Upholstery Steam Cleaner
Clean and Disinfect All-in-one

The upholstery steam cleaner is an amazing tool that wasn't developed by the auto detailing industry but has been embraced with great fervor my many detailing professionals and car enthusiasts alike.

VX5000 upholstery steam cleaner in front of white, BMW M4

The major benefit of these car steam cleaners or upholstery steamers is their ability to both clean and disinfect through the use of high-temperature water in the form of steam vapor.

These machines turn distilled water (the recommended choice in water for machines like these) into high temperature vapor that proves amazingly effective and efficient at cleaning, deodorizing, and disinfecting....all with simple water!

While these vapor steamers have this impressive ability to clean and sanitize with the use of water only, many professional detailers like myself use these steamers in conjunction with traditional cleaners to not only achieve better end results, but make these machines even more versatile in the tasks of detailing and cleaning.

Professional Upholstery Steam Cleaners:
One machine. Endless uses.

steam cleaner used to disinfect bathroom showerVX5000 Steam Cleaner used to kill germs and viruses inside bathroom shower enclosure and drain area.

I will start with what I classify as professional and commercial grade steam cleaners since I am in the professional world of auto detailing. I also realize that many hobbyists and driveway detailers simply want the highest quality, or the best of anything regardless of cost.

These upholstery steam cleaners have endless uses and are built to standards that meet the demanding use of business and commercial environments. As you will be able to see, just as with any sector of life and business, that professional grade not only means better built, more features, more accessories, but also a higher cost of entry.

An upholstery steam cleaner simply has no limitations as to its applications of use, and the environment of use:

  • Commercial, professional, residential
  • Any fabric, any material, anywhere
  • Dirt, grease, oil, grime
  • Kills germs, bacteria, molds, fungus, pathogens, etc.

Darren's Note: While the above bullet point list is very comprehensive, each situation is unique as to what you are trying to clean and/or disinfect. What you need to keep in mind regarding upholstery steam cleaners (a generalized term for vapor steam cleaners in general) are the following key points:

  • Chemical free cleaning
  • Kills 99.9% of bacteria and viruses (including the Covid-19 coronavirus)
  • Suitable for virtually any materiel or surface (This will ultimately be a case by case judgement call on your part as every material is unique. With that said, you remain in control based on distance you allow cleaning tip to come in contact with surface, duration you expose surface to heated vapor, type of steamer you have chosen, etc. (It is always recommended to test and verify results on any surface or material you are cleaning for the first time)

VX5000 Steam Cleaner

Vapor Systems VX5000 Steam Cleaner and Steam Mop

  • The exact upholstery steam cleaner I use professionally
  • A vapor steamer with endless uses (not just for cleaning/deodorizing/disinfecting upholstery)
  • Vapor temp of 298 degrees
  • Assortment of head attachments makes this professional steamer super versatile
  • Heats up quickly
  • Good size water reservoir for long working times
  • Very high-heat vapor abilities

Darren's Note: I have owned this upholstery steam cleaner for over 5 years and it continues to perform like it did when it was new. I not only use this extensively for detailing, but find endless uses for it around the house and garage.

Dupray Steam Cleaner

Dupray Tosca Steam Cleaner

  • Professional grade (also appropriately sized for home and professional use)
  • Higher vapor temps of 315 degrees
  • Very extensive list of attachments, nozzles, and accessories

Darren's Note: I would opt for this one if and when I had to replace my VX5000 due to more features and higher vapor operating temps.

Sargent Steam Cleaner

Sargent Steam Cleaner Cleaning System - Multi-Purpose, High Pressure, Vapor Steamer Machine - Best for Commercial, Industrial, Home or Car Detail - Portable, Heavy Duty Cleaner - No Harsh Chemicals

  • Professional grade (also appropriately sized for home and professional use)
  • Can reach temperatures of 298 degrees
  • Very extensive list of attachments, nozzles, and accessories

Darren's Note: I have not tried this one professionally , but all indicators based on reviews and accessories suggest this would perform every bit as well as the VX5000 steam cleaner I use professionally

Home Upholstery Steam Cleaners:
The economical steam cleaners

Just because a piece of equipment might be labeled as retail or home use, like a home upholstery steam cleaner, does not automatically make it "garbage".

home upholstery steam cleaner

Like many industries, auto detailing is not immune to up-selling the inexperienced into higher-priced equipment that is actually inappropriate for beginners or guys just starting out into the world of professional detailing.

