Vax Steam Fresh Combi S86-SF-C review: a truly marvellous steam cleaner

If you want a steam cleaner that’s a great all-rounder, look no further. Our writer put the Vax Steam Fresh Combi through its paces and didn’t want to stop, thanks to its cleaning performance, ease of use and tool storage.
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  • The Vax Steam Fresh Combi is a superb steam mop and pop-out handheld steam cleaner. It’s hard to fault: it’s pleasant to use and does a brilliant job on floors, furniture and fittings alike. What’s more, there’s onboard storage for most of its tools, so they’re always on hand when you need them.

    Take a look at the best steam cleaners

    I tried it on cleaning up and down the house and it didn’t fail us once. In fact, it was so compelling that I struggled to put it down. I had to keep reminding myself to stop and leave some grime for testing the next machine. That’s how good it was.

    Thanks to children and pets, there’s never a shortage of cleaning to be done. But I considered practicalities like size, storage, accessories, build quality and value for money as well as its cleaning performance.

    Ideal Home’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars

    This is a superb steam mop and pop-out handheld steam cleaner. It’s hard to fault, though there are other models to consider (see below) if you need a steam cleaner that’s very lightweight or if you only need to clean floors.

    Reasons to buy

    • Superb cleaning
    • Onboard tool storage
    • Optional detergent
    • Useful triangular brush

    Reasons to not buy

    • Small fill hole
    • Not the lightest

    Vax Steam Fresh Combi S86-SF-C

    Vax Steam Fresh Combi S86-SF-C Steam Mop

    Product specs:

    • Capacity: 460ml
    • Power: mains
    • Cord length: 8m
    • Wattage: 1600W
    • Dimensions: H: 116cm W: 31cm D: 30cm
    • Weight: 3.7kg

    Accessories included (14): hose, metal brush, small plastic brush, large plastic brush, scraper tool, concentration tool, grout brush, bent nozzle, window tool, cover, 2 microfiber pads, carpet glider, detergent.

    Who will the Vax Steam Fresh Combi suit?

    The Vax is great for just about everyone. It really impressed on test, making quick work of cleaning floors, furniture and fitting alike.

    Unboxing

    Vax Steam Fresh Combi S86-SF-C Steam Mop

    Unboxing the Vax, the design is immediately reminiscent of the Hoover Steam Capsule 2 in 1, because a mid-sized triangular brush pops out of the floorhead for tackling stubborn stains. It also reminded me of the Black & Decker 10-in-1 Steam Mop because the handle pops off for easy storage.

    One difference is that the Vax is heavier – it weighs nearly twice as much as the Black & Decker. Part of the reason is that the middle pops out to become a handheld steam cleaner. And unusually, the mop body is home to a second (200ml) reservoir for detergent.

    Most steam cleaners run on water alone, but the Vax comes with a bottle of citrus-scented detergent. Also the long handle features a trigger for steam control. All these extra features add weight to the machine.

    Vax Steam Fresh Combi S86-SF-C Steam Mop

    The Vax website lists nine accessories but that doesn’t count the detergent, cloths or carpet glider. Unusually, there’s onboard storage for six tools on the back of the upright. There’s also a mesh bag for the others and lugs for storing the 8m cord.

    Setting up

    The Vax is heavy but well designed. Both the mop and handheld have handles that feel great in the hand. The water reservoir pops off to be refilled from jug or tap, though a jug is better because the fill hole is very small.

    Vax Steam Fresh Combi S86-SF-C Steam Mop

    I loved the fact that I could carry the tools on board. You can fit six on the back, so that’s all the hand tools apart from the squeegee. There’s also a space on the handle to store the concentration tool. The mesh bag is good for storing the hose, squeegee and cloths.

    What’s it like to use?

    There’s a rotary variable steam control on the handheld, which doubles as the body of the upright steam mop. There’s also a proper power switch, so you can see when it’s switched on. When it’s a mop, there’s a steam trigger under your finger. When it’s a handheld cleaner, the steam trigger is under your thumb.

    Steam cleaning the floor

    Vax Steam Fresh Combi S86-SF-C Steam Mop

    I test steam mops on flooring: bathroom tiles and also wooden floorboards. A steam mop can make quick work of them but it’s important that it cleans well without damaging the floor and that it leaves the floor as dry as possible.

