Stripping floors can be dangerous work. The harsh chemicals can cause skin, eye and respiratory irritation. But a new type of floor cleaning machine can remove multiple layers of floor finish with just water and a maroon floor pad.

Oscillating — and sometimes referred to as orbital — floor cleaning machines oscillate the pad driver in tiny, 1/4-inch circles between 2,250 and 3,500 revolutions per minute. Comparably, conventional machines rotate between 175 and 300 revolutions per minute as they scrub. The higher speed can remove four to five coats of finish.

Many will call this process floor “stripping” but most manufacturers prefer to call this “deep scrubbing” since not all floor finish is always removed. If a floor has more than five coats of finish or it has been burnished multiple times, all the finish coats most likely will not be removed. Nevertheless, the deep scrubbing allows enough damaged and dirty finish to be removed that recoating can give the appearance that the floor has been totally stripped.

“It really speeds up the whole process,” says Mike Gosson, president, Parish Supply Co., Syracuse, N.Y. “The machines do a great job but they do it much faster than conventional equipment can.”

Oscillating machines work best on flat, smooth surfaces such as vinyl composition flooring and concrete. Wood floors can also be cleaned with this equipment, but manufacturers suggest wet screening on gym floors prior to recoating.

However, not all surfaces are ideal for this equipment. Oscillating machines are not recommended for grout or brick floors.

“The uneven surfaces prevent the pad from reaching down into the grout line to clean. It will just sort of float over the grout on those types of floors,” says Larry McAlpin, vice president strategic projects for Rite Way Service Inc., Birmingham, Ala.

While flooring type matters for using these machines, floor size does not. Handheld oscillating machines are useful for scrubbing small areas such as break rooms, offices, classrooms and hospital patient rooms. Handheld machines are also great for detail work. Instead of looking for a long-handled scraper or swivel scrub pad, the machine can be utilized in corners and close to baseboards since the pad holder is typically rectangular-shaped instead of the traditional circle. Neither stripper nor water are slung against the baseboards so there is a lot less clean-up to do after scrubbing.

For larger spaces, BSCs can use walk-behind or ride-on oscillating equipment.

“We use ride-on machines in some of our large school accounts,” says McAlpin. “The long hallways and big open areas such as lunchrooms are cut down to size with their help.”

Machines are available in a variety of sizes. A mid-size model can often access small spaces, but still cover a large amount of space in a short time.

“We primarily buy the 20-inch automatic scrubbers in the hospitals we clean,” says Rudy Hauenstein, project manager for Crothall Services Group, Wayne, Pa. “They are small enough to use in a patient room, yet we still can run them in the hallways. They are perfect when we have to scrub half a hallway at a time.”

Louie E. Davis Jr. is a jan/san industry veteran and freelance writer based in Birmingham, Ala.