I remember my first strip & wax job back in the day. It took me 18 hours to complete it and the area wasn’t even that big. I thought I was well prepared and yet everything that could go wrong it actually did, but because I was prepared I was able to turn this potential failure into a successful completion. If you have never stripped and refinished a floor before I suggest to start with a small job. And this is what I want to discuss today – a very basic strip and wax job from the beginning to the end.
Ideally, I recommend learning it hands on from someone who already has an experience in stripping and waxing floors, but if that’s not an option, don’t worry – I’ll walk you through it.
Here is the list of the tools you will need to successfully strip and refinish VCT floor:
- 175 rpm floor buffer (most common is 17″ or 20″ cleaning path but smaller will do as well, only it will take longer)
- 1 black stripping pad
- 1 wet and dry vac
- 2 commercial mop buckets with ringer
- 1 dust mop
- 1 doodlebug pad holder tool
- 1 black doodlebug pad (cs)
- 1 moss rubber floor squeegee
- 1 floor scraper
- 3 mop handles
- 2 mop heads
- 1 finish mop head (make sure this is a rayon mop – especially designed for applying floor finish)
If you have never used a commercial floor buffer before – you will need to learn how to use it. This type of machine has a lot of torque and handling it at first is not easy. If you won’t take the time to learn how to use it – chances are you are going to end up with horrible looking floor and some holes in the walls as well. Here is an example of how not to strip floors.
Now since you have practiced how to use your buffer we can start stripping the floor. First we need to move all furniture. Everything you can remove from the room you’re working on should be removed. If there is a stove or some heavy fixture that will remain in the same spot, you can leave it in place and work around it.
First step is to sweep the floor, so we don’t have any debris that will get under the buffer and scratch the tiles. Make sure to scrape the gum of the floor as well.
Next, mix your stripper in the mop bucket with cold or luk-warm water in the ratio 1:4 (1 part stripper to 4 parts water) Do not use hot water as chemicals contained in the stripper may evaporate and all you will have left will be hot water. Don’t buy the cheapest stripper on the market. The quality of the stripper will determine if your job is going to be fun or if it will turn into a disaster. The Husky 704 Rinse Free Floor Stripper should be more than satisfactory for most of the jobs you will come across, however, if you need something stronger, the best stripper I have ever used was “Bare Bones” from NCL.
Apply mixed stripper generously with the mop to the floor. Don’t wring the mop while doing so. You need enough stripper on the floor to dilute the wax. Make sure the area you’re working on is manageable (usually 400 sq ft at the time). You don’t want the stripper to dry on the floor before you are able to agitate it with your machine and remove it. If the stripper starts drying, simply apply more water to the floor. The dwelling time is usually 8-15 minutes. Refer to the label – it is important to give stripper enough time to react with the floor finish for easy mechanical removal.
Install black stripping pad on your machine, adjust the handle to the comfortable position and turn on your buffer. Make slow passages in the left and right directions and work forward not backwards. This way you will always be walking on the striped floor and you won’t be sliding and slipping. Do not try to force your buffer. Make it listen to you. Push the handle gently down if you want it to turn left, lift it gently up if you want it to go to the right.
Use the doodle bug tool with black pad to strip corners and any areas not accessible with the machine. Use the floor scraper to remove the wax build up along the baseboards.
Vacuum diluted wax with wet and dry vacuum and immediately mop the floor with, preferably hot water. Use a floor squeegee to move diluted wax closer to your vacuum from hard to reach areas such as corners, under equipment etc.
Let the floor dry. If drying takes a long time use a fan or an air mover.
Examine the floor. If you see remaining of the wax on the floor, repeat the process. If not, it is time to apply new finish. Make sure the floor is stripped thoroughly. The new floor finish you are about to put will work like a magnifying glass. If you see something now, it will be even more visible after applying the finish.
Make sure to use good quality floor finish. It will make a difference in appearance. Unless you are waxing a supermarket floors you will most likely need 20% or 22% solid wax floor finish. The higher percentage of the solid wax it contains the softer it is. Softer wax will shine better but harder wax is more durable. Hard waxes (containing 17% – 18% of solid wax) always have to be burnished or they will barely have any shine at all. For most of the small to medium jobs (except for supermarkets and industrial floors) the Husky 1018 Floor Finish should work very well. However, check with your local or Internet supplier. There are other great brands available, such as “On and On” from NCL or “Vectra” by Johnson Wax.
Once you decide on wax, pour it into clean mop bucket with wringer. Install a finish mop had on a mop handle. Dip it in the wax and wring it well ,so it won’t drip and start waxing the floor. First make a one long pass along the baseboards. Next apply floor finish to the rest of the floor making a figure 8. When the mop head starts to dry, flip it to the other side and continue. When it’s dry on both sides dip it in wax and wring it again. Continue waxing. You are going to apply 4 coats of wax in the same manner. Make sure coats are relatively thin. Each coat has to dry completely before applying next one. This usually takes 15-30 minutes. When you apply the wax in the summer and it is humid outside, don’t open the windows. The wax will not dry properly and your job will be ruined. You can put the furniture back after the last coat is completely dry (usually 30 minutes) and allow light foot traffic, but try to avoid scratching.
The wax will cure in 48 hours and you will be able to return to burnish (high-speed buff) the floor if you desire that wet floor look. This will also harden the wax making it more durable. We will talk in detail about burnishing in our next article.