The Ultimate Guide to Stripping and Refinishing Floors

by | Jul 2, 2021

Every year, maintenance professionals shift their gaze downward to consider the floors. Summer presents the perfect time to strip and refinish concrete, terrazzo, and vinyl composite tile (VCT) flooring. That is because shiny, well-maintained floors work as your institution’s calling card. A glossy finish telegraphs a well-maintained, healthy space that inspires confidence and boosts trust. 

Maintaining these surfaces requires periodic stripping and refinishing. While specialized and time consuming, this process delivers floors that look good, perform well and last for years — even decades — to come. 

Timeless Floors That Look to the Future

Hard-surface flooring choices have always been popular. Terrazzo traces its history back to ancient Egypt. Another ancient option, concrete flooring is currently enjoying a surge in popularity. Both natural stone products look great, customize easily, and stand up well to heavy foot and rolling traffic. 

A fair bit newer, the history of Vinyl Composition Tile began in 1933. A favorite design element for schools, colleges, and high-traffic retail and commercial spaces, VCT brings a lot of benefits. It is inexpensive, comes in many colors and patterns, hides dirt and scuff marks well, and is incredibly durable. 

“VCT lasts for decades,” says Kaivac in-house floor care expert and director of key accounts Leon Fields. He should know. With over 25 years’ experience in the business, Fields has seen and maintained a lot of different kinds of floors. He understands cleaning protocols and knows what happens if that maintenance schedule slides. “If a VCT floor is not maintained it will start to lose integrity.”

Analysts expect to see even more VCT installed in the post-pandemic future. The move makes sense as the material contains the spread of germs better than laminate or wood. 

Protecting Floors Starts with Everyday Maintenance

All hard surface floors require simple, everyday maintenance. This task starts at the front door with a robust entry mat program. Experts recommend laying down between 12 to 15 feet of matting to knock grit and debris off shoes. This simple step greatly reduces tracked in dirt that might stain, scratch or abrade a floor’s finish. 

Keep entry mats clean and dry for best performance. Be sure to vacuum them regularly. Replace rain or snow-soaked mats as wet mats lose their ability to grab and hold onto soils. 

Daily maintenance also includes sweeping, dust mopping, or vacuuming dry soils from the floor. If left in place these particulates will scratch and dull the floor’s finish creating what is known as the sandpaper effect. The particles will also travel throughout the facility, making an even bigger mess. 

Attend to spills quickly. Time is of the essence to remove the risk of a potentially costly slip and fall injury. If left to dry, however, spilled material may embed and damage the floors’ finish. 

Clean floors as needed using an appropriate cleaning chemical diluted to manufacturer specifications. “Be sure to use a pH-balanced, neutral floor cleaner,” advises Fields. “Anything else slowly breaks down and damages the finish.”

The cleaning solution can be applied with a mop and bucket, but that method takes time and elbow grease. An autoscrubber works faster but is expensive. Modern cleaning machines offer a low-cost solution that work faster and remove dirt completely. 

Annual Top Scrubs Extend Finish Life

Fields recommends top scrubbing and recoating the floor once a year to maintain and freshen the finish. Less time-consuming and laborious than a full strip and refinish job, top scrubbing removes one layer of finish while recoating rejuvenates the shine – up to a point.

Endless top scrubbing should never take the place of timely stripping and refinishing. Too many coats of finish can start to darken, or “amber out.” Dirt may get trapped under the layers. Before long, it becomes impossible to achieve that coveted shine. 

Time for Stripping and Refinishing

Plan on stripping and refinishing the terrazzo, concrete, or VCT floor every three to five years for best results. Yes, the procedure is expensive. Fields estimates it costs between .40 to $1.00 a square foot to complete the task. But there are methods and tools that make the job cheaper, faster, and easier. 

The traditional method uses several pieces of equipment, including old-fashioned, ineffective mops and buckets. Technicians dilute the stripper, apply with a mop, and let the solution dwell. Agitate the slurry with a slow speed machine or autoscrubber to release the finish. 

Be careful here. As one might expect, stripper is caustic. It can damage the frame, motor, and wheels of an autoscrubber, which cost between $7000 and $30,000 depending on size and features. 

“That is an expensive piece of equipment,” cautions Fields. 

Use a wet/dry vac or autoscrubber to pick up the slurry and rinse with clean water. Once dry, the finish is applied either with another set of mops and buckets or with a backpack applicator. Allow the finish to dry before applying the next coat. The number of coats needed depends on the percentage of solids contained in the finish. The goal is to get to 100% solids, so if a finish contains 25% solids, four coats are needed. 

Stripping and Refinishing the Kaivac Way

Using advanced technology from Kaivac makes stripping and refinishing easier, faster and less expensive. The method starts by ditching ineffective mops and buckets. Instead, Fields suggests:

  1. Apply diluted stripper with the Kaivac Trolley-Bucket and use the Ergo Speed Spreader fitted with a microfiber pad to distribute.
  2. Allow the stripper to dwell, then agitate with a slow speed machine.
  3. Pick up the slurry with the Kaivac AutoVac Stretch™.
  4. After picking up the slurry, do a detailed rinse of the floor with AutoVac Stretch to fully clean any slurry from the surface.
  5. Apply finish using the Trolley-Bucket. Spread using the Ergo Speed Spreader and microfiber pad. 

Kaivac equipment simplifies stripping and refinishing. There is no need for extra mops and buckets. And, as the Trolley-Bucket holds 10 gallons of product, there is no need to constantly fill and refill buckets or backpack sprayers. 

“This system lets technicians cover 12,000 square feet an hour,” explains Fields. “Any leftover finish can go right back in the jug for next time.”

The AutoVac Stretch adds other benefits as well. At about $3000, the machine costs far less than even the smallest autoscrubber. The equipment is battery-operated so the stripping slurry cannot damage power cords. Because the machine is pushed into the slurry, there is no chance of damaging the wheels or undercarriage. 

Like with all other Kaivac machines, training is simple and fast. 

“Even if the person has never done floors before, they can be trained and working with the Kaivac floor care process in 15 to 30 minutes,” says Fields. “The equipment, the AutoVac Stretch, takes even less time to understand and master.”

Stripping and refinishing will always be an important part of floor maintenance. But it does not have to be a hassle. Find out more ways Kaivac helps simplify floor care here

Amy Milshtein covers design, facility management and business topics for a variety of trade publications and consumer magazines. Her work has won several awards, most recently a regional silver Azbee Award of Excellence.She lives in Portland, OR with her family and Clyde, a 15-lb tabby cat. Once an avid hiker, these days she finds herself on the less-challenging -but-still-exciting 'creaky knees' trails.
Amy Milshtein
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