I've seen steam cleaners advertised around the place and they seem like a good idea. So I was happy to get an opportunity to try one out. O.k. so - it is good, it is useful, but it's not going to suddenly turn your home into a gleaming germ-free palace. A little elbow grease is still going to be required and it's not going to take over every cleaning job in the house. But for some jobs, it has quickly made itself pretty well indispensable.
What do you get for your money? A 3metre/10ft mains cable. That is a sensible length, I think. Long enough to give you flexibility to move around, not so long that you'll be tripping over it. A range of attachments - these include a simple 15cm long nozzle, a small, stiff brush that fits on the end of the long nozzle, a window-cleaning attachment and a couple of elasticated flannel covers that fit into the window cleaner for use on furniture. Of course, you can also use the thing with no attachments at all. And a plastic beaker for measuring the correct amount of water that you can pour in at one time (260ml).
The instructions are all in pictures - no multiple languages. They are straight-forward. Unscrew the large grey nob and pour in 260ml of tap water. Screw down the nob, plug in, switch on - make sure the safety catch is set to ON while it is heating up. A red light shows that the power is on and a green light signifies when the machine has reached a working temperature. There is also a calibrated switch which allows you to select the power of the steam jet.
Once the green light is on, flick the safety switch to OFF and press the trigger. That's it really. It takes about 2.5 to 3 minutes to heat up. 260ml of water doesn't seem a huge capacity but it lasts for long enough. I didn't time it but I'd estimate between 5 and 10 minutes at 'full throttle'. Once it's empty, I think it is a good idea to let it cool down before you refill it. I didn't and as I poured in more cold water, it spat at me.
So does it work? Well, as I mentioned, it depends. It is absolutely brilliant for cleaning nooks and crannies. For example, the joins in my white uPVC double glazing seem to attract particularly stubborn dirt and this just blasts it out wonderfully. It is also excellent for cleaning the cast iron grill tops on my cooker (the little brush attachment is quite useful here). It is rather less useful for cleaning the oven. For a start, in a confined area, you quickly can't see a thing through the clouds of steam, especially if you forget to take your glasses off (yes, I know that's obvious now, but it didn't occur to me then). It also didn't make a great impact on the (formerly white) grouting between my (black) kitchen tiles - but I suspect that the grouting has perhaps yellowed with age, rather than dirt.
I tried the window cleaning attachment. I didn't really hold out much hope for it, but was very pleasantly surprised. It did tend to drip rather a lot, but it really cleaned my greasy kitchen window a treat. So that, in conjunction with blasting the seams in the window frames, makes for a Job Well Done! Generally, though, it seems to work best on small areas rather than over large work tops. It does work on large work tops, but clearly the effects are rather more diffuse.
Before you empty it, let it cool. Basically, this is a hand-held steam cooker. If you take the filling nob off before it cools, steam shoots out under pressure from both sides. It probably says that somewhere in the instructions but, well, you know...:-)
So - all in all, a very useful addition to my armoury of cleaning products. It is, perhaps, a little specialised - i.e. nooks and crannies - but I have no other tool as good at doing what this does as well as this does what it does well. If you see what I mean. I haven't tried the furniture attachment as most of my furniture is covered in throws, so it's a bit superfluous. But, on top of doing what it does etc., it also does it with no chemicals (aside from H2O), no abrasives and no detergents. Yes, so now I've got Steam Heat
!.. (Sorry - just couldn't resist it :-)).