Find the Best Steam Appliances for Your Home

In an era when technology rules the roost in the modern home, with domestic chores such as cleaning and cooking streamlined by robotic vacuum machines and lightning-fast microwave ovens, it is perhaps reassuring that many people still appear to adhere to the adage that the simple things in life are often the best, and what could be more basic than harnessing the power of boiling water to use the resulting steam for a host of jobs around the house?

Arguably the most important innovation of all time, James Watt’s invention of the steam engine was the driving force behind the Industrial Revolution of the 18th Century, running trains and ships as well as factories. Today, the power of steam is being used across a wide range of home appliances to create a healthier lifestyle with an emphasis on convenience.

Steam is so potent as a cleaner that it can eradicate 99.9 per cent of harmful household bacteria, as its high temperature breaks down grease and grime, leaving your home as sanitised as possible. Steam cleaners are also available for jobs outside the home, such as cleaning your car or sprucing up garden paths. Cooking with steam also brings health benefits; steamed food retains more nutrients (and flavour) than other methods of food preparation.

Another domestic chore that has been revolutionised through steam is ironing, a bugbear within many busy households. Steam-generating irons, clothes steamers and steam presses all make getting the creases out of your clothes a lot easier.

Let’s examine some popular – and not so common – steam appliances that have found their way into our hearts and homes…

Full Steam Ahead in the Kitchen

The process of steaming food is an ancient procedure. Steaming-pits that have been unearthed in the south-west of the USA date back 10,000 years, and stoneware steam cookers were being used in China’s Yellow River Valley as long ago as 5000BC.

Steaming is a healthy method of cooking and can be used to prepare many types of food, being particularly suited to the preparation of vegetables. The process works by continuously boiling water to vaporise it into steam, which then transfers heat to the food while keeping the water away from it, ensuring no loss of nutrients and preventing your veg from becoming soggy.

Another benefit of steaming, compared with other cooking methods, is that the risk of overcooking or burning food can easily be eliminated, and people keeping an eye on their cholesterol levels will reap the benefits associated with avoiding the use of fat or oil in a frying process. Steaming is also healthier than boiling, retaining higher levels of nutrients such as folic acid and vitamin C. Besides vegetables, other foods you can steam include chicken, salmon, pasta, rice and shellfish. Most steamers can take up to nine litres of food, ample for a main meal for four.

Before the popularity of electric steamers, the process of steaming food was typically carried out by heating water in a saucepan on the hob and placing either a plate or purpose-designed food-holder above the water, sealed with the saucepan lid on top. Nowadays, electricity-driven devices are much more commonplace, the most popular type being multi-tiered, enabling the cooking of various foods at the same time.

When considering which steam cooker is best for you, bear in mind ease of use and durability, and, if you just want to load up your steamer, switch it on and forget about it while you get on with something else, you should opt for a device with a good timer. Besides multi-tiered varieties, steamers also come in the form of egg boilers and poachers and rice cookers.

Food steamers generally cost around £10 to £75. If you are really serious about cooking with steam, you might want to investigate built-in steam ovens and cookers, appliances that can steam or bake or carry out a combination of both processes. These machines cost from £350 to £1,600.

Cleaning with the Power of Steam

Steam cleaners are a great tool for getting rid of mold, dust mites, germs and fungus, and can be used on a variety of surfaces and items around the home. Doing your housework with steam power is environmentally friendly because no chemicals are involved, the process using heat to disinfect or sanitise almost all surfaces. Another bonus is that as steam evaporates quickly, surfaces dry faster than when washed. Steam cleaners are also highly effective when it comes to dissolving substances such as glue, chewing gum and ground-in wax.

To get your floors hygienically spotless, you can get a steam cleaner specifically designed for hard surfaces or carpets. Many steam cleaners, however, come with an easily-attachable glider, so can be used on both types of surface; these are often called steam mops, and you should look for one with a triangular-shaped cleaning head that swivels around to get into corners and other awkward nooks and crannies. At the higher end of the market, even more versatile steam machines are available with a host of attachments enabling you to tackle almost any household cleaning task.

For maximum effectiveness when steam-cleaning floors, it’s a good idea to brush or vacuum the surface first to eliminate larger particles of dust and grime. Although steam cleaners can be used on a variety of surfaces, you should always follow your machine’s guidelines before using it on a new area.

For smaller jobs, and an even greater level of ease of use, hand-held steam cleaners are suitable for use on a wide range of surfaces around the home, including tiles, windows, mirrors and upholstery. They are ideal for getting into those cracks and crevices that would otherwise be almost inaccessible.

