It is not advisable to use a steam cleaner on your hardwood floor without consulting with a professional. That’s not what it means when a hardwood is steamed, though. Steaming hardwood means that the wood has been treated with hot steam after it is cut but before it is installed. This is typically done to change the color of the wood. To understand how it works, you must first understand the two types of wood.
Heartwood and Sapwood
When a tree first forms, the cells of the wood are almost white in color, and they transmit liquids rapidly through the tree. This wood is called sapwood. As the sapwood moves more and more liquid, it will eventually begin to pick up minerals. The minerals will stain the sapwood a darker color and prevent it from moving liquids as readily. As a result, more sapwood grows in rings. So, the darker heartwood at the center is generally considered more attractive than the sapwood. However, sapwood is far more abundant than heartwood. That’s where steaming comes into the picture.
Sapwood develops into heartwood because it moves liquid through its cells and picks up materials. To expedite that process, manufacturers will steam the wood. The heat and pressure of the steaming forces moisture through the cells of the wood. That makes the sapwood look more like the heartwood. It also sometimes results in heartwood begins slightly darker and richer in color than when it started.
Most companies that steam their hardwood are very secretive about the exact process they use. However, most of them are fairly similar. They use hot steam to enhance the deepness and richness of color throughout the wood.
After the wood is steamed, it will then be dried either by a kiln or by air-drying. Some companies mix both of them. The wood should be as dry as any other type of lumber by the time it is processed. It should also be a deeper color. You will know if wood has been truly steamed when the sapwood is almost the same color as the heartwood, and the heartwood is a uniform color.
Steamed hardwood floors are oftentimes popular for people who want to have the look of an older floor without the higher price of some more rare woods. Before mass deforestation, many hardwood floors contained much more heartwood. To recreate that look, you could choose steamed hardwood.