Buying a clothes steamer is like buying a lot of things, whether it's a pickax, smartphone or new car: Its value depends largely on how you plan to use it.
For people on the go, handheld steamers come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Smaller steamers are easier to pack and carry but often lack the power to take on heavy wrinkles. Shoppers should look for a machine that is reasonably compact, while offering a strong, hot and continuous steam stream. That probably means power in the 800-watt range but that varies by manufacturer. The 600-watt Jiffy eSteam, for example, is highly rated despite its lower capacity [sources: Good Housekeeping, Moser].
Shoppers should also take a long, hard look at a steamer's water tank system, particularly in handheld models. Smaller tanks mean more refilling, and narrow openings can make what should be the relatively painless task of pouring water into the tank messy and awkward. Meanwhile, people who often travel overseas may want to go with one of the many dual-voltage versions on the market [sources: Good Housekeeping, Moser].
Medium-sized home steam cleaners typically pack a bigger punch. Nevertheless, you'll need to consider many of the same factors as with travel-friendly versions. The more powerful and bigger the water tank is, the faster and more effective the machine. Medium models often include rollers and a built-in hanger, making them easy to maneuver and simple for one person to operate.
The largest steamers are used mostly by professionals (dry cleaners, seamstresses, designers) and will have a gallon-sized water tank and 1500 or more watts. But you'll still want to evaluate them for effectiveness as in the smaller sizes.
Author's Note: How a Clothes Steamer Works
I'll have you know that I own a powder blue linen suit. No, this is not one of those terrible prom get-ups from the 80s, complete with a ruffled shirt and tablecloth-sized cummerbund. It is a smart, classy, humdinger of a suit. I've worn it on the job, at restaurants and even at my godson's first communion. But if it wasn't for the magic of a steamer, I probably wouldn't have worn it at all. You see, after purchasing this particular item, I noticed a number of tiny pin holes littering the back of the jacket. I can only assume that these were the result of pinning it to either a mannequin or the life-sized voodoo doll that my ex-girlfriend keeps in her closet and for some reason looks a lot like me. Anyway, I took the jacket back to the store, where a nice sales associate whipped out a garment steamer and went to town on the jacket. Ten minutes later, it was as good as new.
- Best Steam Reviews. "Clothes Steamer Reviews: A Closer Look At The Garment Steam Cleaner." (Feb. 17, 2013) http://www.best-steam-reviews.com/clothes-steamer.html
- Fabric Steamer. "Fabric Steamer Reviews." Aug. 10, 2010 (Feb. 17, 2013) http://www.fabricsteamer.org
- Good Housekeeping. "Best Handheld Steamers." (Feb. 18, 2013) http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/product-reviews/appliances/handheld-steamer-reviews/best-handheld-steamers#slide-1
- Hammacher Schlemmer. "The Best Garment Steamer." (Feb. 18, 2013)http://www.hammacher.com/Product/Default.aspx?sku=83395&refsku=82069
- Jiffy Steamer Company. "Jiffy Steamer is celebrating its 73rd year in business!" Dec. 27, 2012 (Feb. 17, 2013) http://www.jiffysteamer.com/media/details.asp?newsId=56&year=2013&record=1
- Moser, Laura. "Getting Steamed." Slate.com. May 6, 2008 (Feb. 18, 2013) http://www.slate.com/articles/life/shopping/2008/05/getting_steamed.html