I was recently asked about the best method for stripping a floor using a standard or oscillating floor machine. Here is my response:

First, pre-assess the approximate severity of buildup. Heavy coats of finish will require a stronger mix of stripper. Install a splash guard on the floor machine. Begin the process at the furthest point away from the water supply. After stripping a small area and squeegeeing, inspect for a total removal of the finish. If this is not occurring, consider a stronger stripper solution, a buildup removal pad, or the need for multiple strip operations.

Only strip out an area that can be scrubbed and picked up before the stripper dries. Many experts teach that it should be a 10' X 10' area. However, this is inefficient because it disrupts normal mopping processes. Instead, paint out the stripper 7' wide (which is the left to right arc of a standard floor machine, as well as the normal reach when rinse mopping). Only paint out a distance of 20'-30' so there is time for one machine pass, working the edges, and then a final pass for scrubbing followed by a squeegee removal or pickup.

Dried stripper must be re-emulsified by adding water and scrubbing one more time. The best approach is with a solution tank or shampoo tank mounted to the machine handle. Or, re-wet the stripper by positioning gallon jugs of water nearby, or dipping the mop into the rinse bucket and dripping water on the floor. Make rotary passes from side-to-side going forward, or 4-5 passes with an oscillating machine. Overlap each rotary pass by 1/2 the machine diameter when moving forward. This ensures agitation from all sides.

The edges should only be detailed (Doodlebug and razor scraped) after the machine has scrubbed the area. This will prevent slips and falls. Or, use an electric edging machine. After working from the back of the area to the front, then make one more return pass working from the front to the back starting point. Next, start at the front of the area and squeegee all the slurry back to the edge of the area and pick up with a wet vac, or use a wet vac with the squeegee attached.

It is unproductive to mop up stripper with a wet mop. Most of the wasted slurry is just pushed around the floor. A foam squeegee contours with the floor and removes over 98% of the slurry. In large areas, a 36" squeegee can be used with high productivity levels. Apply the first rinse heavy and immediately, and then work any remaining buildup with a green nylon pad installed on the mop head and by scraping any unloosened finish. Wipe any splashing from baseboards and doors.

Inspect the floor for any evidence of remaining finish or sealer. Repeat the operation again if there is still a buildup on the floor. Otherwise, apply a second rinse (which should be drier) while again inspecting the floor and removing residues with the green scrub pad and scraper.

Gary Clipperton, President of National Pro Clean is a forty-plus year industry veteran and former contractor. He has now produced a library of training materials including a comprehensive floor care program and offers onsite consulting. He can be reached at gary@nationalproclean.com.