Are Steam Mops Safe for Wood Floors?

If cleaning your hardwood floors with a mop and bucket isn't your favorite way to spend an afternoon, you may be considering investing in a steam mop. Not only do steam mops save time and effort, but the high heat they generate is hard on the microorganisms colonizing the floors. All that steam may be just as hard on wood fibers as it is on bacteria, though, and hardwood floor specialists don't recommend steam mops.

Coffee, flowed out from the broken cup
credit: Natalia Lukiyanova/Hemera/Getty Images
Coffee spill on hardwood floor.

Pros of Steam Mops

The heat generated by a steam mop quickly loosens and removes ground-in dirt and scuffs, and a single pass with one is often enough to clean your floor. When compared with the prospect of mopping two or three times with a traditional mop -- or scrubbing on your hands and knees -- that's a clear advantage. Moreover, you don't need an arsenal of cleaning agents; the mop does all the work, so you don't have to worry about chemicals that can harm your children or pets. In addition, floors dry faster, because steam evaporates faster than water.

Appropriate for Sealed Floors

If you plan to use your steam mop primarily for hardwood floors, you'll want a hard floor mop, not a carpet cleaner. Some models can clean both surfaces, but a hard floor mop typically typically has a flat cleaning pad fed by a tank that you can refill with tap water as needed. Manufacturers recommend these mops for tile, vinyl and sealed hardwood, which, at first glance, includes every hardwood floor with a finish. Surface appearances don't always tell the whole story, however, and when it comes to steam mopping a hardwood floor, what's below the surface can end up causing problems.

Danger of Buckling and Discoloration

If your hardwood floors were finished on-site by a professional installer, it's possible that some of the joints between boards didn't receive as much finish as the surface, or perhaps, none at all. Even a prefinished floor can have nicks or dents that damage the finish. Running over these areas with a steam cleaner quickly hydrates the wood, which can swell and buckle. If the finish is worn and thin, and steam seeps through it, the steam can stain the wood below as well as buckle it. Neither may happen, but the chance that it could is a negative when you consider steam-mopping.

More Steam-Mopping Dangers

Even if your hardwood floor is as well-sealed as you think it is, running a steam mop over it may not be a good idea. Steam mops with replaceable pads sometimes leave scratch marks, and removing these marks may require refinishing the floor. Moreover, the pads quickly clog with dirt, and if you don't change them often enough, they simply push dirt around instead of removing it, causing streaks. Steam cleaners can also leave streaks if the floor has been waxed or previously cleaned with certain products. Moreover, in some cases, steam is strong enough to wear the existing finish thin or remove it altogether.