Steamericas: An American Success Story

Steamericas: An American Success Story

By Terri Perin / Published April 2024

Steamericas Building

The inspirational story of California-based Steamericas begins decades ago and traverses the Pacific Ocean some 6,000 miles.

It involves a South Korean man who had big ambitions and a bright idea, and his daughter who came to work in the family business where her entrepreneurial spirit, intelligence, and enthusiasm have helped the company become one of the pressure washing industry’s leading innovators in the water-saving practice of steam cleaning. The success of Steamericas and its “Optima Steamer” is a testament to the American dream come true.


“I was born and raised in South Korea,” recalls Yujin Yoo Anderson,

CEO of Gardena, CA-based Steamericas. “My father, Homoog Yoo, began his career as a marine engineer for a major ship-making company (Hyundai), so he knew steam boilers very well. He grew up in extreme poverty in the post-Korean War period and felt strongly that the only way to accumulate wealth was to have his own business. So, in 1991 he quit his job and launched SeongJin Engineering Co. in the city of Busan, South Korea. (It would later become SJE Corporation.) He began by importing and selling industrial cleaning equipment and pressure washers from Europe.

“SJE was always a successful enterprise,” explains Anderson, who has lived in America since 2000. “But in 2006 dad had a proverbial ‘light-bulb moment’ that would change the direction of the company. A customer lamented that pressure washers use too much water, and he asked if dad could make something better. Utilizing his experience with steam boilers, dad retrofitted a steam boiler inside a pressure washer. That was the first prototype of what would become the Optima Steamer. It was one of the first commercial-grade mobile steam cleaners to exist on the market.”

Steamericas Optima Steamer Demo

Compared to a typical pressure washer that uses five-plus gpm of water, the Optima Steamer uses about .08 gpm and produces dry steam, not hot water. Before the Optima, the only existing mobile units were coil-type wet steamers that were more like pressure washers. The engineers behind the Optima instead took the rapid-heating abilities of coil systems and combined it with the vapor-producing abilities of a pressurized pot boiler. The result was a unique boiler vessel with an open inner cylinder capable of rapidly heating and pressurizing water, generating a pure vapor jet of steam to clean and sanitize using a fraction of the water.

The Optima Steamer was immediately seen as a water-saving alternative for washing cars, enabling businesses to clean cars in garages or parking lots where pressure washers couldn’t be used. Uses for the system grew quickly as the powerful, dry steam made it possible to clean almost anywhere.

Over the years the Optima’s design was refined and its performance optimized, making it the industry leader in portable steam cleaning and sanitization technology. What started as a wastewater-avoiding solution for car washing became the industry standard for cleaning interiors and exteriors of transportation equipment, including automobiles, commercial truck fleets, boats, RVs, and aircraft; commercial food processing facilities including wineries, distilleries, and craft breweries; medical facilities; HVAC coils; and much more. And the company founder was set on expansion to America.

From Advertising Executive To Steamericas CEO

While her father was busy building his business, Anderson was working at an advertising agency in Chicago after completing bachelor of art degrees in international studies and anthropology at the University of Notre Dame. Well educated and well on her way to success in her career, Anderson initially ignored her father’s pleas for her to join the family business. That was until she got a glimpse of how successful the company could be on an international scale.

“I went home to South Korea for Christmas one year, and I helped set up Google AdWords for Dad’s website,” says Anderson. “Lo and behold, two weeks later, things kind of blew up … in a good way! He was getting email inquiries from all over the world. He didn’t have an international sales team and didn’t know what to do. So, I started helping him manage the inquiries virtually on evenings and weekends. We decided that it was time for me to join the family business.”

In May 2009 Anderson moved back to South Korea for six months, working on the production line at SJE to fully understand how the equipment was built, to learn how to service the product, and to take a crash course on the overall industry. She proved to be a good learner.

In February 2010 SJE officially opened their North American warehouse in a 3,000-square-foot building in Carson, CA. Although plans for this expansion had been in the works for years, Yoo was pleased that his daughter would lead the team as general manager/CEO. (Her younger brother, Sijin Yoo, also works for SJE in the manufacturing division in South Korea.)

Two moves to larger premises later, the company is now based out of a 10,000-square-foot warehouse in Gardena, CA. It is conveniently located near the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and the Port of L.A. in San Pedro. This gives them quick access to supply their customers across the North, Central, and South Americas— hence the name “Steamericas.” (FYI— it is pronounced STEAM-ericas, not STE-americas.)

Fast forward 14 years and Steamericas has become an industry-leading supplier of commercial and industrial cleaning products, specializing in highheat, dry-vapor steam machines for

“We take pride in diversity, proudly employing veterans and people of various cultural backgrounds, which allows us to offer support in English, Spanish, and Korean,” states Anderson, “We believe our diverse backgrounds and focus on people are key to customer satisfaction and sustainable business growth.”

Building A Distribution Network

Steamericas has established a solid distribution network of over 65 official distributors located throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Latin America. Each distributor has been carefully selected and trained to pro- mobile or in-house applications. They operate a lean team—with just seven employees—but plan to grow their team despite ongoing labor shortages. Future expansion, with another warehouse on the East Coast of the USA, is a possibility to better serve customers in those regions. vide customers with product demonstrations, assist with purchases, and provide technical service post purchase. Most Steamericas’s distributors also represent other major pressure washer brands such as Landa, Hotsy, Mi-T-M, Alkota, and Kärcher because these brands also place importance on quality and customer service. Products are sold business-to-business, not through the consumer market.

