Steam cleaners are cleaning appliances designed for a variety of surfaces. They emit water vapor and heat. They can be both very large for commercial use and small for home use. The small ones for homes look similar to a household vacuum cleaner. They have an area for water storage.
Steam cleaners take the water sitting in the holding chamber and turn it into vapor. As vapor expands, it is forced to exit through the nozzle.
Then, the water vapor is directed onto the surface that needs cleaning. The steam cools down and turns back into water when it comes in contact with the surface it is cleaning. It removes the dirt by pulling it off the surface.
There are different varieties of steam cleaners. Some of them have two holding chambers; one for clean water and one for dirty water. Other models of steam cleaners don't have a separate chamber for dirty water and require the person using it to remove the dirty water droplets off the surface.
Some steam cleaners just require water. Others require soap and other chemical detergents to activate them. The temperature of the water vapor varies depending on the type of steam cleaner.
No. The two main components that do the cleaning are heat and water. Heat and water cause wooden floorboards to buckle and crack. A steam cleaner will change the moisture content in your floorboards. This is why they are prone to buckling.
The water vapor will probably penetrate into the floor finish. More than likely, you are forcing water into the grain of the wood. Some people say that if you have a Swedish finish on your hardwood floors, you are safe to use a steam cleaner.
Regardless of what anyone tells you, it is best to avoid using any water solution or steam cleaner to clean your wood floors. You are just asking for potential damage.
Not all floors are finished equally. Some floors have more coatings of finish than others. Also, not every floor has a high quality finish on it. Besides, it is enough to void any warranty that you have on your wood floors.
Also, as soon as you have to use any soaps or disinfectants, you may be asking for trouble. The soap could potentially react with your finish in a way that could discolor it or even peel it off.
If the steam cleaning instructions say it is okay to use on hardwood floors, it does not mean that it is safe! There are many products on the market that claim to be safe on hardwood floors. They are not always safe. Even some floor cleaners like Murphy's Oil Soap leave a messy film.
If you want to have clean hardwood floors, don't use any steam cleaners. Don't use any steam mops either. Read my article, "Steam Mops on Wood Floors".
If you want to clean your wood floors safely, read my articles "How To Clean and Maintain Hardwood Floors - Part One and Part Two".