These retail type upholstery steam cleaners are excellent pieces of equipment that have many of the features of the higher priced versions, deliver professional-like results, but do so with a fraction of the cost of commercial grade equipment.

Dupray Steam Cleaner

Dupray Neat Steam Cleaner Multipurpose Heavy Duty Steamer for Floors, Cars, Home Use and More

  • Retail/home use steam cleaner
  • Lower operating vapor production of 275 degrees (the commercial version above produces 315 degrees)
  • Likely the perfect upholstery steam cleaner for most people and even businesses for home cleaning or commercial cleaning
  • Long list of attachments, nozzles, and accessories

Darren's Note: I really like the price point of this steam cleaner whether you use it at home, for business, or commercial cleaning/disinfecting. Unless you plan on using this commercially for high-use needs, this retail grade steam cleaner represents great performance at a very affordable price point.

McColloch Steam Cleaner

McCulloch MC1375 Canister Steam Cleaner with 20 Accessories, Extra-Long Power Cord, Chemical-Free Cleaning for Most Floors, Counters, Appliances, Windows, Autos, and More, 1-(Pack), Black

  • Another retail grade steam cleaner
  • Excellent reviews
  • Lower operating vapor heat temps as compared to the professional steam cleaners above (this model simply states that uses temps just over 200 degrees)
  • Long list of attachments, nozzles, and accessories

Darren's Note: Here is another excellent steam cleaner for home use that can also be used for businesses, detailers, or commercial use so long as you are not needing high-volume cleaning capabilities every day for years on end as would be the case for any commercial type of application.

Carpet Extractors or Steam Cleaners?
Different tools, different options

Many people are familiar with both tools or equipment and have likely heard of both terms, but don't realize or understand the difference between a carpet extractor and what is commonly called an upholstery steam cleaner.

There are many names, labels, and terms used when people go in search of the best upholstery steam cleaner or home carpet extractor:

  • Hot water carpet extractor
  • Steam cleaner
  • Vapor steamer
  • Hot water vapor cleaner
  • Upholstery steamer
  • Etc., etc., etc.

Knowing the difference will help you in deciding what is the best machine for you. And understanding the difference will allow me to break down the features and benefits of the two major types of these cleaning machines.

Upholstery Steam Cleaner:
Cleaning, sanitizing, deodorizing

upholstery steam cleaner VX500 with cart

Regardless of the type of steamer you choose from, steamers offer benefits that cannot be had by other equipment and chemicals:

  • Steamers are unique in that the hot heated water in the form of vapor acts as a "Quick Kill" to kill many pathogens, bacteria, and molds. This is a benefit that cannot be replicated by virtually any chemical that all require a certain amount of dwell time to be effective as disinfectants/sanitizers. (dwell time refers to the time required for a chemical to remain wet while in contact with a surface to perform its intended task)
  • Steamers are very effective through the use of water alone that allows the ability to clean, sanitize, and disinfect without the use of traditional harsh cleaners. (once again, this is accomplished through the use of water that is heated to very high temps and turned into vapor)
  • Steamers rely on smaller amounts of heated water vapor to perform the cleaning tasks, instead of larger amounts of chemical liquids traditionally used and needed to perform these cleaning tasks
  • Steamers are considered an Eco-friendly form of cleaning since the use of harmful chemicals are not needed (Despite this unique ability, many people still choose to perform cleaning and disinfecting with the use of both an upholstery steam cleaner and other cleaning products

Eco-Friendly Cleaning:
The power of water and heat

While many people go looking for the best upholstery steam cleaner for many reasons, experience has taught me that one of the most over-looked benefits of using a steam cleaner is the ability to deliver a more Eco-friendly cleaning environment and cleaning experience.

