6 best steam generators 2017: even better than a steam iron for removing creases

Philips leads the way when it's time to really iron the crap out of huge mountains of corrugated laundry

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Ironing large piles of laundry is a time-consuming task that is almost as tedious as washing dishes. But there is a way to make life a little easier and it’s called a steam generator. 

This writer’s scoured the web and called in a quintet of these handy steam-billowing household helpers and put them to the test using more crumpled shirts, jeans and large unwieldy duvet covers than I care to remember. You can either read on for the results or take it from me that the Philips PerfectCare Elite is the best you can get without spending an eye-watering amount of money.

What's that, you want to spend an eye-watering amount of money? In that case its pricier sibling, the Philips PerfectCare Elite Plus is absolutely stellar.

What is a steam generator, then?

Steam is a crease’s arch adversary, so it stands to reason that the more steam you have at your fingertips the easier the task.

Steam generators work in the same way as bog standard irons, only they’re a lot more powerful and therefore faster, easier and more efficient for ironing large amounts of laundry. 

Unlike a standard iron, a steam generator is comprised of a unit containing a water reservoir, boiler and pump that connects to a lightweight iron via a length of rubber hosing. 

This separation of components allows steam generators to produce far greater volumes of continuous high-pressure steam and, in most cases, stupendously powerful steam boosts for tricky fabrics and heavy creases. For instance, where a common or garden iron kicks out around 55 grams per minute of continuous steam, a good steam generator is capable of discharging between 120g/min and a whopping 165g/min. You can also use the iron unit vertically for steaming curtains and suits.

 However, steam generators do have a number of disadvantages. They’re more expensive than irons, they take up to three minutes to warm up, and their base units are quite heavy and bulky and ideally need to be used on a steam generator-specific ironing board (Brabantia produces an excellent range of sturdy models). They also tend to make a loud-ish buzzing noise while the steam is being pumped from the main unit to the iron.

However, if you regularly deal with a lot of laundry, a steam generator will certainly make life much easier. Obviously, if you only iron shirts for weddings and funerals, they could be slight overkill.

The best steam generators you can buy

1. Philips PerfectCare Elite Steam Generator

The best steam generator pound for pound

Specifications
Key features: one temp, auto steam, easy descale
Tank capacity: 1.8 litres
Continuous steam: 135g/min
Steam boost: 420g
Reasons to buy
+High pressure steam+Superb iron
Reasons to avoid
-Takes a few minutes to heat up
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This pales in comparison with the Elite Plus and Elite Silence but the older, cheaper Philips steam generator is still a formidable performer.

The hefty, 1.8-litre water reservoir pumps out steam at a suitably high-pressure 120 g/min. The iron part of the combo is as light and elegant as the pump is hefty and businesslike, gliding over clothes like an air hockey puck. The button-fired 470g steam boost is enough to flatten most creases.

The Philips PerfectCare system involves no temperature controls, flattening everything from silk to denim (not that you should iron jeans, but you get my drift) without having to change the temperature setting. 

Even more magically, you can leave the iron face down on any fabric – even silk – and, somehow, it will not burn

Add Philips' effective Easy De-Calc Plus lime descaler function and you can be sure this smooth operator will remain gunk-free for years to come. It's quite expensive, but you get what you pay for. And compared to more recent additions to the Philips range, it feels like a steal.

2. Philips PerfectCare Elite Plus GC9682/86

The best steam generator bar none

Specifications
Key features: one temp, auto steam, easy descale
Tank capacity: 1.8 litres
Continuous steam: 165g/min
Steam boost: 600g
Reasons to buy
+Superb no-burn technology+Massive steam output+Automatic steam control
Reasons to avoid
-Extraordinarily expensive
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This hot-off-the-production-line, copper-coloured model is now the most expensive in the Philips range. It has the same large, detachable, 1.8-litre water reservoir as the Elite, and the same excellent Easy De-Calc Plus lime descaler.  

However, it continually pumps steam at a higher-pressure 165g/min, then, when  you need a bigger blast, a double tap of the button unleashes an industry-leading 600g boost of Hurricane Brian proportions. 

As with all PerfectCare models, this high-end option uses the company’s ingenious OptimalTEMP technology to control the heat of the soleplate so you can swap from delicates to heavy cotton without having to fiddle with a temperature dial. 

So remarkable is this system that you can even leave the iron face down on your favourite silk shirt without burning a dirty great hole in it. Needless to say, many other manufacturers are now employing their own single-temp tech in an effort to catch up, but the Philips system remains best.

The steam is automatically regulated using Philips’ DynamiQ sensor system, which detects when and how fast the iron is moving and adjusts the steam pressure accordingly.

