Is Steam Cleaning Bad for Hardwood Floors? 8 Crucial Facts to Know!

Are you worried about the effects of steam cleaning on your beautiful hardwood floors? You’re not alone. Many homeowners are concerned that steam cleaning might cause damage to their prized flooring, but at the same time, they want an effective method to clean and sanitize their home. If you’re caught in this dilemma, fear not!

In this blog post, we’ll explore the pros and cons of steam cleaning hardwood floors and offer expert advice to help you make the best decision for your home. So, grab a cup of coffee, and let’s dive in to find the perfect solution for keeping your floors clean, safe, and looking their best!

Keynote: Is Steam Cleaning Bad for Hardwood Floors?

Yes, steam cleaning can be harmful to hardwood floors. The moisture and heat from steam can cause warping, discoloration, and damage to the wood’s finish. It’s best to use a damp cloth or a cleaner specifically designed for hardwood floors to maintain their integrity and appearance.

Types of Hardwood Floors

When it comes to hardwood floors, there are four main types that you should be aware of: solid hardwood, engineered hardwood, laminate flooring, and bamboo flooring. Each type has its own unique characteristics, so let’s break them down one by one:

A. Solid Hardwood

Have you ever walked into a room and been captivated by the elegance and warmth of the hardwood floors? Chances are, you were admiring solid hardwood flooring. As the name suggests, solid hardwood floors are made from a single piece of wood. They come in various species, such as oak, maple, and cherry, each with its distinct look and durability.


  • Can be sanded and refinished multiple times
  • Durable and long-lasting
  • Timeless appeal and adds value to your home


  • Expensive and labor-intensive installation
  • Prone to expansion and contraction due to humidity and temperature changes
  • Not recommended for basements or areas with high moisture levels

B. Engineered Hardwood

Engineered hardwood is a more modern take on traditional solid hardwood floors. It consists of multiple layers of wood or plywood, topped with a thin layer of real hardwood. This design makes engineered hardwood more stable and less susceptible to moisture and temperature changes.


  • Less likely to warp or buckle due to humidity
  • Can be installed in basements and other moisture-prone areas
  • More affordable than solid hardwood


  • Can only be sanded and refinished a limited number of times
  • May not be as durable as solid hardwood

C. Laminate Flooring

Laminate flooring is a cost-effective alternative to real hardwood. It is made from high-density fiberboard (HDF) with a photographic image of hardwood on the surface, topped with a protective layer. Laminate flooring can mimic the look of various hardwood species at a fraction of the cost.


  • Budget-friendly
  • Easy to install and maintain
  • Resistant to scratches and stains


  • Cannot be sanded or refinished
  • Less authentic look and feel compared to real hardwood
  • May have a shorter lifespan than hardwood floors

D. Bamboo Flooring

Bamboo flooring is an eco-friendly option that has gained popularity in recent years. Made from the fast-growing bamboo plant, this type of flooring is both sustainable and stylish.


  • Environmentally friendly
  • Unique appearance
  • Durable and resistant to wear


  • Sensitive to humidity and temperature changes
  • Limited color and style options
  • May not be as hard or durable as traditional hardwoods

Comparison Table

Flooring TypeDurability (Years)RefinishingMoisture Resistance (%)Installation Cost (per sq. ft.)
Solid Hardwood80-100Multiple times60-80$6-$12
Engineered Hardwood20-30Limited times70-90$3-$10
Laminate Flooring10-20None70-80$1-$5
Bamboo Flooring20-25Limited times60-80$4-$8

Note: Please note that these values are approximate and can vary depending on the specific product, quality, and installation factors.

The Steam Cleaning Process

Now that we’ve talked about hardwood floor options, let’s discuss an effective method to keep them looking pristine: steam cleaning. Steam cleaning is a popular way to maintain and sanitize various surfaces, including hardwood floors. In this section, we’ll explore how steam cleaning works, its benefits, and potential risks.

How Steam Cleaning Works

Steam cleaning uses a combination of heat and water to clean and sanitize surfaces effectively. A steam cleaner heats water to high temperatures, creating steam that is then released through a nozzle. As the steam penetrates the surface, it loosens dirt, grime, and bacteria, which can be easily wiped away with a cloth or mop.

