Should You Steam Clean Hardwood Flooring?

Hardwood floors can add warmth and beauty to any home. However, keeping them looking their best requires regular cleaning and maintenance. Some homeowners opt to deep clean their hardwood floors periodically with steam cleaners. But is steam cleaning recommended for hardwood floors? There are pros and cons to consider.

What is Steam Cleaning for Hardwood Floors?

Steam cleaning uses hot vapor to deep clean floors. A steam cleaner machine heats up regular tap water to very high temperatures, converting it to steam. The steam is then directed onto the floor surface through a handheld wand or attachment.

The high-pressure, hot steam helps loosen and dissolve dirt, stains, and debris from the wood floors. Steam cleaners for hardwood floors often have settings to control the amount of steam output for more delicate floors. They also frequently come with microfiber pads, soft brushes, or other accessories to help scrub the floors as the steam is applied.

Benefits of Steam Cleaning Hardwoods

There are a few potential benefits that cause some homeowners to turn to steam for cleaning their hardwood floors:

  • Hygienic Clean: The heat from the steam can sanitize floors and kill germs, bacteria, dust mites, and other allergens. This can help improve indoor air quality.
  • Deeper Clean: Steam can penetrate into crevices and lift out dirt from the tiny grooves in hardwood that regular sweeping or mopping may miss. The heat and agitation from the steam loosens stuck-on debris.
  • Chemical-Free: Steam cleaning avoids the use of soaps, detergents, or other chemical cleaners that could leave residue. It relies on heat and steam alone to lift dirt. This makes it potentially safer for kids and pets.
  • Spot Cleaning: Steam cleaners allow you to target problem areas and stains. You don’t have to clean the entire floor if only high traffic areas need attention.

Potential Risks of Steam Cleaning Hardwood Floors

While steam cleaning sounds appealing, there are also some notable risks:

  • Moisture Damage: Excess moisture from steam could damage hardwood floors, causing warping, cupping, discoloration, or degradation of the finish. Quick passes with the steam cleaner are best to avoid saturation.
  • Heat Damage: The intense heat from steam could potentially scorch, discolor, or mar sensitive hardwood if not used properly at the right temperatures and settings. Slow, careful steam cleaning is safest.
  • Finish Removal: The hot steam and scrubbing action may prematurely remove protective floor finish or sealers from wood floors. This leaves them vulnerable to wear. Avoid steam on floors with worn finishes.
  • Not for All Floors: Steam is not appropriate for all wood floors. Factory-finished hardwoods and engineered wood floors are very vulnerable to moisture and heat damage from aggressive steam cleaning.
  • Still Requires Manual Scrubbing: While the steam loosens debris, you still have to scrub floors manually with a brush or pad attachment. This makes it labor-intensive.

Overall, there are some notable risks associated with steam cleaning hardwood floors. Proceed with extreme care if attempting it.

Best Practices When Steam Cleaning Hardwood Floors

If you do wish to deep clean your hardwood floors with a steam cleaner, follow these best practices to reduce the risks of damage:

  • Test First: Always do a test spot in an inconspicuous area before cleaning the whole floor. Check for any issues with the finish.
  • Use Low Settings: Use the lowest steam setting possible and avoid high heat. Move the steam cleaner head constantly to prevent excessive heat buildup.
  • Work Quickly: Steam clean in small sections, moving constantly. Don’t linger too long in one spot.
  • Dry Immediately: Use clean towels to immediately dry steamed areas to minimize moisture penetration into the wood.
  • Don’t Overwet: Avoid excessive amounts of steam and water. At most, you want minimal dampness on the surface. The wood should not feel soaked.
  • Seal Afterwards: Reapply protective floor sealers or finishes if they appear worn or compromised after steaming.

Exercising caution and care with these tips will provide the safest steam cleaning results on delicate hardwoods. But even with precautions, there are certain types of wood floors that should avoid steam entirely.

What Types of Hardwood Floors Should Not Be Steam Cleaned?

Some hardwood floors are simply too vulnerable to moisture and heat to make steam cleaning advisable. Avoid steaming the following types:

Factory-Finished Hardwood

Most modern hardwood floors come pre-finished from the factory with aluminum oxide urethane or similar coatings. The multi-layer finishes create a protective wear layer. The heat and moisture from steam can damage factory finishes, causing bubbling, peeling, discoloration, or gloss reduction. Avoid steam on newer factory-finished hardwood floors.

Engineered Hardwood

Engineered wood floors have a very thin veneer of real wood adhered to a plywood or composite wood base. Steam can penetrate the thin wood layer and damage the stability of the cores. The thin veneers are also vulnerable to detachment and moisture damage from excess steam.

Acid-Sensitive Woods

Some wood species have a naturally high acidic content which makes them prone to discoloration and bleaching when exposed to alkaline substances like steam cleaning solutions. Wood floors made from maple, beech, ash, or Asian birch should not be steam cleaned due to acid sensitivity.

