Steamers Cleaners. Hype or a huge help?

 

Many detailers are curious about dry vapor steamers, or “steam machines”. They have heard of steam’s cleaning capability and the advantage of not over-wetting the interior of the vehicle, while also substantially cutting down on the use of chemicals. However, many detailers are still skeptics, either because they don’t believe that you can effectively clean without chemicals, or they have tried some of the cheaper, TV advertised versions of steamers and have had no luck. I fell into both of those categories.

While most professional detailers have adopted the use of carpet extractors over the “old school” bucket and brush method of cleaning interiors, most detailers are still very leery of more “new school” technology such as steamers. Years ago I heard that the use of steam was a great way to clean, and that it had many other advantages. The hype seemed too good to be true, so I decided to give steam a try. My mistake back then was not researching the machines and being too cheap to buy a good unit. I bought one of those TV units that claimed you could accomplish everything with this little bitty machine for the low, low price of…….Well, as it turned out, the low, low price was just a waste of money.

The machine was basically a toy that really did nothing but slow me down and not clean very well. So, I closed mindedly wrote off the use of steamers for a couple of years and went back to using my trusty carpet extractor, compressed air, and manually cleaning the trim panels and areas where you simply can’t use the extractor.

What does steam do?

After hearing some detailers reporting success with commercial grade steamers, as well as having people ask me questions about them, I figured I needed to revisit their use. I did not want to waste money again and buy a cheapo unit this time, but I did not want to spend thousands on a steamer either. I simply did not know anything about steamers.

I must admit I did not fully understand what steam actually does in the cleaning process either, so I decided to find out what this is all about. This is what I learned.

All steamers have a boiler. The water inside the boiler is heated and pressurized which will produce steam, or more precisely, hot dry vapor, which is a gas. As all gasses do, when vapor contacts the atmosphere it expands violently and dissipates.

Vapor molecules are extremely small and are able to penetrate the pores on any surface. When the hot vapor molecules come in contact with the cool surface in the pores, they violently expand and force all dirt, debris, and bacteria to the surface. Also, because the vapor is so hot, bacteria, as well as anything else, are killed. The results are surfaces that are free of any substances that were not originally on that surface. In addition, because you are cleaning with hot vapor which has a water content of only about 5%, the surface dries extremely quickly and when using steam on the interior of a vehicle, the overall interior will be almost totally dry upon completion.

I have seen the light

After doing some research, I purchased a commercial grade steamer and started experimenting with it. There were certain things I wanted to see if it would do to merit further use. I wanted to be able to safely clean surfaces and not damage leather, plastic trim, fabrics, etc. The steamer not only was safe but very effective. It was also very quick in eliminating some stains and grease, and in cleaning tight areas.

I was able to nearly eliminate harsh cleaners while using only steam. Doing so prevents the creation of chemical residues which can attract more dirt. The result is a surface that looks brighter and is actually cleaner. The absence of chemicals, and some harsh odors they leave behind, will help to satisfy many customers who may be very sensitive to chemical smells. The cost savings will also be impressive to your bottom line.

When using a steamer, there are various attachments that you can choose for different areas of the vehicle. A small wand attachment can be used to get into seat tracks, cup holders, ashtrays, door pockets, and more. Various brushes can be used for carpeting, seats, door panels and more. The hot dry vapor basically incinerates the dirt and blows it out, leaving the residue to be simply wiped off. As I got more familiar with all the attachments and the unit itself, I found myself using the steamer almost exclusively over the carpet extractor.

What school do you go to?

With interior cleaning, there are still various ways a detailer goes about completing the task.

A)      the “very old school” bucket, brush, wet vac method. This is the least effective, more time consuming, and primitive way to clean an interior. Most detailers have long ago abandoned this method for the next, and most common method.

B)      The  “old school” carpet extractor method. Most detail shops have a carpet extractor. Some still have a cold water unit, but the majority have a heated unit that does a fine job in cleaning floor mats, carpeting, and fabric seats. However, the carpet extractors are limited to mostly those tasks. The hard trim panels such as console areas, seat tracks, trim panels, dash areas, etc, need to be cleaned with sprayed on cleaners, brushed, and wiped clean. This is a bit more time consuming to do effectively.

C)      The “new school” method is using the steamer on everything. It’s safe, quick, more effective, and easier. It’s almost a no brainer in most cases.

It’s true that in most cases a steamer works better than carpet extractors but,  I would not put your carpet extractors away just yet. They will always have their place. An interior that is absolutely trashed will benefit more from extraction than just steam. Sometimes dirt has to be flushed out, and a carpet extractor will be able to do this better than steam alone. However, for cars that are not trashed, you will be able to get carpets and seats clean with steam just as well, or better, in most cases. There are so many more advantages to using a steamer over brushing, or cleaning with carpet extractors. Let’s examine them

Steamer advantages

  • A steamer will get into areas a carpet extractor only wishes to. A steamer can be used to clean between seats, consoles, dashes, cup holders, vents, door pockets, door jambs, seat tracks and more.
  • A steamer WILL NOT leave an interior soaking wet the way a carpet extractor will. A major reason for mold, mildew, and odors within an interior of a vehicle is because of over-wetting with an extractor. Steam dries within minutes.
  • A steamer will clean hard surfaces that an extractor cannot
  • A steamer will clean leather seats better than using harsh chemicals and a brush. It will leave leather soft and supple and still require less time and effort.
  • With a steamer, you are using super heated vapor. Chemicals are rarely needed which keeps the interior drier, saves you money and still leaves the inside smelling fresh, not harsh
  • .A steamer can be used to clean windows to perfection, without the streaking often seen from the use of window cleaners.
  • A steamer does a tremendous job in removing window tint and decals safely and more quickly than any other method.
  • A steamer will save you time. The cleaning process is made quicker with the use of its attachments along with the steam itself. You will reap all these benefits of using a steamer with the time savings being an added bonus

There are so many advantages, you may ask if there any disadvantages of using a steamer.

Disadvantages?

There are very few, if any.

The only thing that will definitely be a disadvantage is if you purchase a cheap steamer. The homeowner or TV advertised units are a waste of money and will never work for detail use. You need a commercial unit to tackle the tough jobs and have it work effectively.

Steamers have come a long way in the past few years. When purchasing a steamer, you will need to carefully look at specifications to make sure the unit will handle detail use. Obviously you do not want a small unit or one that has a low capacity.

Disadvantages?

There are very few, if any.

The only thing that will definitely be a disadvantage is if you purchase a cheap steamer. The homeowner or TV advertised units are a waste of money and will never work for detail use. You need a commercial unit to tackle the tough jobs and have it work effectively.

Steamers have come a long way in the past few years. When purchasing a steamer, you will need to carefully look at specifications to make sure the unit will handle detail use. Obviously you do not want a small unit or one that has a low capacity.