By on September 13, 2019

best steam cleaners for car detailing

From time to time, TTAC will highlight automotive products we think may be of interest to our community. Plus, posts like this help to keep the lights on around here. Learn more about how this works.


Every single gearhead reading this enjoys a clean car. Whether we take the time to actually remove life’s various and sundry detritus, well, that’s a different story. We all know people whose engine compartments are tidier than their passenger compartments.

Hoovering the carpets and seats only removes so much dirt, as those ads for commercial-grade steam cleaner rentals used to so graphically demonstrate. These days, portable steam cleaners abound, meaning those of us who decide to give our car a really good scrub needn’t venture to the Kroger across town that’s really scary after 4 pm.

Keep in mind these units can be used in the house, too, in case your other half is questioning your financial investment on one of these things. Dirt begone!

(Editor’s note: As noted above, this post is meant to both help you be an informed shopper for automotive products but also to pay for our ‘90s sedan shopping habits operating expenses. Some of you don’t find these posts fun, but they help pay for Junkyard Finds, Rare Rides, Piston Slaps, and whatever else. Thanks for reading.)


1. Editor’s Choice: Bissell SpotClean ProHeat Portable

bissell sportclean proheat portable spot and stain carpet cleaner

Sticking with a well-known name brand doesn’t always work (witness the near-useless belt sander lounging in your author’s tool box) but it is generally a safe bet. Bissell has been in the vacuum and steam-cleaning business approximately forever, or at least long enough that most of us can remember Rod Roddy describing the things as part of a showcase showdown.

This unit is about a foot square but only six inches wide, meaning it’s easy to plop on the seat while cleaning the interior of your beloved Lincoln Continental. Bissell’s heatwave technology helps maintain water temps during the cleaning process, meaning hot tap water is all that’s needed. A nattily-named HydroRinse feature cleans the hose after use to remove built-up crap which could cause a lingering odor. Three tools of varying size are included to ensure you can reach every nook and cranny.

Pros: Requires just hot tap water, different sized cleaning tools, post-clean rinsing

Cons: Weighs about nine pounds

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2. Low Buck Choice: Comforday Steam Multi Purpose Handheld Cleaner

comforday steam multi-purpose handheld cleaners

If all you need is a quick fix ahead of selling a car on Craigslist or getting the remnants of last night’s party out of your parent’s Jag, this el cheapo steam cleaner might just do the trick. The listing says it includes nine pieces but, like that 390,982-piece socket set advertised at AutoZone, 75 percent of those pieces are small bits you’ll never use.

Also, the seller notes it works best on hard surfaces, though it does specifically list car seats as a cleanable item. Don’t expect it to perform the deep clean provided by more robust units like the Bissell listed above, however. Classified as a handheld pressurized steam cleaner, it’ll probably even de-wrinkle your slacks.

Pros: Very affordable, small size

Cons: Not the best for a deep carpet clean

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3. Rug Doctor Portable Spot Cleaner

rug doctor carpet cleaning machine

This behemoth weighs nearly 20 pounds and measures 16 inches square. What it lacks in portability, though, it more than makes up for in usefulness. A true steam cleaner that forces water into and out of itself, twin tanks separate clean and dirty water which makes the task of cleaning a lot simpler.

A retractable handle and dual wheels remind your author of those oversized rollerboard suitcases that people invariably try and stuff into the overhead compartment of a CRJ airplane. Motorized brushing heads does the scrubbing for you, negating the need to build yourself up like Popeye before cleaning the car.

Pros: A true steam cleaner, scrubs deep to lift and extract stains.

Cons: Heavy, expensive

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4. McCulloch MC1230 Handheld Steam Cleaner

mcculloch handheld steam cleaner

Similar in style but marginally more powerful than the cheap cleaner listed two units above, this unit will also do a good job of steam cleaning hard surface items and getting crud off the top layer of carpets. For a very deep clean of those rugs in the car, though, you’ll probably want to keep reading.

A lockable steam trigger allow you to continuously blast through the task at hand, while its 6 oz. water tank heats up in three minutes and provides up to 10 minutes of continuous steam, according to the seller. No fewer than eleven accessories and a 15-foot long cord ensures you should be able to reach every crevvie of the car.

Pros: Auto trigger, great for a quick fix

Cons: Not for comprehensive cleaning duties

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5. Dupray Neat Steam Cleaner

dupray neat steam cleaner

This steam cleaner is advertised as an efficient, ultra-reliable do-it-all cleaning and sanitation solution. Its sellers describe it as being designed for performance and ease of use to deliver the cleaning power of much larger professional units. It is designed to easily remove dirt, grease, and stains while killing 99.9 percent of bacteria.

A large capacity tank hold 54 oz of water (that’s 1.6L in Roman Catholic) providing nearly an hour of cleaning time. Its retractable handle and white cube shape gives it a look of an iMac or some prop from a futuristic movie. That water will be heated to 275 degrees F, by the way, so use caution around this thing to avoid burns.

Pros: Great reviews, lots of attachments, looks like it’s from the future

Cons: Cubic dimensions are bulky

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6. Homegear X100 Portable Professional Multi Purpose Steam Cleaner

homegear x100 portable professional steam cleaner

Here we find a steam cleaner that packs an adjustable steam temperature and a 33 oz water tank. Its corrugated-style hose measures very nearly five feet in length, meaning the actual cleaning unit can remain outside the car while you go to town on those Dorito and Cheez-It messes on the dashboard.

Two cleaning pads are included but more than a couple of users report that this machine benefits from extra steam cleaning liquid if one is trying to remove a rancid stain from a cloth surface (think milk spilled in the back of the car or something). Most customers seemed to use this on hard surfaces like removing rust from the inside of a dishwasher.

