Why You Shouldn't Use a Steam Mop on Wood Floors

    The moisture can cause more damage than you think. Plus other advice on when to use steam mops.

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    steam mop
    Unlike with wood, you can use a steam mop on the majority of vinyl floors.
    Chris Philpot

    Steam mops seem like a perfect deep-cleaning tool—you don’t have to wring out dirty water like with a mop, and the heat can loosen up sticky spots that might otherwise require hard scrubbing. But Larry Ciufo, Consumer Reports’ test engineer who evaluates steam mops, has one word of caution:

    “You might think you can use a steam mop on a lot of surfaces because it’s just hot water. But the reality is, if you're not careful, they can do some damage,” he says.

    Here’s what you need to know before you start steam-mopping—including whether it’s safe to use it on wood floors, if it can disinfect, and what you can and cannot put into a steam mop's water reservoir. We also highlight the top-performing models from our tests. For more information on the steam mops, see Consumer Reports’ steam mop buying guide and ratings.

    Avoid Using a Steam Mop on Wood

    Although it may be tempting to deep clean your hardwood floors with a steam mop, don’t. “Drastic temperature changes and moisture may warp the wood,” says Steve Stocki, manager of marketing and merchandising at Lumber Liquidators.

    More on Floor Care

    That’s true whether you have solid or engineered wood floors, and for bamboo, too. Some steam mop manufacturers, such as Shark and Bissell, may say you can use it on a sealed hardwood floor, but Stocki recommends against it because moisture could still possibly force itself into the joints between the boards and get into the wood and warp it.

    CR recommends cleaning surface-sealed wood with a broom, dust mop, or vacuum cleaner, then using a damp—not dripping wet—mop. If your wood flooring has a surface-penetrating floor sealer, use a damp cloth rather than a mop.

    Be Careful Using a Steam Mop on Other Types of Flooring

    Even for non-wood flooring, you need to exercise caution. Stocki says it’s best to avoid using a steam mop on laminate, which is made of fiberboard, because the heat could damage the plastic surface. And linoleum is actually similar to wood in that it’s made of wood particles and linseed oil, so it’s porous and susceptible to moisture issues. It’s best to skip the steam and use a damp mop or cloth to clean instead.

    Ceramic and porcelain tile can be tricky, too, even though they’re nonporous. Though the tiles themselves can stand up to the heat and moisture of a steam mop, the grout could be damaged, because hot water may loosen or change the chemical composition of the grout. So you’ll want to limit how often you use a steam mop on your tiled entry or kitchen floor.

    For regular cleaning of ceramic and porcelain tile, use a sponge mop with warm water and a pH-neutral solution (check the label of the cleaner to see whether it is pH-neutral). Chemicals like ammonia or petroleum may damage your tile and grout, and void the warranty on your floors. For cleaning grout stains, CR recommends using a grout brush dipped in a solution of ½ cup of bleach to a gallon of water. (For more on all types of flooring, see our latest ratings and buying guide.)

    What about vinyl floors? "The majority of vinyl is safe for steam mops," Stocki says. However, vinyl is made of plastic with a backing of wood particles, so it could still be susceptible to heat damage; check your steam mops' manual to see whether your model is recommended for use on vinyl.

    Watch What You Put Into a Steam Mop

    Chemicals in cleaners can damage the steam mop or make it unsafe to use. “There is a risk that chemicals will build up on a steam mop’s flash heater or boiler, reducing the transfer of heat and therefore stopping the steam,” says Trisha Rasch, an associate brand manager at Bissell. Rasch says adding chemicals could also void the steam mop’s warranty.

    And this may surprise you, but you shouldn’t put tap water in your steam mop, either. “The mineral deposits from tap water can build up on a steam mop’s heating coil, which would damage the steam mop,” says Ciufo. “You’ll need to use distilled water, just like with some irons.”

    Top Steam Mops From CR’s Tests

    These three steam mops have no trouble getting rid of the caked-on ketchup, mustard, and jam we use in our tests. They’re listed in alphabetical order, not by rank in our ratings.

    Haniya Rae

    I​’m interested in the intersection between design and technology​—whether for ​drywall or robotic vacuums—and how the resulting combination affects consumers. I’ve written about consumer advocacy issues for publications like The Atlantic, PC Magazine, and Popular Science, and now I’m happy to be tackling the topic for CR. For updates, feel free to follow me on Twitter (@haniyarae).