Clothing steamers have been a part of the fashion industry for ages, and in recent years the rest of us have discovered their greatness. Irons are heavy, hot, require a horizontal surface like an ironing board, and can easily burn or melt delicate fabrics. From pro-grade, upright steamers to portable handheld models, these devices are much less awkward than old-fashioned ironing.
We researched and tested popular models to find the best steamer for clothes. The PurSteam (available at Amazon) was our favorite overall, removing stubborn wrinkles on all the fabrics we tried and beating my long-term favorite J-2000M Jiffy Stand-Up Steamer(available at Amazon). Our best portable pick was the Sunbeam Portable Steamer(available at Amazon). It’s lightweight, quick to heat up, and affordable.
The PurSteam garment steamer was remarkably effective at removing wrinkles from all the fabrics we tested. It was one of the very few that could.
Like most steamers, it’s easy to operate. The water receptacle detaches for easy filling, then you reattach it, plug it in, and turn it on. Within a matter of minutes, you can see steam emitting from the plastic head, which resembles a small vacuum cleaner head.
The steamer head is another advantage—its ergonomic design 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 settings allow you to adjust the amount of steam depending on the fabric you’re working with. (It's a great option for dress shirts). The PurSteam is 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. But while the Sunbeam SB51W Garment Steamer is one of the smallest, simplest, most lightweight models, it gets the job done.
To prepare it, put it under the faucet to fill it with water, screw the top on, and plug it in. It turns on automatically, and heats up quickly—it had water boiling and steaming in under 20 seconds.
The only downsides are that because of its petite size, you may need to refill it several times to steam a lot of laundry. You’ll also want to unplug it to cool down before stowing it away. For the price and ease of use, the Sunbeam is a great choice.
I bought the Jiffy commercial-grade steamer on the advice of other clothing resellers a couple of years ago and haven’t been disappointed. Its large water tank means I don’t have to refill it often. It’s sturdy and capable of eliminating most wrinkles. I like the metal head and wooden handle, but the materials do make it heavier than plastic models.
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. It’s 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—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.
Surprisingly, the Magictech portable steamer and the Sunbeam steamer are identical. 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. Go with whichever is more economical or more readily available.
The Hilife HL7 is sleek and modern, while still maintaining the teapot shape common to portable steamers. There’s a wide base, lid on top, and an extended section where steam is emitted. 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 the attached lint comb, which provides a buffer between the steam head and the fabric, preventing damage.
Like other steamers, it was great on the wool and not quite as great on the cotton, polyester, or linen.
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 didn’t appear to be 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 hair dryer 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, the larger size means a larger water receptacle, which allows it to be used for longer periods before needing to be refilled. And the hand placement is 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.
I’m Marcia Layton Turner, a freelance writer and a busy mom of two kids and two dogs—which means I don’t have much time to spend on getting dressed. I love natural fabrics like linen and hate leaving the house already wrinkled, so I probably use a clothing steamer more than the average person. I still iron from time to time, 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 researched popular garment steamers, some from general garment care companies, and others from specialty brands. We spent a couple of weeks testing them on four fabrics: wool, 100% cotton, polyester/rayon, and the legendarily wrinkly linen. We tested them on everyday wrinkles, on t-shirts, and on challenging items like wool skirts and linen tablecloths.
We assembled each steamer, taking notes on which were easy to put together. We tested them on fabric we had dampened and purposely wrinkled. For travel steamers, we packed them away in a suitcase to confirm they were, indeed, travel-friendly.
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
When I turned to clothing steamers, I went all in. I invested in an expensive, commercial-grade stand-up steamer, but you don’t have to. This testing process proved that you can find effective stand-up and handheld garment steamers for an affordable price point. 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:
How do you intend to use your steamer? If you travel a lot, it makes sense to get a handheld model that fits in your suitcase. If you want an alternative to everyday ironing (or you’re a professional) then you’ll likely want a more heavy-duty, stand-up model that allows you to hang clothes on the unit while you steam them.
One common feature is varying steam settings. Heavier fabrics tend to need more steam than lightweight items. Do you need several minutes of continuous steaming or only a few puffs here and there? Adjusting steam settings isn’t essential in my experience, but you may want the option.
Some models also come with extra steam heads with options like simultaneous de-linting, or other accessories and add-ons.
Most of the steamers were primarily plastic, which suggests they won’t last forever. However, even among plastic steamers, some were more durable than others.
Speed and Steam Duration
Two important factors in steamer performance are how quickly it gets up to speed and how long it can go. If you’re in a hurry, you’ll want a model that heats up quickly. If you have a ton of laundry to de-wrinkle, you’ll want a model that can hold a lot of water for longer steaming times.
Are Steamers Better Than Irons?
Steamers can be more versatile than irons. They don’t require special surfaces to work, and they also don’t often damage clothing like an iron can. (Still, check your care instructions, and don’t use it on just any material.)
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.
How Do You Use a Clothes Steamer?
Using a steamer is pretty straightforward. Like an iron, make sure it’s filled with water, then turn it on. Once the water is hot and it’s generating steam, hold the steamer head up to the fabric and drag it down while gently tugging on the fabric for a little bit of tension.
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