These steam cleaners transform basic water (distilled water is the recommended water to be used in all these steamers) into hot water vapor that provides what can be labeled as a "Kill Shot"  to unwanted pathogens, bacteria, grease, grime, and other molds, mildew, etc.

Unlike liquid chemicals that can be harmful, caustic, or damaging to yourself as the user, or to materials you are using them on, steamers provide chemical free cleaning many people embrace with great enthusiasm.

traditional chemicals used in the sanitation, disinfecting, and deodorizing duties all require dwell time to prove their effectiveness. Dwell time means that the chemical product must remain wet on the surface being treated for a certain periods of time based on your cleaning/sanitizing requirements.

Eco-friendly Cleaning:
Enhancing your efforts

Simple Green industrial cleaner degreaser used with steam cleaner

Despite the upholstery steam cleaners on this page having the ability to transform basic water into pathogen killing heated vapor, many people like myself also want or need additional cleaning power to enhance their efforts.

Most situations of cleaning are largely based on the cleaning of visible dirt and grime, along with the microscopic world of germs, viruses, and pathogens.

"Darren, I get the value of these steamers but I would like to retain an Eco-friendly way of cleaning, but also enhance my efforts with dedicated chemical cleaners. What would you do?"

I am asked this frequently, and as a professional detailer I situations that can require one, or require all needs of "cleaning":

  • Steam cleaning only
  • Chemical cleaning only
  • Both steam and chemical cleaning combined

Simple Green Industrial Cleaner and Degreaser

Simple Green 73434010 14010 Industrial Cleaner & Degreaser, Concentrated, Lemon, 1 gal Bottle

  • My "go-to" cleaner for endless cleaning and detailing duties
  • A concentrate which makes this both economical and versatile (allows you to custom blend to suit your cleaning requirements)
  • Allows you to clean visible dirt and grime and remain eco-friendly
  • This is a great degreaser and all-purpose cleaner
  • Does not act as a germicide, disinfectant, or sanitizer in technical terms (this means this is a great degreaser and general cleaner for visible forms of dirt, grease, oil, and grime)

Darren's Note: For general cleaning, I mix this to a solution of 10:1 (this mans one part concentrate mixed with 10 equal parts water). Since this is a concentrate, you can mix as per instructions on labeling, or custom dilute based on your needs and experience.

Makes a great way to "enhance" the cleaning abilities of your choice in the best upholstery steam cleaner as a pre-spotter/cleaner.

Chemical Guys orange Degreaser

Chemical Guys CLD_201 Signature Series Orange Degreaser (1 Gal)

  • When you want to take your upholstery steam cleaner and branch out to other dirty jobs by combining the power of a steam cleaner along with the extra "punch" of an effective degreaser
  • Concentrate (dilute based on your needs)
  • Can be used full strength for maximum cleaning power
  • Can be diluted 20:1 (or more for very light duty cleaning) for use on car interiors and car upholstery

Darren's Note: This very popular and top rated degreaser from Chemical Guys is a popular degreaser among the detailing and car enthusiast community.

Can be used full strength or diluted way down to fit your cleaning or degreasing requirements.

This is not the Eco-friendly product like Simple Green, but not the "hot", caustic degreasers you can have elsewhere. This is what I call the balance between heavy duty while remaining relatively safe, and the more eco-friendly Simple Green cleaner above that is also effective, but not as strong as this product.

Upholstery Steam Cleaner:
Best cleaning cloths

Life is messy. Life is dirty. Life is a jungle in many ways.

When it comes to cleaning and disinfecting anything in this thing called life, finding the right combination of equipment and cleaners is the largest part of the battle.

Most people don't really consider the type of cloth you may want to clean. Your cleaning challenges will vary regardless of the exact model of upholstery steam cleaner chosen, along with any added cleaner/degreaser you are using.

But like everywhere else in life; nothing is created equally and you will need to apply some critical thinking to find that winning balance in order for you to realize your desired outcome.