Pros: Lengthy cleaning hose, powerful motor

Cons: Works better on hard surfaces

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7. McCulloch MC1375 Canister Steam System

mcculloch canister steam system

Here’s an option from a manufacturer already profiled in this post. This time, they are offering a more robust steam cleaner, one that’s definitely not handheld but certainly is equipped to get rid of dirt and grime. Its water tank is a healthy 48 oz, fully heating up in under 12 minutes according to the seller.

Twenty cleaning accessories are included although, like all good retailers, it is also recommended to buy a couple of extra items – replacement microfiber scrubbing pads in this case. Said to provide about 90 minutes of continuous steam, only the most ardent of car detailers will run out of actual steam before running out of steam themselves.

Pros: Long cleaning time, large water canister

Cons: Not cheap

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8. AutoRight C900054.M Red SteamMachine

autoright red steammachine

This reasonably priced steam cleaner makes no bones about its intended use, placing the word ‘auto’ right in its name. The SteamMachine (a great marketing flourish) uses pressurized, 290 F high-temperature steam to loosen and dissolve dirt, cut grease and grime, and disinfect your vehicle. The seller asserts that this steamer is versatile and can be used for a wide variety of car cleaning projects.

Speaking specifically to gearheads, the authors of the listing say that buyers can clean soft vehicle surfaces like leather and cloth upholstery while also tackling hard surfaces such as dashboards and windows. Eleven accessories should provide a tool for just about every job. Its 40oz boiler tank and 1500w heating element provides up to 45 minutes of steady cleaning.

Pros: Built and marketed specifically for car cleaning, large capacity boiling tank

Cons: Middling customer reviews

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[Images provided by the manufacturer. Lead image: MariaNikiforova/Shutterstock]

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17 Comments on “Full Steam Ahead: Best Steam Cleaners for Car Detailing...”


  • avatar
    Rick Astley

    I’m not sure how this list, aimed at “car guys”, omits probably the most popular and reliable steam cleaner available.

    Vapamore won’t sell a million units, but they are most firmly set on making the gear that satisfy’s auto detailing and personal use.

    The MR-100 should absolutely be on this list and at $300 it should be outperforming the list provided by Matthew. These units are rock solid and once heated, will steam the entire canister of nearly a gallon of water continuously and at full pressure.
    https://www.autogeek.net/vapamore-mr-100-primo-steamer.html

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      Maybe you linked to the wrong unit because 1.6 liters is nowhere near a gallon. Steam pressure of 3.5 bar is less than the McCulloch MC1375 (which holds about the same amount of water). The McCulloch is also half the price.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Talk about a timely article ! .

    One of our Foster boys went down the dope head rabbit hole and we got stuck with his filthy 2016 Honda Civic parry car ~ the grey mouse fur seats are mottled black now with God knows what, I’ve scrubbed and vacuumed as best I can but it still stinks of weed from 1/4 mile away so before SWMBO will touch it or I want to drive it anywhere the seats need steam cleaning…

    Some of these units appear to only have a steam nozzle ~ how do you get the crud off the cloth seats / carpets ? .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    MBella

    The Bissell and rug Doctor are not steam cleaners. I would think steam might be a slightly critical component of a steam cleaner.

  • avatar
    aja8888

    We have a Rug Doctor….it does not make steam.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    “From time to time, TTAC will highlight automotive products we think may be of interest…”

    OK, guys I understand that you have to pay the bills. But please, let’s just drop this “From time to time” charade and eliminate this bit of boilerplate. It’s just annoying when it shows up every day…

    • 0 avatar
      don1967

      Agreed.

      Not only is there no need to apologize/explain/pander to those who don’t understand economic reality, but the format of these infomercials (ie: allowing public commentary) actually makes them kinda useful.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Have the MC1375, we use it in the kitchen, bathrooms, and to steam the hardwoods.

  • avatar
    RRocket

    If you guys HAVE to do articles like this, I’d be far, far more interested if you tested the products on your own.

    It might even be fun.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      ^ This.

      Half of the stuff in these “reviews” is just probably overpriced Chinese junk which won’t last, and I’m sure some of the “reviewers” are just planted.

      It’s pretty obvious that these are simply done after an Amazon search for whatever product might be of interest, then the review is written using the top product and products related to it, again all on Amazon.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    I like this article for at least four reasons, which I will post separately later, since my spouse wants me to head down to the beach right now.

    Note to self:
    – Experience/expertise
    – Branding/licensing
    – Industrial Design vs. Styling
    – Efficacy/damage question

  • avatar
    SoCalMikester

    for me the best option has always been a washing machine. yes, the seats have to come out but most carpets can be put in a washing machine on gentle and will turn out as clean as theyll ever be. remove/replace backing as needed.

    for the seats, garden hose, detergent, and scrubbing. then more water and days of air drying in the sun. might be brave enough to undo the hogrings and wash the actual covers w/ detergent and bleach but a backup plan is needed

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    I have never used an actual steam cleaning device – either for car or home. Questions for anyone with experience:
    – Do they work?
    – Do they cause any damage to the materials in question? (~9x more energy than boiling water; this has always given me pause)

  • avatar
    don1967

    Nothing against these gadgets except the space they take up.

    I’d rather use my trusty wet/dry shop vac… just pre-soak with spray nine or something similar, then flood with hot water, then suck it up.

    • 0 avatar
      -Nate

      Not going to work on the 2016 Honda Civic I’m struggling with .

      I have no idea what those boys did inside the damn car but it’s nasty and stinks .

      After vacuuming out all the loose crap I tried soaking, scrubbing, allowing to soak, everything I’ve learned in decades of used car cleaning .

      Time to try steam I think .

      -Nate

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