle delicate fabrics, lift stale smells out of clothes, smooth your curtains without taking them down, and refresh upholstery. They can also save you money on dry cleaning over time.
I worked in the fashion departments of various publications for eight years where I steamed hundreds of garments for photo shoots, from gauzy, hand-beaded wedding dresses to vintage concert tees (at Coney Island in 40 degree weather, no less). In other words, I have strong steamer opinions (and may or may not reflexively pack a handheld one if I'm going away for more than one night). Aside from my personal experience, I also consulted the entrepreneurs behind two companies entirely devoted to top-level laundry care, Celsious and The Laundress, for their product recommendations and expert tips.
Each steamer below was tested on a variety of textiles - silk, cotton, wool, cashmere, and linen, as well as several synthetic blends - and used on garments both vertically with a hanger and horizontally with an ironing board. I evaluated for strength and steadiness of steam flow, water tank size, ease of use, and special features, with points immediately docked for any sign of sputtering. You can read more about how I tested clothes steamers here, along with tips on how to clean them and a breakdown of which fabrics should and shouldn't be steamed.
Here are the best clothes steamers in 2021
- Best clothes steamer overall: Sunbeam Power Steam Fabric Steamer
- Best professional-grade clothes steamer: Jiffy J-2
- Best adjustable clothes steamer: PurSteam PS-910
- Best budget clothes steamer: Beautural 1200-Watt Steamer
The Sunbeam Power Steam Fabric Steamer stands out among similarly-priced competitors thanks to its adjustable steam flow settings and clever additional features.
Pros: Adjustable steam force, heats quickly, snap-on shield to protect your hands, large water tank, balanced design, 3-year warranty
Cons: Heavy, metal "wrinkle remover bar" isn't as effective as an iron
While an upright steamer is a great investment if you have a large household or a wardrobe full of delicate fabrics, most people can get by with a handheld model. And, out of the seven handheld models I tested, the Sunbeam Power Steam Fabric Steamer was the clear winner, thanks to its adjustable steam flow settings, balanced design, and thoughtful additional features.
First, the basics. The Sunbeam heats up in under a minute and its tank holds 11 ounces of water, which is significantly more than most handheld steamers (eight ounces seems to be the standard). This means you'll get a fairly long steaming session out of it (about 15 minutes) before needing a refill. I was able to de-wrinkle a tea-length silk dress, two cotton button-down shirts, a wool mini skirt, a cashmere cardigan, and a pair of corduroy pants in my first go-round, with zero wet spots.
Of course, a bigger tank translates to extra weight, and at four pounds when filled to capacity, this was one of the heavier devices I tried. However, it was never uncomfortable to hold, thanks to its well-balanced design; many of its competitors were top-heavy, which made them feel slightly unstable in comparison.
Steamer nozzles typically release steam through a series of holes, but the Sunbeam's is outfitted with one long vent, resulting in a more powerful and concentrated jet. The high and low settings allow you to control the force of the flow — a rare feature for steamers of this size — while a trigger button unleashes short bursts of steam. I should mention that this same button also slides down to lock the Sunbeam into constant steam mode, which you will do accidentally the first few times you use it.
When set to high, the Sunbeam was the only handheld steamer that significantly smoothed my wrinkled linen curtains — the "final boss" in my series of tests — although it was eventually outperformed in this regard by my professional-grade pick below. Still, I was impressed by the way it handled a fabric that typically only responds to ironing.
Aside from its customizable steam flow, the Sunbeam has a slew of thoughtful features that genuinely improved my handheld steaming experience. Its nozzle is equipped with a metal "wrinkle remover bar," which acts as a mini-iron and provides an extra layer of polish. This proved to be a valuable addition when I was steaming the collars and cuffs of my button-down shirts. However, while the bar does its job on vertically-hung garments, it loses its effectiveness when applied to an ironing board. Other parts of the nozzle protrude slightly farther than the wrinkle remover bar, meaning it won't seamlessly glide over flat, horizontal surfaces.
The Sunbeam comes with three nozzle attachments: a lint brush, a short-bristle brush, and a steam handle. The lint brush is designed to remove lint, dust, and pet hair, while the short-bristle brush loosens the fibers of heavy fabrics to allow for better steam penetration, according to the company. While the lint brush did an excellent job refreshing the green velvet couch that my kitten has claimed as his nap spot, I can't confidently recommend using it on clothing, especially items made from delicate materials. The experts I spoke to said to always hold your steamer several inches away from — never directly on — your garments. Similarly, I'd proceed with caution before running the brush over, say, a wool coat, although thicker upholstery and short-pile rugs should be able to handle it.
