From a young age, most of us have been taught that the only way to clean our clothes is to wash them regularly.
Although sometimes done by hand, the most common method of washing clothes is to place them in the washing machine. But what if there’s a better way of keeping these items clean?
Steaming clothes has been a popular way of removing creases from wrinkled fabric for many years, but many people don’t realise it’s also a great sanitiser!
The high temperature of the steam can effectively kill germs and bacteria found on your hardwood floors, carpets, and furniture, and the same is true for your clothes.
So can you steam clothes instead of washing them? In this article, we look closely at whether steaming can substitute washing or whether you’re better off sticking with your washing machine.
We’ll also discuss the benefits of steaming your clothes, how to get the best results, and when to stick to a more traditional laundry routine.
Can You Steam Clothes Instead of Washing Them?
The short answer is yes: You can steam your clothes instead of washing them! However, steaming has its limitations, so a clothes steamer can’t replace a washing machine.
Clothes steamers are designed to bring a tank of cold water to the boil and release steam from the steamer head.
When directed at your clothing, the steam quickly loosens the fabric and causes any wrinkles to drop.
While this is the main reason clothes steamers are used, the high temperature of the steam has been shown to kill more than 99.9% of the bacteria commonly found in clothing!
This means that any odours clinging to the fabric are also eliminated, making your clothes look and smell clean.
Is Steam Enough to Clean Clothes?
Unfortunately, steam cleaning clothes has some limitations and isn’t always enough.
For example, any visibly dirty clothing will need to be properly washed rather than steamed, and it is highly unlikely that stubborn stains, such as coffee, will come out of the fabric through steaming alone.
This being said, you can still benefit from using a steamer to clean your clothes between washes.
Steam may not completely substitute a washing machine, but it immediately refreshes lightly worn clothes. This means you can greatly prolong the time between washes, saving you time and energy.
Some expensive washing machine models also have a steam function that can be added to your usual wash cycle. This won’t help to clean your clothing between washes, but it will improve the efficiency of your washing machine by:
- Helping to clean your clothes more thoroughly
- Killing any bacteria on your clothing or in the drum
- Dissolving any excess detergent so that no residue is left behind
- Removing the wrinkles from your clothing so that ironing is not required
How Do You Wash Clothes With Steam?
As steaming only uses heat and water and doesn’t agitate clothes or use chemicals, it is quite a safe way to clean them.
However, it is important that you know how to properly steam your clothes, as improper usage could leave burn marks on your clothing or leave your garments still looking worse for wear.
Below is a detailed guide on how to use a clothes steamer safely and effectively:
- Fill the tank on your clothes steamer with cold water. Ensure you close the tank properly to avoid water leaking from the appliance later on.
- Plug in the steamer and turn it on. The device will usually be ready to use after a few minutes, but you can test if it is fully heated by pressing the release button and seeing how much steam is discharged.
- Hang the garment you wish to steam. Some clothes steamers will come with a hanging pole that you can use for this, but when using a handheld steamer, you can simply place the garment on a hanger and hang it in an open area.
- Gently run the steamer head down the garment, pressing the release button every now and then so that steam is applied to the fabric. When dealing with delicate fabrics, ensure there are at least a few inches between the material and the steamer head and that you don’t focus on one section of fabric for too long.
- Once you have finished steaming, allow the garment to dry. As little water has been used, this typically takes 5 to 10 minutes. You can then store the garment as usual.
What Are the Benefits of Cleaning Clothes With Steam?
As we briefly discussed earlier, cleaning your clothes with steam has many benefits. The main appeal is that it can effectively remove any creases and odours from the fabric, but there are other advantages of this cleaning method as well, such as:
1. Less damaging
Although washing machines are highly effective, the chemical cleaners and high levels of agitation can damage your clothing and reduce its lifespan.
Steaming only uses heat and water to clean your clothes, making it a much gentler cleaning method and less likely to cause any damage.
2. Saves space
Most clothes steamers are very compact, meaning they can be stored in small spaces. In comparison, ironing boards and washing machines are quite bulky, so a steamer is an ideal solution for those with smaller homes. You can always pop to your nearest laundrette when a thorough wash is required.
3. Eliminates stains
Clothes steamers may not be able to remove stains on their own, but they will help to relax the fabric fibres so that a stain remover can work more effectively.
Simply pre-treat the stain as usual, then steam the area for roughly 30 seconds. This will help loosen the stain and increase the chances of it coming out in the washing machine.
4. Removes allergens
When you steam your clothes, the high temperature won’t just kill any bacteria in the fabric; it will also remove any dust mites or pollen.
This is especially useful for those with allergies such as hay fever, as you’re much less likely to be exposed to any allergens that will set off your symptoms.
5. Ideal for travel
Clothes steamers come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, including handheld models. These types of steamer are generally small and portable, so they are ideal for taking on your travels and freshening your clothing when you’re on the go.
6. Extremely versatile
As the name suggests, clothes steamers are designed for use on clothing. However, this doesn’t mean they can’t also be used to clean other things in your home.
Steam is also highly effective at cleaning curtains, mattresses, pillows, sofas, carpets, and other surfaces, meaning these devices have many applications.
Are There Any Fabrics You Should Not Steam?
Steaming is a valuable addition to any laundry routine. Plus, as this way of cleaning your clothes is so gentle, it can be used on the vast majority of fabrics.
This not only includes durable materials, such as cotton and polyester, but also those that are much more delicate, like silk, chiffon, and velvet—many of which are unsuitable for machine washing anyway.
Of course, you do have to be more careful when dealing with these delicate fabrics as they are more prone to damage. However, as long as you keep the steamer a small distance from the garment, you will not come across any issues.
But unfortunately, a few fabrics cannot be steamed under any circumstances. This includes:
- Waxed fabrics
- Other materials that will melt when high heat is applied (e.g., plastic).
If your clothing has any embellishments, it is also a good idea to turn the garment inside out when using the steamer to avoid damage.
If you’re unsure whether it is safe to steam a certain fabric, test the steamer on an inconspicuous part of the material before using it on the entire garment.
At the sign of any damage, turn the steamer off immediately and resort to the washing machine instead.
Hannah is a freelance content writer with a passion for cleaning. She worked her way around Australia by cleaning hostels in exchange for free accommodation and used her cleaning skills to bag her a job as a chalet host for a luxury ski company in France.