8 Best Clothes Steamers | The Strategist

Photo: Marcus McDonald

Steamers are the secret weapon of garment care. Although their place in the home-appliance canon is less established than that of irons, they can do many of the same things: “I don’t think people understand how much you can get away with steaming things as opposed to ironing,” says Zach Pozniak, a third-generation dry cleaner and the vice-president of operations at Jeeves New York. “You can steam the vast majority of your clothing and be pretty happy with the results.” Plus steaming is, in many cases, better for keeping delicate, soft textiles in good shape: “Ironing is way more aggressive to your clothes than steaming is,” says Pozniak, “because you’re drilling it with pressure and heat,” while steamers work more gently to relax fibers.

As an amateur sewer and the owner of a lot of fussy clothing, I keep both an iron and a steamer around. I pull out the iron for sewing projects or a mega-wrinkled garment, but for the vast majority of clothing, I prefer doing a few passes with a steamer (right now, a sturdy Jiffy standing model — more on that below). As Posniak says, steaming is gentler on the fabric and less likely to damage it through accidental scorching. It’s also quicker than ironing, which makes a difference: 99 percent of the time I steam something, it’s a last-minute wardrobe change and I’m already running five minutes late. No matter your use case — whether you only use one when traveling or you steam your bed linens every week — there’s a model for you. To help find the best clothes steamer, I consulted 12 experts, from stylists to laundry influencers, about their tried-and-true favorites and tested several highly recommended models on my own silks, linens, denim jackets, and ’90s nylon pants.

We’re categorizing steamers as travel size (less than 12 inches tall and six inches wide), handheld (too large to throw in a suitcase, but small and lightweight enough to use one-handed), and standing, the largest size, which feature a water reservoir, a hanging rack, and will usually have wheels.

The power of a steamer is measured in watts, which corresponds to how quickly an appliance heats up and how forcefully it can expel steam — think about the difference between a face mister and Jacuzzi jets. Most options on this list are between 1,000 and 2,000 watts, which is powerful enough for even heavy-duty garment-steaming tasks.

The water capacity of a steamer is an industrial-design balancing act: too small and you’ll be running back to the sink to refill it before you finish steaming a single shirt; too large and the steamer will be heavy and unwieldy when full. Most handheld options on this list have a tank capacity of between four and eight ounces of water, which provides about ten to 15 minutes of continuous steam, which the experts I spoke to agreed was sufficient for home use. If you’re regularly steaming a lot of clothing at once or just don’t like refilling a water tank, consider a freestanding steamer, which has a higher-capacity tank and is found in “every department store and every studio,” per costume designer Alison Freer. (It’s the style I used to steam entire racks of theater costumes at my college costume-shop job.)

Several of the experts I spoke to also shared tricks for avoiding “spitting,” which happens when the minerals naturally found in tap water build up and “eject this gross white grainy sand,” says Pozniak. “If you iron it into your clothes, now it’s stained.” Filling the tank with distilled water is the simplest way to prevent mineral buildup. If you want to get even more precise, Patric Richardson, host of The Laundry Guy, recommends using spring water, which contains some minerals but less than tap water. That allows the water to heat up beyond the boiling point of distilled water — the same rationale as adding salt to pasta water — which makes for a hotter, more effective steam. Another suggestion from Marilee Nelson, a nontoxic consultant and co-founder of Branch Basics, is to fill the tank with a half-and-half mixture of water and an inexpensive, high-proof vodka: the alcohol will “remove allergens, body odor, and even smoke and perfume picked up on clothes.”

Conair Turbo Extreme Steam Handheld Steamer
Very Good Deal

Size: Handheld | Power: 1,875 watts | Capacity: 7.3 ounces

The Conair Turbo Extreme Steam is a powerful, reliable steamer that can stand up to nearly any steaming task you throw at it. I used it for several months, and it’s favored by three other discerning users: Kate Young, Uma Thurman’s stylist and the mastermind behind her wrinkle-free 2022 Oscars look; Strategist women’s fashion writer Ambar Pardilla; and Pozniak, who uses it about twice a week to clean drapery and upholstered furniture in clients’ homes. Pozniak discovered the model while searching for an alternative to a standing machine, which he found too unwieldy for large jobs. He likes that the Conair steamer is lightweight, heats up in about 30 seconds, and can “run at full blast” for about ten minutes.

