Steam mop vs steam cleaner - how to choose which cleaning tool will suit you (and your home)

This battle of the cleaning tools can get pretty steamy

Image of the Vax Steam Fresh Combi, our choice as the best steam cleaner
(Image credit: Future)

If you’re wondering what the difference between a steam mop and a steam cleaner is, we’ve got you. In fact, we’ve got everything you need to know to determine which appliance wins in the steam mop vs steam cleaner debate. 

At Ideal Home, we’ve tested some of the best steam cleaners on the market. From dedicated steam mops to combi tools that can clean your whole house, we’ve tried them all. That’s why we can say on good authority that these appliances can revolutionise your cleaning efforts and leave your house sparkling clean. 

But which one should you buy? A dedicated steam mop? Or a multi-purpose steam cleaner? We’ve consulted with the experts and put together all of the information you could possibly need to know to answer this question. Plus, we’ve had our say, too.

Steam mop vs steam cleaner

‘The choice between a steam mop and a steam cleaner depends on your specific cleaning needs,’ explains Ava Wilson, Chief Editor at Unclutterer. Below, we’ve outlined the key differences between a steam mop vs a steam cleaner, as well as other factors that could impact your buying decision - from the price difference to the ease of use.

Headshot of Ava Wilson
Ava Wilson

Ava Wilson, Unclutterer’s Chief Editor with 25 years in cleaning, started with a mop and now leads a team of 20. Merging hands-on experience with management expertise, she transforms cleaning into inspiring lessons. Ava's eco-focused insights make Unclutterer a go-to for sustainable cleaning wisdom.

Steam mop vs steam cleaner: What’s the difference?

In terms of functionality, a steam mop and a steam cleaner are extremely similar. After all, they both use high heat and steam to their advantage to clean your home. 

But when it comes down to the difference between a steam mop and a steam cleaner, the clue is in the name. A steam mop is designed for more localised areas (i.e. the floor), while a steam cleaner offers more versatility. 

A spokesperson at Nationwide Cleaning says, ‘A steam mop is primarily designed for tackling dirt and grime on various types of flooring, such as water-resistant laminate and lino.’ 

‘On the other hand, a steam cleaner’s capabilities extend beyond just floors. It's a multi-purpose gadget that can be used on a number of surfaces around the house, such as countertops, bathroom tiles, and even upholstery.’

‘While both steam mops and steam cleaners eliminate the need for harsh chemicals, steam mops are specially designed for horizontal, flat surfaces. This limits their use elsewhere in the home.’

‘A steam cleaner offers more flexibility. After all, some steamers come with attachments to tackle a range of surfaces, spaces and fiddly areas.’

Closeup of a steam mop cleaning a tiled floor

(Image credit: TBC)

Steam mop vs steam cleaner: Which is more effective at cleaning?

There are so many things you can clean with a steam cleaner, and the same applies to a steam mop. However, you also need to be careful when using such high temperatures and such high levels of moisture around your home, as there are also many things you should never clean with a steam cleaner

In terms of cleaning your home as a whole, it’s important to realise that steam cleaners and steam mops are two different cleaning tools created for two different purposes. And if your aim is to clean your floors, it’s safe to say that a steam mop like the Vax Steam Fresh Combi S86-SF-C will be your best bet. 

That’s because a mop is specifically designed to clean floors, which means it’s been designed to clean AND remove the dirt and grime - something that may not be possible with a steam cleaner that doesn’t have the proper attachments. 

Ava says, ‘Steam mops use electricity to heat water to a boiling point, creating steam that is then directed out of a mop head onto the floor surface. The steam helps loosen dirt and grime, which the mop pad absorbs.’

The key nugget of information there is the fact that the mop pad will absorb this dirt and grime from your floors, which then allows you to clean the mop head and leave your floors sparkling clean.

Without this floor attachment, you’re simply loosening the dirt and leaving it there to be spread elsewhere around the house. And if you wanted to use a steam cleaner to clean your floors, you’d then have to use another cleaning tool to remove the loosened dirt. Because of this, a steam mop is more effective at cleaning floors. 

However, it’s important to note that a steam mop is a very one-dimensional tool. While it’ll successfully clean your floors, the perks end there. And this is a major negative when you realise that many steam cleaners are now heading in the direction of being combi tools. 

Image of Vileda Looper

(Image credit: Vileda)

From the outside, these steam cleaners may look like a normal steam mop. But with the click of a button (and a bag of accessories), you have a handheld steam cleaner that pops out of the upright. This makes it the ultimate multi-purpose cleaner. 

And if your aim is to clean your sofa or to clean your bathroom, there’s no doubt about the fact that a steam cleaner will be more effective. For example, the Black & Decker 10-in-1 Steam Mop can do all of that and more. 

In her 4.5-star review of this steam cleaner, our Ideal Home tester was amazed by the selection of tools included in the box, ranging from a small brush with copper bristles to a grout brush and a carpet glider. 

