What is a Garment Steamer?

Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel

A garment steamer is a device that is used to release wrinkles from clothing. Steamers are often used by clothing companies and clothing stores to prepare garments for sale or display. They are meant to function as a fast and effective substitute for ironing. The speed with which a garment steamer releases wrinkles from an article of clothing is especially important in commercial and industrial use when hundreds of garments may require attention in a single day.

Clothing stores often use garment steamers to maintain the appearance of their apparel.
Clothing stores often use garment steamers to maintain the appearance of their apparel.

Although it is possible to find steamers in many different shapes and sizes, there is one model that is the most common. The most common kind of garment steamer has a water well at the base, a long metal rod that extends up to five feet (about 1.5 meters) above the base, and a flexible rubber tube that carries the steam from the base up to a wide nozzle. When the steamer is plugged in, the water in the base begins to heat up quickly, creating steam which rises through the tube and out through the nozzle. The tall rod is designed so that a garment can be hung upon it with a hanger.

Clothes can be pressed more quickly and more gently with fabric steamers than with irons.
Clothes can be pressed more quickly and more gently with fabric steamers than with irons.

Once the garment has been hung on the rod and the steam has begun to rise, the nozzle can be brushed over a wrinkled garment. Many people know the trick of hanging a wrinkled garment in the bathroom while showering in order to release wrinkles. A garment steamer functions on the same principle, but the steam is more concentrated.

Depending on how deeply wrinkled a piece of clothing is and how thick its material is, the time that it takes to steam a garment varies. This time also varies based on the power and quality of the garment steamer as well as the size of the item of clothing. Many garments made of cotton, wool, and blends including these two types of fibers can be completely steamed in a minute or less.

While garment steamers are most commonly used for commercial and industrial purposes, there are models that are intended for personal use at home. In fact, there are also some very compact models that can be used while traveling. This can be particularly helpful for people who travel on a regular basis for professional reasons. Hotel ironing services can be quite expensive and a good portable garment steamer can remove wrinkles from suits and dresses that have spent hours or even days crammed into a suitcase.

Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel

In addition to her work as a freelance writer for wiseGEEK, Diane is the executive editor of Black Lawrence Press, an independent publishing company based in upstate New York. She has also edited several anthologies, the e-newsletter Sapling, and The Adirondack Review. Diane has a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and an M.A. from Brooklyn College.

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Discussion Comments


For those that like to scent your clothing by adding a little extra something to your ironing water do not do this with a garment steamer. I made the mistake of adding a bit of perfume to my steamer's water and it ended up staining my favorite blouse. I am not sure why this was a problem, as it had always worked with my iron but I guess it was a lesson learned the hard way.

After the incident I found out that adding anything to a steamer's water can actually block the vents and damage the steamer. I guess it is just good for plain old water.


For those that like to travel a lot or have to, you can actually pickup a travel garment steamer pretty cheaply. For around $20 you can get a small one that does a decent job at getting out mild wrinkles caused by packing.

For myself I prefer to carry my own travel-sized garment steamer because not all hotels provide irons. This is especially true if you are budget conscious and staying at less expensive places.

From experience I can tell you that the portable garment steamers aren't good for deep wrinkles. If you have really squished your clothes into a bag it may be too much for the small garment steamers to handle.


My mom and I got a steamer for my sister as a wedding gift. The brand said that it could be used for all sorts of fabrics. We thought it would be a perfect gift for the groom who has to wear suits everyday. It's also great for smoothing out curtains.

Ironing curtains is such a pain because they are so large. It can take hours literally! The steamer is great because after washing it, you can hang up the curtains and then just use the steamer to smooth everything out.

My sis said that she has already used it about ten times and that she loves it! I think I might ask for the same gift when I get married.


I bought a sunbeam garment steamer a few years ago and really love it. I was tired of taking clothes to the dry cleaners, but really enjoy wearing clothes that are free of wrinkles.

I like to steam several items of clothing at once. It doesn't take very long and that way everything is always ready to wear.

I remember my mom spending hours ironing clothes when I was growing up. She would even iron the sheets! I have talked to other people who have also done this, but there is no way I would spend my time doing that.

The garment steamer works great and I never get out the iron anymore. I wish I had bought one a long time ago.


While I do own an iron and an ironing board, they never get used. If I have to wear an item of clothing that needs to be ironed, it gets sent to the cleaners.

This can get kind of expensive after awhile, and I have always been interested in owning a garment steamer. I think using a hand held garment steamer would be a more effective and safer way to iron.

You wouldn't have to worry about burning yourself, or leaving the iron on when you were done. I am not very good at ironing and always seem to leave creases somewhere on the clothes. I think a garment steamer would do a much better job than I would.


@ceilingcat - I have a small garment steamer at home and I love it. I hate ironing too, and now that I have the garment steamer I don't have to iron anymore. It's great.

I also found another convenient use for my garment steamer: blocking my hand knits. After you finish knitting there are a few ways you can block your finished pieces and steaming is one of them. It's also the easiest in my opinion.

I've also seen a few at-home steamers that have attachments for cleaning. Those seems quite handy too!


I've been seriously considering buying an at-home garment steamer. I've seen a few models that aren't that expensive.

I just hate ironing. And I'm also not very good at it! It seems like no matter what I do, my clothes still end up wrinkly. I feel like a garment steamer would really help me with this problem.

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