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Can You Steam Clean Hardwood Floors? Reasons, Alternatives & Tips

close up engineered hardwood floor samples

Steam has been lauded as a natural way to sanitize surfaces without having to use any potentially harmful chemicals. Steam is simply water that has been heated until it turns into its gaseous form. Steam is often hot enough to kill most bacteria and viruses that might be hiding on any surface, and the water component is good for breaking through dirt, dust, and grime. All of that sounds great, and it is, which leads many to ask whether or not they can or should steam clean their hardwood floors.

The simple answer is no. You should not steam clean your hardwood floors. Heat and water are two things that you should avoid subjecting your wood floors to. In fact, improperly steam cleaning hardwood floors can lead to gaps, warps, and an unlevel surface. In severe cases, steam cleaning hardwood floors can ruin the floors and lead to a replacement. None of those things are good for the longevity of a natural hardwood floor.

If you are hell-bent on steam cleaning your hardwood floors, there are ways to do it and things to look out for. However, in general, the practice should be avoided.

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Why Steam Is Bad for Hardwood

If you do a quick internet search for “how to bend wood,” the process will pop right up. It is honestly very simple. You soak the wood in hot water and then bend it into a new shape and let it dry. You can bend straight planks into completely new shapes using this ancient technique. If you own hardwoods and a steam mop, that information should alarm you. Steam mops use those two things, heat, and water, to clean floors. Applying too much heat and water to wood can cause it to warp — especially if you use too much water.

Anyone who owns old hardwoods and lives in a hot, humid climate knows that even extended periods of elevated heat and humidity can cause floors to bend out of shape.

Steam cleaning is a risky process for natural hardwoods because if you use too much water or too much heat, the wood can become saturated, and then when it dries, there is a good chance it will curve, bend, and expand, then shrink and pull apart. This can potentially leave gaps, curvy floors, lips, and bubbling. There are ways to mitigate these risks, but the safest way is to simply use a hardwood floor cleaner rather than a steam cleaner.

yellow steamer in hardwood floor
Image Credit: Alie04, Shutterstock

Hardwood Cleaner > Steam Cleaner

The best way to clean your hardwood floors is to use a specialized hardwood floor cleaner. There are specific products designed to be used on hardwood floors. These products are safe, protective, and effective when used on hardwoods. These specialized products are far better for your hardwood floors than a steam cleaner.

There are some steam cleaners that advertise that they are designed for use on hardwoods. You can take that information with a grain of salt. The way to mitigate the risk of using steam on hardwood flooring is to minimize the amount of water used. In order to retain the same cleaning power, this usually comes in tandem with a rise in the heat. High heat can still damage hardwood floors and affect the seal used to help protect the flooring.

The best course is still using hardwood cleaners on a floor without the use of water, heat, or steam.

cleaning wooden floor
Image Credit: Mia Stendal, Shutterstock

Can You Steam Clean Vinyl or Laminate Flooring?

In some cases, steam cleaning vinyl or laminate flooring is completely safe. If you have installed floors that are water-resistant or waterproof, they should be able to stand up a steam cleaner. However, caution should still be used. Thin laminate and certain types of vinyl will still be damaged by too much water or heat, and it can cause similar issues to hardwood floors.

If you have questions about the care of your laminate or vinyl flooring, consult the manufacturer’s care instructions. Each product should have a posted set of guidelines in regard to keeping them clean and caring for them in the long term.

Consult a flooring expert

Find a flooring specialist in your area, and get free, no-commitment estimates for your project.

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Tips For Steam Cleaning Hardwoods

If you still plan on forging ahead with your steam cleaning mission, here are a few tips to keep in mind.

First, check to see if your hardwoods are sealed. Modern hardwoods ship with special sealants that help mitigate water damage. Some of these sealants are simple, clear coats, while others are wax based. To test your floor’s seal, take a wet rag and drip a little bit of water onto the surface of the floor. If the water beads up and sits on top of the floor, you have an intact seal. You should only attempt to steam clean floors with a good seal.

If the water spreads out, pools, or gets absorbed, your floors do not have an intact seal, and they will be vulnerable to damage from a steam cleaner.

reclaimed wooden floor
Image Credit: Kiddkos, Pixabay

Second, use as little water as you can. You do not want to soak, saturate or wet the floors in any capacity if possible. Too much water can lead to warping and damage. If you are steam cleaning the floors yourself, use the settings that emit the lowest amounts of steam for the best results.

Lastly, for the best results, you should contact a professional steam cleaner. If you truly want to have your hardwood floors steam cleaned, it is best to consult a professional. They can give you advice and guidance about cleaning your specific floors, and they will know the tricks to ensure that your hardwoods come out the other end in pristine condition.

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The best advice regarding steam cleaning hardwood floors is to simply not do it. There are a lot of risks, and the worst outcomes can leave your floors in tatters. There are special products made to clean hardwoods in a safe and effective manner. These are the best things to use to clean natural hardwoods. If you insist on steam cleaning your hardwood floors, the best bet is to contact a professional who will have the best and most up-to-date information about steam cleaning hardwoods. A professional gives you the best chance of maintaining your floor’s long-term health.

Featured Image Credit: Peeradontax, Shutterstock


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