When I tested it, I was impressed with the quick heat-up time and the amount of steam it could generate on the highest setting. (The Turbo has five settings, which correspond to the volume of steam it puts out.) It’s on the larger side, but once it was in my hand, I realized all the other things I could steam and gave my pillowcases and bedding a quick once-over, too, which helped neutralize allergens like dust mites. Pardilla also loves the steamer, which she bought after the experience of stamping “big horseshoe-shaped marks onto a couple of T-shirts” made her swear off irons. “It gives you a red-carpet-immaculate finish every time,” she says.

J-2000M Jiffy Garment Steamer with Metal Steam Head, 120 Volt

Photo: Retailer

Size: Standing | Power: 1,300 watts | Capacity: 96 ounces

The Jiffy J-2000 standing steamer is the industry standard; you’re more likely than not to find it in any costume shop or department store. Freer has four, the oldest of which was a gift from a mentor and is “easily 25 if not 30 years old and still works like a champ.” Musician Katie Crutchfield (a.k.a. Waxahatchee) is also a fan and named it as something she can’t live without: “Years and years of buying a shitty steamer and having my outfit covered in water and totally wrinkled have led me here,” she says. “This is a case in which I decided to buy the actual thing, and I’m really glad I did.”

I had assumed a J-2000 steamer would be too heavy-duty for me — I steam a garment about once a week, usually five minutes before leaving the house — but I was curious after graphic designer and home sewer Tracy Ma mentioned that she has one. Although it “seems silly at first to have such a large thing in a New York apartment,” she says, “it’s actually an appliance I use regularly.” After four months of use, my conclusion: If you aren’t a clothes person, you don’t need a standing steamer. If you are, this will change your life. It heats up fast, rarely needs to be refilled, and can get wrinkled nylon and creased wool crisp in less than a minute. Keeping it in the corner of my bedroom removed the mental block around getting an appliance out of the closet, so I ended up using it more often and thus getting more wear out of my most wrinkle-prone clothes. I’ve even used it to steam pajamas.

It’s expensive, but it will last you decades and is easy to repair — if a component breaks, Jiffy sells replacement parts on its website, which is helpful for heavy-duty users. (“One of the wheels fell off because I’m always dragging it through a parking lot,” Freer says of her J-2000 steamer.)

Conair Extreme Steam Fabric Steamer with Dual Heat
Very Good Deal

Photo: Retailer

Size: Handheld | Power: 1,110 watts | Capacity: 6 ounces

If you want the Extreme Steam Turbo in a smaller package, this smaller, less expensive version of the Conair Turbo is a good choice. It’s the go-to steamer of Queer Eye’s Tan France, who praises its lightweight construction and its reliability. He says, “Every stylist out there knows how annoying it is when a steamer leaks and drips,” potentially damaging delicate fabrics, but the Extreme Steam rarely does. It’s also a favorite of Strategist senior editor Simone Kitchens, who describes it as “so solid,” especially considering how inexpensive it is.

Jiffy Esteam Handheld Steamer

Size: Travel | Power: 600 watts | Capacity: 8 ounces

This compact Jiffy travel steamer is a favorite of Freer and businesswoman Barbara Corcoran (one of the sharks of Shark Tank), who says it takes 30 seconds to get dresses looking “like I just went to the dry cleaner.” Freer appreciates its compact size — it’s about “the size of a Hydro Flask”— and says it especially comes in handy at events. The device is small, but powerful enough to lift deep wrinkles: She mentions a time her boyfriend folded and packed a suit in his luggage, and “I coaxed that thing back to life” with just the Jiffy steamer. “That’s the thing I’m still proudest of in my entire career.”

