When it comes to hardwood floors, the consensus is don’t use a steam mop on wood. However, when done right, steam cleaning can help keep your floors clean and shiny. However, a lot of factors have to be taken into consideration.
Keep reading to learn the ins and out of cleaning hardwood flooring.
Will a steam mop ruin your hardwood floors?
It depends on several factors. The steam cleaning method is vital. Dry steam will not damage the wood because very little water and no chemicals are used. On the other hand, excess water or steam may cause damage to the floor. When water soaks into the wood, it causes permanent damage. The water soaks into the wood grain and causes the wood to expand, discolor, and warp.
Even a newly sealed wood floor should not be cleaned with much water because there might be missed spots in the sealant, especially in-between boards. A single scratch can allow the steamed water to enter your wood floor and cause swelling, patching, and warping.
However, many issues may arise when using steam for hardwood floor cleaning.
- Steam mops often leave excess water on the floor surface. If water is left to penetrate a wood floor, it can result in the grain rising, expanding, and splitting, or worse, the wood warping completely out of shape. The danger of the steam finding its way into the wood grain during cleaning is also high.
- Hardwood floors sealed with a polyurethane coating or varnish should withstand surface moisture better than an unfinished floor. In addition, some manufacturers will advise that using steam mops on a low setting is safe.
- Engineered hardwoods are bonded using adhesives, and steam cleaning can affect the quality of those adhesives. Moisture can seep between the layers, weakening the bond and permanently damaging the floors. Avoid using steam mops on engineered hardwood floors.
- The seal does wear over time, and even small areas of damage can cause a break in the surface protection. In addition, if water or steam gets into these exposed areas, it will absorb into the wood underneath the seal and cannot dry adequately due to the surface above being sealed. This may cause staining or discoloration, forcing the wood to expand and further opening up the seal.
- Steam mopping over a painted surface is risky, even if the paint layer is sealed. The heat from the steam can cause bubbles beneath the paint, which may peel. Best to avoid steam mopping on all painted floor surfaces.
- Steam mops create too much moisture for laminate floors, which are often manufactured with compressed fiber/particleboard layers. In addition, the steam can cause swelling and warping of the product.
- Wooden floors have small gaps between the boards where steam can penetrate. It can get directly to the sub-base of the finished wood laminate layer. This will often be constructed of a material less resistant than the sealed surface wood to repel any moisture or steam.
- A steam mop could partially remove the oil or wax protection on Oiled Hardwood floors or cause them to break down rapidly. This will cause the surface wood to lose its protection and wear rapidly.
- Manufacturers’ warranties will normally specify a maintenance regime for the cleaning and treatment of the floor. So be cautious if that regime does not approve steam mops, as the warranty could be void.
- Sealed hardwood floors can withstand the moisture and heat from a steam mop and clean nicely with a streak-free finish. However, avoid using a steam mop on unsealed hardwoods, as they’re more vulnerable and easily damaged by excessive moisture.
What is the best way to deep clean your hardwood floors?
For everyday cleaning, sweep, vacuum, and dust mop regularly, at least once a week, or more often if you have pets or a busy household. Do not use vinegar or all-purpose cleaner on floors. They will both dull the finish. Instead, use the natural soap and the minimum amount of water. Any mopping should be done with a damp mop. Never wet or soaking wet mop your wooden floor. Clean up any liquid spills immediately to avoid water damage.
To deep clean hardwood floors, follow the steps below;
Considerations Before You Get Started
- Check if your floor is sealed. Before cleaning your hardwood floors, knowing what finish has been applied to the flooring is important.
- If a drop of water sits on the surface, then the floor is sealed and can be cleaned with a water-based solution.
- If the drop of water is absorbed quickly, the sealant is worn away or was never applied.
- If the floor is unsealed, you want to limit the water used for cleaning.
- When you need a deeper clean, use a damp microfiber cloth (as needed) and dry immediately with a dry microfiber cloth.
- Clear the clutter. Pick up any clutter and remove small items, such as area rugs, from the floor for faster, easier cleaning.
- Find the right time. Pick a time when foot traffic will be minimal, like when your family is out of the house.
- Plan a route. Start at one corner of the room and work toward the door to prevent leaving footsteps on a clean floor.
- Speed up drying time. Turn on ceiling fans or add a circulating fan to help speed up the drying time.
- Dry microfiber dust mop
- Wet microfiber mop
- Vacuum without the beater bar
- Handheld vacuum
- Distilled white vinegar or cleaning vinegar
- Soft-bristled toothbrush
How to clean hardwood floors
- Start your floor cleaning by removing loose dust and soil.
- You can use a broom or a vacuum without a beater bar to clear away the debris. However, the beater bar can damage hardwood surfaces.
