Do Steam Mops Work? 10 Tips and Tricks

Which flooring works best and how they compare to regular mops

closeup of a steam mop

The Spruce / Jorge Gamboa

Steam floor mops, such as the Shark mop and similar floor cleaners, offer robust cleaning power and convenience. Using a steam mop at first can be tricky, so here are 10 tips to make a steam mop work safely and efficiently for your household.

An illustration of what not to do with a steam mop
The Spruce / Ellen Lindner
  • 01 of 10

    Wait to Plug in the Steam Mop

    plugging in the steam mop

    The Spruce / Jorge Gamboa

    Once plugged in, a steam mop heats up quickly. Thus, the mop foot can get too hot to handle if you try to attach the cloth while it's heating up. There's also a potential risk of electrical shock while handling a wet mop cloth while the mop is plugged in.

    Before you plug in the steam mop, take time to fill the water reservoir, unwind the cord, and attach the mop cloth. Plugging it in should always be the last step. If the water reservoir needs to be filled during the cleaning process, take the time to unplug the mop before refilling.

  • 02 of 10

    Don't Idle

    plugged-in steam mop

    The Spruce / Jorge Gamboa

    Sometimes you get distracted while you're waiting for the mop to heat up. For example, you're ready to start cleaning the floor and you've plugged it into an outlet, but then the phone rings or someone's at the door. If that happens, unplug the mop and return to it later.

    Heat builds up very quickly—a few seconds with some models. If the steam mop is left in one spot for too long, it can apply too much steam and heat to a small area and possibly damage the flooring.

  • 03 of 10

    Vacuum First

    vacuuming before mopping

    The Spruce / Jorge Gamboa 

    Floors should be vacuumed or swept before they are steam-mopped. If ​you skip this step, any surface dirt, sand, dust, crumbs, and hair will be picked up by the steam mop, hindering its ability to do a good job.

    It's similar to washing a window with a dirty cloth. Mopping without vacuuming also means you'll have to change the mop cloth more frequently. 

  • 04 of 10

    Only Use Water in the Reservoir

    pouring water into the resevoir

    The Spruce / Jorge Gamboa

    With the exception of a few models that have dual functions, steam mops are typically designed to be used with water and nothing else. The steam alone does a great job of cleaning the floor.

    Always read the manual on your mop model thoroughly for complete use guidelines.

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    Use a Clean Cloth

    dirty steam mop cloth

    The Spruce / Jorge Gamboa

    When you have a large floor area or more than one room to clean, it can be tempting just to keep mopping and ignore the amount of dirt buildup on the mop cloth. However, cleaning with a dirty mop just spreads the dirt around.

    For this reason, it's a good idea to have one or two spare mop cloths on hand, so you can put on a fresh one when needed. When changing the mop cloth, remember to unplug the mop first.

  • 06 of 10

    Avoid Hardwood and Laminate Floors

    laminate floor

    The Spruce / Jorge Gamboa 

    Avoid using a steam mop on any type of flooring that should not have hot water on it or on adhesive tiles with lifting corners. It's common for steam-mop manufacturers to warn against using steam mops on "unsealed" floors, a vague direction. The fact is there's no such thing as a completely sealed wood or laminate floor.

    Most hardwood floors are finished with polyurethane, a moisture-resistant finish. However, even hairline gaps between boards are not bridged by the finish, thus leaving the wood exposed to moisture and especially steam. ​Laminate flooring is made up of prefinished planks, and the seams between the planks are not sealed. The seams can let steam reach the core of the flooring material, which is highly vulnerable to moisture. 

  • 07 of 10

    Don't Use Steam Mops on Walls

    closeup of a wall

    The Spruce / Jorge Gamboa

    While using a steam mop to wash walls doesn't sound like a bad idea in theory, hot steam can cause paint to bubble, peel, or lift. It also can damage the drywall or other material under the paint. So it's best to avoid using your steam mop on the walls.


    Click Play for Mistakes to Avoid When Using a Steam Floor Mop

  • 08 of 10

    Steer Clear of Cold Bathroom Fixtures

    steam mopping near a toilet

    The Spruce / Jorge Gamboa

    Cold porcelain toilets and other fixtures can crack if subjected to a burst of hot steam. So keep the mop on the floor and away from direct contact with any fixtures.

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    Remove the Dirty, Wet Cloth

    removing the used cloth from a steam mop

    The Spruce / Jorge Gamboa 

    Leaving a wet mop cloth on when storing your steam mop can result in mildew, as well as ruin the mop head. Therefore, you should always remove the cloth after the mop has cooled. Laundering the dirty cloth immediately will help to remove stains before they set in.

    It's fine to add a clean cloth if you want the mop to be ready to roll the next time you need it. Just wait until the mop head is cool and dry.

  • 10 of 10

    Don't Use Fabric Softener or Dryer Sheets on the Mop Cloths

    dryer sheets and laundry pods

    The Spruce / Jorge Gamboa

    Most steam mop pads can be cleaned in the washer with like-color items. And it's typically best to let them air dry to maintain their integrity. Also, many mop pads are microfiber, which can be damaged if it's washed with fabric softener or a dryer sheet.

  • Do steam mops work better than regular mops?

    Traditional mops can be helpful to quickly clean a spill or dirty spot. But steam mop heads tend to absorb the dirt better, and they use their steam to kill bacteria and mites that might be lingering on the floor.

  • Do steam mops work on tile floors?

    In general, steam mops can be used on tile floors, including ceramic and porcelain. They will remove dirt from the tile surface, and they can even clean grout.

  • Why is my floor sticky after I steam mop?

    Sticky floors after steam mopping are often the result of residue from cleaning products that had been used on the floor. Using a dirty mop pad also can cause sticky floors.

Article Sources
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  1. Devices for Disinfecting Surfaces and Air. Western States PEHSU.