The simplicity alone guarantees this cool, futuristic and supremely efficient model an unequivocal high five. Whether you fancy the high asking price is up to you. 

3. Braun CareStyle 5 IS 5043

Best cheaper steam generator option

Specifications
Power: 2,400 watts
Tank capacity: 1.4 litres
Other features: easy lock, designed to glide over buttons and zips
Dimensions: 18 x 36 x 28cm
Reasons to buy
+Designed for regular ironers+Easy lock and stowage
Reasons to avoid
-Not as good as the Philips ones
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The BraunCarestyle 5 steam generator is perfect for large piles of laundry and delicate clothing though it’s not as attractive or effective as the Philips PerfectCare – it is somewhat cheaper, mind. 

iCare is Braun's smart textile protection system, setting the right temperature for every fabric. Steam distribution is powerful (6 bar) and even from the 1.4-litre reservoir, with an Eco-mode for those saving the planet, and cash. 

Best of all, the Eloxal 3D BackGlide soleplate consists of smooth, rounded edges, allowing the iron to almost glide over fabrics forwards and backwards. It’s also durable, so you can iron over zips and buttons without needing to worry about scratches.

Overall, a very credible, cheaper (though not 'cheap') alternative to a Philips. 

4. Tefal GV8932 Pro Express Plus

Another cracking steam generator

Specifications
Key features: Durilium soleplate, easy descale
Tank capacity: 1.6 litres
Continuous steam: 120g/min
Reasons to buy
+Excellent descaling system+Powerful steam boost
Reasons to avoid
-A smaller water reservoir
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This Tefal model is an excellent workhorse that’ll deal with large quantities of laundry with little fuss. 

This steam station produces an industry-standard 120g/min of continuous steam and crease-busting boosts of 400g when required. Its small, removable 1.6-litre reservoir provides more than enough steam-generating water for several large piles of laundry while its Durilium Airglide auto-clean soleplate sails over any fabric you throw at it.

While this iron doesn’t sport the one-temp tech of the Philips or Braun, it’s still pretty easy to use since it has just three iron settings: delicate, normal and jeans. Even the most inexperienced domestic work-shy should be able to get a handle on that.

Descaling is an equally easy, no-mess process. Just remove the scale collector and empty the tiny lime pellets. And when it’s time to pack up, pull on the mains cable and it automatically retracts into its housing. Nice.

The hand unit is a bit heavier than it needs to be, perhaps. Otherwise, an excellent choice, especially if you see it on special offer.

5. Rowenta Silence Steam DG 8960

Best for unswerving reliability

Specifications
Key features: near-silent operation
Tank capacity: 1.5 litres
Continuous steam: 120g/min
Steam boost: 260g
Reasons to buy
+Proven reliability+Great performer
Reasons to avoid
-Heavy-ish iron unit-Expensive
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Our longest-running entry, the ultra tough and hugely efficient Silence Steam is in here for one good reason. This hasn’t been updated by Rowenta since I originally reviewed it way back in 2013, and mine is still going strong. Why change a good thing?

I actually donated mine to a London fabric shop about three years ago and it’s still running perfectly, even though it’s been used every single day. It’s even been dropped on a number of occasions and the main reservoir unit has always somehow survived.

The iron itself isn’t the prettiest model in the pack and it’s quite heavy too. The 1.5-litre reservoir is also an ungainly beast but it delivers a continuous 120g/min head of steam and a not-too-shabby 260g/min steam shot that’s powerful enough to iron the wrinkles out of anything short of corrugated roofing. Standards of 'silence' may have been lower four years ago, but it is also still quieter than some of the newer models here.

6. Philips Perfectcare Elite Silence GC9650/80

Quiet-running high performer

Specifications
Key features: near-silent operation, no temperature controls, burn-free ironing, de-calc system
Tank capacity: 1.8 litres
Continuous steam: 140g/min
Steam boost: 440g
Reasons to buy
+Another superb Philips machine+Silent yet deadly crease killer
Reasons to avoid
-Again, a tad pricey
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This is another fantastic, if premium-priced, steam generator from Philips.

Again, there are no temperature controls, no way of burning fabrics, easy cleaning and a light (800g), smooth-gliding iron, chained to a 1.8-litre water tank. The pressure is noticeably higher and more effective than the Elite but, as you'd imagine, falls short of the Elite Plus.

It more or less lives up to its name. Perhaps not quite 'Silence' but certainly 'Hushed'.

This prosumer number sits right in the middle of the Elite and Elite Plus in terms of quality and price, and might well be 'just right' for you, in true Goldilocks style. That's if you're feeling fairly flush, at any rate, as I doubt you'll be able to steal one from a family of bears' house.