Unsuitable Stains and Finishes

Floors treated with wax, oil, or penetrating stains can suffer finish removal and damage from steam. Urethane finishes softened by wear may also be vulnerable to early removal from hot steam. Avoid steam cleaning these finishes.

Wide Plank Floors

Wide plank hardwood floors (planks wider than 3 inches) are most prone to cupping and warping damage from excess moisture. The wider boards can more easily swell and shrink from steam penetration.

When in doubt, it’s always safest to avoid steaming factory-finished or engineered wood floors. For other solid hardwood, exercise extreme care and steam clean only occasionally in small sections if needed.

What is the Best Method to Clean Hardwood Floors?

While steaming can deeply clean hardwoods, it comes with risks. For routine cleaning and maintenance, follow these recommended methods instead for safe, effective hardwood floor care:

Daily Dry Dust Mopping

Dry dust mopping with a microfiber mop removes surface dust and dirt between deeper cleanings. Frequent dust mopping helps prevent buildup of grit that can scratch floors. Do this daily or as needed.

Weekly Damp Mopping

Use a barely moist cotton or microfiber mop to remove stuck-on dirt and residues. Mix a small amount of hardwood floor cleaner (non-alkaline, wax free) into water per product instructions. Avoid excessive moisture and never soak the floors.

Occasional Deep Cleaning

When floors need more than just a surface clean, use a hardwood floor deep cleaning machine. These machines combine spraying, scrubbing, and vacuuming for an effective, low-moisture clean. Or use a cleaning product compatible with Bona hardwood floor cleaners and a microfiber mop. Follow with mopping clean water to rinse.

Protective Floor Care

Keep hardwood floors looking their best with these tips:

  • Sweep or vacuum to remove grit before wet mopping
  • Place mats at entrances to reduce dirt and moisture
  • Use floor protectors and felt pads under furniture
  • Avoid walking on floors with spike heels or cleats
  • Reapply protective finishes per manufacturer schedule
  • Maintain moderate humidity in the home
  • Clean up spills immediately to avoid staining

With routine gentle cleaning methods, deep steam cleaning should rarely be required. When in doubt, check the floor manufacturer’s care recommendations. Avoid excessive moisture or heat from steam on vulnerable hardwood floors.

FAQ About Steam Cleaning Hardwood Floors

Still have some questions about using steam cleaners on hardwood flooring? Here are answers to some frequently asked questions:

Is it okay to use a steam mop on hardwood floors?

In general, no—steam mops are not recommended. They provide a very concentrated blast of steam that can damage many wood floor surfaces. At minimum, use with extreme caution and on lowest settings on only the most steam-tolerant solid hardwood floors.

Can you put steam cleaners on laminate floors?

No. Laminate flooring should never be steam cleaned. The moisture can seep into seams and cause the laminate planks to swell, warp, and separate. Use low-moisture methods like damp mopping or specialized laminate cleaners instead.

What kind of steam cleaner is safe for hardwood?

Look for low-heat steam cleaners designed specifically for sealed hardwood floors. The safest have large steam heads to disperse steam evenly, adjustable steam levels, and accessories like soft pads. Avoid concentrated high-heat steam.

How often can you steam clean hardwoods?

Limit steam cleaning to only occasional deep cleaning, no more than once every few months. Frequent steaming risks finish removal and moisture damage. For routine cleaning, dry dust mopping and damp mopping are better options.

Does steaming refinish hardwood floors?

No. Steaming does not refinish or restore wood floors. It only cleans them. Refinishing involves sanding floors down to bare wood and completely reapplying stains, sealers and protective finishes.

Steam cleaning can deep clean hardwoods but comes with risks. Limit its use and exercise caution to avoid moisture damage to most wood flooring surfaces. For routine care, stick to dry dust mopping and gentle damp mopping instead. With proper maintenance, hardwood floors will retain their beauty for years to come.


Many homeowners are curious whether steam cleaning can revitalize dingy, dirty hardwood floors and provide a thorough deep clean. However, steam cleaning hardwood floors is controversial. When done judiciously using the proper equipment and techniques, steam can provide an occasional deeper cleaning by lifting up ingrained dirt from wood pores. But the intense heat and moisture of steam also carries notable risks of damage to most hardwood floors. Factory-finished wood, engineered wood, wide planks, and acid-sensitive species are especially vulnerable. For routine maintenance, low-moisture methods like dust mopping and damp mopping are far safer and just as effective. Ultimately, hardwood floors and steam cleaners don’t mix well in most cases. Limit steam to only occasional use on the most steam-tolerant solid hardwoods to avoid moisture issues down the line. With the right gentle cleaning regimen, you can safely keep your hardwood floors looking beautiful for years without the need for risky steaming.