Steam vapor is a potent non-chemical cleaning and disinfecting agent produced using tap water heated electrically within a boiler to yield low-pressure, low-moisture, high-temperature steam; using only quarts of water per hour.
It is not to be confused with carpet cleaning machines that produce no steam, use gallons of water per minute, and are sometimes misnamed “steam cleaners”.
Steam Vapor Advantages Include:
- No standard chemicals needed to clean and disinfect.
- Reduction or replacement of chemical inventories.
- No residue or rinsing.
- Removes existing residues.
- Dry steam penetrates porous surfaces for deep cleaning.
- Dry steam penetrates areas chemical or mechanical methods can’t, enabling a wider range of cleaning and disinfecting.
- Ability to kill bacteria and viruses for disinfection and odor control.
- Ability to kill dust mites, fleas, and bed bugs without pesticides.
- Ability to kill mold and mycelia (fungal roots that penetrate surfaces).
- Users, occupants not exposed to harmful chemicals.
- Low water use, fast drying time, water conservation.
- Greater process control for simpler cleaning, disinfecting, and cleanup.
Professional Applications Include:
- Touch Points
- Foodservice Areas
- Patient Rooms
- Upholstery, Carpet
- Intricate Surfaces
- All Washable Surfaces (From Floors to Ceilings)
How It Works
Webster’s defines steam as: “The invisible vapor into which water is converted when heated to the boiling point.” Heat causes the water to expand into vapor.
Optimal working steam for cleaning and disinfecting is invisible and “dry” (about 6% moisture); it only becomes visible when it cools and condenses as tiny water droplets.
Finely tuned heat and pressure in a well-designed boiler produces the target temperature range of 240-300 degrees resulting in invisible steam vapor applied at about 200 degrees at a pressure of 50-60 psi through insulated tools to clean and disinfect.
Cleaning of hard surfaces most commonly involves transference of soil from the surface to the applicator. The best systems use a dry, folded/fitted cotton or microfiber applicator to trap the dry steam at the surface, then absorb the transferred soil and light moisture as the steam condenses. Heat is applied only briefly (seconds at a time) so heat-damage is rare on most surfaces. The process causes surface pores to expand for a deeper clean and soil extraction through transference.
Disinfection occurs in seconds because of the heat trapped dynamically at the surface resulting in log reductions surpassing the best chemical interventions or disinfectants (e.g., TANCS®–trademark, in this context, denotes claims validated for a particular steam vapor technology). One analogy is to an autoclave that kills germs on medical instruments using hot steam vapor.
Steam applied under gentle pressure using a nozzle without a cloth applicator, agitates surfaces to enable cleaning. The operator keeps the nozzle ½” to 3” off the surface and moves quickly. Proximity is important as the vapor cools and loses velocity 5” to 8” off the surface.
Steam applied with a brush applicator increases agitation as the brush lightly touches the surface.
Dry steam applied to pre-vacuumed carpet enables better dry soil removal through re-vacuuming since as the fibers cool and dry (within seconds), they open to better release soils, making the next vacuuming more effective.
When working on textiles or heat-sensitive surfaces, backing off the applicator nozzle slightly allows the steam vapor to expand and cool to avoid heat damage.
Note – Test before use on delicate surfaces.
What to Look For
Look for quality. Since the functional agent is applied low-moisture heat, look for systems in which the combination of boiler and tool design enables creation and application of “dry” steam vapor as noted. This means the boiler should be robust to take the pressure.
Also, look for:
- Ability to control the vapor temperature.
- Ability to control the amount of vapor applied (starting with lower pressure first).
- Ability to add water when machine is hot or in use (also known as “continuous fill”) to increase productivity with no waiting, enhance safety and maintain workflow without stopping.
- Water tank capacity (professional use consumes about 1.5 quarts an hour, so a larger tank enables more cleaning before refilling).
- Stainless steel boiler and other parts for durability, safety, and to prevent rust.
- Durability of hoses.
- Wheels for portability.
- Availability of service, support, and replacement parts.
- Credible research verifying efficacy, surfaces tested, and contact times for germ kill.
- Rugged, durable tools and accessories for a full range of multipurpose cleaning and disinfecting.
- Easy draining and access to equipment for cleaning.
- Simple, informative gauges for temperature and pressure.
- Technologies that reduce scale buildup in the boiler.
- Long warranties (better systems offer warranties of several years and up to a "lifetime" on boilers and heating elements in some cases).
What to Avoid
- Systems (often low-cost) producing cooler, wetter steam that is less effective, and leave considerable moisture behind.
- Systems lacking rigorous science to substantiate claims.
- Units lacking safety and durability features.
HFI does not endorse products.