The steam handle is a snap-on plastic shield designed to protect your hands from the heat. It's a thoughtful feature that I wish was more common, and certainly a more elegant solution to safety concerns than including a literal oven mitt with your steamer (you can read more on the other steamers I tested here).The best professional-grade
A fashion industry standard, the reliable Jiffy J-2 emits powerful steam while remaining gentle enough to use on your most delicate garments.
Pros: Powerful steam, durable, heats quickly, no water droplets, excellent on curtains, convenient hook for clothes hangers, smooth wheels
Cons: Water tank isn't securely locked to the base, no additional settings or features
The Jiffy J-2 has long been considered the fashion industry standard, and with good reason: it heats up in about two minutes and emits a powerful, consistent flow of steam while remaining gentle enough to use on fragile vintage garments and intricately detailed runway looks alike. So it's no surprise that when I contacted the team at The Laundress, a nontoxic line of detergent and fabric care founded by two former Chanel and Ralph Lauren executives, the J-2 was their top recommendation.
"We're big believers in investing in a high-quality steamer because the steam is evenly distributed and you don't see the sputtering you see in some other models," The Laundress's brand director Hannah Yokoji said of the device. "We find it super convenient, super reliable, and easy to clean." (You can read Yokoji's tips on steamer cleaning and maintenance here.)
The J-2's tank holds a gallon of water, which translates to about two hours of steaming time — a max that I hit the day I decided to steam all of the winter clothes I had just taken out of storage. While I've used this exact model on and off for years in work settings — first at retail jobs, then as a fashion editor — this was my first time applying it to my own wardrobe, and I was impressed with how quickly and thoroughly it removed the deep folds from my sweaters and restored the shape of my coats. Later I ran it over my linen curtains, which were left looking closer to freshly-ironed than I thought possible. I continue to use it regularly, and recently used it to take fold marks out of my stored-away spring clothing.
Back to that water tank. The cylindrical shape and convenient handle make it easy to tote to and from the sink. But the fact that it rests mostly above the base of the steamer, coupled with its lack of a locking mechanism, means that it's extremely easy to knock over. If you're a fashion assistant wheeling your J-2 around a set, this can be nerve wracking. If you're steaming your laundry in front of the TV on a Sunday afternoon, it's still slightly annoying.
Tank aside, the J-2 is incredibly durable. Walk into any magazine's fashion closet or photo studio, and there's a good chance you'll spot a Jiffy that's been there for more than a decade. Most floor-standing steamers have two wheels, but Jiffy's has four, making it notably easier to move around. The nozzle is metal, not plastic, and the smooth wooden handle is comfortable to grip and keeps your hands safely distanced from the heat.
At around five feet tall, the J-2 can't quite hold a maxi dress off the ground, but its hanger loop is positioned to accommodate nearly everything else, from suit trousers to trench coats.The best adjustable
With its collapsible pole and collection of useful attachments, the PurSteam Professional Garment Steamer can be positioned to accommodate a wide range of garments.
Pros: Compact, easy to clean, useful attachments, collapsible pole means you can steam sitting down, 5-year warranty
Cons: Some of the plastic parts feel flimsy, stiff wheels
Our former best overall clothes steamer, the PurSteam Professional Garment Steamer may not be as powerful as our current top pick, but it still has plenty to offer at less than a third of the price.
It heats up in about two minutes and its half-gallon tank produces a steady, sputter-free flow of steam, which, in my experience, lasts from 50 minutes to an hour. Unlike the other floor-standing models I tested, the PurSteam's tank is made from clear plastic, so you'll know exactly when it's almost time for a refill.
While it successfully smoothed silk blouses, wool-polyester pants, a tweed jacket, several synthetic-blend dresses (including a tiered lace one I wore to a pre-pandemic wedding), and a variety of knits, it left thinner cotton and linen items slightly more rumpled than its (admittedly pricier) upright competitors. That being said, it restored a midweight cotton twill jumpsuit to near-perfect condition. Overall, I'd say it performs as well as our top pick: it's significantly more effective than most handhelds (with the addition of some floor-model perks), but doesn't quite deliver professional-level results.
