Does Steaming Clothes Really Clean Them? Let’s Find Out

Steaming clothes is usually only performed on delicate garments, such as wedding gowns, expensive suits, and dainty baptismal gowns. However, since steaming clothes requires relatively high temperatures, you might wonder if it cleans them.

In this article, I’ll discuss how a steamer affects clothes and what benefits you can expect. I’ll also discuss each benefit in detail and offer tips on properly steaming your clothes. Let’s get started!

What Exactly Does Steaming Do to Clothes?

Steaming clothes is a quick and effective way to smooth wrinkles, making it a great alternative to ironing. It relaxes your garment’s fabric, eliminating unsightly creases. It is also a great way to remove stains, eliminate foul odors, eliminate allergens, and sanitize by killing harmful pathogens.

How a Steamer Works

A steamer works by heating water to a point where it turns into steam. You pour water into the steamer’s reservoir or tank, and with the touch of a button, the machine turns it into steam through heat. The steam travels through a hose and nozzle and is applied to the garment.

There are 3 basic types of steamers:

  • Upright steamers. This is ideal for larger households, especially if you have a designated laundry room. An upright steamer offers convenience and can work on more clothes.
  • Handheld steamers. This is best if you don’t have much storage space at home. It’s much more compact than an upright steamer.
  • Travel steamers. As the name implies, travel steamers are perfect for people always on the go. They’re handy and easy to carry around.

Steaming Clothes

The traditional process of laundering clothes calls for laundry detergents and fabric softeners, most of which contain harsh chemicals and substances. Clothes are subjected to agitation during this process.

Steaming is a much gentler process. It uses only water and steam to get the job done. As long as heat is retained at around 200℉ (93℃), you can eliminate wrinkles as you clean and sanitize. Too little heat won’t do a lot of good, while too much might burn your clothes.

Removing Stains

Steaming cleaning clothes removes stains, even old and stubborn ones. The key is to properly pre-treat the stain before steaming. Remember that the longer the stain stays in the fabric, the harder it is to eliminate.

Pre-treating stains is easy, especially when dealing with common stains from food and beverages. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Flush the stain from the back with cold water. This helps relax its hold on the fabric.
  2. Rub laundry detergent over the stain to loosen it. You can also use a commercial stain pre-treater like Sonett Organic Traditional Stain Removers Gall Soap. It’s suitable for white and colored fabrics, effective on stubborn stains, and environmentally friendly.
  3. Soak the detergent-saturated stain in cold water for a few minutes. Wait until you see some of the stain lifting out from the fabric.

You can also use other methods to pre-treat stains, depending on what kind of stain you have. Here are some tips:

  • Adhesive stains: Put ice on the stain to harden it, then try scraping it off with a knife.
  • Bodily fluid stains: Soak and wash the stain in oxygen bleach.
  • Ink stains: Using a sponge, rub the area around the stain with rubbing alcohol to keep it from spreading. Gently pat rubbing alcohol on the stain and the fabric behind it before placing paper towels on them to absorb some of the stain.

Once you’ve pre-treated the stain, you can steam your garment. Place the nozzle on the stain and let it stay for about 30 seconds. The heat will further loosen the stain and effectively remove it from the fabric.

Removing Odors

Steam cleaning uses temperatures hot enough to kill odor-causing bacteria. These bacteria are typically found in sweat, skin cells, and garment fibers. Environmental factors, such as unfavorable drying conditions and lack of proper ventilation, can also make your clothes smell bad.

However, if the odor is persistent and extremely difficult to eliminate, you might have to take extra steps to address the issue.

Here’s what you can do:

  1. Combine one part of water and white vinegar. Place it in a spray bottle, and shake well.
  2. Spray it directly on the smelly areas (typically in the underarm and collar areas).
  3. Steam clean your garment.

Some people prefer letting the water and vinegar mixture settle in the fabric for a few minutes before rinsing to eliminate the pungent vinegar smell. Then, they steam clean, paying extra attention to the areas with stubborn odors.

Getting Rid of Allergens

Steam cleaning removes allergens, such as pollen and dust mites, by pushing through the small gaps in the garment’s fabric. Regular washing usually cannot eradicate allergens from clothing since these microscopic elements tend to cling firmly to fabric.

Sanitizing Clothes

Steaming clothes sanitizes them because it uses high temperatures that kill harmful pathogens. It’s a highly effective way to remove viruses, bacteria, fungi, and more from clothes. Steam cleaning kills as much as 99% of harmful pathogens.

To sanitize your clothes, the garment should be consistently in contact with heat for at least 3 minutes. To effectively eliminate these unwanted organisms, the steam cleaner should hit temperatures between 175-212°F (79-100°C).

Final Tips for Properly Steaming Clothes

Steaming clothes can be tricky if you’re unaware of the limitations. It might be an excellent way to clean clothes and a great alternative to ironing, but there are crucial points to consider when going this route:

  • Not all clothes can be steamed. Clothes made with plastic, suede, or waxed cotton might melt under the steam.
  • Read labels. Different fabric types call for different types of care. Read your clothes’ labels for tips on how to clean them properly.
  • Steam your clothes starting from the top. Make your way slowly to the bottom of your garment for even heat distribution.
  • Steam from the inside out. If your garment has a lining, start steaming from there before gradually working your way outward.
  • Use clean water. Contaminated water leaves marks and stains on your clothes.
  • Never steam clothes while you’re wearing them. Steam usually makes fibers damp. Hot, moist fibers may stick to your skin, causing burns.
  • Provide adequate ventilation. Make sure your clothes are in an area with enough air circulation to quickly evaporate any dampness from the steam. Leaving your clothes damp for extended periods may encourage bacteria growth and make your clothes smell musty.
  • Start low. It’s better to begin with lower heat settings and slowly work your way up depending on the need than starting with high heat and potentially damaging your garment.


Steaming is an excellent approach to cleaning clothes since it cleans and sanitizes them thoroughly and removes wrinkles. This alternative cleaning method doesn’t apply only to clothes for special occasions. It’s also good to steam regular clothes, especially if they’re relatively unsoiled.

Frequent washing can have irreparable effects on fabric, such as holes, tears, and unsightly fluff. Steaming uses only water and heat to clean your clothes, so if done correctly, the fibers will remain undamaged.

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