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.

Upholstery steam cleaner and upholstery shampoo

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.

Upholstery Steam Cleaners:
One machine. Endless uses.

Upholstery steam cleaners come in many configurations, just as they come in a variety levels of performance. Any steam cleaner you choose will have its own list of accessories for cleaning all kinds of materials, cleaning in all kinds of situations.

cleaning car upholstery with upholstery steam cleaner

Since these vapor steam cleaners use only water as the cleaning agent, they are incredibly versatile.

Whether you are shopping for a top rated steam cleaner to use in your car, home, or garage, you will forever find ways in which to clean and disinfect through the use of the super-heated vapor steam these machines produce.

What you need to be mindful of can be reduced down to a single word:


This single word represents both the good and the bad of steam cleaners.

The super-heater water that is converted into steam is incredibly effective at cleaning and disinfecting, but super-heated vapor is not necessarily appropriate or suitable for every material you are trying to clean with your vapor steamer.

Every machine is different and every machine will heat the water to a different degree of heat.

Which means that you, and only you can determine if the upholstery steam cleaner you have chosen is suitable for use in any given situation.

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 viruses, bacteria, molds, fungus, pathogens, etc.

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

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)

Commercial Steam Cleaners:
Commercial Grade. Professional Results.

Pure upholstery steam cleaner used for auto detailing

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.

See my steam cleaner reviews below as my top picks for what are labeled as commercial steam cleaners:

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

  • 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:
Economical steamers for home, car, and garage use

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.

Darren's Tip: I personally believe the Home Steam Cleaner review below, are what I consider the winning balance for most people. Regardless of your "position" as a detailer, home owner, car owner, car enthusiast, hobbyist, matters not.

Unless you have a need for the demands of a true commercial grade steamer, the following steam cleaners provide amazing results, versatility with accessories, and reasonably priced.

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

  • 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

Since there is no standardization when discussing carpet cleaning machines, vapor steamers, and an upholstery steam cleaner, much confusion exists as to exactly what you are truly looking for.

Ultimately you want something in your world less dirty than it currently is. This may be in your car, your home, or your garage, and will require the use of some type of "cleaning machine".

From car upholstery, home furnishings, carpeting, floor mats, etc., etc.

Hoover steam vacuum cleaner

But carpet cleaning machines and vapor steam cleaners are different animals. What people are looking for, and the label they use in which to describe it can vary from person to person rather dramatically.

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.

Carpet Cleaning Machine:
Difference between a carpet cleaner and a steam cleaner

Once again we have the never-ending problem of different terms to describe different machines.

What you may be labeling and looking for, may not actually be what the industry uses to label the same type of machine.

While you may be looking to clean your car upholstery and thought that a top rated upholstery steam cleaner was the best fit, you may actually realize what you are looking for is not what you are calling it, and may not actually do what you need it to do.

Quick Facts: Carpet Cleaning Machines

Carpet cleaning machine versus steam cleaner
  • Most home carpet cleaning machines are for spot-treating small areas (like the one pictured and the one's I will recommend)
  • The machines are excellent for cleaning flat areas of fabric, cloth, and carpeting (think car upholstery, floor mats, home furniture, home carpeting)
  • These machines can be filled with hot water, but do not heat tepid water to create hot water (at best, some carpet cleaning machines claim they will maintain the hot water you would have to add as hot water initially)
  • These machines dispense the water/cleaning solution at the hand-held nozzle, while simultaneously sucking up the dirty solution into a tank reservoir
  • Carpet cleaning machines use a combination of water and upholstery shampoo as the cleaning agent (most carpet cleaning machines allow you to add any type of cleaner, all-purpose cleaner, etc. of your choosing)
  • Carpet cleaning machines use far more water than a vapor steam cleaner (both machines use water and therefore drying time will be a factor regardless of machine choice)
  • Carpet cleaning machines are very limited in nozzle/cleaning head choices, you are generally limited to cleaning flat, open, and larger areas  (steam cleaners have many options of cleaning attachments)

Quick Facts: Upholstery Steam Cleaners

Pure upholstery steam cleaner shampooing car floor mat
  • There are more names attached to steam cleaners than there are carpet cleaning machines
  • Steam cleaner, vapor steamer, tile steam cleaner, bathroom steam cleaner, jewelry steam cleaner, handheld steam cleaner, etc.
  • In most ways, regardless of the label, these machines operate using the same technology: converting basic water into super-heated water delivered in the form of steam vapor
  • Machines simply vary based on cost, size, operating temps, water tank capacity, attachments, accessories, cost, size, etc.
  • Steamers simply use water only as the cleaning agent. Super-heated water delivered in the form of steam to be precise (while vapor steam is the actual cleaning agent, combining pre-treating or scrubbing with other cleaners and degreasers is often used by most people based on the cleaning duties)
  • Steamers (based on the temperature of the vapor steam) are effective and recognized as having the ability to not just clean, but actually kill bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens (any chemical usd to disinfect and kill like a steamer can, will require certain lengths of dweel time. Dwell time means the chosen chemical will have to remain wet, on surface being treated for a period of time in order to prove effective at killing the many types of pathogens)

Upholstery Carpet Cleaners:
Home, car, business

Below are my list of home use, detail use, carpet spot cleaning machines. These machines are great for smaller carpet cleaning jobs around the house.

And do to their compact size are perfectly suited for use in detailing cars when you have cloth upholstery and carpet floor mats.

  • One of the actual carpet cleaning machines I use for auto detailing
  • Great balance in features and cost
  • Can be used with any upholstery shampoo, degreaser, all-purpose cleaner
  • Compact in size

  • Same features and benefits as the Hoover carpet cleaner machine above
  • Excellent Amazon reviews
  • Compact size perfect for both home and car shampooing
  • Can be used with any upholstery shampoo, degreaser, all-purpose cleaner

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

home steam cleaner being used to clean shoesAfter stepping in dog poop, I busted out my upholstery steam cleaner and used to not just clean the bottom of my shoes, but kill any bacteria and germs from the bottom of my shoes before I was willing to wear them in the house.

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".

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

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