Is the steam feature on a washing machine useful?

I’m looking to buy a new front loading washing machine. The major difference I see between the $600-800 machines and the $800+ machines is that the more expensive ones have a steam cycle, in which steam is used to clean the clothes. The only “reviews” I can find are just restatements of the manufacturers’ marketing material. Steam cleans gently, steam removes allergens, steam loosens tough dirt, steam is green, etc. None say whether steam actually does any of these things better than a non-steam cycle. Additionally, most of these washers also have some kind of “cold water wash technology” so cold water “cleans as well as warm” which is a bit in conflict with the “steam gets your clothes hot so it cleans better” on the same page.

Anyway, does anybody have experience with steam washing? I’m sure it works fine, but does it work enough better than regular washing to be worth using? It’s a big jump from $650 to $1000 for a washing machine, but I’ll pay for something that works better.

I can assume by the lack of responses that nobody has used the steam feature on a washing machine to remove red wine from a wedding dress, or some such miracle.

My current washing machine has steam cycles - I’ve had it for a year or so, and probably used it less than 10 times. We tend to use it on the kids sheets during pollen season, since it claims that steam is the best way to remove allergens. IIRC, you can only use it on things that are hot water safe anyway, so I’ve been reluctant to try it on clothes.

I’ve never heard of using steam. I wonder how steam would be gentler - steam is 100 C hot! Compared to delicate clothes which are washed with 40 and 30 C (and gentle motions), and the most gentlest program is wool which is 30 C (handwarm water), I have severe doubts how boiling steam would not damage delicate clothes.

As for getting clean, here in Germany both the enviromentalists, the consumer advocates and now the manufacturers of washing powder and washing machines keep saying that you don’t need to “boil” (wash at 95 C) your clothes under normal circumstances (Exceptions: somebody has scarlet fever or salmonella. Normal bacteria are killed at 60 C).

The new trend is even to wash less at 60 C and more at 40 C.

I would look first at how much water and energy (for heating up the water) the machine uses, because that’s what adds up over the next 10 years.

If the machine actually uses steam, is it air-tight so the steam can’t escape? How likely is it to scald yourself? Does the manufacturer adress this sensible or just marketing hype blabla?

Have you asked your local consumer advocate group, maybe they have tested this?

When I was looking, it seemed like families with young children were more apt to select washers with the steam feature for sanitizing clothes after whatever mishap. Since my husband and I don’t have kids (and don’t plan to in the future), I went with a cheaper model. Mine still gets sheets and towels plenty clean, and I’m not worried about them not being cleaned with steam.

According to my washer’s manual, it injects steam into the drum during the wash cycle. The drum itself is not a pressure vessel, though it is obviously water tight. The door stays locked until the cycle is done, so burning yourself isn’t an issue. No idea if they’re generating actual steam or just very hot water vapor.

BTW, echoreply, if you’re not in a hurry, late spring/early summer seems to be when a lot of appliiances go on sale. We got our front loader last June for something like 30% off recommended retail. And remember that the whole pairing of “matching” washer & dryer for the same price is nonsense - you can get a nice washer and a cheaper dryer.

Based on the replies so far, it does seem that the steam is mostly a gimmick. Not that it doesn’t work, but it’s nothing I’d use frequently, because it’s so much better than just a plain wash cycle.

I’m looking at front loading machines, which use much less water than top loading machines. The cheap machines don’t heat the water, but for $100 more I can get one with a heater that can bring the water to 158F. I don’t see a need for that, and any washing which needs “sanitary” (as the extra-hot cycle is called) can run with bleach.

That’s why I’m going with a gas dryer, even though it’s $50-100 more up front. It should save me (at current prices for gas and electricity) about $0.18/load. The gas line is already in place, though with an electric dryer. Of course not using the dryer at all saves more, and I almost always hang clothes up damp.

Yeah, pricing is a bit annoying. The “regular” price at Home Depot, Best Buy, etc. is more than MSRP, and the sale prices tend to be at or below MSRP. Based on web searches these prices aren’t actually out of line. I’ve been noticing that they’re constantly on sale, because one sale expires, and then a new one starts up within a week.

I’ll be getting the cheapest gas dryer which will stack with washer.

FWIW, if you have or will soon have very young kids, the sanitary cycle (extra hot water) is useful for getting accidents out of clothes & sheets. On an old top loader, you’d have plenty of water to dilute the urine & get it out of the fabric. With low water front loaders, it’s a lot harder. The sanitary cycle works well for that.

I’m not sure if this is exactly what you are talking about, but my dryer back in the US had a 10-minute steam cycle for getting out rinses and obviating the need for ironing. It worked like a charm and I miss it dearly.