I tested the Jiffy Esteam on a silk suit that needed a quick refresh before wearing. It’s a very simple device — it doesn’t even have an on or off button, just a red light to indicate it’s working — but it does the job well. The Esteam took about a minute to heat up and smoothed trouser wrinkles in one pass. It also has the distinction of being the least annoying to fill garment steamer on this list — the top unscrews, and you can fill the tank directly from the tap like a water bottle.

Conair Travel Dual-Voltage Steamer

Size: Travel | Power: 1,200 watts | Capacity: 2.7 ounces

For a less expensive travel steamer, Conair’s dual-voltage model is a great option and has the useful feature of working with 120-volt U.S. outlets and 220-volt outlets, which are more common worldwide. When I tested it, it heated up in about 36 seconds and emitted a fine, gauzy hiss of steam that unwrinkled a pair of wool pants in no time. Its capacity is on the lower end, so you’ll need to refill it after steaming a couple garments. But it’s a solid option if you’re looking for a powerful steamer you can throw in your luggage, or if you only steam one or two things at a time — it’s become the model I reach for over our best-in-class pick, the Conair Turbo Extreme Steam, when I need to give something a quick once-over before leaving the house.

Rowenta X-Cel Handheld Garment and Fabric Steamer

Size: Handheld | Power: 1,600 watts, 1,875 watts | Capacity: 6.76 ounces

Rowenta makes some of our favorite irons — it has a reputation for precise engineering and reliable safety features. They also make a great garment steamer, recommended by stylist Shannon Adducci. “On long shoots, you really appreciate its thumb-saving ergonomic design,” she says. “Unlike overhead triggers on flimsier models, the trigger on the X-Cel is positioned under the steam head for you to pull with your index and middle fingers.”

Steamery Cirrus No. 3 Steamer

Size: Travel | Power: 1,000 watts | Capacity: 3 ounces

Steamery bills the Cirrus No. 3 appliances as a combination steamer and iron, which is a bit of a misnomer — it has a front plate safe to press directly onto textiles that heats up to about the lowest level on a traditional iron, so it can’t flatten deep-set wrinkles or smooth textiles that need higher heat like linen or cotton. Strategist writer Dominique Pariso, who uses the Cirrus No.3 a few times a week, says it’s great for instances where “I realize the shirt I want to wear is wrinkled five minutes before I’m supposed to leave my apartment.” (And five minutes before leaving the house is, to be honest, also when I do most of my steaming and ironing.) Its sleek design is also a plus: Strategist contributor Chris Black recommends it as a wedding-registry item, and it’s a favorite of Bread Beauty Supply founder Maeva Heim, who named it the best gift she bought herself in 2020.

Laurastar Lift Steam Iron

Size: Handheld with tank | Power: 1,600 watts | Capacity: 37.2 ounces

Richardson swears by his Laurastar steam iron, which he’s used for several years — it combines the functions of an iron and a garment steamer into one appliance, eliminating the need to buy one of each. He especially likes the hot, dry steam it produces: “Their steam dries on contact. I can iron a shirt in 60 seconds with their iron because you only go over the area once and it’s completely dry, so you can just keep moving.” And though it’s expensive, he says it’s well worth it if you regularly spend money on dry cleaning — you can get the same results with a Laurastar iron at home — and it’s made to last. “It’s like buying a KitchenAid mixer — you only ever buy one.”

• Shannon Adducci, stylist
• Chris Black, Strategist contributor
• Tan France, Queer Eye host
• Alison Freer, costume designer and author of How to Get Dressed
• Maeva Heim, founder of Bread Beauty Supply
• Simone Kitchens, Strategist senior editor
• Tracy Ma, graphic designer
• Marilee Nelson, co-founder of Branch Basics
• Ambar Pardilla, Strategist writer
• Zach Pozniak, vice-president of operations at Jeeves New York
• Patric Richardson, host of The Laundry Guy

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