Is your car your temple? A shrine to the horsepower gods? A pristine, immaculate haven of polished chrome, mint condition plastic, and lustrous leather?
Because we are about to go next level with this product roundup, talking about a cleaning tool that only the cleanest, the most obsessive, the most perfectionist will invest in, but it will refresh, restore, and make the very floor you step on look and smell heavenly. That’s right, we’re talking steam cleaners. Vacuums might pick up dirt and gravel and leaves, but it leaves behind the ground-in mud, wet stuff, and smelly particles. A steam cleaner gives a deep cleanse that gets down between the carpet fibers like a great shampoo at the barbershop, and the powerful spray getting right down to the scalp.
Steam cleaners were originally designed for household use, but they have evolved for many purposes, and we will sift through the bulky industrial and heavy-duty models to highlight the best steam cleaners that can perform a wide variety of cleaning tasks within your vehicle, and even some of the exterior, plus a few compact carpet cleaners that specialize in stain removal in fabrics like the cloth seats or carpets in your car.
Table of contents
- 1. Editor’s Pick: Dupray ONE Steam Cleaner
- 2. Best Overall: McCulloch Heavy-Duty Steam Cleaner (MC1275)
- 3. Bissell SpotClean Auto Portable Cleaner for Carpet & Cars
- 4. Wagner On-Demand Power Steamer and Cleaner (915)
- 5. Rug Doctor Portable Spot Cleaner
- 6. PureClean XL Steam Cleaner
- 7. Steamfast Multi-Purpose Steam Cleaner (SF-370WH)
- 8. Hoover Spotless Portable Carpet & Upholstery Spot Cleaner
- 9. Bissell Pet Stain Eraser Cordless Portable Carpet Cleaner (2003T)
- 10. PurSteam Handheld Pressurized Steam Cleaner with 9-Piece Accessory Set
- Why do I need a Steam Cleaner?
- What Should I look for in a good Steam Cleaner?
- What to avoid?
- Tips for Steam Cleaning your Car
1. Editor’s Pick: Dupray ONE Steam Cleaner
If we’re picking our absolute favorite, we’re going with the Dupray ONE. You’ll notice right away that it’s pretty darn expensive, which is just about its only downside because this ONE does it all. What sets it apart is its adjustable steam control, which is good, because it gets up to a piping hot 303ºF, allowing it to disinfect 99.99% of bacteria and viruses. However, the steam has a low moisture ratio, so it doesn’t leave things wet. It heats up in less than 10 minutes and has enough capacity in its water tank for up to 50 minutes of run time before you need to fill up again.
The power cord is 16 feet and the hose is another 6 feet, so you should be able to plug in to an outlet in that garage and reach all the way around the car in the driveway. It weighs just 10 pounds, plus it has a couple big wheels, so it’s easy to drag around and is a typical size for a household steam cleaner, so it should store easily on a typical garage shelf or closet.
Best of all, it comes with the whole range of cleaning attachments, some for large surfaces like seats and carpet, a window squeegee, plus small tools for detail work, and microfiber towel and wraps for delicate fabrics and wiping away the gunk that the steam releases. If you just can’t get over that price, Dupray makes a smaller, funky-looking little cube called the Neat that has all the same tools and same 50-minute run time for less than half the price. While the Neat only reaches 275ºF, that’s still better than most typical steamers that hover around 200ºF or just above. Our Editor’s Pick also happens to be an Amazon’s Choice.
2. Best Overall: McCulloch Heavy-Duty Steam Cleaner (MC1275)
Time and time again, the McCulloch tops out best steam cleaners lists, and for our money, it’s the best value, too. The McCulloch MC1275 is powered by 1500 watts of heating power and the steam is pressurized to 43 psi, so it really blasts away stuck on grit deep in those cupholders and gets deep into the vents to clean the air circulation system. Heating time should be under 10 minutes although some users mentioned slower times, but with a 48-ounce water tank, the McCulloch should provide enough steam for 45 minutes of continuous cleaning, with a trigger lock to keep it going without having to hold down the trigger.
The McCulloch also has a 15-foot power cord and 9-foot steam hose, and wheels at both ends so it rolls around easily. It even comes with 18 attachments for all the big and small jobs of cleaning your car and household. If you’re not convinced yet, the McCulloch earns a coveted Amazon’s Choice selection and even after over 3,000 customer reviews, it’s still rated 4.0 stars.
3. Bissell SpotClean Auto Portable Cleaner for Carpet & Cars
The Bissell SpotClean is the first of our wet cleaners for carpet and fabric, as opposed to a true steam cleaner that just melts dirt and germs away. The advantage of a carpet cleaner like the SpotClean is that it gives a deep clean in the materials most likely to absorb dirt, spills, and odors. The SpotClean Auto is designed specifically for getting the ground-in shoe dirt and salt stains from car mats and carpets, plus kiddie spills and doggie messes from upholstered seats and fabrics.