Roughly speaking, steam cleaners are in the same sort of price bracket as vacuum cleaners. Hand-held steam devices cost around £20, with floor cleaners coming in at up to £100 or above. It is worth bearing in mind, though, that once you have a steam cleaner, you won’t have to spend a fortune on chemicals and detergents.

Steam cleaners are also available for use outside the home. These products include steam pressure washers for cleaning cars, and machines designed for patios, paths and driveways.

Clothes Steamers, an Alternative to Ironing

You might think of clothes steamers as being used exclusively within professional dry-cleaning operations but scaled-down versions are available for homes. In fact, the home was the origin of garment steamers, which were developed in the early part of the 20th Century for use on headwear such as bowler hats and fedoras, must-have fashion accessories for men at the time. This do-it-yourself approach of using steam from a tea kettle to sort out crumpled hats was later adapted into commercial use, employing more efficient versions including a hose and brush head.

Among the most popular clothes steamers today are hand-held devices, easy to use by simply hanging up the garment, filling the steamer’s water reservoir and waiting a few minutes for it to heat up and then going over the article of clothing with a sweeping motion.

Clothes steamers are often used as an alternative to ironing. Steamers relax fibres while irons flatten them, so the steaming process is much gentler on fabrics, and also cuts out the risk of scorching. Garment steamers can be used to freshen up a range of clothing, including jackets, trousers, skirts and shirts, and they are useful for steaming heavy bedding such as mattresses and quilts. Hand-held mini-steamers are also convenient when travelling around, to solve the problem of clothes getting crumpled in your suitcase.

Another device for people who dislike ironing is the clothes steam press, a light-weight, table-top machine that is fast, efficient and easy to use.

The price range for garment steamers and clothes steam presses typically starts at around £100.


Ironing with Steam

For those who don’t mind ironing, steam still has a role to play, in the form of steam-generating irons, introduced in the UK in the early 1950s by Hoover. Steam irons, with their application of heat, steam and weight to stretch out the molecules of an item of clothing, can get the wrinkles out of almost any fabric, and most have settings for cotton, linen, polyester and delicate fabrics like silk and wool.

All steam irons are designed to do the same basic job but there is a huge variety of models to choose from. Things to look for in a quality steam iron include a limescale filter (particularly if you live in a hard-water area), a comfortable handle, a thin, tapered and a tank that’s easy to fill. Another important feature is automatic shut-off, a safety device that will give peace of mind to people who find themselves worrying about whether they have switched off their iron.

You can pick up a no-frills steam iron for about £10, while the pricier options, with their advanced technological features, can set you back around £200. It’s worth bearing in mind that you can still get a quality product at the lower end of the market.

Home Steam Baths

If you are looking to pamper yourself without having to book into an expensive spa, a home steam bath could be just what you need. These gadgets turn your shower into a personal spa treatment centre, helping to ease tired muscles as warmth permeates throughout the body while warm, soothing moisture opens the pores of your skin, leaving it softer and suppler. Another benefit of steam bathing is the removal of impurities from your body, and it also helps to improve breathing. As you can probably imagine, these machines don’t come cheaply; they can cost from £2,600 to £6,300.


Home Steam Power

A steam turbine generator in the home can provide a back-up electricity supply in the event of a power failure. Most home steam generators are driven by gas but they can also be used in conjunction with a concentrated solar-power system, harnessing the amplified, reflected power of the sun to produce steam to rotate a turbine generator. An important factor in choosing a steam turbine generator is the amount of electricity you use, both on average and at peak times. A home steam power system varies in price from a few hundred pounds up to £2,600 for machines with a higher capacity.


The Beauty of Steam: Simplicity and Effectiveness

The keystone of the Industrial Revolution has now become a major factor in life in the modern home, the power of steam being adapted to handle a variety of domestic tasks, from cooking and cleaning to ironing and pressing clothes.

The beauty of steam lies within its simplicity, using just two basic and abundant components – water and heat. These constituents combine to form a potent cleaning force without the need for chemicals or detergents that may in the long run be detrimental to the item you are cleaning.

James Watts certainly revolutionised industrial processes in the 1700s but his legacy lives on in many of our homes today. If you still haven’t joined the new steam revolution, you could be missing out on a whole raft of benefits to make your life easier while helping to safeguard the environment. Once you have treated yourself to a new steam product, you will find it so effective that you wonder how you ever got along without it.