What Is a Handheld Steamer and How Does it Work?

By: Annabel Love
9 minute read

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Being able to have wrinkle-free, smooth attire shouldn’t be predicated on whether or not you have the space to fit a traditional clothing iron and ironing board in your living space. Thankfully, there are ways around that with the new and improved portable appliances out there. 

Whether you’re a college student living in a dorm or an adult with a spacious house, a handheld steamer is a must-have for straightening out those stubborn wrinkles in your clothing.

Read on to learn all about handheld steamers and how they work.

Attention: Use discount code "SHOP10" at checkout to save 10% on The Nori Press!

What Is a Handheld Steamer?

A handheld steamer is a smaller version of a clothing steamer, which is an appliance that quickly omits wrinkles and creases from clothing using high temperatures of steam. 

Clothing steamers come in three different sizes: the commercial floor models that are often seen at dry cleaners, the mid-sized models that are used in small businesses or at home, and the most recent innovation known as the handheld steamers that are great for travel and quick touch-ups.

The larger and more traditional clothing steamers usually come with several features, including a temperature dial, steam nozzle, water tank (or reservoir), clothing hangers or pegs, caster wheels, and a crease clip. Since handheld steamers are on the smaller side, they usually don’t come with all of those features. Still, they are the more popular product given that they are easy to use and portable.

Generally, steamers all work the same way. When the appliance is turned on, the water in the water reservoir gets heated up, thus producing steam. The device can then be swept over the clothing, and the hot steam removes any and all unwanted wrinkles. 

Steamers vs. Clothing Irons

You may be thinking that steamers sound very similar to clothing irons (dry irons). Although they are very similar and are both used to remove wrinkles from clothes, there are a few key differences that set them apart from each other.

Clothing irons use hot soleplates that are pressed onto the fabric of the clothing to remove wrinkles. The pressure along with the heat flattens and stretches the fabric, thus allowing it to hold a new, wrinkle-free shape once it cools. 

Meanwhile, steamers use hot steam that doesn’t need to be in direct contact with the clothing. Steamers relax the fibers of the clothing rather than using heavy pressure on them like irons do, which helps to prevent scorching and is much gentler on the clothing. 

There are definitely a lot of pros and cons to clothing steamers and irons, however in general, they both hold value in different ways and in different instances. Delicate materials like silk are best treated with a dry iron. Water (including sweat and perfume) have been known to damage silk or contribute to color fading.

However, if you have a beautiful pair of wool pants you love, treat them best with a steam iron. Wool can be more resistant, so the steam can help soothe those stubborn creases. 

You don’t necessarily need to choose between one or the other when purchasing an appliance that can smooth out your clothes. That is, you can look into a steam iron, which can give you the best of both worlds. Steam irons function with both hot soleplates and steam and can switch between being a clothing iron or steamer, depending on your needs.

A great example of this is our premier, wrinkle-removal product the Nori Press, which is designed to press, steam, and refresh your clothes in the simplest way possible. With features such as durable non-stick aluminum plates and a 29-millimeter water tank, this product can double as a steamer and a dry iron. Switching back and forth between these modes is easy and simple.

Benefits to Handheld Steamers

Now let’s get back to handheld steamers. Besides being a great tool for delicate clothing, there are so many other additional benefits that come with their use.

As mentioned earlier, handheld steamers are really great for traveling, as they are extremely portable, lightweight, and easy to use. Ironing your clothes before you pack for vacation is no match for the inevitable wrinkles that show up after being compressed in a suitcase for hours. 

Thankfully, handheld steamers take up about as much space as a hair straightener and can easily be brought with you for some wrinkle-removing touch-ups.

If you’re staying at a hotel while traveling, sometimes your room comes with an iron and ironing board. Although you could take the chance and hope your hotel offers that, a handheld steamer saves a lot more time than an iron, as it can remove wrinkles much more quickly and efficiently than an iron. On top of that, you also don’t have to worry about accidentally damaging your clothes from the heat or stress about the quality of the hotel’s iron. 

The small size of steamers doesn’t just come in handy when you’re traveling. If you’re someone who de-wrinkles their clothes every day with an iron, you’re no stranger to the tedious process of clearing out space in your room, pulling out the ironing board, waiting for the iron to heat up, and going at those stubborn wrinkles for what feels like hours. 

With handheld steamers, there’s no hassle at all and takes up hardly any space. This is really beneficial for those living in small apartments or dorms. When there’s minimal space, you have to work smarter, not harder, and handheld steamers are the way to go for wrinkle-free clothes in no time. 

The benefits go beyond just portability and versatility for handheld steamers. These products can freshen your clothing, as well as remove 99.9% of bacteria, germs, and dust mites. In fact, a recent study found that high-heat steamers can help inactivate viruses on clothing and accessories. With that in mind, your fresh, wrinkle-free look is sure to make you feel great in many more ways than one. 

How Does It Work?

So how exactly does a handheld steamer work? Don’t worry; it’s not as complicated as you may think. 

Like we said earlier, hot steam is the key to wrinkle removal with this product, as it loosens the bonds between polymer molecules in the fabric. Usually, the device doesn’t come in direct contact with the fabric. However, some, such as The Nori Press, work a little differently.

The Nori Press looks and operates very similarly to a hair straightener. When you want to steam your clothes, you fill the water reservoir and smooth over your fabric with the clamp-like mechanism. This, coupled with the steam reservoir that’s designed for controlled steam release, is perfect for efficiently smoothing out both sides of the fabric at once. The Nori Press saves you a lot of time and effort.

Some handheld steamers may come with temperature settings, which can make your life much easier. The Nori Press, for example, comes with six fabric-specific heating settings, including Poly, Silk, Wool, Cotton, Denim, and Linen. So instead of waiting for your device to cool down when switching from a material that requires ironing to steaming, you can simply change the setting and proceed.

What To Put In It

When it comes to steamers, people love to get creative with what they put inside it. However, your device can only handle certain liquids, and it’s better to stick to one of the safest options: distilled water. 

Distilled water is free of any impurities, minerals, and salts that are often found in hard water. Because of this, it doesn’t corrode the inside of your steamer or cause any other issues that would impact the steamer down the road. To ensure longevity, it's important to put the right liquids in the device as well as clean it regularly and properly. 

A common mistake that people make when using steamers is they fill the water tank with fabric softener, hoping that it can give their clothes a fresh smell in the steaming process. Just like hard water or tap water, fabric softener can damage the inside of the device and is therefore not recommended. 

However, that doesn’t have to hold you back from getting a fresh scent on your newly steamed clothes! If that’s what you’re looking for, try using the Fabric Facial instead of distilled water in your steamer. 

This product has a subtle fragrance that is blended with a deodorizing technology to remove any unwanted odors. It also serves as a sanitizing agent for your clothes and can prevent calcification within the steamer. Just fill it into the slot of the steamer, and you’ll be left with fresh, wrinkle-free clothes. Distilled water is good, but a Fabric Facial is best. We all love getting facials; our clothes deserve the same luxury! 

Happy Steaming!

No matter who you are or what your living space looks like, a handheld steamer is a must-have. Say goodbye to those pesky wrinkles that never seem to go away no matter how long and hard you work to remove them: they’re no match for handheld steamers. 


Iron vs. Steamer: Which is Best for Your Menswear Wardrobe? | The Gentleman's Gazette 

Why Do You Need Distilled Water for a Clothes Steamer? | Hunker 

How to Kill Germs in the Laundry | NY Times

Attention: Use discount code "SHOP10" at checkout to save 10% on The Nori Press!

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