You Don't Know Clean Until You Know Steam: The Best Car Steam Cleaners, Tested

car steam cleaner cleaning car radio
Tested: Best Car Steam CleanersGannon Burgett - Car and Driver

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We spend a ton of our time in our vehicles on a day-to-day basis. This includes clambering in and out with muddy boots, spilling a bit of Diet Coke, and dusty buildup on the head unit. Some of these messes can be particularly tricky to make disappear, especially sticky and dried yuckage. Luckily, there's a tool that's ideal for such messes.

Car steam cleaners are handy gadgets that emit powerful whooshes of piping-hot steam to loosen up even the stickiest gunk. They work great on plastic and fabrics and are particularly useful on dashes and consoles, as well as seats, carpet, and headliners.


If your vehicle has some gnarly buildup that needs to go, a car steam cleaner might be the answer. But which one should you buy? With this test, we aim to answer that question.

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Things to Consider before Buying a Car Steam Cleaner

Traditionally used by home and office cleaners, steam cleaners have found favor lately with expert auto detailers like AMMO NYC's Larry Kosilla. "Steam cleaners are incredibly effective," he told us. "The reason, in short, is that the molecules in hot water move a lot faster. So think of those molecules as little scrubbers. The higher the kinetic energy, the faster things are moving and basically supercharging your cleaning."

Before you purchase a car steam cleaner, here's what you should know.

Attachments: More attachments mean more versatility. If you plan to use your steam cleaner in the car, garage, and home, you may want to opt for one with multiple attachments and various types.

Tank Capacity: A larger tank means less frequent refills, providing longer continuous cleaning sessions. Consider a bigger tank if you plan to use your car steam cleaner for extended periods or don't like refilling and waiting for the tank to repressurize.

Size and Weight: When cleaning tight spaces, the size and weight of the unit matter. If you plan on maneuvering into back seats, cargo bays, and rear floorboards, consider a car steam cleaner that's compact and lightweight.

Hose and Cord Length: Longer hoses and cords provide greater reach, allowing you to clean farther from the wall outlet and deeper into your vehicle without frequently moving the machine.

Temperature: Car steam cleaners vary in temperature capabilities. While basic models may suffice for surface cleaning and agitating tough grime, higher temperatures are needed for thorough sterilization and removing toxins like mold and dust mites.

Heating Time: Car steam cleaners require time to heat water and build up pressure before each use. Factor in this preparation time when planning your cleaning tasks.

Water Type: You should use distilled water to prevent mineral buildup and maintain the steamer's system. Be cautious of extreme temperatures; freezing can damage the unit, so if you live in a seasonal area, remove it from your vehicle or garage during winter.

Storage: Consider where you'll store your car steam cleaner when not in use. Like a vacuum cleaner, your steam cleaner will take up considerable space, so you may want to consider features such as removable hoses, retractable cords, and designated storage for attachments to reduce clutter in your garage or home.

How We Evaluated Car Steam Cleaners

The criteria for this test were pretty straightforward, as we wanted to see how well these magic misters truly worked for car detailing. Thankfully, we had a willing test subject perfect for this: a 2002 Honda Odyssey, freshly bought by tester Katherine from some kind garlic farmers. Featuring plenty of wonderfully caked-in mud and other crusty farm-grown goodness, we set to work cleaning the Honda's cupholders, dashboards, seats, windows, and more. We recorded testing data for these parameters:

  • Performance

  • Max Capacity

  • Time to "Ready"

  • Steam Temperature

  • Ease of Use

  • Weight

  • User Experience

The Best Car Steam Cleaners

Bissell Steam Shot Handheld Steam Cleaner & Sanitizer

The Bissell Steam Shot is the perfect choice if you're looking for a car-specific steam cleaner. This compact steamer, popular on TikTok and Instagram, stands out for good reason. Despite its small size, it packs a punch with powerful and effective performance. The tank is admittedly small, but it heats up quickly—just shy of four minutes.

This little unit belongs in a lighter weight class than larger, bulkier steamers, but it was still a delight to use in the car. We tested it on the center console, and it had no trouble clearing out the cracks and crevices of years' worth of dust. We found it to be super light and easy to maneuver, and it worked really well.

Unfortunately, the Steam Shot now seems to be out of stock almost everywhere online (it was readily available on Amazon and at Bissell's website when we ordered it). That's a shame, because we thought this product was fantastic. We're confident that the Steam Shot will be back on shelves both real and virtual very soon.

If and when the Bissell Steam Shot becomes available again, we can't recommend it enough for a quick grab-and-go car steam cleaner. In the meantime, consider Bissell's PowerFresh Slim 3-in-1 Scrubbing & Sanitizing Steam Mop. It's more for household use but can be broken down into a handheld car steamer similar to the Steam Shot. It does come at a higher price point, though.

