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Best Steam Cleaners for Auto Detailing

When it comes to detailing your vehicle, the care is…

…well, all in the details.

Put the bucket of soapy water and the chemical-laden upholstery spray down and discover the difference a quality steam cleaner makes.

One of my favorites is the McCulloch MC1275, a robust tool heralded among professionals and hobbyists alike. With a 48-ounce water tank, 45 minutes of steam, over a dozen accessories, and convenient mobility, this particular machine helps you get the job done.

…and well…

Just don’t be surprised when the neighbors start poking their heads in to your garage to see how you got your car to look so clean in such short time.

Top 3 Portable Steam Cleaners for Car Detailing:

McCulloch MC1275 Heavy-Duty Steam...McCulloch MC1275 Heavy-Duty Steam...Check Price at Amazon
Vapamore MR-100 Primo Steam Cleaner with...Vapamore MR-100 Primo Steam Cleaner with...Check Price at Amazon
PurSteam Handheld Pressurized Steam...PurSteam Handheld Pressurized Steam...Check Price at Amazon

Who Can Benefit from Using an Automotive Steam Cleaner?

 Whether you’re a car collector who restores old vehicles, own a mobile detailing service, or deep-clean your luxury car regularly after long weekend drives, steam-cleaning your vehicle lifts dirt, erases streaks, eliminates odors, kills bacteria, and reconditions interiors.

Because steam is naturally-occurring, it doesn’t use harsh cleaning agents or detergents like most upholstery cleaning products do. It’s also very hot so it sanitizes, again without the use of harsh chemicals.

How Can a Car Steam Cleaner be Used?

Often referred to as car upholstery steam cleaners, a quality steam cleaner can be used for so much more than just seats, carpet, and door inserts. They can be used on the exterior and interior of a car, plus many can be brought indoors to clean and sanitize carpet, furniture, curtains, grout, and pet beds, too.

In your car interior, a steam cleaner can be used to clean floor mats, carpet, headliners, cloth seats, leather upholstery, door panels, dash panels, trim, door jambs, vents, seat belts, and the little nooks-and-crannies that are hard to reach.

In the home steam cleaners can be used for all sorts of surfaces including carpets, doorways, tiles, grout, countertops, appliances, etc… Steam cleaners are really versatile tools.

Be sure to test a small, inconspicuous spot before using your steam cleaner on any surface you haven’t cleaned before and avoid using the steam cleaner on water-based paint, delicate fabrics, or hardwood floors.

Using a steam cleaner is simple, so picking out a machine that works best for you should be, too. While handheld models are more affordable, a portable upright model is more efficient, provides more control, and doesn’t require as many water refills during use.

McCulloch MC1275 – Best Auto Detailing Steam Cleaner

McCulloch MC1275 Heavy-Duty Steam...
  • SATISFACTION GUARANTEED - Backed by a 2-year hassle-free...
  • CHEMICAL-FREE CLEANING - Naturally deep clean without the...
  • LARGE CAPACITY TANK - The 48-ounce water tank heats up in...
  • 18 VERSATILE ACCESSORIES - Equipped for steam cleaning jobs...
  • SUPERIOR REACH - An extra-long 15. 7-foot power cord and...


  • Doesn’t require the use of harsh chemicals; water gets hot enough to sanitize
  • Powerful jet nozzle to help focus the flow of the steam
  • Includes 15-foot power cord and caster wheels that provide range in garage/workshop and allow to clean hard-to-reach spots
  • Over a dozen accessories included, like a triangle brush, nylon and brass utility brushes, extension wands, steam jet nozzle, water funnel, and more
  • Comes with floor mop attachment, should you ever need to win over your mother-in-law by deep-cleaning her kitchen and bathroom tile
  • Lightweight (10 pounds) so it’s easy on your back
  • Easy to store in upright position
  • Appears to product stronger steam and is more reliable than the MC1375


  • Attachments made with heavy-duty plastic, but if using daily, may need replacements within a year or two
  • Can’t see the tank during use, so hard to tell when more water is needed for longer detailing sessions

The MC1275 heats up quickly, clocking in at just under 8-10 minutes starting with cold water. The pressure stays consistent even after long detailing sessions.

It’s a great tool for just about every surface and soil in the car including sticky cup holders, chewing gum and candy, tight spaces, vents, upholstery, carpets, headliners, leather, and dash and door panels and trim.

For the average sized car the cord and hose are more than long enough to reach all the way around and through the car without putting pressure on and dragging on the door sills.

The 48-ounce tank provides up to 45 minutes of steam and is just enough to complete cleaning an average sized car’s interior. If the interior really bad you’ll likely still end up using two tanks. If you’re working on larger vehicles like SUVs or extended cab trucks and vans then you might want to upgrade to the MC1385 which has  a 64oz tank and provides up to two hours of steam.

The only real drawbacks to this machine for car detailing purposes is that after repeated bending and twisting of the hose the outer most protective coating has been known to flake off. This is after a hundred or more hours of production detailing use though, not likely to be an issue for the enthusiasts or shade tree detailer.