- The best choice is a microfiber dust mop. The fibers in the mop attract and trap the dirt, and you can toss the mop head in the washer, so you have a clean mop each time.
- Mix up your homemade cleaner. In a large bucket or sink, combine 1-gallon water with 1 cup distilled white vinegar or 1/2 cup cleaning vinegar.
- Dip a clean microfiber mop into the solution and wring the mop until it is just damp and not dripping. You do not want to apply excess water to the floor.
- Start at the far corner and work toward the door until you have cleaned the entire room.
- Rinse the mop often (wring until just damp!) as the soil is transferred from the floor.
- Let dry. Allow the floor to air-dry before walking on it.
How to Clean Cracks in Hardwood Floors
Older wood floors and poorly installed hardwood can have cracks between the boards that trap dirt and dust. The cracks can worsen during periods of low humidity when the wood dries out. Removing the dirt and debris that becomes trapped is easy but a bit time-consuming.
Clean in small sections, starting at the far corner of the room and working your way out the door, so you can return to where you left off if you can’t do the entire room at once.
Combine 2 cups warm water and 1/4 cup distilled white vinegar. Dip a soft-bristled toothbrush in the solution and shake until just damp. Gently scrub the cracks and then wipe away the debris with a soft cloth or vacuum it with a handheld vac or a crevice tool. Dust, mop, and clean the floor as usual.
How to Clean Paint Off Hardwood Floors
Paint splatters and drips happen, but most can be removed from hardwood floors with a little elbow grease and the right cleaning products. Water-based paint (acrylic paint) is the easiest to remove, but it’s possible to remove oil-based paint too.
- Cleaning cloths
- Hard plastic putty knife or old credit card
- Small bowl
- A soft-bristled toothbrush or scrub brush
- Hairdryer or heat gun
- Cotton balls
- Isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol
- Dishwashing liquid
- Lemon juice
Add a few drops of dishwashing liquid to two cups of hot water. Wet a cloth with the solution and wring it until it is not dripping. Work in the direction of the wood grain and scrub the paint splatter. As the paint loosens, use a dry rag to wipe it away. If it doesn’t budge, use the edge of an old credit card or a plastic putty knife to scrape it away gently.
If you still have paint drips after this, move to a stronger cleaning solution of three parts rubbing alcohol and one part lemon juice. Dip a cloth in the mixture, wring it out, and place it over the paint drips. Let it sit for five minutes, then scrub gently with an old toothbrush or scrape with a credit card. Wipe away the paint.
If the paint doesn’t budge, direct a hair dryer set on high toward the paint to soften it and try the cleaning methods again. If the paint is oil-based, you may have to use a store-bought eco-friendly, citrus-based paint remover. But, again, follow the directions on the label.
Check this too: How to Clean Travertine Flooring
How to Remove Stains on Hardwood Floors
You can use the following methods to remove stains form hardwood floors;
Using floor wax and steel wool
Floors with a softer finish are more likely to develop stains and spots that have penetrated the wood. In this case, the best remedy is to dip fine steel wool into floor wax and gently rub it into the problem area. This versatile spot-cleaning method works well for everything from dark stains to heel marks—but don’t try it unless you know the finish of your floor, as steel wool will damage floors with a urethane finish.
Using baking soda
Use baking soda for floors with urethane finishes, which are the most popular and stain-resistant. Still, if your deep cleaning didn’t involve a ton of elbow grease, some evidence of past spills might be present on the surface of the finish. You can remove these spots with a paste of baking soda and water.
Prepare the paste with just enough water to achieve a thick and slightly gritty consistency, apply it to the stain, and gently rub it into the problem area with a soft microfiber cloth. Let the paste hang out for 10 to 15 minutes so the baking soda has had a chance to do its work, and then wipe it away with a damp cloth and dry the spot.
If you’d prefer to avoid harsh chemicals and create an eco-friendly floor cleaner, you can make your homemade hardwood floor deep cleaner using vinegar. Add ½ cup of organic white distilled vinegar to a gallon of lukewarm water. This environmentally-friendly cleaning mixture cuts through dirt and grime, leaving a streak-free hardwood floor with a true “wow” factor.
Vinegar can dull some hardwood floor finishes, so one of the most important steps in safely removing stains from hardwood floors is knowing what finish your floor has.
Using hardwood cleaners
Water-based polyurethane is one of the most popular finishing options for a hardwood floor, offering a lustrous finish and fast drying time. Hard wax oil permeates the wood, creating a protective barrier against stains. If stubborn grime appears, the safest way to clean it is with a proprietary and approved finish.
Oil finishes include tung oil, oil-based polyurethane, and UV-cured oils. Before using any new floor cleaning product, research your specific flooring and spot-test the floor cleaner you choose somewhere inconspicuous.
