Got wrinkled clothing? Although irons have been the standard tool to smooth out wrinkles for generations, ironing is quickly becoming an old school technique. After all, irons are heavy, hot, can easily burn thinner fabrics like silk or melt polyester, and perform best on a horizontal flat surface like an ironing board. In a word, they’re awkward.
So along come clothing steamers to the rescue. Small and light enough to take with you while traveling, several portable models work just as well as their commercial grade brethren. Stand-up models are the preferred choice of clothing retailers and career professionals alike, because they’re more efficient. While steamers have been the appliance of choice in the fashion industry, it’s just been in the last few years that the rest of us have discovered how great they are.
Now, admittedly, I had a favorite from the start—my J-2000M Jiffy Stand-Up Steamer(available at Amazon), which I use regularly. While I still love it, I discovered that others were equally good, or even better. The PurSteam(available at Amazon for $73.47) was our favorite overall, mainly because of its ability to get rid of stubborn wrinkles on all the fabrics we tried. But the Sunbeam Portable Steamer(available at Amazon) was also surprisingly good, especially for the price! Honestly, I may get one myself because it was so lightweight and quick to heat up.
These are the best clothing steamers we tested ranked, in order:
J-2000M Jiffy Garment Steamer with Metal Steam Head
Conair Extreme Steam Deluxe Upright Professional Fabric Steamer
Sunbeam SB51W Garment Steamer
Magictec Portable Travel Garment Steamer
Rowenta IS6520 Master 360 Full Size Garment and Fabric Steamer
Cirago LS-609C Professional Heavy Duty Hanging Clothes Steamer
Hilife Steamer for Clothes
Conair Complete Steam Hand Held Fabric Steamer
BEAUTURAL Steamer for Clothes with Pump Steam Technology
DB DEGBIT Portable Fast Heat-Up Steamer
Housmile Steamer for Clothes
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What made the PurSteam garment steamer a stand-out was its ability to get wrinkles out of all the fabrics. It was one of the very few that could, which is why it is at the top of the rankings.
Like most steamers, it’s easy to operate. You remove the water receptacle in the base, fill it in the sink with water, replace the water contained, plug it in, and turn it on. Within a matter of minutes, you can see steam being emitted from the plastic head, which resembles a small vacuum cleaner head. The steamer head is one thing that was fairly different about the PurSteam—it has more of an ergonomic design, which makes it easy to hold and press against clothes. And since it’s plastic, not metal, you’re less likely to get burned if you happen to touch it.
The stand comes with its own hanger, which is convenient. And it’s on wheels, so you can easily pull it out of a closet or wheel it into another room if needed.
It took a little more than five minutes to completely assemble, which was about average. The four different steam levels allow you to adjust the amount of steam depending on the fabric you’re working with (it's a great option for dress shirts). A good choice no matter how frequently you intend to use it.
You might think that in order to entirely eliminate wrinkles, you need a heavy-duty steamer. It turns out, you don’t. The Sunbeam SB51W Garment Steamer is one of the smallest, most lightweight models, with the simplest design, and yet it gets the job done.
Assembling it involves putting it under the faucet to fill it with water, screwing the top on, and plugging it in. It turns on automatically. Maybe because of its simplicity, it also heats up quickly. I timed it and had water boiling in it and steaming in under 20 seconds. To use it, you hold the steamer head up to the fabric and drag it down while gently tugging on the fabric (at least that’s my technique).
The only downsides, really, are that because of its petite size, you may need to refill it several times if you’re steaming a pile of clothes, and you’ll want to unplug it and have it cool down before stowing it away. For the price and ease-of-use, the Sunbeam is a great choice.
I’m Marcia Layton Turner, a freelance writer who has written for Health, Woman’s Day, Every Day with Rachael Ray, Businessweek, US News & World Report, and I currently write for Forbes.com and a number of other outlets. I’ve also tested products for several magazines and websites. I was the baby product reviewer for ePregnancy magazine years ago, am an Amazon product tester now, and frequently offer my two cents even when I’m not asked for it.
As a busy mom of two kids and two dogs, I don’t have much time to spend on getting dressed. But I also love natural fabrics like linen and hate leaving the house for a meeting already wrinkled, so I use a clothing steamer more than the average person, I suspect. Yes, I still use an iron from time to time, but more on larger household items like curtains and tablecloths that are unwieldy to hang and steam. On shirts, skirts, pants, and dresses, my steamer is my go-to appliance.
We spent a couple of weeks testing 12 different garment steamers on four different types of fabrics: wool, 100% cotton, polyester/rayon, and, easily the most wrinkle-inducing fabrics known to man, linen. Some of the steamers were manufactured by companies that also market irons, like Rowenta, Beautural, Conair, and Sunbeam, while others were more steamer specialists, like PurSteam, Jiffy, and Cirago.
