Today marks the official start of spring and that, of course, can only mean one thing (aside from an invigorating display of blooms, blossoms, birds, and prematurely revealing fair-weather fashions): Drippy noses, itchy eyes, violent sneezes, and a dry, hacking cough that just won’t quit.

That being said, encounters with pollen, the primary trigger of hay fever or seasonal allergic rhinitis, primarily occurs in the great outdoors (unless you’re in the habit of joyously throwing open those windows without a particle-filtering screen). However, springtime can also lead to the aggravation of indoor allergies due to increased humidity levels around the home. And there’s nothing that household allergens such as dust mites and mold enjoy more than the introduction of a little extra moisture.

While there are numerous ways to regulate household humidity levels and improve indoor air quality — investing in a quality dehumidifer, not overwatering houseplants, and running the air conditioning being three of them — when it comes to eliminating household allergy and asthma triggers, a crucial and often overlooked weapon to add to your arsenal of allergen-busters is a vapor steam cleaner.

Relatively new to the North American market, these Italian-borne devices that were apparently conceived by the inventors of the espresso machine have a flawless track record at killing off dust mites, bacteria, mold spores, mildew, and other unsavories including bed bugs. And given that it’s the high season of domestic cleaning and decluttering, vapor steam cleaners also do a bang-up job of removing dirt from and sanitizing hard sealed surfaces such as hardwood floors, tile, cabinetry, and countertops along with upholstered furniture, carpets, stuffed animals, pillows, drapery, and the like. The secret ingredient of these magic allergen-killing, deep-cleaning machines? A small amount of ordinary tap water that’s transformed into dry, super-hot steam.

Steam cleaners also work fast which reduces the chances of cross-contamination and, naturally, they’re completely nontoxic given that they don’t involve the use of noxious cleaning chemicals that can further compromise a home’s indoor air quality.

Available across a range of price points, household steam vapor cleaners come in a variety of shapes and sizes including traditional steam mops for floors and handheld devices ideal for dealing with grout, countertops, upholstery, and hard to reach spaces in need of some serious de-germing and deoderizing. Below, I've rounded up six different models from several leading manufacturers.

I recently had a chance to try out the top item on the list: The HAAN Power & Finesse. This versatile steam mop with a detachable calibrated handheld steamer is capable of killing 99.9 percent of germs, bacteria, and dust mites within one second and includes a variety of attachments including an extension hose, scrub brush, carpet tool, and angled nozzle. The effectiveness of the Power & Finesse is staggering. I used on my seemingly spotless hardwood floors and the amount of dirt that the steam mop pulled up into the unit's reusable cleaning pads was significant. I also went to town in my bathroom using the handheld steam cleaner, and again, the results were nothing short of amazing.

I’m officially a convert.

Do you use a vapor steam mop or handheld steam cleaner around the house? Have you noticed a dramatic change in your allergies as a result? 

HAAN Power & Finesse Steam Mop with Removable Handheld Steamer @ Target ($149.99)

Bissell Steam Shot Hard Surface Cleaner @ Bed Bath & Beyond ($39.99)

Shark Pro Steam Pocket Mop @ Home Depot ($129)

Vapamore MR-100 Primo Steam Cleaning System @ ($299)

Eureka EnviroSteamer @ Target ($64.09)

SteamFast Multi-Purpose Canister Steam Cleaner @ Home Depot ($99.99)

* Disclosure: The kind folks at HAAN sent me a Power & Finesse for review. 

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Steam your way to allergen-free clean: Vapor steam cleaners
With spring's arrival, don't forget about household allergens like dust mites and a crucial tool in combatting them: Vapor steam cleaners.