Steam mops are becoming quite the rage these days. They are seen on infomercials, sold at your local "home gadget" store and available through all of the major online retailers. If you are unfamiliar with these mops, they retail for on average $100.
These mops are sold as a green product because they use no harsh chemicals to clean. In fact, water is turned into steam to give these mops there cleaning power. Unlike other products that require cleaning solutions, these mops do not need anything but water. This feature is obviously very appealing to many consumers who are used to buying a variety of cleaning products.
They may be great for cleaning counter surfaces or grout. However, the question many of you are asking is: are they safe for my wood floors? There are many problems with these mops when used on wood flooring. Most brands claim that you can use their steam mops on hardwood floors. The majority of manufacturers specify that the hardwood floors have to be sealed or finished. However, some brands do not specify what kind of hardwood floors their mops are to be used on. If a manufacturer does not specify the wood floor type, it is necessary to be cautious of purchasing the mop. Even a sealed hardwood floor may have the occasional patch that goes unnoticed and is unsealed. There is always a chance that the floor contractor missed a spot when he applied polyurethane or varnish, especially in between the floorboards.
Even though a steam mop is truly intended for use on sealed wood floors, some consumers have decided to use them on worn out wood floors. A worn floor may loose its protective finish in high traffic areas. Typically, a wood floor in a high traffic area, a hallway, will wear away faster than the floor in a low traffic area. There are also areas where the homeowner is going to really want to clean because they are dirtier. However, most people will not notice that the finish has been stripped and removed in high traffic areas. Most homeowners are untrained when it comes to understanding their hardwood floors and will not be able to see if the finish has been stripped. Many people see a high traffic area as looking dirty and may steam bare wood and cause serious damage. No floor should ever be left unsealed. Read my finishing eBook. In it, I provide a step-by-step method of how to finish wood floors.
An unsealed floor is one that has not been polyurethaned or varnished. These floors have no protection and the wood is completely exposed. One of the major criticisms about steam mops is that they often leave too much water behind. When water gets into an unfinished and worn out floor, it puffs the grain. Water will absorb very quickly and cause the wood to warp. On an unsealed laminate, the steam will warp and buckle this floor immediately, causing permanent damage. Once water seeps into a laminate wood product, it will never come out! Also, in a laminate floor, the edges of the floorboard are unsealed and are just particleboard. If your floor is a hardwood, there is always a chance of steam absorbing into a scratch even through the thickest finish. Conclusively, there is always a chance that steam will get into your floor.
As we have seen, water damage is one major problem that can be caused by a steam mop. However, there are other concerns with this cleaning device. On sealed and finished hardwood floors, the replaceable cleaning pads on the steam mop have been known to leave scratch marks. Repairing a scratch is much more work than cleaning a wood floor! It requires sanding and refinishing. Clearly not all cleaning pads are going to scratch a wood floor surface but it is always a possibility that it could happen.
Furthermore, on laminate and hardwood floors some consumers complain about streak marks. It is usually not for this reason but, if you are really fortunate, cleaning products that were used on the floor previously caused your streaks. Many cleaning products contain waxes and minerals that tend to leave marks. A more serious possibility for streak marks caused by a steam mop is that some of the finish has been stripped off, making certain areas of the floor discolor. Steam mops have been known to remove the topcoat of wax and the finish on wood floors. Many consumers have had problems with steam mops where they strip new hardwood floors right down to the bare wood. This is obviously a problem because it will require sanding and polyurethaning the floor. It is hard to assess streak marks without actually seeing them. If you are lucky, it is a minor issue. If you are unlucky, it could easily mean a complete refinishing job.
Even though most steam mop brands are recommended for sealed hardwood floors, many people are very disappointed with their performance on hardwood floors. Some have said that steam mops are great for picking up dust and hair but not for removing caked on dirt. Also, numerous floor manufacturers are very specific with regard to what cleaning products and machines should be used on their floors. If you deviate from the manufacturer's recommendations, you can void your warranty. For example, the Bellawood Prefinished Hardwood Floors Certified 50 Year Warranty expressly states, "Do not wash or wet mop the floor with soap, water, oil-soap detergent or any other liquid cleaning material. This could cause swelling, warping, delamination, and joint-line separation, and void the warranty." It is that simple. It is quite a serious risk to void your warranty because you will never get support or compensation if you damage your floors.
If you decide to use a steam mop you may scratch your floor, warp the wood, strip the finish, cause discoloration or void your floor warranty. Considering all these possible problems, it is quite risky and unadvisable to use a steam mop on any type of wood flooring.
If you want to learn how to care for your wood floors properly, please read my cleaning article. In it, I recommend techniques for cleaning your wood floors in a safe way that won't cause any damage or void your floor warranty!
As a side note, this article presented a general view of all steam mops used on hardwood floors. However, the following brands and models were closely examined in the writing of this article: the Bissell 18677 Steam Mop Hard Floor Steam Cleaner, the H20 Mop by Sharpertek, the T1R Steamboy Steam Floor Mop, the Euro Pro Shark Steam Mop, the Haan FS20 Steam Mop & Floor Sanitizer and the Golden Touch Mop Steam Cleaner.