Does Steaming Clothes Clean Them

Clothes steamers are primarily focused on removing wrinkles. However, if you’re wondering whether steaming disinfects clothes, or is better than washing them, this article will help you find the answer.

Does Steaming Clothes Clean Them?

Yes and no. Steaming clothes can loosen dirt, kill bacteria, and even help remove stains. Unfortunately, it doesn’t magically wash them away. This still requires soap, hot water, and friction from good ol’ fashioned washing.

You can steam your clothing a couple of times after wearing them, but you may not be able to avoid washing them completely.

See our review of the Best Clothes Steamers money can buy.

Can you Steam Clothes Instead of Washing Them?

You might be able to get away with it once or twice as long as there is not too much bacteria or dirt build-up!

1. Steaming Bacteria

Bacteria require three things to multiply. Moisture, slightly acidic PH levels, and something to feed on. It just so happens that sweat has all three.

Firstly, single-cell organisms need moisture to reproduce. Sweaty-wetty? Secondly, sweat is just slightly acidic at PH6.3. Thirdly, while sweating, apocrine glands under our arms and between our legs secrete fatty chemicals called lipids. This is what really gives bacteria the yummies!

Steam can kill the bacteria but might won’t wash it away.

Skip to Does Steaming Sanitize Clothes?

2. Steaming Dirt and Stains

A clothes steamer might help loosen dirt and even stains from fabric, but it won’t make them disappear. The dirt has to go somewhere, right?

Washing is the only way to transport the unwanted gunk away from the fabric. Without washing, the dirt is still there. It’s just a little spread out.

Skip to Does Steam Cleaning Clothes Remove Stains?

Is steaming clothes better than washing?

No. In summary, you can steam clothes to remove wrinkles and even help remove bacteria and stains, but steaming clothes does not replace washing. Ultimately, you will still always need to wash your clothing.


Does Steam Cleaning Clothes Remove Odor and Sanitize?

Yes. Odors are caused by bacteria growing in the sweat secretions from the body. Ew!

These bacteria are made up of protein bonds that string together.

Steam has a temperature of 212F (100C) which is enough to “denature” these protein bonds and essentially kill the bacteria.

If applied correctly, the clothes steamer will completely kill all bacteria and sanitizes the garment, leaving nothing but cytoplasm, ribosomes, and leftover DNA. (OK… seriously gross)

Note that the clothes will still need to be washed afterward to completely remove the “aftermath” from the fabric.

Does Steam Cleaning Clothes Remove Stains

Yes, it helps. Stains are caused by pigmented particles stuck onto or in between the fibers of the fabric.

This can be anything from vegetable oils, chocolate, coffee, blood, and plain old dirt.

They are either tangled and stuck between the fibers or they are simply stuck onto it with gunky, gluey oils.

Steam is able to penetrate the bonds that keep the stain particles attached to the fibers and loosen them on a microscopic level.

For really stubborn stains, you can even combine the steam with a soap spray to help loosen the particles.

Can You Dry Clean with a Steamer

Yes. Steaming your clothes is a cheap DIY way of saving thousands per year in dry-cleaning costs.

It will never be as perfect as the pros do it but it will work. You just need to check the label and be very sure that it’s allowed (depending on the fabric and garment type).

Dry-cleaners use chemical solvents (like tetrachloroethylene or perchloroethylene) to help clean the clothing while steaming it.

Since you’ll be using steam only, your results might not be as perfect.

You may even get the same amount of wrinkle removal but still lack results when it comes to the actual cleaning of the clothing.

Perhaps consider steaming the clothes yourself a few times and then dry-cleaning them whenever you deem necessary.

It’s all about the benjamins. You may have to weigh up the cost of a steamer with the frequency that you’ll be using a dry-cleaner to see which works better for you.

Also, consider the time and convenience involved.

In Summary

I did a quick survey here in the office and it seems like the results are quite divided.

Some folks are happy to steam a dress shirt and then wear it several times before washing.

Others, disagree and would never steam a shirt instead of washing it. They insist that a steamer is for getting rid of wrinkles only.

If you bought a clothes steamer to iron less, perfect.

If you bought a clothes steamer to wash less, sure.

If you want to avoid some dry-cleaning bills, great.

If you bought a clothes steamer to avoid washing completely, forget about it.