A number of tools fall under the umbrella heading of a steam cleaner, depending on how they are used. A steam cleaner is a device which creates gaseous vapor from water through heating. The result is more commonly called steam, and it can be used on an assortment of surfaces, including those which are not normally water safe. A number of industries utilize steam cleaners for a variety of applications. Models for home use are typically small, and resemble vacuum cleaners with a chamber to hold water in. Hand held steam cleaners are also used in the garment industry, to spot clean and press garments.
A steam cleaner works by heating water to the point where it turns into vapor. The vapor expands, and is forced out through a nozzle which can be directed at the surface which needs to cleaned. As the vapor cools and turns back into water, it pulls dirt out of the material and off the surface. Many steam cleaners suck the dirty water back into a separate chamber, while others require the user to wipe the surface being cleaned to remove the water droplets and dirt.
In many cases, a steam cleaner just requires water, usually in relatively small amounts. The idea is not to saturate the surface being cleaned, but to use the chemical properties of water to pull dirt out and off of it. In other instances, a steam cleaner also includes a chamber with soap or disinfectant, especially if the steam it produces is low temperature. In hospitals and other facilities where a sterile environment is required, this type of steam cleaner is popular.
Using a steam cleaner can allow someone to get into areas which are difficult to access. Carpeting and upholstery are two popular surfaces to steam clean, because the steam will penetrate the surface, pulling up dirt from underneath. A related device is a vapor steam cleaner, which allegedly uses even less water than a normal steam cleaner to produce super heated steam which is supposed to work better for cleaning some surfaces.
An industrial steam cleaner can be quite large, and is designed for cleaning large objects or heavy dirt. A household model is usually designed to be used and maneuvered by one person. As with any other device which produces heat and steam, caution should be used with a steam cleaner. Never leave one plugged in unattended, and keep curious children and pets away to avoid steam burns, which can be quite painful.