I’m always on the move. And nothing is more annoying than spending hours pressing and carefully folding clothes into a suitcase then to find them crushed or creased on arrival.
I sometimes stay in hotels but mainly I go to Airbnbs, swap my home with another adventurer, or stay with friends or family. Sometimes there’s access to an iron, sometimes even an ironing board. But often I have to wait for someone to bring me one or have a tussle setting it up.
So this year I decided to buy a handheld clothes steamer. And I wish I’d done it years ago!
A garment steamer is great for us older ladies
I love how easy it is to use a garment steamer.
Watch me using my new clothes steamer on YouTube here.
No hard-to-read dials
We all know the problem of using a different iron and struggling to see the heat regulation dial. Then there’s the difficulty of getting that creaky old ironing board your friend has been using for years, to the right height.
Then putting it back afterwards into that miniscule slot behind a hundredweight of gardening clothes and a whole heap of walking boots and wellingtons.
Lighter than most irons
An iron presses clothes flat. It works by adding heat to its weight. But a steamer doesn’t use weight to remove wrinkles. So, it’s immediately lighter than an iron.
If, like me, you are finding your wrists are not as strong as they were, then it pays to invest in lighter appliances. I used to use French cast iron casseroles, but today those are far too heavy for me to use safely. So, I’m on the hunt to find anything that doesn’t strain my wrists these days.
I can still use my own iron easily enough, but for how long?
Safer than an iron
For any of us who sometimes forget to switch off the iron when there’s a knock at the door or we’re stressed getting ready in a new place, then a steamer could be a life-saver, or at least a shirt-saver.
You use a trigger to work a handheld garment steamer so there’s no fear of ever leaving it steaming. However, if your fingers tend to get tired or stiff easily, then some steamers have a trigger lock.
What are the drawbacks of a clothes steamer?
Reduction in suitcase space
It’s yet another item that has to go into your suitcase. But most are reasonably small and for me, anyway, justify the space. I chose the smallest quality steamer I could find.
Be careful of the hot steam
The steam is very hot and you’re usually pointing it vertically at the fabric not holding it flat down. So you have to be careful not to get your fingers near the steam jet. This can happen if you are using one hand to steam and the other to pull taut the fabric.
Put the item to be steamed on a hanger and pull the item of clothing to straighten it as far away from the spot the steam is aimed at as you possibly can. Then when you get near the hem, just let go. The steam will still improve the look of the garment.
Steam can damage some surfaces
You need to find a place to hang the item you’re steaming that will not suffer from the dampness that is produced. Hotel doors and closets are usually made to withstand most things but beware of hanging your clothes directly over more precious furniture or older finishes such as stained wood.
How to choose the right clothes steamer
A clothes steamer for travelling
If you travel a lot, as I do, then you are looking for a small, possibly folding, item with a small water tank. The drawback of course is that you may need several refills of the tank depending on how many clothes you want to steam at one session.
I iron all my clothes before packing them. So I generally just steam one piece of clothing as I need it, to get rid of the creases that have developed while it was packed. And ironing them before leaving on a trip means that I’m basically just giving the clothes a refresh or touch-up rather than trying to get rid of a myriad of tiny creases.
What weight can you easily lift for several minutes?
If you find it difficult to hold a hairdryer for long, then you should look for a lightweight steamer.
Fortunately, you won’t be holding the steamer high up for as long as if you were drying your hair. But unless you steam on a flat surface (you’ll need a waterproof underlayer) you will have to hold the appliance aloft to reach the top of the hanger.
Occasional steaming or regular use?
Small travel steamers are good for smoothing the wrinkles in an outfit so you look good as soon after arrival as possible without the hassle of asking the hotel housekeeping team to bring you a board and iron.
A steamer to use mainly at home
If, however, you love the idea of steaming as a real substitute for ironing then you need to move upmarket.