Aside from cleaning and detailing the interior this steam machine can help remove grime from wheels, engines, and chrome accessories as well as clean floors and other surfaces inside your home. It’s one of the few tools in the detailing world that is good for more than just cars which really stretches your dollars out.

This is a very straight-forward product with a plethora of attachments and capabilities. If you’re in the market for a new steam cleaner, this is the best bang for your buck.

MC1275 vs MC1375

The reason I recommend the MC1275 over the MC1375 is that the MC1275 appears to more reliable and, oddly enough, produces more steam. My guess is that the MC1375 had less R&D and QC time put into it after the success of the MC1275.

MC1275 vs Harbor Freight Central Machinery 1500 Watt Steamer

I also cannot recommend the Harbor Freight version of this steamer, the Central Machinery 1500 watt Steamer. The quality on that one is very hit or miss. The $40 savings quickly diminishes when you end up taking multiple trips to the store to swap them out until you get a good one.

Vapamore MR-100 – Best Premium Car Detailing Steam Cleaner

Vapamore MR-100 Primo Steam Cleaner with...
  • PROFESSIONAL-GRADE CLEANING - Bring professional-grade steam...
  • SANITIZE WITHOUT CHEMICALS - The Vapamore MR-100 Primo Steam...
  • OVER 20 ATTACHMENTS - With a retractable cord and over 20...
  • LIFETIME WARRANTY - Built for a lifetime of use, the value...
  • THE VAPAMORE DIFFERENCE - Founded in Italy, the origin of...


  • Provides an entire hour of operation per tank (compared to 45 minutes with the McCulloch MC1275) with 50 PSI
  • Newest model was recently redesigned with upgraded tools and accessories
  • Includes lifetime warranty on unit and parts


  • Advertised as getting as hot as 220 degrees Fahrenheit, but doesn’t seem to reach full temperature capacity
  • No indication of the amount of water left in the tank, like the McCulloch MC1275, so volume available is not obvious while unit is in use
  • User must pay shipping when replacing parts, etc…

The Vapamore MR-100 is bigger than the McCulloch MC1275, but it’s not necessarily better. Sure, the PSI output is a little higher, the power cord is a little lengthier, and the tank is a little bigger to help the steam cleaner run a little longer, but it’s over $180 more than the McCulloch MC1275 on average and isn’t necessarily worth double the cost for the minimal difference in features.

Recently redesigned, the Vapamore MR-100 has corrected its issue with dribbling water coming from the hose; older models emitted less steam causing liquid water to drip onto upholstery and carpets. The newest model includes a stainless steel boiler, an adjustable steam output, a solenoid-operated steam valve, and new accessories.

While this ultramodern vapor steam cleaner looks swanky and touts upgraded features, using a unit like the McCulloch MC1275 is more than sufficient for enthusiast vehicle detailing. The Vapamore MR-100 is a stellar choice for dirty jobs like pest control and deep-cleaning grout lines, but unless you’re running a commercial production detail shop, you probably don’t need a swanky machine like the Vapamore MR-100.

PurSteam Handheld – Best Budget Vapor Steam Cleaner for Auto Detailing

PurSteam Handheld Pressurized Steam...
  • Multi-Purpose Cleaning — The PurSteam handheld steam...
  • Lightweight for Portable Use — With a small and handheld...
  • Fast-heating Time — Give your space a 360° cleaning...
  • Safe for Pets and More — Freshen up bedding and furniture...
  • 9-piece Accessory Set — The Pursteam handheld steam...


  • Includes nine accessories like nozzles, measuring cup, funnel, and towel sleeve
  • Small size is adaptable for household uses like insect infestations and de-wrinkling clothing
  • Effectively loosens grime and dirt on a variety of surfaces


  • The brush attachment swivels during use so spot-cleaning can be tricky

For commercial detailing services and automotive restoration projects, you definitely want something durable and powerful like the McCulloch MC1275 or Vapamore MR-100 to eradicate stains and eliminate grease. But if you are simply a habitual cleaner and just enjoy cruising along the lake in a sparkling, spotless car, you don’t need more than a small handheld pressurized steam cleaner like the DBTech.

The DBTech only needs 2-3 minutes to heat up and can perform for 15 minutes per 8 ounces of water. At $29.99, this is the best bargain find with proven results.

This little machine doesn’t perform the same miracles as the McCulloch MC1275, but for just under $30, it can get lots of small jobs done.

In Summary

There are many ways to deep clean a car, but steam cleaning is cost-effective, saves time, and eliminates the use of cleaning products with harsh chemicals. It’s also safer on upholstery and carpet because it doesn’t soak the foam backing.

Add a McCulloch MC1275 to your detailing routine and you’ll reduce the time it takes you to perform professional level detail.

Don’t be surprised if you see an increase in customer referrals with your detailing business or find yourself offering a full detail to your neighbor (in exchange for his prized smoke ribs, of course) once you start using the McCulloch MC1375 – it’s just that good having a steam cleaner.

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