If you hate to iron but love the look and feel of crisp clothes, a steamer is the appliance for you. Faster and more effective than a traditional iron, a clothes steamer will have you looking smart and perfectly pressed in a matter of minutes, but only if you maintain the appliance properly. Distilled water is a crucial step in proper steamer care. Although you can use regular tap water in your steamer, doing so forces you to routinely clean the unit and can shorten its useful life. Once you understand what tap water can do to your steamer, you'll never use it again.
Free of impurities and dissolved salts, distilled water does not corrode the inside parts of a steamer. Minerals and salts found in hard water damage and wear down the metal over time. This is especially true if you use hard water often and fail to discard it after use. Corrosion can damage the metal parts within the steam cleaner, eventually causing a system failure. Never add starch or other additives to distilled water in your steamer as this will have the same corrosive effect as hard water. Using only distilled water in your steamer is the most effective way to prevent corrosion and ensure a long useful life.
Hard water left in a steamer causes foaming. Over time, hard water thickens due to calcium carbonate, resulting in a buildup of solid, off-white material inside the steamer. If this buildup goes unnoticed and you attempt to use the steamer, it may start to foam. This foam will contain the solid calcium carbonate deposits left behind in the stale hard water and may transfer the residue onto your clothes. Distilled water becomes stale too, but won't cause foaming if you forget to empty the steamer after using it. Even distilled water can harbor bacteria, however, so do try to remember to empty the steamer after each use.
The calcium carbonate left behind by tap water not only transfers stains to your clothes, it also clogs the steamer. The buildup can become so great that it interferes with the flow of heat or of the actual steam in the steamer. As a result, the steamer takes longer to generate steam and steaming garments takes longer to complete. In other instances, the garment steamer overheats and stops functioning altogether.
If you use tap water in your steamer, you'll need to periodically clean the unit. To do so, fill the steamer 1/3 of the way with white vinegar and 2/3 distilled water. Turn the unit on and steam away about half the mixture. Turn the unit back off and let it set for 30 minutes to dissolve any remaining buildup and then empty the appliance. Distilled water eliminates the need to perform this cleaning ritual as it doesn't leave any residue behind.
Sophia Jesenia Gonzalez
Sophia Jesenia Gonzalez began writing professionally in 2005. A fashion writer and stylist based in New York City, she has worked for publications including "The Record," "New York Magazine" and "Life & Style Weekly." Gonzalez is a William J. Fulbright Scholar and holds Bachelor of Arts degrees in journalism and French from Penn State University.