We assembled all the steamers, took notes on which were easy to put together and which took way too long, tested them on fabric we had dampened and purposely wrinkled, and, for the portable models, packed them away in a suitcase to confirm they were, indeed, travel-friendly. (We didn’t bother doing this with the stand-up models because they could fill an entire suitcase on their own; not an appliance you would normally bring with you on a plane.)
To determine which steamers performed best and which weren’t a good use of your money, we tested them over the course of two weeks on four different (but significantly wrinkled) types of fabrics. We wanted to see how well the steamers performed on everyday wrinkles, on cotton and polyester blend t-shirts, as well as on more challenging varieties, such as a wool skirt and linen tablecloth.
Although removing wrinkles is the primary purpose of a steamer, we also judged how hard it was to assemble each model, assessed how much water they could hold, how easy they were to clean, and how convenient they were to store or to pack for a trip.
What You Should Know About Clothes Steamers
I was raised as an iron girl, meaning I was never exposed to the possibility of wrinkle relief that a steamer can provide. Despite being a late bloomer when it comes to clothing steamers, I’ve embraced them wholeheartedly. After too many singed shirts, melted scarves, and discolored napkins thanks to a too-hot iron, I’ve converted.
But where I went all in, investing in an expensive commercial-grade stand-up steamer costing, you don’t have to (unless you want to). This testing process proved that you can find effective steamers for an affordable price point, stand-up and portable. But there are still differences you’ll want to be aware of.
Some of the factors you should consider when choosing a new garment steamer include:
Common Use: Start your shopping process by thinking about how you intend to use your steamer. Are you buying one to take on a cruise or trip? Then portable is the way to go, so it fits in your suitcase. Do you want an alternative to everyday ironing or are you a retailer or reseller? Then you’ll likely want a more heavy-duty stand-up model that will allow you to hang clothes on the unit while you steam them.
Price: Most steamers cost somewhere between $20 and $100 and you’ll generally get what you pay for, with just two exceptions—the Sunbeam and Magictech portable models, which are identical.
Varying Steam Levels: Heavier fabrics tend to need more steam than lightweight items, and some models allow you to customize the steam flow. Do you need several minutes of continuous steaming or only a few puffs here and there? Although I don’t think this is an essential feature, some users may find it desirable.
Size: If you plan to use your steam as your everyday de-wrinkling machine, you may want to go with a stand-up version, keeping in mind that it requires a fair amount of closet storage. Do you have it available? If not, you may want to opt for a smaller, more compact, travel size steamer.
Extra Steam Heads: Some models provide alternate heads that provide simultaneous de-linting, which can save time. Is that important to you?
Durability: Most of the steamers were primarily plastic, which suggests they won’t last forever. However, some were of a thicker grade of plastic that is more likely not to fall apart in the next couple of years.
Other Clothes Steamers We Tested
Jiffy J-2000M Personal Clothing Steamer
I bought the Jiffy commercial-grade steamer on the advice of seller other clothing resellers a couple of years ago and I haven’t been disappointed. It has a large water tank, so I don’t have to refill it often. It’s sturdy and capable of eliminating most wrinkles. I like that it has a metal head and wooden handle, but the materials do make it heavier than other models made of plastic.
Unlike other stand-up models, the Jiffy does not have a built-in-hanger, so you need to use the small hook at the top to hang your own. Not a big deal, but the small hanging area means you can’t set up more than three or four items at once.
Also, when you first turn it on, it sputters. That is, small water droplets come out of the head and can get on your delicate fabrics. The trick seems to be to wait a few minutes until the water in the hose has been converted to steam. This isn’t a big deal if you’re steaming jeans or jackets, but can ruin a fancy blouse or dress.
Despite these small quirks, I still love my Jiffy.
Another top-performing stand-up steamer is the Conair Extreme Steam model. It performs well on wrinkled clothing and its base is not on wheels, making it much less likely to topple over. On the flip side, because it doesn’t have wheels, it’s not easy to move. It also has a tiny water reservoir, so if you’re trying to steam a bunch of items, you may find yourself having to refill it more frequently.
The reservoir is also designed differently from every other stand-up steamer. Instead of having to turn it upside down and unscrew the cap on the bottom to fill it with water, you simply open a flip top and fill it from the faucet there. I didn’t realize this and spilled water all over the floor twice. It’s a nice feature once you’re aware of it.
The steamer handle is unusual and more ergonomic than others, with a wrap-around opening to grab onto that provides more control and comfort. It also has a built-in hanger, which is useful, as well as two clips to hold items in place.
While it does get most wrinkles out, which we thought was most important, assembling the Conair was a lot. A lot of parts and a lot of looking at the directions for reassurance, though it didn’t take quite as long as another stand-up model.