About those perks. One of the PurSteam's most notable features is its collapsible pole, which adjusts to four heights, ranging from two feet (for storage) to a fairly standard five feet when fully extended. Adjusting the pole midway allows you to steam a hanging garment while seated, making marathon laundry sessions significantly more comfortable. It also comes with an adjustable hanger that expands from 15 to 19 inches and includes clips for holding smaller items like children's clothing or pillowcases.
The PurSteam is equipped with a fabric brush attachment as well as a pants press attachment, which is a tight clamp that holds fabric against the nozzle. As a reminder, the experts we spoke to recommend placing the nozzle of your steamer a few inches away from — not directly on — most clothing, so I'd proceed with caution before running thin material through the pants press or brushing anything other than sturdy upholstery.
A far more useful feature is the folding rack, a bar you affix to the PurSteam's pole in order to hold items like folded trousers securely in place. I found that the extra bit of fabric tension allowed for a crisper finish while steaming.
While this steamer certainly provides a lot of bang for your buck, there are a few minor design flaws. The hose is a bit stiff and difficult to maneuver, although it becomes more flexible as the PurSteam heats up. While I haven't broken one just yet, the plastic clips that lock the adjustable pole in place feel flimsier than they should be. And the two wheels at the back of the base are pretty much nonfunctional. In theory, you tilt the PurSteam to roll it; when fully upright, it won't budge. But I tried tilting it at every angle and couldn't get the wheels to spin.The best on a budget
The Beautural 1200-Watt Steamer has the tank capacity and steam power of handheld models twice its price, plus a few extra features.
Pros: Large water tank, travel-friendly, heats quickly, automatic safety shut-off, powerful for its size
Cons: Occasional light sputtering when used horizontally
If you're looking for a handheld steamer to occasionally freshen up a delicate dress, smooth some wrinkles in your suits after every few wears, or toss in a suitcase, then the Beautural 1200-Watt Steamer is an excellent affordable option. Out of all the budget steamers I tried, this one was the most effective at removing wrinkles and creases, thanks to its steady, powerful flow and even steam distribution.
The Beautural heats up in about 30 seconds and its tank holds 8.9 ounces of water, which gave me a little less than 15 minutes of steaming time. While these stats are similar to those of our top pick, the Sunbeam Power Steam Fabric Steamer, I wasn't able to steam quite as many clothes per session. That's partly because the Sunbeam's tank is two ounces larger, but I also found that the Beautural needed a few more passes over the garments to leave them looking polished. That being said, you can still steam an entire outfit before needing to refill the Beautural. Overall, while I can confidently recommend it for lighter jobs, I'd plan on upgrading if you're looking for something that will remove deep creases or smooth tough-to-steam fabrics like linen.
During my tests, the Beautural didn't sputter while steaming vertically, but I did notice a few small water droplets when I held it horizontally above an ironing board. If you're steaming something like a cotton button-down shirt, this isn't really an issue, but I'd avoid using it on any textiles that can hold onto water spots, like silk.
Like several of the more expensive handhelds I tried, the Beautural comes with three nozzle attachments: a lint brush, a soft brush for loosening dust deep within tougher fabrics, and a creaser for maintaining pleats and folds (basically a plastic clip that secures your garment flush against the steam jets as you pull the fabric through). As I mentioned earlier in this guide, placing a steamer directly on your clothes isn't recommended by experts, so use your best judgment as to whether or not the material you're working with is sturdy enough to handle it. It's safer to save the lint brush and soft brush for freshening up your upholstery.
It's worth noting that, unlike most steamers (in any price range), the Beautural is equipped with a standby monitoring system. When it hasn't been used for eight minutes, the device stops producing steam and the power indicator light flashes. To start it back up again, you simply hold the power button until it stops flashing, then press the steam trigger.What else we tested
What we don't recommend and why
Urpower Garment Steamer ($22.49): Although this was our former pick for the best clothes steamer on a budget, I found that it occasionally spit water when held vertically, taking it out of the running. It comes with a silver oven mitt to protect your hands from the heat, although wearing it makes the steamer difficult to hold.
Sunbeam Steam Master Fabric Steamer ($25.71): While the Steam Master is a solid affordable option, it doesn't remove wrinkles as quickly and efficiently as our current top budget pick, the Beautural 1200-Watt Steamer.
Conair Complete Steam Fabric Steamer ($19.99): While it produced steady steam and scored points for being the one of the most compact and affordable models I tested, it left behind a few too many water spots for me to be able to confidently recommend it.
Rowenta DR8 120 X-Cel Handheld Steamer ($39.99): While the Rowenta is about the same size as the Sunbeam Power Steam Fabric Steamer (our pick for the best clothes steamer overall), its tank only holds 6.76 ounces of water compared the Sunbeam's eight.