Benefits of Steam Cleaning

There are several reasons why steam cleaning is a popular choice for maintaining hardwood floors:

  • Chemical-free cleaning: Steam cleaning doesn’t require any harsh chemicals, making it an eco-friendly and safe option for your family and pets.
  • Sanitization: The high temperature of the steam kills bacteria, viruses, germs, and allergens, providing a deep clean and promoting a healthier living environment.
  • Effective stain removal: Steam cleaning can effectively remove stubborn stains and dirt from your hardwood floors without causing damage.
  • Low-moisture cleaning: Since steam evaporates quickly, it leaves less moisture on your floors, reducing the risk of water damage to your hardwood floors.

Reated post: Does steam mopping disinfect?

Potential Risks of Steam Cleaning

While steam cleaning has many benefits, it’s essential to be aware of the potential risks associated with this cleaning method:

  1. Water damage: Excessive moisture can cause wooden floors to warp or buckle. Always use a steam cleaner designed for hardwood floors and follow the manufacturer’s instructions to avoid damage.
  2. Wear and tear: Over time, steam cleaning can strip away the protective finish on your hardwood floors, making them more susceptible to scratches and stains.
  3. Discoloration: Prolonged exposure to steam may cause discoloration, especially in darker hardwoods. To prevent this, avoid using too much steam and always dry the floor thoroughly after cleaning.

Potential Negative Effects of Steam Cleaning on Hardwood Floors

While steam cleaning can be an effective way to clean and sanitize hardwood floors, it’s important to be aware of the potential negative effects it can have if not done correctly. Here are some of the possible adverse outcomes of improper steam cleaning:

1. Water Damage

As noted by the National Wood Flooring Association, water and wood don’t mix well. When steam cleaning hardwood floors, excess moisture can lead to various issues, such as:

  • Warping: Excess moisture can cause hardwood planks to warp, leading to an uneven floor surface.
  • Swelling: Prolonged exposure to moisture can cause the wood to swell, resulting in gaps between the planks or raised edges.
  • Discoloration: Over time, moisture can cause the wood’s color to fade or darken, negatively impacting the floor’s appearance.

2. Finish Damage

According to a study published in the Journal of Coatings Technology and Research, water exposure can lead to the degradation of wood finishes.

  1. Dulling: The heat and moisture from steam cleaning can cause the finish on hardwood floors to become dull, losing its shine and luster.
  2. Stripping: Repeated steam cleaning can strip away the protective finish on hardwood floors, leaving them more vulnerable to scratches and stains.

3. Mold and Mildew Growth

Excessive moisture from steam cleaning can create the perfect environment for mold and mildew growth, which can not only damage the wood but also negatively impact your home’s air quality. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that controlling moisture is the key to preventing mold growth in your home.

4. Shortened Lifespan of the Hardwood Floor

The cumulative effect of water damage, finish damage, and mold growth can ultimately shorten the lifespan of your hardwood floor, leading to costly repairs or replacement.

Factors Influencing the Risks of Steam Cleaning on Hardwood Floors

Several factors can influence the risks associated with steam cleaning hardwood floors. Being aware of these factors can help you make better decisions on whether or not steam cleaning is suitable for your specific floor. Let’s explore these factors and see what experts have to say about them:

A. Quality of the Flooring Material

The quality of your hardwood flooring can play a significant role in determining how well it can withstand steam cleaning. High-quality materials with a durable finish are more likely to handle steam cleaning better than lower-quality options. As Brett Miller, VP of Education and Certification at the National Wood Flooring Association, states, “Higher quality finishes will better withstand the rigors of daily life, including exposure to moisture and the cleaning process.”

B. Age and Condition of the Floor

Older floors or those in poor condition may be more susceptible to damage from steam cleaning. Cracks or gaps in the wood can allow moisture to seep in, leading to further damage. According to Michael Martin, President and CEO of the National Wood Flooring Association, “Aging wood floors may not be able to withstand the moisture produced during the steam cleaning. Regular maintenance can help extend the life of your hardwood floors.”