Kirkland Signature Ultra High Pile Premium Microfiber Towels, 36 Count (Pack of 1), Yellow - 713160

  • I use ONLY micro-fiber cloths regardless of the cleaning, detailing, polishing, or waxing
  • In the event you have never experienced the amazing benefits of micro-fiber cloths, you need to step out of the dark ages and experience a better form of cleaning cloths
  • What I consider the winning combination of benefits and features
  • The softest cloth material you can use
  • The most absorbent cloth material you can find
  • The most lint free cloth made

micro-fiber cleaning cloths used with steam cleaner

Darren's Note: I remember growing up in the world of auto detailing over 3 decades ago, before the introduction of micro-fiber to the world of cosmetic car care and auto detailing.

All us professionals and enthusiasts were still using and clinging to the belief that a baby diaper was the ultimate cloth to use when detailing.

Those days are long gone!!

There simply is no better cloth in my opinion than the winning features of a micro-fiber (as a side not: micro-fiber cloth come in an almost endless variety of weaves, density, thickness, weight, colors, etc.)

These Kirkland micro-fiber cloths are my "go-to" cloths for at least 80% of my detailing tasks. These cloths are the wining balance of quality and cost.

I simply use a virgin cloth for the most sensitive or delicate tasks of cleaning and detailing, then bump them down to dirtier cleaning and detailing tasks as they become more and more "used".

Carpet Extractors. Carpet Cleaners

When most people go looking for a way to clean car upholstery or home upholstery they tend to think of the extractor type of machines first. What many people consider as traditional carpet cleaners or carpet cleaning extractors are in fact very different animals than steam cleaners or steamers in general.

Upholstery carpet cleaner versus steam cleaner

Regardless of your needs of cleaning and disinfecting, these two types of cleaning machines are different in the way they operate and the features and benefits.

The most critical feature of an extractor and a steamer is that carpet extractors have the ability to suck up the dirty water/cleaning solution after it has been injected into the carpet or material being cleaned.

A steam cleaner simply uses heated water in the form of vaporized heated water to perform the duties of cleaning/disinfecting. Any dirt and grim released in the process must be contained or wiped up separately.

  • Extractors can be both home grade and commercial grade
  • They can be used with both cool or hot water (not to be confused with a machine that has the true ability to heat the water as part of the machines features)
  • Most home carpet extractors (retail grade) will not be equipped with a heater as part of the machine. Some come with a heating element to maintain water temp if you add hot water initially, but are not equipped to heat tepid/tap water if machine is filled with cool/cold water
  • Commercial grade carpet extractors have heaters built-in to heat water before and during use (these are expensive and bulky and definitely not what anyone would consider for home use)

Darren's Note: Carpet extractors and upholstery steam cleaners are very different animals and serve different purposes. Unless you are cleaning flat, open areas of fabric upholstery and/or carpeting, then a carpet extractor would not be my "go-to" when shopping for a top rated upholstery steam cleaner.

And despite the many names (upholstery steam cleaner, vapor steamer, steam cleaner, etc.) they all employ the same technology and share the same benefits:

  • Cleaning/deodorizing/disinfecting/sanitizing through the use of water only (superheated water delivered in the form of vapor)
  • Eco-friendly cleaning by eliminating the need of traditional harmful/toxic/caustic cleaners
  • Smaller amounts of liquid for cleaning (vaporized water) versus larger amounts of liquids in the form of traditional liquid cleaners

Based on what you are willing to spend, the demands of use, and the purposes you need to employ the use of a steam cleaner, will determine what you consider as the best steam cleaner for you and your world.

Upholstery Steam Cleaner Summary

Steam cleaner and degreaser to steam clean car compentsVX5000 Steam cleaner and Chemical Guys Orange Degreaser to clean this coil over car suspension part.

At this point you should come to some new, or at a minimum updated conclusions and answers as to the difference between a steam cleaner and a carpet cleaning machine.

based on your specific needs and the conditions in which you need cleaning power, one of these type of cleaning machines will determine which type of specific machine you will require:

  • Vapor steam cleaner
  • Carpet cleaning extractor

By reviewing my list of recommendations of steam cleaners, you can determine which model represents that winning balance of performance, features, and price point.

I wish you much success in your cleaning and detailing efforts to make your world cleaner and more germ free!


Darren Priest signature

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