Conair Extreme Steam Handheld Fabric Steamer ($38.15): It performed well for a handheld steamer at this price point, but I found the fact that it doesn't stand upright inconvenient — if you need to stop steaming for a moment, you have to lay it on its side.
Reliable Vivio 500GC ($199): The Reliable Vivio 500GC was a top contender for our best professional-grade pick, although the Jiffy J-2 won out for its sturdier materials, more compact profile, and smoother wheels. However, the Reliable does have an edge over the Jiffy in one area: its water tank is far more difficult to accidentally knock over.Our testing methodology
While I drew from my own experience as a former fashion editor using clothes steamers on photo sets over the years, I also steamed at least 10 garments with each model, tested every steamer on at least six different types of fabric, and developed a set of criteria to determine how they stacked up against each other. Here's how I evaluated them:
Construction: I judged every steamer — both handheld and floor-standing models — on their overall sturdiness, as well as the materials used in their construction. Points were docked for flimsy parts, and handheld steamers that felt unstable when placed standing on a table were eliminated.
Ease of use: I noted each steamer's heaviness, checked to see how easy it was to remove and fill their water tanks, and made sure their buttons didn't stick. For floor-standing models, I paid attention to whether or not their hoses were easy to maneuver, and tested their wheels on both hardwood and carpeted surfaces.
Water tank size: A larger water tank translates to more steaming time, so I noted the size of each model's.
Run time: I tested each device to see how long it could continuously steam before the water tank needed to be refilled.
Power: A powerful steamer will smooth clothes in fewer passes. I noted how quickly and effectively each steamer removed wrinkles and creases in a variety of materials: cotton, silk, linen, wool, cashmere, and a variety of synthetic blends.
Sputtering: I checked to see whether or not each steamer spit water droplets when held both horizontally and vertically.
Comfort: Since steaming involves a lot of arm lifting, I judged each model on heaviness, as well as how easy it was to grip. I also checked to see if each handheld model felt balanced, since they can tend to be top-heavy.
Warranty: I only considered steamers with solid warranties.FAQs
Are steamers better than irons?
Steamers aren't necessarily better than irons — both have their uses — but they're certainly gentler and more effective on certain fabrics.
To get some insight on when to steam and when to iron, we spoke to Corinna Williams, co-founder of Celsious, an eco-conscious Brooklyn laundromat with its own collection of non-toxic, fragrance-free fabric care products, and Hannah Yokoji, brand director of The Laundress, a line of plant-based laundry and home cleaning items.
"Steaming is fantastic for more delicate, thinner fabrics as well as garments with complicated shapes (ruffles, peplums, etc.) or embellishments," Williams said. "Save the ironing for sturdy materials like linen and cotton." She named silk, rayon, lyocell, chiffon, and wool suiting as fabrics that respond well to steaming.
Wool knits and cashmere are fair game as well. "When it comes to wool garments, you don't want to iron because it crushes the pile of the yarn and that's something you want to preserve to keep your sweaters fluffy and soft," Yokoji said.
And, if you want to extend the life of your favorite jeans, steaming is far easier on denim than ironing, and it allows you to go longer between washes. According to Yokoji, "You don't typically have to wash denim after every wear unless it's soiled or has a stain. We like to steam denim and spray it with a fabric freshener. That reduces the odor and helps retain the fit."
Which fabrics and clothing items should never be steamed?
Williams advises against steaming leather, suede, pre-treated fabrics like moire, and waxed jackets (think Barbour, Belstaff, and Burberry).
Both experts we spoke to noted that steaming isn't effective if you want to maintain sharp structural details like pleats. And, as mentioned earlier, while steaming won't damage cotton or linen, an iron will smooth out their wrinkles more effectively.
How do you clean a steamer?
According to the experts we spoke with, neglecting to clean your clothes steamer regularly can result in a buildup of rust and hard water deposits, which in turn can stain your garments. While there are no set rules on how often you should clean your steamer — it largely depends on how frequently you use it — every few months, or when you notice the steam starting to slow, is a good general rule.
For a thorough cleaning, fill the water tank with a solution of one part white vinegar to two parts distilled water, run the steamer until the tank is about half empty, let the solution cool completely, empty the steamer, and repeat as necessary.
The Laundress sells a scented vinegar designed for this purpose if the smell of regular white vinegar bothers you.Check out our clothing organization guides