<p><a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p>Bissell Steam Shot Handheld Steam Cleaner & Sanitizer</p><p></p><p>$65.59</p><span class="copyright">Gannon Burgett</span>


dirty cupholder clean
Gannon Burgett - Car and Driver

Bissel Steam Shot Attachments

  • 3 round detail brushes

  • 1 flat scraping tool

  • 1 angular concentrator tool

  • 1 grout brush

  • 1 accessory nozzle

car steam cleaner attachments on carpet
Car and Driver - Car and Driver

McCulloch Canister

Ranked second overall in tank size, heating time, and temperature is the McCulloch Canister. In a market filled with similar designs (seriously, what's with all the black, yellow, and flashing lights?), the McCulloch distinguishes itself with a few key features we appreciated. First, the operating status is indicated by a pressure gauge with a traffic light color code. Second, the McCulloch utilizes a net hold-down system for attachment storage, opting for a simple yet effective "doom box"approach rather than designated spots for each attachment.

While these features may seem trivial to some, we value their functionality. The clear indication of steam readiness with the pressure gauge's needle rising into the green zone was particularly user-friendly. Additionally, the stretchy net for attachment storage offers a more intuitive organization method than most others. In a crowded market where products often share similar specs and functions, we encourage you to buy a car steam cleaner based on your preferences and nuances to ensure you're totally happy with your purchase.

<p><a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p>McCulloch Canister </p><p></p><p>$179.99</p><span class="copyright">Gannon Burgett - Car and Driver</span>


car skid plate dirty clean
Gannon Burgett - Car and Driver

McCulloch Attachments

  • 1 large mop head

  • 1 bristle brush attachment for mop head

  • 1 microfiber mop head

  • 1 scrubbing mop pad

  • 1 jet nozzle

  • 1 3-inch scraper

  • 1 triangle brush

  • 1 large brush for triangle attachment

  • 1 round brush

  • 1 angled nozzle

  • 2 round scrub pads

  • 2 nylon utility brushes

  • 1 brass utility brush

Not Pictured

  • 2 extension wands

car steam cleaner attachments on carpet
Gannon Burgett - Car and Driver

Wagner 915E On-Demand

If you're in the market for an affordable and versatile car steam cleaner, the Wagner On-Demand is a great choice for use in cars. We found it quite effective during our testing, making easy work of the years of farm dust on the scuff plate. It offers a variety of attachments, heats up swiftly, and features a satisfyingly tactile on/off button.

However, the On-Demand doesn't boast standout features beyond its reliability for various cleaning tasks. It's simply a dependable option that gets the job done. If you're after a budget-friendly car steam cleaner for everyday use, this one from Wagner fits the bill perfectly. But if you're looking for mind-blowing, TikTok-worthy cleaning results, you may want to look elsewhere.

<p><a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p>Wagner 915E On-Demand</p><p></p><p>$144.99</p><span class="copyright">Gannon Burgett - Car and Driver</span>


before and after images
Gannon Burgett - Car and Driver

Wagner On-Demand Attachments

  • 1 large brass brush

  • 1 small brass brush

  • 2 large nylon brushes

  • 2 small nylon brushes

  • 1 jet nozzle

  • 1 squeegee

  • 1 wallpaper remover

  • 1 microfiber pad

  • 1 microfiber bonnet

  • 1 straight adaptor

  • 1 angle adaptor

  • 1 mop head

Not Pictured

  • Funnel

  • O-ring gaskets

  • 2 extensions

car steam cleaner attachments on carpet
Gannon Burgett - Car and Driver

Dupray Neat

If you're a fan of a sleek Apple-style aesthetic, the Dupray Neat will undoubtedly catch your eye. We appreciate its clean look and thoughtful cord management, with the electrical cord winding completely underneath the machine.

We found the flexible tubing convenient during use, with plenty of length for cleaning seats and van walls without issue. However, one drawback is that the handle, which nests directly above the pressurized steam tank, is extremely hot to the touch when withdrawn. Most people will probably pull the unit around by its tubing, but user beware.

While the Neat has a great design and plenty of attachments for thorough detailing, we couldn't help but scratch our heads at the lack of designated storage space for all those attachments. While we loved the sleek, stylish concept, you'll need a plan for keeping the attachments organized in a bag or box.

<p><a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p>Dupray Neat </p><p></p><p>$149.78</p><span class="copyright">Gannon Burgett - Car and Driver</span>


vehicle skid plate before dirty after clean
Gannon Burgett - Car and Driver

Dupray Neat Attachments

  • 1 steam lance

  • 3 microfiber pads

  • 1 floor tool

  • 1 triangular tool

  • 1 window tool (with squeegee)

  • 5 nylon brushes

  • 1 brass brush

  • 1 microfiber cloth

  • 1 microfiber bonnet

Not Pictured

  • 2 extension tubes

car steam cleaner attachments on carpet
Gannon Burgett - Car and Driver

Vapamore MR-100 Primo

The Vapamore Primo was the beefiest and baddest car steam cleaner of the bunch we tested. It boasted the biggest tank and the hottest steam and claims right on its box that it can kill bed bugs. This machine is substantial, in both its function and claims.

But even with its great specs and high marks in testing, we were most excited about the Primo's storage and stowability. The hose is detachable, and the electrical cord retracts into the machine with the press of a button. Unlike most of the other units we tested, all the small attachments fit inside a case at the back, making the unit compact and easy to manage. Additionally, it comes with a measuring cup, funnel, and o-rings for future repairs.