Initially a wholly owned subsidiary of SJE Corporation, Steamericas is now considered a ”sister company and global partner” in supplying businesses around the world with the Optima Steamer. It is a minority woman-owned and -operated business with an emphasis on investing in their employees.

“There are a lot of manufacturers in Asia, but I believe that the reason Americans may be hesitant to do business directly with them is because of cultural differences, challenges in getting products imported to the Americas, and difficulty receiving timely support,” explains Anderson. “One big difference in the USA, for example, is that we have a “credit culture.” Businesses typically order products and pay on 30-to-90-day terms. Outside the USA, that financing model doesn’t really exist. You pay before your product gets shipped.

Clean And Green

Steamericas’s mission is to help businesses optimize finite resources for infinite possibilities. The Optima Steamer can generate enough steam to thoroughly clean the exterior and interior of the average car using a gallon or two of water with little to no runoff, which is perfect for drainless facilities. The powerful dry-vapor steam is capable of sanitizing a vehicle’s interior without the use of chemicals, so fabrics are left free of harmful residues, all while ensuring no toxic waste is discharged into storm drains. It’s safer for pets, kids, and the environment.

No wastewater runoff also means the user doesn’t need to capture wastewater and can avoid fines from breaking environmental regulations involving wastewater. And having no need for wastewater reclamation, treatment, or disposal means that there is no post cleanup. Best of all, the wash technician’s feet stay dry!

“I want to stress that we understand we are not here to replace, but rather to complement, the mainstream pressure washing industry,” emphasizes Anderson. “Yet we recognize that there are many applications where steam can be used instead of water.

“Wineries and breweries are another excellent application for the

Optima Steamer. Wineries traditionally use about 60 gallons of water to clean one wine barrel; when the water is disposed of, it can’t be dumped in the sewer system. Our system uses a half gallon of water to sanitize a wine barrel. We estimate that based on 10 years of regular use, the Optima Steamer technology saves about 10 million gallons of water per unit sold, reducing the amount of water used as well as potential pollution to streams and groundwater.”

Small off-road engines (SORE) emissions are at the forefront of manufacturing technology research and development in the power washing and other industry sectors. And Steamericas has addressed that issue as well.

“SORE is not a concern to Steamericas because the Optima Steamer does not have an engine, so there is no idle running,” she clarifies. “It is also exempt from the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s (SCAQMD) permit requirement in California. Emissions are produced from the burner but are exempt because the intermittent emissions from the Optima Steamer are well below the exemption BTU threshold of 150,000 per day. So, our customers do not require permits and annual renewal. This is another way we are being green.

“That said, our diesel unit does require a generator if you are in a mobile location without access to electricity,” adds Anderson. “We know that generators will soon be banned in California, and we have been working on a mountable, all-day battery generator add-on, which will be released later this year.”

Pandemic Challenges And Lessons Learned

Everyone can tell a story of how they pivoted their home and work lives to get through the COVID pandemic. But Anderson worked through multiple challenges, with her family’s health being front and center during this challenging time.

“When the COVID pandemic started on March 15th, 2020,” recalls Anderson, “I was at the hospital in California because my daughter had to be hospitalized for treatment of flu-like symptoms.

“While this was happening, the governor started closing down the state. I was seven months pregnant with my third child and trying to figure out how to run the business remotely while also homeschooling my children. My husband suddenly developed a debilitating headache. Seeking medical help in the USA at this time was very difficult because everything had moved to virtual consultations. When he finally had an MRI, he was diagnosed with a cerebrospinal fluid leak (CSF) and needed brain surgery. It was impossible to get a surgery date at UCLA at the time due to the lockdown.

“Korea, however, was not in lockdown, so we flew there for the operation, taking the kids with us,” she says. “A few weeks later I had my third child. We ended up living there for over a year because when we were ready to return in the fall of 2020, schools weren’t open in California, but they were in Korea. I ended up running Steamericas remotely.

“In hindsight, I realized that although I worked hard in the past, I don’t think I was a good leader,” says Anderson. “I had to learn to delegate. I now had to rely fully on my staff to run the business. They accepted the challenge admirably. For my business, it was the start of a journey to start building a ‘team-managed’ company. For my personal life, it was a crazy time; but, thankfully, everyone is doing well now.

“I still have a lot of work to do myself, as a leader, but I trust my staff and also have learned to let things go because you can’t be everywhere at once,” concludes Anderson. “Leaving a career path that I had worked very hard in, to join something technical and entrepreneurial—with family, no less—has proven to be a blessing for me. It has actually brought us closer together as a family because we communicate more often.”

In summary, Anderson explains that Steamericas is on the lookout for partners and customers who share their vision of empowering businesses for the benefit of humanity through sustainable solutions. “Our focus includes product expansion in niche markets, collaborating with industry experts, and expanding our service center network,” she states. “If you’re interested in being part of Steamericas’s mission, please reach out.”

Learn more about the Optima Steamer at https://www.steamericas.com