To steam several items you’ll want a larger water tank. You may also want a higher wattage so you are not waiting longer for the heat-up.
A powerful steamer with the option of an extra steam blast will disinfect your clothes. So, if you buy recycled clothing, it can be especially worthwhile.
It will also work on upholstery and curtains. So check that the electrical lead is reasonably long.
Look for a steamer with attachments that you will really use. I’ve listed some here.
Which attachments for a garment steamer are worth it?
Steam pad options
The most basic handheld steamer will have a flat plate with holes for the steam jets.
Most,these days, have two plate surfaces: a soft protective ‘velvet’ pad that can be used on even delicate fabrics and silk; and a brush surface that helps the steam penetrate into thicker fabrics such as the wool of a jacket or coat.
Some steamers have a lint removal surface too.
A stand or just a handle?
You have the choice among handheld steamers of a handle like that on a hairdryer or a handle that includes a flat surface to act as a stable stand. I chose the gun type handle because I wanted the smallest steamer and I didn’t envisage long steaming sessions where I’d need to put the steamer down. (This post is getting very steamy, isn’t it!)
The stand often includes a larger water tank so having a stable upright appliance is useful.
A creaser attachment
A steamer gives a natural, soft look to clothes. It doesn’t give that crisp crease that an iron does. But if you want to add a definite crease to, for example, pants or collars, then opt for a creaser attachment.
A heat protective pad or glove
You have to be careful using a steamer when pulling the fabric with your other hand. So some steamers include a heat-proof and water-proof glove or pad.
A built in hanger and tall stand
Finally, if you won’t be travelling with your steamer, you can choose an upright domestic model that comes with a hanger and stand, so you never need to steam against a door or wall again. If you have a large laundry area or room at home, this could be a great choice. An upright steamer will have a large water tank, enough for a whole wash-load.
How to use a handheld clothes steamer
- Find a place to hang your clothing.
- Fill the water container and switch on the heat. Most handheld steamers take less than a minute to heat up.
- Push the steam trigger and release the steam about six inches away from the fabric to make sure there are no drips and the jets are working well.
- Then place the flat plate of the steamer directly on the clothing item and move it downwards in a long sweeping movement. Work on one area at a time.
- You can smooth down the clothes to improve the results. Pulling the fabric taut helps to remove more stubborn creases.
- If you place the steamer behind a fine fabric, for example if smoothing a shirt, you can see how well you are doing on the front surface. But be careful not to steam directly towards yourself at close range!
- Work from the top to the hem of the garment unless you are just fixing small creased areas.
- If necessary re-steam stubborn folds but try to keep the steamer moving.
- Tempting as it may be, never, ever, use the steamer on a garment you are wearing. The whole function of the steam jets is to ensure that the heat and moisture penetrate right through the fabric of your garment.
- Once you’re done, allow the item to cool and thoroughly dry while hanging.
- Just time to have a shower, then there’s your outfit all ready to step into!
Which steamer did I buy?
I chose the Tefal Pure Pop travel steamer from Amazon UK. It comes in modern colors. It’s one of the smallest and lightest of the steamers so it’s ideal for packing in a suitcase. It has a reversible steam pad – either regular or pet hair and lint removal side.
The downside of the Tefal Pure Pop steamer is that the water tank is small so it’s best for touch-ups and single items.
Update 14 June 2023. Thanks to a comment from Gail – see below – I’ve now added the Amazon.com link here for the steamer I bought. In the USA it’s the Pure Pop from Rowenta.
- UPGRADE YOUR CLOTHING CARE GAME: Experience powerful steam output at 20 g/min for quick and efficient garment steaming and refreshing. Glide effortlessly in a single motion for a flawless look.
- SWITCH IT UP WITH OUR DUAL-SIDED PAD: Our innovative reversible pad system lets you seamlessly transition between lint removal and the gentle velvet side, ensuring perfect steaming on any fabric type.
