Stripping Excess Floor Seal and Finish from VCT

December 21, 2007
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During a recent training session a technician broached the topic of excess floor finish on a vinyl composition tile.

He recounted a tale of woe and sorrow about a strip job that took him three times as long as he thought it would because of excessive finish build-up. The question he had was, what could he have done to reduce the time spent on this job?

This is an honest question each of us has asked ourselves after we’ve blown a budget, but is it the right question? Another way to approach this situation is by asking, did the technician calculate enough time to accomplish the objective?

The stripping and refinishing service procedure is the most difficult process to perform on VCT. By definition it is the removal of all pre-existing coats of floor seal and/or floor finish and reapplication of new floor seal and/or finish. It requires extensive detailing of all edges, corners and cove bases. Because it is labor intensive it requires the greatest time commitment. When you compound the strip job with excessive build-up, the time factor can jump through the roof.

Excessive floor seal and finish build-up occurs for a number of reasons, but the end result is always the same: too many coats of floor seal or finish on the floor. The build-up can occur quickly if the technician applies a coat a week regardless of whether it needs it or not, or slowly over time with inadequate scrubbing and recoating service procedures. Either way, it is difficult to calculate the amount of time needed for removal of excessive finish.

Establishing the number of coats of floor finish on a surface is a guessing game; however, if you can see the thickness, you can bet there are plenty. Many times the floor will have turned a brownish color due to encapsulated soil, and in some instances the floor will actually appear lighter in the traffic lanes. This is another sure sign of excessive build-up. The worst cases of excessive finish build-up occur when the finish does not have encapsulated soil. These floors usually look very clean and mislead the technician into thinking that it will be an easy job, right up until the stripper is applied to the floor.

When approaching an excessive build-up job, there are some things that you can do to increase productivity. Selection of stripping chemistry and equipment can make all the difference in the world; however, it is important to understand that it will most likely require stripping the floor more than once. In some situations it might even require multiple strips to remove all the floor seal and finish.

Selecting a good stripping chemical is critical on excessive build-up jobs. Invest in an aggressive stripping chemical to accomplish the task, increase the chemical to water ratio and let the chemical do the work. Although you can change the dilution ratio, do not use stripping chemicals without water; the water is required for the emulsification process.

Apply an ample amount of solution to the area and let it dwell for a period of time. Most technicians get way too impatient and do not let the chemicals do their thing. Give it time and, in the case of excessive build-up, give it additional time. It will make the job a lot easier.

During the dwell period the stripping chemical will begin to emulsify the finish; in many cases the technician can visibly see the transformation. The finish will take on a soft-white, milky appearance that seems to swell. This is due to the absorption of stripping chemical into the old finish, just like a sponge. The floor is extremely dangerous at this point and every precaution should be taken to reduce the potential for slip and falls. Safety shoes or attachments should be worn before stepping on this surface.

In extreme cases it may be necessary to scrape off the emulsified seal/finish with a concrete scraper before using a stripping brush or pad. In one extremely severe build-up job, I actually used a snow shovel to remove the top coats. By not scraping the surface coats off, you run the risk of loading up the stripping pad with emulsified finish, rendering it useless in a short period of time. After scraping, repeat the solution application function and allow time to dwell before proceeding with the solution agitation function.

Agitation can be accomplished with a 175-rpm rotary floor machine, an automatic scrubbing machine or a propane stripping machine in conjunction with stripping pads or brushes. Productivity times increase respectively with the use of each of these machines; 175-rpm rotary floor machine being the slowest and propane-powered machine the fastest. Aggressive stripping brushes and high-productivity pads are much better for removal of excessive build-up on VCT than conventional brushes or pads. Do not use these on other resilient floor classifications because they are very aggressive and could damage them.

Once the second application of stripping solution has been applied and given ample dwell time, the technician can agitate the area aggressively with machine and brush or pad. Evacuate the contaminated solution with a wet vacuum and rinse. At this point, allow the floor to dry, once dry the technician will be able to see any floor seal or finish on the surface. Depending on the amount of finish remaining on the floor, the technician will have the choice of spot stripping the impacted areas or stripping the entire area again if required. The solution application and agitation functions are repeated as many times as necessary until all seal or finish is removed.

After the main areas have been stripped and rinsed (use of a neutralizer may be needed to bring the surface close to pH neutral), the technician can begin detailing all the edges, corners and cove bases. Edging is accomplished with razor scrapers, putty knives, abrasive pads and terrycloth towels. It is easier to detail after the stripping procedure has been performed because you can actually see what needs to be removed. Also, the floor does not have stripper on it, so the technician stays safer and dryer.

Cove bases are by far the most difficult to clean, especially in excessive build-up jobs. I have seen jobs where it ended up being cheaper to replace the cove base than clean it. Do not use abrasive pads on cove base if at all possible; once it is scratched it will look ugly and will require floor finish to make it look good again. Always use a terrycloth towel to avoid damage.

After removal of all seal and finish and the floor is dry, the surface will be rough (a result of all the aggressive chemicals and agitation); the technician may buff or burnish the floor to smooth the surface. The floor will then require dust mopping or a microfiber cloth system to remove the dust and debris kicked up by the burnisher. The technician may then apply multiple coats of seal and/or finish to the floor. The number of applications will depend on the porosity of the surface and the desired appearance. For the finishing touch, post-burnishing may be done to give the floor a higher gloss level.

True, there are some things that can improve productivity on excessive floor finish build-up strip jobs. But the reality is that they take on a life of their own, and often times the amount of time spent on them is exactly what it should be.

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