Cleaning & Restoration Association News

Stripping and Refinishing: The Last Resort

September 15, 2008
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Every floor has a maintenance life cycle comprising initial maintenance, daily/routine maintenance, periodic maintenance and restorative maintenance.

Many maintenance programs include the use of aqueous (water-based) seals and finishes or seal/finishes. When continually exposed to dirt, grit and sand, the floor finish is scraped away almost imperceptibly. Without floor maintenance, the erosive effects would eventually wear through the polish and, ultimately, begin to erode the flooring.

The primary objective of the floor seal and/or finish is to protect the flooring from the damaging effects of erosion. In addition to protection, the polish aids in the ease of cleaning, improves the floor’s appearance and provides a safer surface to walk on. That is a lot to ask of a thin polymeric film generally less than a millimeter thick.

Initial maintenance for these floors is usually medium scrubbing to remove construction and installation soil, followed by multiple applications of the aforementioned polishes. The number of applications will be dictated by the porosity of the flooring material the seal or finish is applied to. Once the initial, or base, coats have been applied to the floor and the desired gloss level is achieved, the floor maintenance technician is charged with maintaining it at that level.

Daily/routine maintenance reduces the amount of soil that the floor is subjected to, but not all. The soil that escapes the daily/routine maintenance will adhere, embed or be encapsulated in floor finish. Sure a lot of these soils can be removed during the periodic scrubbing and recoating service procedures, but there is always some soil that remains. Over time the soil wins and the technician is left with no option but to strip and refinish the floor.

Stripping, by definition, is the complete removal of all floor seals and/or finishes from the finish flooring. The stripping and refinishing service procedure is performed in the restorative maintenance period of the hard-floor maintenance life cycle. It is not relegated to the vinyl composition tile (VCT) classification of flooring because there are many instances that floor finish is applied to other surfaces. The service procedure includes detailing all corners, edges and cove base to remove seal/finish there as well. It is a costly job that requires more chemicals, equipment and labor to accomplish than any of the other service procedures. Every floor maintenance technician that performs this service should be well aware of what is happening when the flooring is stripped and refinished.

The stripping procedure is a traumatic experience for the floor. When floor finish is stripped from the floor, the floor is subjected to the high-alkaline chemicals required to remove the old finish. The stripping chemical is diluted and applied to the floor with a mop or solution applicator and allowed to dwell. The stripping solution penetrates the floor finish and emulsifies it into a semi-liquid state. Although the old finish is more pliable, it will still need abrasive agitation for it to be removed. The aggressiveness of the abrasive pad or brush is based on the amount of floor finish that needs to be removed. These pads/brushes can be very aggressive and, in some case the equivalent of 36- to 60-grit sandpaper. As you can imagine, some of the flooring material is bound to come off with the finish. After all the floor finish has been removed, multiple coats of floor finish are applied to begin the cycle again.

When developing a floor maintenance program for flooring that requires floor polish, it is prudent to try to extend the time between the stripping and refinishing service procedures. Not only is the service procedure costly in terms of financial investment, it is also costly in relation to the amount of flooring material lost. Sure, it may not seem like much, but over time the stripping and refinishing service procedure will contribute to the erosion of the flooring material and reduce its life expectancy.

How does one extend the restorative stripping and refinishing cycle? The easiest way to combat the detrimental effects of erosion is to remove the soil that causes it. Stopping soil at the door is the first step to extending the strip cycle, and begins with a good walk-off matting program. Soil that is stopped at the door will not be around to erode the floor finish.

Soil that does get through the matting defenses will be deposited in the entry points of the building. Institute an aggressive dry soil program by dust mopping these entry points frequently throughout the day; again, soil that is not there is not damaging.

Additionally, a routine wet service program should be incorporated to remove soils that the dry service procedure missed. Regularly wet mopping the floor will also aide in keeping harmful soils to a minimum. Utilize spot mopping as spots and spills occur, damp mopping for superficial and light soils, and wet mopping for medium and heavy soils. The aggressive mopping procedure (applying cleaning solution and allowing dwell time) followed by a fresh-water rinse can help to extend the time between the periodic scrubbing procedures. Performing these less aggressive daily/routine service procedures is less harmful to the floors than the periodic service procedures because you are not using abrasive pads. Coating maintenance may be used to maintain the gloss level of the polish. High-speed or ultra-high-speed buffing or burnishing will elevate the gloss level.

Finally, when scheduling the periodic maintenance procedures, use the least aggressive scrubbing procedures that will accomplish the objective, as opposed to always scrubbing with an aggressive pad. Use a light scrubbing pad when applicable, and only advance to more aggressive pads when absolutely necessary. Of course, the objective is to remove soil and in some cases some finish, but you should only remove as much as is necessary to accomplish the objective. When light scrubbing is no longer effective, move to medium scrubbing; when medium scrubbing is no longer effective, move to heavy scrubbing. After the scrubbing function is complete, application of floor finish will be required to replenish what was removed. This may be an application of restorer or multiple coats of floor finish and in some cases high-speed or ultra-high-speed buffing or burnishing to finish the job.

In today’s world of increasing chemical, equipment and labor costs, it is practical to want to extend the strip-and-refinish cycle to reduce costs. You should also know that extending the strip cycle reduces the negative impact on the environment. Fewer chemicals are used, less electrical energy is used, less physical energy is required and fewer contaminants are deposited into sewage treatment centers.

As you can see, as a technician you can contribute to reducing costs and saving the planet by using stripping and refinishing only as a last resort.

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