It weighs just 10 pounds, so it should be easy to move around for most people, and the hose allows you to get to different areas of your vehicle, plus it has a deep crevice tool for all the tight spaces in cars. Both the 3-inch brush and the crevice tool spray a heated water and stain-removal mixture to release the gunk, with strong suction to suck the soiled water back into the waste tank. Although convenient for cars, it is a compact unit, so it won’t be as powerful as full household carpet cleaners if you’re used to those.
4. Wagner On-Demand Power Steamer and Cleaner (915)
The Wagner is a close second to the McCulloch in almost every way, and reading through the user reviews, some recommend it over the McCulloch, so it’s worth comparing it for your needs. The big advantage of the McCulloch over the Wagner is the full suite of attachments, whereas the Wagner only includes a few different options, although it has the useful window squeegee, jet nozzle and utility brushes for scrubbing. Otherwise, it has the same 1500W heating power, long power cord and steam hose and wheels, so you should be able to easily work your way around the car or house.
5. Rug Doctor Portable Spot Cleaner
Another stain-removing carpet cleaner that we recommend for car cleaning is the Rug Doctor Portable Spot Cleaner. Rug Doctor claims its Portable Spot Cleaner has 2 times the suction power compared to other portable carpet cleaners, and we like that its handheld brush is motorized to do a lot of the power scrubbing for you. The brush works with a continuous spray of soapy water to chemically and physically break down stains, and the powerful suction sucks it away into a separate wastewater tank. The clean and dirty tanks are also removable for easy disposal and clear markings on the tank for water and cleaning solution make it dead simple to fill.
The Portable Spot Cleaner weighs a bit more than the Bissell SpotClean, but it includes a retractable handle and wheels so you can roll it around the house or driveway easily, and it’s still very compact so it should be no problem to store. However, note the hose is just five feet long, so you will have to move it around to reach every part of larger vehicles like SUVs and minivans.
6. PureClean XL Steam Cleaner
Here’s another steam cleaner we really like because it seems to have it all. The PureClean XL is a 1500W steamer with 18 attachments that should deliver 45 minutes of cleaning for every fill-up of its water tank. It’s light, has wheels so it rolls around easily, and has a long cord so it can reach all around the car or house.
One thing we like in particular is the 5-year warranty, which should give you peace of mind for its durability. However, some users noted that the scrubbing attachments wear down very quickly, so expect to have to replace those if you use it a lot.
7. Steamfast Multi-Purpose Steam Cleaner (SF-370WH)
Another steam cleaner we’ve selected for its high user ratings also earns the Amazon’s Choice badge. The Steamfast SF-370WH is very affordable, but still delivers a pressurized flow of steam from a 1500W boiler to naturally clean and sanitize. The Steamfast comes with 15 attachments and a long power cord and hose, but it is not recommended for fabrics or carpet. You can still use it on all the hard surfaces of your interior, and windows, wheels, and even steam clean your engine bay.
The generous water tank should provide up to 45 minutes of cleaning and it takes only 8 minutes to heat up, with a steam-on-demand button or a lock for continuous steam. While it maintains a four-star rating, some users are critical about the durability of the product and the attachments.
8. Hoover Spotless Portable Carpet & Upholstery Spot Cleaner
Here’s another carpet and upholstery spot cleaner, and the Hoover’s distinction is a self-cleaning hose that flushes the hose after each use, removing dirt and bacteria so that you’re not simply moving dirt around. Not only that, but the scrubbing tool features antibacterial protection to prevent build-up of bacteria, mold and mildew, so you’re not spreading germs when it’s time to deep clean the carpets and seats in your car or home.
Like the Bissell and the Rug Doctor, the Hoover has separate tanks for clean water and soiled water that pop off for easy filling or disposal, and it mixes the cleaning solution with the water and sprays, scrubs, and finishes with powerful section to remove stains, spills, and caked on dirt for your car fabrics. However, some users wish for a longer hose, which would be especially useful so you don’t have to drag the unit itself into your van to reach every corner.
9. Bissell Pet Stain Eraser Cordless Portable Carpet Cleaner (2003T)
Our last two options are more affordable and fairly specific, so they would work as good complements to existing cleaners if you already have them. The Bissell Pet Stain Eraser is truly portable, a lithium-ion battery-powered handheld unit that can go anywhere and is easy to maneuver. As the name implies, it’s meant for pet stains, but can just as easily tackle spills and runny messes from family life, claiming to be effective at on “urine, feces, vomit, dirt, mud, blood, grass, tomato sauce, red wine, makeup, food grease, vegetable oils, coffee, cola, motor oils, and more.” Yup, sounds like a typical road trip to me.
The beauty of this thing is that because it’s so portable, it super-easy to grab and clean a stain or spill right away, and getting to a stain early makes it much easier to remove. Like the other spot cleaners, it sprays a pre-mixed cleaning solution, with separate tanks for clean and dirty fluids, and a fixed brush can help you scrub the stain loose. Of course, the downside to such a small portable unit is that it has small tanks and short battery life, so it is only good for about 15 minutes of operation before you need to charge the battery and empty/fill the tanks. Some users have also noted issues with the waste tank leaking, so look out for that.
