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The 8 Very Best Clothing Steamers

Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photos: Retailers

Steamers are the secret weapon of garment care. Although their place in the home-appliance canon is less established than that of irons, they can do many of the same things: “I don’t think people understand how much you can get away with steaming things as opposed to ironing,” says Zach Pozniak, a third-generation dry cleaner and the vice-president of operations at Jeeves New York. “You can steam the vast majority of your clothing and be pretty happy with the results.” Plus steaming is, in many cases, better for keeping delicate, soft textiles in good shape: “Ironing is way more aggressive to your clothes than steaming is,” says Pozniak, “because you’re drilling it with pressure and heat,” while steamers work more gently to relax fibers. To find the best steamer for you, we consulted 11 experts, from stylists to laundry influencers, about their tried-and-true favorites.

Best overall | Best less expensive | Best travel | Best ergonomic | Best stylish | Best standing | Best splurge

What we’re looking for

Size: We’re categorizing steamers as travel-size (less than 12 inches tall and six inches wide), handheld (too large to throw in a suitcase, but small and lightweight enough to use one-handed), and standing, the largest size, which will feature a water reservoir, a hanging rack, and (usually) wheels.

Power: The power of a steamer is measured in watts, which indicates how forcefully the appliance will put out steam. Most options on this list are between 1,000 and 2,000 watts, which is powerful enough for even heavy-duty garment-steaming tasks.

Tank capacity: The water capacity of a steamer is an industrial-design balancing act: too small and you’ll be running back to the sink to refill it before you finish steaming a single shirt; too large and the appliance will be heavy and unwieldy when full. Most handheld options on this list have a tank capacity of between four and eight ounces of water, which provides about ten to 15 minutes of continuous steam, an output the experts we spoke to agreed was sufficient for home use. If you’re regularly taking on involved steaming tasks, consider a freestanding steamer, which has a higher-capacity tank and is in “every department store and every studio,” according to costume designer Alison Freer. It’s also the style I used to steam entire racks of costumes at my college costume-shop job.

Several of the experts we spoke to also shared tricks for avoiding a buildup of the minerals naturally found in tap water, which “makes a lot of steamers spit and behave poorly,” per Freer. Mineral buildup will “eject this gross white grainy sand, and if you iron it into your clothes, now it’s stained,” warns Pozniak. Filling the tank with distilled water will prevent spitting; if you want to get even more precise, Patric Richardson, the host of The Laundry Guy, recommends using spring water, which has some minerals but less than tap water. The right mineral levels “allow the water to get beyond boiling,” he says — the same rationale as adding salt to pasta water — which makes for a hotter, more effective steam. Another suggestion from Marilee Nelson, a nontoxic consultant and co-founder of Branch Basics, is to fill the tank with a half-and-half mixture of water and an inexpensive, high-proof vodka: the alcohol will “remove allergens, body odor, and even smoke and perfume picked up on clothes.”

Best overall

Handheld | 1,875 watts | 7.3 oz

The Conair Turbo Extreme Steam has the approval of three discerning users: Kate Young, Uma Thurman’s stylist and the mastermind behind her wrinkle-free 2022 Oscars look; Strategist writer Ambar Pardilla; and Pozniak, who uses it about twice a week to clean drapery and upholstered furniture in clients’ homes. Pozniak discovered the model while searching for an alternative to a standing machine and has never looked back: The Conair steamer is “surprisingly light,” he says, heats up in 30 seconds flat, and can “run at full blast” for about ten minutes. He keeps prefilled cartridges handy to save time on refilling empty tanks, but for home use, ten to 15 minutes is usually enough.

Pardilla also loves the steamer, which she bought after the experience of stamping “big horseshoe-shaped marks onto a couple of T-shirts” made her swear off irons. “It gives you a red-carpet-immaculate finish every time,” she says. She also appreciates that it’s “relatively light and simple” to operate “with only three buttons to toggle between, including the on-off switch.”