C. Frequency and Duration of Steam Cleaning

The frequency and duration of steam cleaning can also influence the risks associated with this method. Overusing a steam cleaner or exposing your floors to steam for too long can cause damage to the finish and the wood itself. Flooring expert Don Bollinger advises, “Limit your use of steam cleaners on hardwood floors, and always follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for proper use and care.”

D. Proper Use of Steam Cleaner

Using a steam cleaner specifically designed for hardwood floors and following the manufacturer’s instructions is crucial in minimizing the risks associated with steam cleaning. Improper use of a steam cleaner can lead to damage and other issues. Kjell Nymark, an instructor at the National Wood Flooring Association, emphasizes the importance of proper technique: “Always use a steam cleaner designed for hardwood floors and follow the manufacturer’s instructions closely to avoid causing damage to your floors.”

Tips for Safely Steam Cleaning Hardwood Floors

To minimize the potential risks associated with steam cleaning your hardwood floors, follow these essential tips:

1. Checking the Manufacturer’s Guidelines

  • Consult your flooring manufacturer’s recommendations for cleaning and maintenance.
  • Determine if they approve of steam cleaning for your specific type of hardwood floor.
  • Follow any provided guidelines for steam cleaning to avoid voiding warranties or causing damage.

2. Choosing the Right Steam Cleaner

  1. Select a steam cleaner specifically designed for hardwood floors.
  2. Look for features such as adjustable steam levels and quick drying times.
  3. Read reviews and consult expert recommendations to find a reliable and effective steam cleaner.

3. Using Appropriate Settings and Attachments

  • Use the lowest steam setting recommended for hardwood floors.
  • Attach a microfiber pad or other soft, absorbent material to the steam cleaner head.
  • Avoid using abrasive attachments or accessories that could scratch or damage the floor.

4. Preparing the Floor Before Steam Cleaning

  1. Sweep or vacuum the floor to remove loose dirt and debris.
  2. Address any spills or stains with a damp cloth or hardwood floor cleaner before steam cleaning.
  3. Check for any signs of damage, such as cracks or gaps, and address them before steam cleaning.

Know more: Why are hardwood floors cracking?

5. Proper Technique and Best Practices

  • Work in small sections, applying steam evenly and avoiding excessive moisture.
  • Quickly follow up with a dry microfiber cloth or mop to remove any residual moisture.
  • Allow the floor to dry completely before walking on it or moving furniture back into place.

Alternatives to Steam Cleaning for Hardwood Floors

If you’re concerned about the potential risks of steam cleaning, there are alternative cleaning methods that can be just as effective in maintaining your hardwood floors. Let’s explore some popular alternatives and the facts and statistics that support their effectiveness:

A. Dry Cleaning Methods

  1. Sweeping: Regularly sweeping your hardwood floors with a soft-bristle broom can help remove dirt and debris, preventing scratches and damage. According to a study by the American Cleaning Institute, 90% of households surveyed reported sweeping as a primary method for cleaning floors.
  2. Vacuuming: Using a vacuum cleaner with a hardwood floor setting can effectively remove dirt, dust, and allergens. A study published in the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology found that vacuuming can remove up to 98% of dust and allergens from hardwood floors.

B. Wet Cleaning Methods

  1. Damp Mopping: Damp mopping with a microfiber mop and a small amount of water can help clean your floors without causing excessive moisture damage. The National Wood Flooring Association recommends damp mopping as an effective method for cleaning hardwood floors without the risks associated with steam cleaning.
  2. Using Hardwood-Specific Cleaning Products: Specially formulated hardwood floor cleaners can help remove dirt and stains without causing damage to the wood or finish. A Consumer Reports test found that several hardwood-specific cleaning products effectively removed dirt and grime without leaving residue or causing damage to the floor.

C. Professional Hardwood Floor Cleaning Services

  • Hiring a professional hardwood floor cleaning service can provide thorough cleaning and maintenance without the risks of DIY methods. According to HomeAdvisor, the average cost for professional hardwood floor cleaning ranges from $150 to $300, depending on the size of your home and the level of service provided.
  • Professional cleaners have the necessary expertise, equipment, and cleaning products to safely and effectively clean your hardwood floors, ensuring their longevity and beauty.