    The Vax’s triangular floorhead was really impressive on both types of flooring. It was effective at cleaning but the floors weren’t left too wet: 1 minute later they were dry. The controls are responsive enough. It’s ready to use in less than 30 seconds and when you take your finger off the steam trigger it stops 2 seconds later.

    There’s a smaller, triangular brush that pops out of the floorhead which works well for scrubbing stubborn stains before reverting to the floorhead to lift them with the cloth.

    Vax Steam Fresh Combi S86-SF-C Steam Mop

    It’s very manoeuvrable although it is heavier than some steam cleaners. I loved that you can click it into place and it stays upright, well balanced, if you need to pause. The cord is long and there’s a clip at the top of the pole, just below the handle, for the cord so you don’t trip over it.

    The detergent tank is part of the upright cleaner, so it’s only there for floor cleaning. A dial on the side of the body lets you decide whether to use detergent or not. I used it with the floorhead and carpet glider to clean the tide marks on an old, colourful rug. It worked to great effect. I only needed to break out the scrubby brush a few times for the most stubborn stains. Surprisingly, the citrus-scented detergent wasn’t smelly, it’s subtle.

    Steam cleaning by hand

    Vax Steam Fresh Combi S86-SF-C Steam Mop

    I also loved the handheld’s design. It lifts out easily and is balanced in the hand. The tools you need are with you when you need them. The brushes worked well for bathroom cleaning.

    I used the squeegee and cloth on grubby upholstery to great effect. Like the floorhead, it impressed by cleaning muddy fabric boxes well without leaving them soaked.

    Vax Steam Fresh Combi S86-SF-C Steam Mop

    My most challenging steam cleaners test is a large sun lounger cushion that the dog has taken as his own. It’s beyond filthy but it’s salvageable. Can I lift that dirt so much that the cushion is fit for human use?

     

    The triangular scrubby brush is good on hard surfaces but it didn’t move well on the dog bed. I found the floorhead with carpet glider much more effective. It was the best I’ve tested at lifting the dirt. It’s slow going but effective and compelling. In fact, the Vax is generally compelling. I would clean enough for the test but then I just wanted to keep going.

    Vax Steam Fresh Combi S86-SF-C Steam Mop

    Cleaning and maintenance

    The Vax’s cloths are machine washable and the water reservoir tips out if you wish. You don’t want to waste detergent though, so leave it in the machine. The Vax looks good in clean white and a clinical bright blue.

    Storing your steam cleaner

    Vax Steam Fresh Combi S86-SF-C Steam Mop

    The Vax’s long power cord stores neatly on a pair of lugs on the back of the cleaner body. A clip near the plug lets you clip to the rest of the cord. What’s more, you can easily pop off the tube to halve its height, making it easy to store in small cupboards.

    As mentioned above, it’s truly marvellous that the cleaner comes with onboard storage for most tools and a mesh bag for the rest. You won’t lose them in a carrier bag in the cupboard under the stairs. You’ll have them with you all the time, so you’ll use them.

    Ideal Home’s verdict: is the Vax Steam Fresh Combi steam cleaner worth it?

    I adored the Vax Steam Fresh Combi. It was the most compelling steam cleaner to use. I had to keep reminding myself to stop cleaning and leave some grime for putting other machines through their paces. It’s great for floors and handheld cleaning alike. And the onboard tool storage is superb.

    The Vax is perfect for nearly everyone. But it is a question of your needs. If you need a cleaner that’s really lightweight then look at the Black & Decker 10-in-1 Steam Mop instead, it’s incredibly light. And if you only want to clean floors then the Kärcher SC 2 Upright EasyFix is simple and powerful.

    It’s also worth considering the cylinder-style Polti Vaporetto Smart 100_B, which is a pricier workhorse that’s again compelling to clean with.

    About this review and our reviewer

    Caramel Quin has been writing for Ideal Home and other titles at Future for many years and tests a wide range of consumer technology for newspapers, magazines and online. She prides herself in real-world testing and translating geek speak into plain English. Her pet hates are jargon, pointless products and over-complicated instruction manuals.

    She’s an engineering graduate, an award-winning journalist and writes regularly in the Evening Standard. She has appeared as a technology expert on TV and done countless radio interviews.

    Caramel lives in east London with her two children, dog, two cats and eight hens. Together they assist her with destruction-testing home electricals and ensure that the house is always dirty enough to need steam cleaning…

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