How to Keep Hardwood Floors Clean for Longer
- Wipe up spills immediately. Excessive moisture can discolor floors, and sticky residue only attracts more dirt.
- Dust mop daily. A quick mop, especially through high-traffic areas, will capture grit and dust that scratches hardwood floor finishes.
- Dust mop at least weekly to remove loose soil.
- Avoid using a vacuum with a beater bar that can scratch or dent floors.
- Place doormats inside and outside entrance doors to catch dirt. Don’t forget to clean the mats regularly.
Benefits of steam cleaning hardwood floors
Using steam on hardwood floors is an excellent way to sanitize them and poses no problems to the wood surface, given that the operator uses the right technique. If you have hardwood floors, you know how hard and time-consuming it is to clean them with traditional methods.
Not only will your steam cleaner reduce cleaning time, but it will drastically improve the way your wood floors look. Heavy-duty steam cleaning regularly is the perfect solution for cleaning wooden floors. In addition, steam helps to eliminate allergens, bacteria, and more.
How to use a steam mop on hardwood floors
If you want to use a steam mop, ensure your hardwood floors are well-sealed with no worn spots in the finish. Hardwood is naturally very absorbent material, and exposure to water can cause it to plump, warp, twist, and mold. By its very nature, a steam cleaner uses water heated to a very hot vapor to clean and disinfect the surface of a floor.
This vapor can get down into cracks and crevices to kill germs and bacteria, but when used on a hardwood floor, the moisture can stay down in the cracks and crevices, leading to problems in the future.
Selectin steam cleaners for Hardwood floors
Several companies sell steam cleaning machines that can supposedly clean hardwood floors safely. These claims are made because these cleaners have a function that wipes up excess moisture as it moves along the floor, absorbing the water and supposedly leaving the floor dry.
However, product literature on these machines carefully notes that floors must be properly sealed for the tools to be safe.
But despite the existence of these machines and the claims their manufacturers make, all major wood flooring associations agree that steam cleaning devices should not be used on any hardwood flooring surface. In addition, there are no major hardwood providers who recommend the use of these products on their materials.
Note: The National Wood Floor Association (NWFA) states that using steam or excessive water may damage a wood floor. The World Floor Covering Association (WFCA) has a similar warning saying not to use excessive water when cleaning wood floors.
In addition, Consumer Reports magazine states that in an independent test of steam cleaning machines, “all the tested models left residual moisture, some more than others.” The presence of lingering moisture is enough to cause damage to even the tiniest cracks in the surface seal of a hardwood flooring installation.
Things to consider before using a Steam Cleaner
- All steam cleaners come with a warning that you must make sure the floor seal is intact before using their machines on the hardwood.
- Drip a small amount of water onto its surface to test the thickness and durability of the seal protecting your hardwood floor.
- If the water immediately beads up, the seal is intact and the floor cannot penetrate.
- But if the water spreads out or sinks into the wood, the seal has been compromised and needs to be reapplied.
- The thicker and more durable the sealed finish is, the more resistant to steam damage it will be.
Note: The quality of the seal can vary from location to location across the floor. You have to test it in several locations to ensure its overall integrity.
How to Steam Clean Hardwood Floors
Follow these steps when steam mopping sealed hardwood floors;
- It is important to prep the floors properly to avoid scratching, warping, or discoloration.
- Before you steam clean, remove dust and grit from the floor, which can cause scratches.
- Once your floor is free of loose dirt, food, and dust, follow these steps to deep steam clean the floor:
- Use the rectangular floor tool your steam cleaner provided and attach a thick microfiber cloth around it. The microfiber will insulate the steam, retain excess moisture, and the high steam temperature will attract dirt like a magnet!
- Ensure your hardwood floors are sealed. If you have worn spots, don’t use the steamer on them because the moisture can seep into the wood and cause it to warp.
- Fill the steamer’s water canister (add cleaning solution if needed) with hot tap water
- Check to be sure your filter is clean before you start cleaning your floor.
- Place the canister into position and heat water to steam
- Set the steam cleaner at low or medium steam pressure. The lower the pressure, the dryer the steam will be. The high-pressure forms condensation, so don’t use the maximum pressure setting.
- Push the cleaner forward, releasing the steam
- Pull it back, allowing the cleaning pad to wipe away dirt and grime
- Start at one corner and work from one side of the room to the other
- Continue the process until the entire room is clean
- Slowly pass everywhere to sanitize, deep clean, and revitalize your floors.
Note: Many steamers are designed to run on water alone, but if you use a cleaning solution in your steamer, use a cleaner with a neutral pH.
