The question of steam cleaning hardwood floors is a tricky one, with plenty of variables and confounding factors and alarming internet tales to consider.
Luckily, the short answer to "can you steam clean hardwood floors" is yes, provided you follow a few simple guidelines. Here's how.
What Type of Hardwood Floor Can You Steam Clean?
There are many different types of hardwood flooring, such as laminate, sealed hardwood, unsealed hardwood, and wood grain vinyl flooring, and each one comes with its own set of opinions.
The Advap team has been using dry steam vapor on floors for more than 20 years with the Ladybug, MondoVap, and VaporJet systems. Other than unsealed hardwood flooring, all other types of hardwood floors can be cleaned successfully without any signs of degradation across multiple types and brands of flooring when used properly.
Hardwood floors that have an acid-cured, aluminum oxide, water-based polyurethane, oil-based polyurethane, or moisture-cured urethane finish should all be fine for steam vapor cleaning. If a penetrating oil sealer was used on the floor, then steam vapor cleaning can slowly degrade it over time and require you to touch it up every so often.
Always check your flooring first in an inconspicuous area, and you may also want to check with your manufacturer for warranty information as well.
What Are My Options to Clean My Hardwood Floor?
You have a few choices when it comes to cleaning flooring of the aforementioned varieties.
- Cleaning solution. Some flooring companies may offer a cleaning solution you can apply by hand, scrub, and then buff off. However, this is time-consuming and physically taxing, especially with a large area to cover.
- Dry mopping. Dry mopping with a damp mop is a popular option. However, like a cleaning solution, this also takes a lot of time and effort.
- Wet steam. Then there are so-called “steam” cleaners that are not dry steam vapor systems. These can vary from a steam mop to a extraction vac wet system. Both of these systems are, in our opinion, too wet and can damage the floor.
- Boiler steam vapor systems. There are also inexpensive steam vapor systems that do utilize a boiler to produce steam, but are not of high enough quality to produce the kind of “dry” steam vapor we are looking for.
- High-quality steam vapor. When choosing a high-quality steam vapor system, you are looking for a higher wattage system designed to produce and maintain a quality dry steam vapor. This will give you the type of steam you want without over-wetting the surface, which makes drying times nearly instantaneous.
Is It Safe to Steam Clean a Hardwood Floor?
Short answer: Yes, if it's sealed and you're using dry steam vapor.
Whenever you use a new cleaning method, no matter what your floor type, you should check with your manufacturer's warranty and then do a spot check in an inconspicuous area to make sure your cleaning tools don't cause any damage or discoloration.
You should also check to confirm that your floor is sealed (keep reading, we'll get there) and that there aren't any gaps or loose boards where water could potentially get in.
The main concern that articles about steam cleaning wood are warning against involves the buildup of too much moisture. Since dry steam vapor has very little moisture content, you don't have to worry about that as much.
How Do I Know if My Floor Is Sealed?
The sealing process prevents moisture from sinking into the floor. Try dropping a small amount of water onto the floor and see what happens. If the droplets bead up, that means your floor is sealed. If they spread out or absorb into the wood, then it isn't.
Are There Any Risks to Using Dry Steam Vapor?
The main things you should be concerned with are over-wetting your floor or overheating it by leaving the heated tool in one place for too long. Both of these issues could potentially cause water damage via water penetrating deeper into the floor or structural or buckling issues from overheating.
Make sure you use a high-quality system, which will reduce any potential issues. You should also make sure you're using the system properly (more on this below), which reduces risks not only on hardwood, but also laminate, vinyl, and many other surfaces.
Many manufacturers may not cover what they think of as “steam cleaning” your hardwood floors. This is due to the fact that they are unfamiliar with dry steam vapor. “Steam cleaning” is different from cleaning with a steam vapor machine; steam vapor is very dry, so not much moisture is left on the flooring. Steam heat can raise wood grain if the wood is bare or only a wax finish is used, but most sealed hardwood is great with dry steam vapor.
How to Use a Steam Vapor System to Clean Hardwood
There are two main stages to a good dry steam clean: before and during. Here are the steps you should keep in mind and on your to-do list.
Step 1: Warm up your system.
It's best if you've already been using your system for at least a short while before starting on your floor to make sure it's heated up properly and creating the hottest, driest steam. Maybe start off with your walls or a carpeted floor, while you've got the system out.
Step 2: Set the volume.
If your system has a volume control, keep it on the lowest setting, a one or a two at most if it's numbered. This will make sure you're creating the hottest, driest steam possible.
Step 3: Check your accessories.
It's always important to accessorize properly. Usually, the best accessory for hardwood is a large rectangular floor brush connected to at least two extension handles.
You should also use a filler pad between the nylon bristles, which helps to more evenly span the heat and steam out over the entire surface of the brush. The pad also helps trap any extra condensation that may form as the steam exits the steam tube and moves to the open pocket/channel in the brush.
Step 4: Wrap it up.
The floor brush should be fully wrapped with a terry towel forcing the steam down to the floor surface and not blowing out the ends of the floor tool. You're basically “diapering” the large floor brush using the filler pad and a terry towel.
If using a microfiber towel, it is very important to make sure that the steam can pass through the microfiber and not get trapped behind the towel. Trapped steam will make the fiber become very wet very quickly, and a wet towel cannot absorb moisture.
Step 5: Spot check.
Do a small test in an inconspicuous area to make sure the steam doesn't have any negative effects on your floor or its finish.
Step 6: Commence the brushing.
Traveling in the direction of the wood grain, move the brush in a back and forth motion, slightly slower than you would vacuum. Always keep the tool moving at a speed just slower than vacuuming, following the direction of the wood grain, and don't spend too long in any one spot.
If you are interrupted for any reason, make sure you don't leave the hot tool sitting on the floor or you're leaving yourself vulnerable to that heat damage we discussed.
Step 7: Return to tough spots.
If there were any spots that didn't come up one your first and second pass, now is the time to try going over them again. Once again, try one or two more passes, then move along for a bit and come back.
Step 8: Relax!
There's no need for rinsing or drying with dry steam. Just enjoy the shine.
For a fast and effective way to clean your sealed hardwood floors, you can't do better than dry steam.
Advanced Vapor Technologies has been in the market for more than 20 years and is confident that the Ladybug system will leave your floors looking like they've been freshly buffed.