Don’t get me wrong, it works very well, but it’s best if you intend to set it up in a room and leave it since it’s not easy to wheel around.
Surprisingly, the Magictech portable steamer and the Sunbeam steamer are identical. Seriously. I think the Sunbeam may have an extra sticker on it but, otherwise, it’s the exact same appliance. Both are compact, easy to add water to, easy to use, fast to heat up, and effective wrinkle removers. If you’re looking for an effective and compact portable steamer, the Magictech works just as well as the Sunbeam. I’d probably do a price comparison and go with whichever was more economical.
One thing that is immediately noticeable about the Rowenta Master 360 is its ease of assembly. There are only three major parts, so it took as long as the portable models—meaning not long at all. Its biggest differentiator is the ability to swivel the attached hanger 360-degrees, which allows you to steam the front of a garment and then spin it around and do the backside, without changing your position. I didn’t use this but I can see how it could save time and energy.
A big advantage of the Rowenta was its large water receptacle, which holds 2.5 liters. It also has an auto-shutoff valve that automatically shuts off the steamer. This is a nice safety feature if you get distracted. The steam head also has an unusual design. Rather than being rectangular, like other stand-up steamers, it is pointed at one end like an iron. And the handle itself is covered in plastic, so you’re less likely to make contact with the metal steamer head.
The Rowenta also comes with three additional steam heads, including a crease attachment for pants.
The Cirago stand-up steamer took the longest to assemble, arrived missing a piece to the steam head, and has a shorter hose and smaller water receptacle than other models, putting it at a disadvantage overall. Performance-wise, it did a great job at removing wrinkles from the wool skirt but struggled with the cotton, linen, and polyester blend.
Unlike other models, the Cirago comes with two steam levels (high and low) rather than a single level, which is designed to do a better job at wrinkle removal. The attached hanger, anti-scalding gloves, and wide steam head are also useful features.
The Hilife steamer looks like a more modern, sleeker version of other teapot styles (meaning that it’s shaped like a teapot, with a wider base, lid on top, and an extended section where steam is emitted) portable steamers. However, the Hilife is larger, with greater water capacity, and a wider steam head. Simply twist the top off, fill it with water, and you’re ready to go.
My favorite feature is that the attached lint comb, which I liked because it provided a buffer against touching the steam head directly against the fabric, preventing damage.
Like other steamers, it was great on the wool and not quite as great on the cotton, polyester, or linen.
Looking like a slightly broader version of the Hilife steamer, the Conair Complete Steam portable steamer is easy to fill and easy to use. The operating instructions were among the simplest and clearest available. And the on/off button ensures you know when it’s operational—not all portable steamers provide the ability to turn it off, you just have to unplug it—which is an added bonus.
The biggest issue with the Conair steamer was that it sprayed water in addition to the steam, which I don’t think was intentional. On cotton, the added dampness may be useful in removing wrinkles, but on silk, it would leave stains.
Like some of the other models, the ability to view the water level from the side of the device was also disconcerting when the water started to boil. You can see, hear, and feel the rolling boil.
Looking more like a hairdryer than a clothing steamer, the Beautural steamer is larger and shaped differently from the other models. Because of its size, it would be more challenging to travel with, unless you brought a large suitcase.
On the plus side, its larger size means it has a larger water receptacle, which allows it to be used for longer periods before needing to be refilled. And the hand placement it perhaps the farthest from the steam head of any steamer tested, reducing the chances of being burned. It also successfully removed wrinkles from the wool, cotton, and polyester fabrics.
However, it’s a little harder to fill the water reservoir and snap it back in. And the plastic feels less durable.
While the DG Degbit steamer was very effective at steaming wrinkles out of the wool skirt, it was less successful on the cotton, linen, and polyester blend, which is why it’s near the end of our list. It did lessen the visibility of the wrinkles, but it didn’t eliminate them.
It’s a compact little steamer that’s easy to assemble. It also heated up in under 20 seconds—one of the fastest of all. However, the lint brush attachment did come off mid-steam, which was a little inconvenient but not the end of the world. I just reattached it. It also comes with a fabric brush.
The reason the Housmile steamer ended up at the bottom of the list likely has more to do with how it works than anything else. Although most steamers heat up and emit a continuous flow of steam from the head, the Housmile emitted puffs of steam after several minutes of heating up. It also sprayed a cloud of white dust onto the fabric with the first use, which wasn’t a big deal because I was steaming white shirts, but would have been disastrous on black. Water also dripped from the base, which felt unsafe.
Most importantly, because of how it works, it didn’t do a great job of removing wrinkles. It comes with a glove that you use to smooth out the fabric while steaming, which was rather inconvenient; who wants to put on a stiff glove in order to unwrinkle clothes?!
One unique thing about the Housmile is that it's a steam iron, meaning it can function as an iron as well as a steamer, giving it versatility other models don’t have.
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