With this in mind, we’d say that a steam cleaner wins this round if you’re looking for a multi-purpose cleaning tool that offers you the chance to use it throughout your whole house. If you’re just looking for a floor cleaner, a steam mop should do the trick. 

Steam mop vs steam cleaner: Which is easier to use?

As steam mops and steam cleaners generally have the same purpose, their ease of use is also very similar. However, this does depend on the type of steamer you have. 

In general, there are two different types of steam mops and steam cleaners. Some are upright with the water tank on the stick (like the Bissell Powerfresh SlimSteam 2234E), and others have a separate water canister (like the Kärcher SC5 EasyFix).

This is something to consider if you have dexterity issues or plan to use it on the stairs, as steaming tools with a canister are generally more fiddly and more difficult to carry. And while the large size of the water canister is a positive in the sense that it can hold more water, it’s also a negative because it’s much heavier. 

Carol Harding, cleaning expert at explains, ‘Steam mops look similar to traditional mops, except they have a small water tank fitted to them. This ensures they’re lightweight and easy to move around the floor. As they’re fairly compact, they don’t need much storage space either.’

Karcher SC2 Upright Easyfix Steam Cleaner mop being used in a grey bathroom witch checked tiles

(Image credit: TBC)

‘Steam cleaners, on the other hand, tend to be bulkier, although there are handheld devices available. The main reason steam cleaners are bulkier is they come with large tanks. This does have an upside, though, as they can keep producing steam for around 30 to 40 minutes. So, you can get through your cleaning tasks with fewer stops.’

So, it’s a good idea to look at the specifications and the weight of the steaming tool you’re looking to buy before you take the plunge. 

Of course, you should also remember that steam mops and steam cleaners are electrical appliances and must be plugged in at all times. Because of this, you should also note how long the cord is to make cleaning your home as easy and hassle-free as possible. 

Steam mop vs steam cleaner: Which is more affordable?

The best steam cleaning appliances come in so many different shapes, sizes, and price points. Ultimately, how much you spend depends on what you want from a steam mop or steam cleaner. 

If you’re just interested in a steam mop, you can usually pick one of these up for upwards of £35. In fact, that’s exactly how much this Dunelm Steam Mop costs. At the other end of the spectrum, you have the Shark Klik n' Flip Steam Pocket Mop, which retails at £129.

If you’re looking for a multi-purpose steam cleaner, you’ll likely need to spend a bit more. ‘Generally, steam cleaners are more expensive than steam mops due to their versatility and the technology involved,’ explains Ava. 

The cheapest steam cleaner on the market is the Black & Decker 10-in-1 Steam Mop we mentioned earlier, which will set you back £64.99. The top price for one of these steam cleaners can also be pretty steep. For example, the Polti Vaporetto Smart 100_B, Steam Cleaner retails at £249.

Because of this, a steam mop is considered to be more affordable in the steam mop vs steam cleaner debate. 

Final verdict: Which one do you need?

Choosing the winner of this steam mop vs steam cleaner debate isn’t easy. Both tools have their disadvantages and their advantages, and both can be a handy addition to your cleaning schedule. 

But if you’re buying this steaming tool for the sole purpose of cleaning your floors, we have no doubts that you’ll be happy with a steam mop. It’s what this product is designed for, and the steaming process will leave your floors cleaner than they’ve ever been before. 

However, we can’t deny that the functionality of a steam cleaner is enticing. With the ability to clean different areas of your home (including your floors) with one tool, it can make cleaning your whole house a doddle. 

And while steam cleaners are often more expensive than steam mops, you’ll ultimately have to pay less for other products such as grout cleaners, sofa cleaners, and oven cleaners. So, you may even end up saving money.

With all of this in mind, we’re going to have to crown the steam cleaner the winner. 


What is the difference between steam mop and steam cleaner?

A steam mop is designed to be a more high-tech version of a regular mop. It uses steam and heat to loosen dirt and grime from your floor while also wiping it away at the same time. Due to its design, it can only be used as a mop.

A steam cleaner, however, is a multi-purpose tool that can be used around the house to clean everything from your curtains to your oven. In most cases, steam cleaners also come with mop attachments, so you can also use them to clean your floors. 

Can you use a steam cleaner as a mop?

Yes, as long as you have the correct attachments. To successfully clean your floor with a steam cleaner, you need some kind of absorbent pad or buffer between the steam and the floor. Not only will this help clean your floor and pick up the dirt and grime, but it should also help protect it from the heat and steam at the same time.

So, how will you be steaming and cleaning your home?

Lauren Bradbury

Lauren Bradbury is a freelance writer and major homes enthusiast. She graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in English and Creative Writing from the University of Chichester in 2016, before dipping her toe into the world of content writing. After years of agency work, writing everything from real-life stories to holiday round-ups, she decided to take the plunge and become a full-time freelancer in the online magazine world. Since then, she has become a regular contributor for Real Homes and Ideal Home, and become even more obsessed with everything interior and garden related. As a result, she’s in the process of transforming her old Victorian terraced house into an eclectic and modern home that hits visitors with personality as soon as they walk through the door.