- TRAVEL-READY & STYLISH: With an ultra-compact, sleek, and lightweight design, this garment steamer is your go-to travel companion for maintaining your style on the go.
- 15-SECOND HEAT-UP FOR THE BUSY LIFESTYLE: This garment steamer is always at hand, ready to go in just 15 seconds – perfect for frequent use or those last-minute touch-ups that’ll save you precious time.
- NATURAL SANITIZING POWER: Freshen up your wardrobe with the purifying power of steam, effectively reducing odors and refreshing your clothes without harsh chemicals. Stay fresh, eco-friendly, and effortlessly stylish.
Good choices of handheld steamers available in US and elsewhere
All these steamers are produced by well-known trusted brands. There are many other cheaper steamers but I would worry about their reliability and safety.
The Conair Turbo steamer has different heat settings for different fabrics. It also has a useful extra powerful steam burst for stubborn creases. It is ideal for killing bacteria. It has a creaser for collars and pants. A bit heavy for travel perhaps.
The Electrolus Compact steamer is smaller and lighter. You can use it on hung clothes or horizontally. It has a carry bag. Ideal for travel and quick touch-ups when unpacking.
The Sunbeam Steam Burst steamer gives you 15 minutes of steaming time before refilling the water tank. It has a steam trigger lock so you can get on quickly to use your 15 minutes without needing to rest your finger. Good for home steaming as it has a very long cable which swivels easily.
The Conair Handheld Travel steamer is lightweight and compact. It has dual voltage settings for international use. A great steamer for cotton frocks and tops on your summer holidays.
If you found this article useful why not take a look at one of these next:
How much should I spend on clothes?
This is exactly how I’m living this Spring and Summer and so on. I have a steamer attachment /hand held and sooo happy to not have to pull out the creaky ironing board, ‘try to find the right temp as you NOTED 😉 and haul it all back to the closet. ugh. Thank you for you video too! It’s my new year of ‘flowy/linen (dug out of bins of summer’s past, thanks to your capsule blogs!) Love that I found you a few months ago.
H Kate. Oh yes, a steamer is so useful for linen, I agree. Joni x
I think the one you have is called Rowenta Pure Pop the US. Same color and shape as your t-fal. I do as little ironing as possible and I think this might be just right for things that need a small touch-up out of the dryer. I do have a Rowenta iron which I like when I get around to using it.
Hi Gail. Thanks for that useful update. I’ll add it to the post (when I get round to it!). Joni x
So, I ordered the Rowenta for $39.99+ tax, to be delivered from Amazon tomorrow. I am going to try it on my light weight linen, too
Hi again Gail. Hope you find the Pure Pop useful. I’ve been using it every morning for a few moments to give my outfit for the day a bit of a lift. Joni x
I have a light weight, cotton, button down blouse that needed just a touch up out of the dryer. I used the steamer to smooth the placket and the front of the shirt. I also tackled the narrow hem around the bottom that always gets crinkled up. Mainly, I wanted to touch the areas that are dead giveaways that I did not really iron the blouse.
I think the steamer worked well for my purposes. I used kitchen tongs to hold the placket and front taut for steaming.
The only problem I had was that the rod I hung my garment on was too high for me and my arms got tired quickly. I’m sure I can find a solution to that issue.
Next, I am going to try the steamer on a light weight linen shirt that comes out of the dryer in pretty good shape, but could benefit from a bit of smoothing.
Hi Gail. Yes, it takes a bit of trial and error to get the right place to hang the garment I agree. Like your idea of kitchen tongs to hold the hem. Will be trying that tomorrow! Joni x
Hi Gail. Great idea to use tongs to hold the hem while steaming. I’m going to try that tomorrow! Joni x
I stayed at a resort two weeks ago and fell in love with the steamer they provided. I just bought one. Mostly for home use. Thanks so much for this article.
Hi Kelcy. Good to hear you liked the steamer. Me too! Joni x