10. PurSteam Handheld Pressurized Steam Cleaner with 9-Piece Accessory Set
If you love the idea of the sanitizing power of steam cleaning and disinfecting your car interior but don’t want to spend much on a bulky canister-style machine with proper power, the PurSteam Handheld Pressurized Steam Cleaner is a cheaper option that can introduce you to the wonders of steam. Pursteam claims this is the most powerful superheated pressurized steam cleaner available, and I can only imagine they are comparing it to other handheld steamers as its 1000W can’t compete with larger machines’ 1500W and higher pressure and flow.
Still, the Pursteam comes with 9 attachments including a window squeegee, scrub brush, and a flexible neck jet extension with jet nozzle that can eradicate grease, stains, and sticky coffee and crumbs residue at the bottom of cupholders without harsh chemicals. Because of its small size, it heats up quickly, so you can get to work without waiting around, but the water tank is just 12 ounces, so it only lasts for a short period. Some users report that it only lasts for about 10 minutes before needing a refill, and you have to wait for it to cool down before filling as a safety precaution.
Why do I need a Steam Cleaner?
Using a steam cleaner in your car can replace a variety of different cleaning chemicals and products with gentle water, which is less damaging to many of the materials in cars. Because it’s gentle, it can be used on a variety of surfaces, from leather, fabric, and carpet to plastics and trim materials and even places you can’t get to directly.
Although many surfaces can be cleaned using just steam, combined with the right cleaning agents, the steam cleaner can get your car interior cleaner than you ever imagined, not to mention getting your windows spot-free clean. It also makes the cleaning process far less strenuous, allowing the cleaning power of steam to lift dirt and debris instead of scrubbing to get stains and grime off.
Now, we have included a few machines that aren’t “steam cleaners” per se, but rather carpet and fabric cleaners that are specifically for the soft surfaces in your car, which are more useful for stain removal, especially spills and messes from kids, pets, and klutzes.
What Should I look for in a good Steam Cleaner?
The cleaning potential of steam comes from the heat, which not only cleans, but also kills germs, so temperature is the biggest requirement. More power, measured in Watts, gets the steam hotter, and therefore dissolves sticky gunk better, getting surfaces cleaner. And for some purposes, having good pressure can help blast dirt away, but this also means you have to keep your distance from more delicate surfaces.
Although there are some battery-powered units out there, we stuck with more powerful corded models in this list, so also note the length of the hose and cord, which gives you greater range, although using an extension cord will get you as far as you need to go. Then again, more powerful units are usually heavier and bulkier, meaning they will be more taxing to move around and take up more storage space.
Look for models with decent capacity for water and good efficiency to give you longer run time, allowing you to finish projects without having to fill up partway through. Also check out what kind of attachments come with the model you choose, as certain attachments will make easy work of seats or large areas on one hand, but others that can get into small spaces and little nooks and crannies.
If you’re more interested in a carpet cleaner, which doesn’t vaporize the water into steam, and won’t tackle the hard surfaces in your car, look for models that are at least heated, which should increase their cleaning effectiveness. Also, dig into the owner reviews regarding the effectiveness of the brush heads and the suction power to lift stains and messes.
What to avoid?
You’ll want to make sure you don’t order an old-old-fashioned stand-up steam cleaner as that won’t be very useful in your car unless it has a bypass hose with attachments, and even then it is not the right tool for the job in this case. And although some of the compact, handheld units can do some detailing, they have limited usefulness and the fact that the water and steamer are combined means you are waving around a lot more weight than you would for a canister-style steamer with a hose.
Be very careful when using steam to clean leather, suede, or microsuede fabrics. Although the Alcantara brand recommends against using steam, Dupray claims their low water content can clean the surfaces without oversaturating it and risking damage. Do not steam clean leather or suede too frequently either, as it can cause it to dry out, and each material might have particular needs when it comes to stain removal, so research each accordingly.
Dupray also has a great that includes all sorts of tips and what accessories techniques to use for getting the dirt out of various interior materials and exterior surfaces, with quick demo gifs that illustrate exactly how to detail different things. However, note that for many of the jobs, a powerful 220V-powered steam cleaner is required for getting an exterior properly clean, and those can cost thousands of dollars, so we don’t get into them here.
Tips for Steam Cleaning your Car
Rule number one with steam cleaners is to use distilled water—you don’t want to go to all the trouble of steaming your car’s delicate materials, only to be caking them with unknown minerals from tap water.
Spend some time with the instructions or user manuals, or visit the manufacturer websites for guidance on how to use all the attachments so you have the right tool for each job. Make sure you use the various tools provided, as they not only help you clean more effectively, they also protect surfaces.
For fabrics like seats and carpets, start with a pre-treatment that will provide a strong deodorizing cleaning, so you’re getting all those built up smells out along with the dirt. In order to be thorough, divide the area you are cleaning into zones so each gets done thoroughly, applying the treatment to each zone as you are about to steam it.
We are committed to finding, researching, and recommending the best products. We earn commissions from purchases you make using the retail links in our product reviews. Learn more about how this works.