Once you start using a steamer, you’ll ask yourself how you ever functioned without one, but at first, it can seem like an intimidating tool. After all, it quickly shoots hot steam and can be quite loud, but don’t fret, I will show you the way. I’ll also show you the difference between steaming and ironing, and by the end of it, you’ll be able to steam things around the house like a pro.

Choosing a Steamer

When you’re choosing a steamer to use at home, there are different options available on the market. You could get one of those huge ones that you see at the mall, but I think those are a little impractical to store so I opted for a small handheld model which is quick and easy to use.

A few things that I recommend when you are looking for a handheld steamer. You’ll want one that is easy to fill, with a container that pops right out and that can be filled easily. It’s best if you get a steamer that provides a continuous stream of steam when the button is pushed so that you don’t have to keep pressing the button while moving around the clothing or fabric. It’s also important to find one that has solid, high pressure. It’s always good to keep in mind that typically if you spend a bit more money, you’re going to get a better quality machine. Remember, you get what you pay for!

The setup for steaming is simple. First, you’ll need a sturdy surface where you can hang your garment. There are always a few options around, whether it’s a door or door handle, or it’s a drying rack like we have at home. You can use hooks that you get from the dollar store or anything else really that will hold your garment up as it dries. The point is that these options are inexpensive and easily accessible for everybody.

Take a look at this review of the Ladybug Steamer to find out more about specific steamers to use.

Should I Use Distilled Water or Tap Water?

In some steamer circles, there’s a hot debate going on about whether or not to use distilled water in their steamers. Let me clear this up for you. If the instructions for your machine say to use distilled water or you live in a place with hard water coming from the taps, then you can use distilled water in your steamer. Otherwise, you can just use regular tap water.

How to Use a Steamer

Steamers generally work the same way but it’s worth spending a minute or two skimming the instructions to make sure you understand how a particular unit works. In general, you’re going to fill up the container with water, plug it in, and add any necessary attachments and then get steaming!

Some machines will have a little green or red light that will appear when it’s ready to get to work, otherwise, you will simply start to see bellows of steam coming from the device and you’ll know it’s good to go. Every steamer has a sole plate, which is the flattened end where the steam gets dispersed. If steaming just isn’t doing the trick, the sole plate can sometimes be used much like an iron, gently running the sole plate over the fabric and smoothing it out nicely.

When I use my steamer at home I like to activate it first and let it warm up for a minute. This is important because the last time you steamed there was a bit of water that got left behind and now it’s going to sputter and shoot out. Don’t worry, this is just the steamer re-setting and getting back to doing its job as it begins to distribute a nice and consistent stream of steam.

When using a steamer you usually want to break up your piece of clothing or fabric into sections. This will give you a more thorough clean and will allow you to properly clean the item. Just like when we clean around the house, we’re going to work from top to bottom, carefully pulling each section taut and then steaming it smooth. If there’s a particularly tough wrinkle, you can hold the steamer over the section for up to 30 seconds. The idea here is that the device will shoot steam into the fibers of the material which will help it relax and release the wrinkle. For the sleeve I like to stretch it out by putting my hand inside and pulling down on the cuff, removing my hand before I begin to steam of course. I’ll work slowly, section by section, top to bottom, holding the steamer over any particularly wrinkled areas, making sure to keep the sleeve taut.

Steaming Delicates

Some shirts are super delicate and need a lighter touch when using a powerful steamer. In these cases, I like to use the “delicate” attachment on my steamer. I pop it on before I activate the steam and voila! This attachment will put some distance in between the material and the sole plate, so as not to scorch or burn the material.

Now, anytime you are going to be steaming a delicate it’s good to test it out on a small, inconspicuous part of the material. This will let you know if the steam might cause any damage to the delicate material.

With the delicates, much like with the regular stuff, I work section by section, top to bottom, making sure to keep the material taut as I go along. You have to have it tight and smooth, but if you over-stretch it and hold it too tight then you will end up actually creating more creases where you steamed. The key here, is tight but not too tight, just enough to make a smooth and clean steam, making sure not to leave the steamer in any one area for too long. When you’re finished steaming your garment might feel wet for a couple of minutes so just let it settle and dry before you put it on or away in the closet.

Ironing vs Steaming

A steamer can be great at working out wrinkles in items that are difficult to iron or items that don’t require a crease, however, steamers generally don’t work great on stubborn fabrics like linen or cotton. If you find that you’ve used a steamer on a garment and it’s just not doing the job, it’s time to get something a bit more powerful. Ironing is the gold standard when it comes to getting rid of wrinkles and can help when the steamer just can’t do the trick. An iron is super useful as it uses heat, moisture, and pressure to weed out any nasty wrinkles. Irons work great on pants, collars, cuffs, and other often wrinkled items.

Now you have everything you need to become a professional steamer. If you want more tips and ticks to sharpen your steaming game check out our article on How to Steam Clothes: Wrinkled Clothes Begone! Now, get steaming!

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Melissa Maker is an entrepreneur, cleaning expert, founder of Toronto’s most popular boutique cleaning service, and star of the Clean My Space channel on YouTube (but she still hates to clean!). Every week, Melissa delivers new videos dishing expert advice on cleaning products, tools, DIY substitutes, and practical, timesaving solutions to everyday problems. Melissa has appeared on the Today Show, and has been featured in InStyle, Real Simple, and Better Homes and Gardens.


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