Many steam cleaners are available for use on flooring, and especially for hardwood.
Hardwood is naturally quite absorbent material, and exposure to water can cause it to plump, warp, twist, and mold. A steam cleaner by its very nature uses water heated to a very hot vapor to clean and disinfect the surface of a floor.
Steam Cleaners “Designed” for Hardwood
There are some companies that are selling steam cleaning machines that are supposedly able to clean hardwood floors safely. 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.
Not Using Steam Cleaners on a Hardwood Floor
All steam cleaners come with a warning that you must make sure the floor seal is intact before using their machines on the hardwood.
In order to test the thickness and durability of the seal protecting your hardwood floor, drip a small amount of water onto its surface. If the water immediately beads up, then the seal is intact and the floor cannot be penetrated. But if the water spreads out or sinks into the wood, then 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.
Potential Problems with Steam Cleaning
There are many reasons to avoid steam cleaning on the hardwood, including:
Wood seams: Even if the wood itself is perfectly sealed against moisture penetration, the seams between the planks can be vulnerable.
The 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 in 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.As the vapor cools and condenses back into liquid water, you are left with moisture that can damage wood fibers.
Using Steam Cleaning on Engineered Hardwood Flooring
Engineered hardwood flooring products are manufactured materials made by taking a thin layer of hardwood and adhering it to a filler backing. A clear wear layer is then placed over the surface to protect that thin hardwood layer from damage. The advantage is that the wear layer provides a quite hard, durable, easy to clean surface, while also preserving the look of natural wood. 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 with steam cleaners. The wear layer generally tends to only 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 all vulnerable to liquid steam. In fact, since the steam can degrade the adhesives used in the bonding process, the danger of damage is actually even greater with engineered, laminate hardwood flooring.