By David Gill
Once a small sliver in the total floorcare segment, steam cleaners have been gaining share in this segment over the past few years.
Industry executives said steam floorcare products have gained acceptance with consumers for a couple of reasons. First, they have proven to be highly effective in cleaning hardwood floors, tiled surfaces and rugs. Second, they are “green” products in that the only chemical they use to clean is water.
For these reasons and others, steam floorcare products have been “the fastest growing segment within the industry over the past year,” according to Jim Krzeminski, executive vice president of sales, marketing and product development for Bissell.
Bissell’s entry into this category is the Steam Mop, which the company positions as an all-natural, chemical-free means of cleaning all floor surfaces. “The key to this category is that it is addressing an unmet need—a better cleaning, a deeper cleaning (not just a surface cleaning) of bare floors,” Krzeminski said. “In addition, bare floors have been growing at a faster rate than carpeting.”
Manufacturers have geared these products successfully toward homeowners who want healthier environments. “You don’t use any chemicals at all,” said Victoria Hill, public relations coordinator for Haan Corp. “Steam kills germs and cleans only with tap water. At 212 degrees, it kills 99.9 percent of germs, bacteria and dust mites.”
Haan launched its flagship product, the FS 20 floor steaming sanitizer, in the United States in September 2007. “Our society is more conscious of health,” Hill said. “Our products provide benefits for someone with breathing difficulties. Also, they’re durable products, with washable and reusable pads. They also feature silver nano particles in the water tank, which ensures that no germs or bacteria cultivate in the tank.”
Eureka’s entry into this category is the Enviro Steamer, which is also positioned as providing cleaning that is hygienic, chemical-free and environmentally friendly. The Enviro Steamer features an accessory pack with two washable and reusable cloths that clasp on the bottom of the unit. It is lightweight, easy to maneuver and designed with a square-shaped base to simplify cleaning in tight corners.
Euro-Pro entered the steam segment in the fourth quarter of 2007 with the Shark Steam Mop, with a new mechanism that solved a problem with previous steam cleaners, according to Mark Barrocas, Euro-Pro’s president. “Steam mops kept creating steam after use and condensing on the pad,” Barrocas said. “You’d find you had soaking-wet floors, and you had to take a rag and wipe the floors up after cleaning them. We developed a push-pull mechanism for the Shark Steam Mop that gives you steam only on demand. When you stop, it stops generating steam. You can walk on your floors 10 minutes after mopping.”
Barrocas described the steam floorcare category as “boom and bust” for the past decade. He now believes that it could be in for a prolonged boom. “Less than 10 percent of U.S. households use steam, so there’s plenty of room for growth,” he said. “Over the last six months, a number of consumers have pointed out the economical aspects of steam cleaning—filling with water, washable pads. You’re saving money. We think there is a tremendous runway for us to grow to 20 to 30 percent household penetration.” This year, Euro-Pro unveiled its next-generation product in this category, the Shark Steam Pocket Mop, a smaller version of the initial product.
The future also looks rosy to Bissell. “We are bullish on the category,” Krzeminski said. “It is gaining more shelf space, trade ads and has momentum. The consumer seems to be pleased with the price-value equation.” Krzeminski also noted that new generations of previous products are emerging from manufacturers. “The key is keeping the product simple and easy to use while increasing effectiveness,” he said.
Since the initial debut of the Haan FS 20, the company has come out with four more cleaners, and is looking to boost growth through more product developments down the road. “We’re looking at ways to use steam to clean more than floors and surfaces,” Hill said.
The company plans to launch a steaming vacuum cleaner this fall, which can either steam or vacuum alone or steam and vacuum at the same time. Other new products on Haan’s drawing board are a line of garment steamers and products that use steam to clean food. “We envision steam cleaning becoming a whole way of life,” Hill said.