Best less expensive clothes steamer

Photo: Retailer

Handheld | 1,110 watts | 6 oz

This smaller, less expensive version of the Conair Turbo is the go-to steamer of Queer Eye’s Tan France, who praises its “lightweight” construction and its reliability. He says, “Every stylist out there knows how annoying it is when a steamer leaks and drips,” potentially damaging delicate fabrics, but the Extreme Steam rarely does. It’s also a favorite of Strategist senior editor Simone Kitchens, who says it’s “so solid.”

Best travel clothes steamer

Travel | 600 watts | 8 oz

This compact Jiffy travel steamer is a favorite of Freer and Barbara Corcoran, who says it steams dresses “in 30 seconds flat” and gets them looking “like I just went to the dry cleaner.” Freer appreciates its compact size — it’s about “the size of a Hydro Flask”— and says it especially comes in handy at events. “Every time I pack it and I’m at the hotel where the wedding is being held, I get phone calls,” she says. The device is small, but powerful enough to lift deep wrinkles: She mentions a time her boyfriend folded and packed a suit in his luggage, and “I coaxed that thing back to life” with just the Jiffy steamer. “That’s the thing I’m still proudest of in my entire career.”

Best ergonomic steamer

Handheld | 1,600 watts, 1,875 watts | 6.76 oz

Stylist Shannon Adducci loves this Rowenta steamer, which she describes as versatile and powerful. “On long shoots, you really appreciate its thumb-saving ergonomic design,” she says. “Unlike overhead triggers on flimsier models, the trigger on the X-Cel is positioned under the steam head for you to pull with your index and middle fingers.”

Best stylish steamer

Travel | 1,000 watts | 3 oz

Steamery’s sleek No. 2 travel steamer is “tiny and powerful,” says Strategist contributor Chris Black, who recommends it as a wedding-registry item. It’s also a favorite of Bread Beauty Supply founder Maeva Heim, who named it as the best gift she bought herself in 2020. Strategist writer Dominique Pariso owns the slightly larger Cirrus No. 3 model, which she uses a few times a week. Pariso likes that the steamer’s flat plate allows her to use it like an iron as well as a steamer, also a feature of the No. 2 steamer: she’ll lay a garment on a towel and angle the steamer forward to “press it onto the clothes like you would with an iron.”

Best standing steamer

Photo: Retailer

Standing | 1,300 watts | 96 oz

This is “the original stand-up steamer,” per Freer, favored by stylists, retail clothing stores, and costumers. She has four — three for work and one in her closet — the oldest of which was a gift from her “costume-design mentor” and is “easily 25 if not 30 years old and still works like a champ.” She appreciates that Jiffy sells replacement parts, which is helpful for heavy-duty users. (“One of the wheels fell off because I’m always dragging it through a parking lot,” Freer says.) It’s also a favorite of chef Daniela Soto-Innes and graphic designer Tracy Ma, who says that, although it “seems silly at first to have such a large thing in a New York apartment, it’s actually an appliance I use regularly.”

Best splurge iron-steamer combo

Handheld with tank | 1,600 watts | 37.2 oz

Richardson swears by his Laurastar steam iron, which he’s used for several years — it combines the functions of an iron and a garment steamer into one appliance, eliminating the need to buy one of each. He especially likes the hot, dry steam it produces: “Their steam dries on contact. I can iron a shirt in 60 seconds with their iron because you only go over the area once and it’s completely dry, so you can just keep moving.” And though it’s expensive, he says it’s well worth it if you regularly spend money on dry cleaning and is made to last. “It’s like buying a KitchenAid mixer — you only ever buy one.”

Some more clothing-care tools we’ve written about

Our experts

• Shannon Adducci, stylist
• Chris Black, Strategist contributor
• Tan France, Queer Eye host
• Alison Freer, costume designer and author of How to Get Dressed
• Maeva Heim, founder of Bread Beauty Supply
• Simone Kitchens, Strategist senior editor
• Tracy Ma, graphic designer
• Marilee Nelson, co-founder of Branch Basics
• Ambar Pardilla, Strategist writer
• Zach Pozniak, vice president of operations at Jeeves New York
• Patric Richardson, host of The Laundry Guy

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The 8 Very Best Clothes Steamers