Cleaning with Inexpensive Steam Power

by Allan Peach


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No one enjoys household cleaning chores. Cleaning bathtubs, ovens, grout, toilets and linoleum is simply unpleasant and requires a myriad of different and often costly cleaning solutions. These chemicals don't just smell bad, they are often quite dangerous to use in homes with children and pets, and may cause headaches in even the healthiest of adults.

What if you could clean using only water? It's free from the tap, has no smell, and is perfectly safe for you and your family. Of course, in its unadulterated natural state, it is totally ineffectual against dirt, grime and little Tommy's crayon wall drawings.

But, remember what your high school physics teacher taught you about good old H2O? It comes in three states: solid (ice), liquid (water) and gas (steam). Steam cleaning, using just plain water in its gaseous state, has been used successfully for years in hospitals and other institutions to avoid harmful chemicals and to kill germs.

Unfortunately, industrial strength steam cleaners are expensive. Some cost hundreds, even thousands, of dollars. Thankfully, more reasonably priced portable steam cleaners for the home have been introduced. They can be found in most hardware stores for between fifty and one hundred dollars, and often come with all the brushes and nozzles needed for any cleaning job around the home or garage.

Steam cleaners work much like teakettles. When filled with water and plugged in, they heat up, causing the water inside them to boil. When water boils, it is converted into steam. During this change of state, the water's volume increases about 1,600 times. Anything expanding that fast wants to escape, and escape fast. Because the steam cleaner is cleverly designed to only let the steam escape through the tiny pinhole of its nozzle, the result is an extremely hot gas being released under very high pressure and force. Dirt simply melts away, dissolving in the small amount of steam that liquefies on the surface of the object being cleaned. Wipe with a dry cloth and you have a clean surface with no smell or germs.

Another advantage of steam is that it can reach places that even a sponge can't reach. For example, a steam cleaner can make your car engine look like it just came off the showroom floor. Try doing that with a sponge and expect many a bruised knuckle.

Use the steam cleaner on a wrinkled blouse or skirt and there will be no more wrinkles! The home versions are often portable enough to take with you on business trips. Touch up that crumpled suit when you unpack and feel well dressed for the next morning's meeting.

But are steam cleaners safe? Like most home appliances, the answer is yes if they are used correctly and with common sense. Never put cleaning solvents in the water canister of a steam cleaner. The resulting steam can be many times more toxic than the normal fumes given off by the room temperature solutions and the gas will be extremely flammable. Use only tap water!

Infomercials to the contrary, steam cleaners should be used with gloves to avoid accidental scalding. Make sure the device has been unplugged for at least ten minutes before attempting to refill the water canister or change an attachment. Also, be sure the canister cap is tightly screwed down before plugging in the appliance.

Today's steam cleaners often come in bright colors and look like great fun to use. Therefore, it is very important to keep these devices away from children. Believe me, they will want to try out mom's new space gun, so store it somewhere safely out of their reach.

Finally, be sure and wipe dry any cleaned areas after steaming. The steam's heat will help kill germs, but when the surface cools, the condensed water that forms can be a breeding ground for mold and mildew. As most of the water dissipates into the air, a quick wipe with a cloth or sponge easily removes any left over liquid.

If you use proper precautions and common sense, steam cleaning can be an excellent and money saving replacement for a cabinet full of cleaning materials. The force and temperature of the steam replaces the tiresome elbow grease that is required with most liquid cleaners and your home will not only look clean, but it will smell clean, as well.

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