Final Thoughts

Steam cleaning can be both a blessing and a curse for hardwood floors. While it offers an effective and chemical-free way to clean and sanitize your floors, it also presents potential risks that can cause damage if not done carefully. The key to maintaining your hardwood floors lies in understanding the factors that influence these risks and adopting the best practices for your unique situation.

So, is steam cleaning bad for hardwood floors? The answer depends on your specific flooring, its age and condition, and the way you use a steam cleaner. As a responsible homeowner, it’s essential to stay informed and make well-educated decisions based on expert advice and research. Remember, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to hardwood floor care; it’s a journey that requires ongoing attention, customization, and a commitment to preserving your home’s beauty and value.

In the end, steam cleaning is just one of the many ways to clean your hardwood floors. It’s up to you to weigh the pros and cons, consider alternative methods, and make the choice that best suits your needs and priorities. After all, a well-maintained hardwood floor is not only a stunning addition to your home but also a testament to your dedication to preserving its elegance for generations to come.

Read more: Why do hardwood floors squeak?

Steam Cleaning Bad for Hardwood Floors (FAQs)

What is the best thing to use to clean wood floors?

The best way to clean wood floors is by using a microfiber mop and a pH-neutral, non-abrasive cleaner specifically designed for hardwood floors. This combination removes dirt, dust, and grime without damaging the floor’s finish or causing any harm to the wood.

What cleaners should not be used on hardwood floors?

Avoid using harsh or abrasive cleaners, such as ammonia, bleach, or vinegar, as they can damage the finish and dull the appearance of hardwood floors. Also, steer clear of oil-based soaps, wax, or steam cleaners, as these can cause warping, cupping, or other damage.

How often should you steam clean your wood floors?

Steam cleaning is generally not recommended for wood floors, as excessive heat and moisture can cause damage, including warping and cupping. Instead, use a microfiber mop and a gentle hardwood floor cleaner for regular maintenance.

Can steam cleaning damage hardwood floors?

Yes, steam cleaning can damage hardwood floors by introducing excessive heat and moisture, which can lead to warping, cupping, and other issues. It’s best to use a gentle cleaning method, such as a microfiber mop and a hardwood-specific cleaner, to avoid potential damage.

Can steam cleaning remove scratches from hardwood floors?

Steam cleaning is not effective at removing scratches from hardwood or vinyl floors. To address scratches, consider using a touch-up kit designed for wood floors or consulting a professional for refinishing services if the damage is extensive.

Is it safe to use a steam cleaner on engineered hardwood floors?

Using a steam mop on engineered hardwood floors is generally not recommended, as the heat and vapor can cause the veneer to separate from the core layers or damage the finish. Instead, use a microfiber mop and a gentle cleaner suitable for engineered hardwood.

What type of steam cleaner is best for hardwood floors?

Steam cleaners are not advised for hardwood floors, as they can cause damage due to heat and moisture. Opt for a microfiber mop and a hardwood-specific cleaner to safely and effectively clean your floors.

Can steam cleaning cause warping or cupping of hardwood floors?

Yes, steam cleaning can cause warping or cupping of hardwood floors by introducing excessive heat and moisture. To maintain the integrity and appearance of your floors, use a microfiber mop and a gentle hardwood floor cleaner instead.

What are some natural cleaning solutions for hardwood floors?

A natural cleaning solution for hardwood floors can be made by mixing a few drops of mild dish soap with a gallon of warm water. Ensure the soap is pH-neutral and non-abrasive, and always wring out your mop to avoid excess moisture on the floor.

Is it recommended to hire a professional for hardwood floor cleaning?

Hiring a professional for hardwood floor cleaning can be beneficial if your floors are heavily soiled, have deep scratches, or need refinishing. Professionals have the expertise and equipment to restore your floors to their original condition without causing damage.

Can steam cleaning be used as a substitute for refinishing hardwood floors?

Steam cleaning cannot be used as a substitute for refinishing hardwood floors. Refinishing involves sanding, staining, and applying a protective coating to restore the floor’s appearance and protect the wood, which steam cleaning cannot achieve.

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