Steam mops have become increasingly popular in the UK over the last few years, thanks in part to cleaning influencers like Mrs Hinch and Stacey Solomon who swear by theirs and who, like many of us, are keen to have a gleaming home without using too many chemicals, especially around children and pets.
Whereas traditional mops rely on detergent and elbow grease to disinfect floors, steam mops heat water in an onboard tank and then release the vapour directly on to the floor at temperatures of up to 120 degrees Celsius, making for a deeper clean and killing most bacteria likely to be lurking on surfaces.
But, as with so many household appliances, there is a mind-boggling array of different makes and models available and it can be hard to know whether it's worth spending the extra of a premium model like a Shark when there are other options that largely do the same thing and are literally a third of the price.
Initially I assumed that comparing steam mops would be rather uneventful. Let's face it, the function of the mop is largely the same no matter what the colour scheme of the version you buy or the price tag that it comes with, how big a difference can there be?
However I quickly learned two important things. Firstly, despite my initial assumptions, not all steam mops are created equal. Secondly, if you really want to test a steam mop the best way to do so is in the aftermath of a precariously-put-away almost-full bottle of maple syrup falling out of a cupboard and smashing onto a tiled kitchen floor.
This steam mop left floors gleaming without any need for elbow grease. It had real oomph and power behind it but was still lightweight and easy to manoueuvre, while its extra-long cable made getting round quick and easy.
Lakeland vs Shark vs Russell Hobbs steam mops: First impressions and setup
When unpacking the three steam mops it was immediately obvious that while I'd assumed they would all be largely the same there were key design elements where they varied. It wasn't all about colour choices either, although at first glance I thought the pale blue Shark looked a bit more modern and on trend than the retro brown/pink of the Russell Hobbs which reminded me of my nan's old Hoover.
All three mops assembled very quickly and, while they had instruction booklets, it was hardly the Krypton Factor putting them together. All the handles snapped into place easily and the various shapes of mop pads all velcroed securely onto the bottoms, although the Russell Hobbs mop also came with a plastic carpet glider which, if you're wanting to deep clean textiles, helps keep the pad in place once although it took a bit of fiddling to get it securely attached.
Two of the mops tested came with a host of additions in the box, although notably the Lakeland only came with an instruction book.
The Shark and Russell Hobbs had spare pads so you could wash a set and use a set. They also both came with small plastic jugs to make filling the mops with water easier - but this isn’t necessarily the perk you would imagine.
In terms of filling, the Lakeland actually has a key benefit beyond the other two, with the water tank able to be totally unclipped from the machine to fill at the tap and then be put back into the handle. This minimised the possibility of spills while filling, making it the easiest of the three to prep and, more importantly, the simplest to remove any leftover water from at the end before putting the mop away.
The lack of spare pad though felt like a major omission, especially when the Russell Hobbs option had one despite being less than half the price. The plastic carpet glider on the Russell Hobbs was also a handy bonus as it meant if you did have the urge to deep clean a carpet or rug or even tackle a stain on a sofa you could run the steamer across the fabric easily without it rucking.
Lakeland vs Shark vs Russell Hobbs steam mops: Overall performance
In terms of testing the performance of the mops, I hadn’t intended the aftermath of a maple syrup spill being the place to start, but having used most of a bottle of Dettol and an entire kitchen roll to try and get the worst up and still having an audibly sticky floor it felt like a pretty solid test.
Both the Lakeland and Shark mops had two speed settings, with the lower speed recommended for wood floors and more delicate surfaces and the higher speed for more ingrained dirt and tiled areas. Perhaps understandably, the more budget-friendly Russell Hobbs version only had one setting.
While they look very different, all three mops have a similar motor size, ranging between 1120W and 1200W and they all say they get to temperature within 15 and 30 seconds with Russell Hobbs the quickest and Shark the slowest on paper at least. In practice however, they all seemed much of a muchness and it’s not as if I was tapping my foot impatiently waiting an extra couple of seconds for the Shark to come up to temperature.
I used them on different parts of the floor so they were tackling the same amount of grime and while they all got me out of my sticky situation in the end it was soon clear that for the worst kinds of dirt and mess the Russell Hobbs took a little longer to get the job done, with me having to run the mop back and forth across the same spot several times to see the difference.
The Lakeland mop had the widest of all the pads so I was able to cover the area quickly and efficiently and it didn’t take as much back and forth as the more budget option to see a noticeable difference to the floor.
However, in terms of immediate impact, the Shark really came into its own. Instead of one large pad it has two circular pads that work together to effectively simultaneously steam and scrub the floor. When you turn it on it feels noticeably more powerful to use, to the extent if you’re someone who struggles with holding a hefty gadget I’d consider plumping for one of the others. While they’re all roughly the same weight, once the Shark is on and working you need to really hold on tight to make sure you don’t lose control of it.
Having said that, you don’t actually need to apply any pressure at all to get the Shark to work - it glides across the floor easily, so easily in fact that I wasn't sure it was working properly until I saw the grime it was able to pick up after just a few seconds’ work.
All three mops have a tank big enough to run for more than 15 minutes and, unless you live in a mansion, this would cover tiled bathrooms and kitchens easily. The cable length does vary considerably though, with the Shark coming in at a generous 8m compared to the other two’s 5m cables, making it easier to get round without having to swap plug sockets if you’re tackling multiple rooms.
Steam mops are one of the more versatile cleaning gadgets and can be used on a range of floor types including tile, lino and hardwood, although wood floors should be properly sealed to avoid the steam warping the wood. They work more quickly and efficiently than traditional mops and don't leave you with a fully wet floor afterwards.
To get the best results from your steam mop you do need to sweep first to get ride of any surface dirt because as there's no suction otherwise you risk simply pushing the dirt around the room. But once the excess has been cleaned up the steam will loosen the most stubborn and built-in grime, which is then picked up by the microfibre of the mop head.
All three of these mops worked efficiently and, in many ways, they all have their strengths depending on the reason you're buying one and, frankly, how much dirt you're going to throw at it.
If your house is mostly pretty clean and you're only looking to blitz your tiled bathroom and kitchen floors once every couple of weeks then spending around £35 for the Russell Hobbs version is more than sufficient, while one of the larger and more high-powered other options we tested is definitely not cost-effective.
In terms of the two more premium options, the Lakeland and Shark both had their benefits. The size and shape of the microfibre mop pad on the Lakeland one was by far the biggest of the three and definitely makes quick work of any bathroom and kitchen floor, but the lack of a spare feels like an oversight when the Russell Hobbs came with one and is. significantly cheaper
The Shark is basically as fierce as its name would suggest. If your house is one where muddy foot and paw prints are a daily feature then it is absolutely the pick of the three. When you turn it on you can feel the power but despite that additional oomph, the pads glide easily across the floor making easy work of grime.
While it's more expensive than the mid-priced Lakeland option, with some savvy shopping and taking advantage of any Shark Black Friday deals the difference to get the Shark Steam and Scrub is negligible in terms of the overall cost and, in this case, I'd consider it definitely worth the extra.