Confirm the manufacturer’s recommendations for use when shopping for a steam cleaner safe for hardwood floors. If the cleaner isn’t made for sealed hardwood floors, look for one that is. The steamers remove dirt, food particles, and unseen allergens from wooden floors with little effort.
Recommended Steam Cleaners Safe for Hardwood Floors
Below are some steam cleaners that are safe to use on hardwood floors;
White Wing Steamer
Designed for use in the home for people who suffer from asthma or allergies or environmentally-conscious individuals who would rather not pollute the air they breathe with fumes and chemicals. The White Wing Steamer is a hot, dry vapor steam system that works without chemicals. It kills:
Bissell Steam Mop
The Bissell Steam Mop Deluxe is a lightweight steam mop that’s easy to use. Its long power cord helps you reach the entire floor, and the specially-designed handle reduces “mopping stress.” In addition, it comes equipped with two terry cloth cleaning pads and features a clear plastic filter, so you know when it’s time for a change.
Another steam cleaner safe for your hardwood floors is the Sargent Steam system. It only weighs 15 pounds when filled, uses no chemicals, and is designed to clean your floor using nothing more than tap water, saving you money on cleaning products.
Potential problems that could result from steam cleaning
There are many reasons to avoid steam cleaning on hardwood, including:
Even if the wood is perfectly sealed against moisture penetration, the seams between the planks can be vulnerable. Although seams are initially sealed during the application of top sealers, as the wood creaks, shifts, or contracts with use and weather, the seal inevitably gets cracked, allowing moisture to penetrate down and attack the floor from below.
Impact of steam
The steam itself presents a unique problem with hardwood. Water is a relatively thick substance. Steam, by contrast, is very light and thin and can easily penetrate even hairline fractures on a surface. This allows it to move down the side of hardwood planks or slip up from underneath, attacking the floor from every vulnerable angle. In addition, as the vapor cools and condenses back into liquid water, you are left with moisture that can damage wood fibers.
Using steam can void the flooring’s warranty
Most hardwood flooring will come with a manufacturer’s or a retailer’s warranty. This will outline how long the floor should last under normal usage and guarantees its replacement if the material fails due to structural problems. In addition, these warranties often come with clear conditions about which acts will void their protection—read carefully to determine if steam cleaning is protected under your floor’s explicitly stated warranty.
Steam cleaning Engineered flooring
Engineered hardwood flooring products are manufactured by taking a thin layer of real hardwood and adhering it to a filler backing. Then, a clear wear layer is placed over the surface to protect that thin hardwood layer from damage. The advantage is that the wear layer provides a hard, durable, easy-to-clean surface while preserving the look of natural wood. As a result, these products can be considerably more affordable than solid hardwood yet look almost as nice.
But engineered hardwood flooring products are subject to the same problems as steam cleaners. The wear layer generally tends only to protect the top surface of the laminates, which means that while the top is perfectly safe, the sides, seams, and bottom of the planks and tiles are vulnerable to liquid steam. Since the steam can degrade the adhesives used in the bonding process, the damage danger is even greater with engineered laminate flooring.
Note: A variety of steam cleaners are available for use on flooring, and while some are marketed as being designed especially for hardwood, these claims should be viewed cautiously.
Top mistakes to avoid when steam mopping your hardwood floors
Avoid these mistakes when steam cleaning hardwood floors;
Using a steam mop on an unsealed hardwood floor
Using a steam mop on an unsealed surface like genuine hardwood flooring can cause damage over time. Be sure to follow the care recommendations for your particular flooring type, especially if they recommend avoiding steam-cleaning altogether.
You can do a simple test at home to determine how well-sealed your floors are. Just drop a bit of water onto the floor, and if it beads up immediately, your floors are sealed and are likely okay to use steam.
Idling the mop
When using a steam mop, it’s important always to keep it moving. “Idling” your steam mop can cause a build-up of heat and steam that may permanently damage your floor.
Set the mop to the lowest temperature setting, and do not create “steam bursts” as you work. Never leave the mop in one spot for too long. If you have to step away while steam mopping, unplug it first.
Using wet steam
Use a steam mop that does not have a dry steam vapor feature. Too much steam will ruin your hardwood floor. With all hardwood floor cleaners, less is more. However, excess moisture can damage hardwood floors over time, so find a middle ground that uses enough product without excess sitting on the floors.
Using the wrong floor cleaner
Do not use hardwood floor cleaning solutions that aren’t approved for your type of finish. For example, good cleaners for urethane finishes can damage wax finishes. Oil soaps, all-purpose cleaners, or wood furniture polish can also damage your hardwood floors.
Using the steam mop incorrectly
The heat generated by steam will not damage the finish if the user uses a thick microfiber cloth over the heavy-duty rectangular floor tool that comes with your steam cleaner.