However, we have some gripes with the triangle/mop attachment. The first is that the triangle piece is part of the mop head, meaning that if you lose the triangle attachment, the mop becomes unusable. The second is that the triangle uses a swivel design (to make mopping easier, surely), which made cleaning auto upholstery difficult as it lacked the firmness needed for effective cleaning. While we'd prefer cleaning upholstery with a more stable handle, we still think this is an excellent choice for serious detailers.

<p><a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p>Vapamore MR-100 Primo </p><p></p><p>$299.00</p><span class="copyright">Gannon Burgett - Car and Driver</span>


before and after pictures of cupholders
Gannon Burgett - Car and Driver

Vapamore MR-100 Attachments

  • 1 nylon grout brush

  • 1 nylon medium-duty brush

  • 1 large nylon medium-duty brush

  • 1 brass brush

  • 1 cotton cover

  • 1 microfiber floor pad (installed floor head)

  • 1 floor head with triangle brush (which can be separated)

  • 1 detail adaptor

  • 1 jet nozzle attachment

  • 1 detail scraper

Not Pictured:

  • 1 funnel

  • 1 measuring cup

  • 1 mesh bag

  • 1 bag of replacement o-ring gaskets

  • 2 extension tubes

car steam cleaner attachments on carpet
Gannon Burgett - Car and Driver

How We Tested Car Steam Cleaners

A car steam cleaner's biggest selling point is its ability to clean without chemicals by shooting super-hot steam at tough messes, loosening them enough to be wiped away with a microfiber cloth. For this test, we wanted to see if each cleaner performed its duty, along with how well it did so.

First, we verified each cleaner's maximum water capacity, according to the manufacturer. Once they were filled to the max, we plugged them into a normal wall outlet and timed how long it took until the cleaner displayed "ready"—giving us a time-to-ready measurement.

While doing so, we held the cleaner three inches away from the bucket wall and measured the steam temperature with an infrared temperature gun. We also took detailed notes on the dry weight of each cleaner, ease of use, and other usability observations.

For performance, we ran each car steam cleaner over a section of plastic—such as cupholders, dashboard, and scuff plates. We then tried each one on a seat with Chemical Guys Carpet Cleaner and took notes on how well it removed grime from the fabric. We even tried them on windows and various dirty painted nooks and crannies, like the inner walls of our Odyssey.

spraying car seat with soap and using car steam cleaner
Gannon Burgett - Car and Driver


What kind of messes are car steam cleaners good at cleaning?

A car steam cleaner works by loosening up messes thanks to the heat of the steam. Steam can be particularly effective against tricky messes like gum, chocolate, sticky soda, or gooey stains on fabric. Even exterior messes, like caked-on brake dust, can be removed with a steam cleaner.

"I use it on the wheels, I have on calipers, and for very specific cleaning, where you can change the nozzle or the tip," Larry Kosilla of AMMO NYC says. "I call it a 'sniper mode' because you have a lot of pressure and steam at the same time."

What surfaces can I clean with a car steam cleaner?

Cloth, leather, plastic, glass—almost any surface in a vehicle can be cleaned with a car steam cleaner. This makes these versatile machines popular with even professional detailers. However, some detailers, like Larry Kosilla, caution against using them on decals, window tints, and other stuck-on decor like pinstriping.

Because of the moisture involved, we recommend being careful around electronic components such as the instrument cluster, radio, and climate controls.

How do I clean my cloth seat with a car steam cleaner?

We recommend first spraying your seat down with your favorite interior or carpet cleaner. Then, wrap a microfiber cloth around the nozzle of your hot steam cleaner and secure it with a rubber band or zip-tie. Power on the car steam cleaner and scrub your seats in small sections. You might need a few passes, especially on tougher messes. Note that your seats will be wet from the moisture a steam cleaner puts out, so you won't be able to sit in them for a while.

"If I have something that's very exotic or rare or older,' Larry says, "I'm not going to just pour hot water on the carpets [and] seats. You have to introduce heat in another way. And to do that, steam is highly effective."

This is a reminder that car steam cleaners are not upholstery or carpet "cleaners"—they simply blast hot steam to loosen messes that you then need to wipe up. For seats that are stained or carpets that have deep dirt, an upholstery cleaner like Bissell's Little Green might be a better cleaning tool.

Do car steam cleaners sanitize?

As car steam cleaners boil the water, the temperature reaches a minimum of 212 degrees Fahrenheit—enough to produce steam. Steam this hot can indeed kill bacteria, mold, and other organic material on contact. However, as we found in this test, the steam loses temperature rapidly as it exits the cleaner. For these domestic steam cleaners to effectively sanitize, they would have to be very close to the surface you're working on—within an inch or so. There are commercial steam cleaners that get much hotter than 212 degrees, which are typically what professional detailers use. For the average consumer, the steam cleaners here are fine for normal use on your vehicle—but don't expect complete sanitization.

woman steam cleaning car crevice
Gannon Burgett - Car and Driver

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group of tested car steam cleaners
Gannon Burgett - Car and Driver