If you maintain hardwood floors properly, they can last a lifetime. But, this requires knowing how to properly keep them clean. Generally speaking, you should never use a steam mop on hardwood floors, especially if they are unsealed or not sealed properly. If you do use a steam mop on unsealed hardwood floors, it could cause moisture to seep down into the floor and damage the floor.
Wood floors absorb moisture causing the boards to swell. The edges of the boards begin to curl up and cause warping and cupping of the floor making it pop up with buckling underneath. Additionally, applying steam may cause water-stained spots that are nearly impossible to remove without sanding. Using a steam mop on wood floors can also void some manufacturer warranties.
Problems With Using a Steam Mop on Unsealed Hardwood Floors
Steam cleaning has many benefits including sanitizing and disinfecting..
It is a natural non-toxic cleaning method that kills 99.9% of household germs including E coli, salmonella, Staphylococcus, and tackles surface mold and dust mites. So, why is it a bad idea to use it on unsealed hardwood floors?
One tip to proper hardwood floor maintenance includes making sure that water and other liquids do not stand on the surface of any unsealed floors for a long period of time.
Additionally, spills should always be removed immediately by using natural cleaners or non-water-based cleaning products.
Some steam mops actually advertise that they are safe to use on hardwood floors. However, always be cautious of these claims. There are actually many problems with using a steam mop on unsealed hardwood floors that include:
- Steam mopping creates moisture leaving the surface feeling wet
- Wet hardwood floors that have absorbed moisture tend to swell and warp
- If a steam mop is left plugged in and filled with water, it will damage the wood floor beneath it. A steam mop should never sit for longer than 20 seconds in one spot.
- Steam mops have the potential of causing shocks or burns if not used properly.
- Steam mops with microfiber easily malfunction after they accumulate a bit of dirt.
- If a steam mop is used on a wood floor and left with a wet or dirty mop cloth, it can damage the steam mop.
- If a steam mop is used on a recently waxed floor, it can melt the wax and destroy the shiny finish.
How to Test the Seal on Hardwood Floors
Test to see if the floor is properly sealed by dropping a small drip of water onto the surface. If it beads up, you know that the wood is properly sealed. If the droplet spreads out or sinks into the surface, the wood is not properly sealed.
There are different types of wood floors, and each has its own specific reasons as to why a steam mop should not be used on them.
Engineered Hardwood Floors and Steam
If the floor is engineered hardwood, the steam cleaning can affect the quality of the adhesives. The moisture from the steam can seep down between the layers and weaken the bond permanently damaging the floors.
Solid Hardwood Floors
If the hardwood is sealed properly, it can withstand some amount of moisture and heat. However, if the wood is not sealed properly or is unsealed, do not use a steam mop. An unsealed or improperly sealed hardwood floor is more vulnerable and can easily become damaged with exposure to excessive moisture.
Never use a steam mop on laminate flooring. Laminate flooring is made of fiber or particleboard layers. When it gets wet, the steam will cause swelling and warping of the floor.
Steam mopping over painted wood could cause bubbles to form underneath the paint causing it to peel. If your hardwood floors are painted, it’s best to avoid steam mopping entirely.
What About Sealed Floors?
There are really not any steam mops that are suitable even for properly sealed hardwood floors. The decision to use a steam mop should depend on additional factors, such as the age of the floor, the condition of the wood, and the type of wood.
If the floor is properly sealed, some argue that a steam mop is ok to use.
Tips For Cleaning Unsealed Hardwood Floors
If your hardwood floor is unsealed, old, or has lost its finish due to wear and tear, improperly sealed, or if the floor is exposed and worn out, steam mopping should be avoided no matter what at all costs.
Instead of using a steam mop on unsealed hardwood floors, to clean them:
- Start with a good dry sweeping regularly at least twice per week. Sweep the hardwood floor using a broom, like a Swiffer Sweeper.
- Prevent scratches and surface damage with a dry mop. Wipe it down every day.
- Choose a wide microfiber broom head to pick up the dirt. Dry mopping helps clean hardwood floors by capturing debris to keep it from grinding into the surface or acting like sandpaper across the surface of your floors to scratch them.
- Use a vacuum on an appropriate wood floor setting. Do not use a beater bar since it will damage the wood flooring. Vacuuming the floor will help to remove surface dirt, sand, dust, crumbs, and hair from crevices and grooves in the wood floor. Vacuuming a hardwood floor regularly can also help to avoid scuff marks.
- Use a soft cloth, non-abrasive sponge, or a dry mop. The secret here is “dry” and non-abrasive. Also, make sure the scrubber is not scratchy or made from steel wool.
- If necessary, some experts suggest using a natural cleaner such as lemon or white vinegar to clean dirt from unsealed hardwood floors. Make sure the cleaner does not contain any harsh ingredients like ammonia or any that can cause abrasions or scuffs on the floor. Also, make sure if you use a cleanser that it is not gritty like baking soda. Avoid commercial cleaning products, especially if you want to wax or refinish the hardwood floor.
- Use white spirits or mineral spirits which are solvents that are normally used instead of turpentine or paint thinners. They can bring out the shine of a hardwood floor and are great at removing scuff marks. Although, some mineral spirits have a strong odor. Always use a dry sponge or cloth with the mineral spirits to remove any excess liquid form the floor. And, always be sure to completely dry the floor afterward.
- Use black tea, since the tannic acid in the tea helps to create a shine on the unsealed hardwood flooring. Boil a pot of water and let 6 bags of tea steep for 10 minutes. Use a clean, soft rag to gently wipe the floors. Make sure the rag is only damp and not saturated with water. And, never leave any water on a wood floor for very long.
- If you use any kind of liquid cleaner on a hardwood floor, be sure to make sure it is completely dry after cleaning it.
Protect your hardwood floors by:
- wiping up wet spills immediately
- Use glides or pads on the bottom of chair legs and other furniture.
- Put mats under your pet’s water and food bowls or the dining room table or baby’s high chair.
- Place doormats inside and outside all exterior doors to reduce tracking in dirt and wetness.
- Cover small scratches by using a crayon that matches the color of the wood, and rub it on the scratch to fill in the gap. Turn on a blow dryer to heat up the area, and buff it out with a soft cloth.
Wet cleaning is not recommended for unsealed wood. If, however, your floor is properly sealed, and you do choose to use a steam mop, be sure to test it on a small area first. Start with the lowest setting for the least amount of time in one spot.
Be sure the area is first swept clean of small debris. Also, always be sure to use pure water in the steam mop.
Never use excessive moisture or too often. Do not overuse the water by using steam every day, and always use smooth strokes going with the grain of the wood.
While steam cleaning is known to sanitize and disinfect, it is not a good idea to use a steam mop on hardwood floors, especially if the floors are not properly sealed.
There are other cleaning methods to use on wood flooring that are easy and will help your wood floors last a lifetime.