Like many in this profession, I spent time over the summer training school custodians in floor-care procedures. A couple of times, while working in older school buildings, we encountered asphalt tile floors.

Stripping asphalt tile has engendered concern among floor-care professionals for many years. This concern stems from two of the tile’s characteristics. For one, asbestos was used in the manufacturing process and as an ingredient. As a result, many people are afraid to work with it. Due care should be observed, but it is usually very safe when proper Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rules for care and maintenance are followed. Refer to the OSHA website ( for the complete rules.

The second characteristic that makes cleaners wary is that when stripped, asphalt tile experiences color bleeding: The color appears to fade terribly and it takes on a chalky white appearance. One should keep in mind that most asphalt tile has deep, rich solid or mixed color patterns. Usually the tile is brown, black, red or green. The floor may appear very different than it did before stripping and many people become quite upset when this happens. Usually, an inexperienced floor-care worker will think that he or she has ruined the floor.

That is exactly what happened the first time I stripped a floor alone. The floor was in a classroom at a local church and was made of a medium green asphalt tile. The floor was stripped according to proper procedure, yet it dried chalky white. As the wet vac was emptied, out came a textured sludge of green pigment. It appeared to be a disastrous situation, but after talking with my boss, he assured me that the floor was not ruined. He then provided instructions on how to remedy the situation. After several flood rinses as well as several coats of sealer and finish, the original color did return. The floor looked good once again; nevertheless, it was a nerve-racking situation and it took several hours to complete the job.

The good news is that there are several things that can be done to prevent a similar experience with asphalt tile. These techniques really do take the worry out of stripping asphalt tile.

Avoid using the new hyper-active finish strippers since they are very concentrated with water-based solvents. These solvents tend to have a pejorative effect on the tile pigment and seem to make the bleeding worse. A little less aggressive product reduces the bleeding. Remember, when asphalt tile was developed many years ago, ammoniated wax stripper was the norm and was not very aggressive.

Asphalt tile is very porous and as a result it is difficult to rinse. Flood rinsing the floor three times is suggested. The second rinse should contain a neutralizing chemical to ensure that the alkaline residue is adequately reduced. It is recommended to use a wet/dry vac or auto scrubber to speed up the process.

Using a floor sealer conditioner is critical. On most tile floors a sealer is optional, but not in this case. A good sealer conditioner will restore the color that faded during stripping as well as provide durability and extra protection.

The application of the sealer is the secret. Keeping in mind the porous nature of asphalt tile, change the normal application technique. Normally the following process would be done: pour the sealer in a mop bucket; saturate a mop head in the sealer; wring or tamp the mop head until sealer barely stops dripping; then apply the sealer in thin even coats. Usually, three to four coats of sealer is needed.

For best results, do not use a mop bucket for sealer application. Instead, pour the sealer from the container and completely flood the floor as you would normally do when applying stripper. Then use a mop to spread the sealer. Allow the sealer several minutes to penetrate deeply into the tile. Next, pick up the excess sealer and work it with a mop until it lies in a heavy, yet smooth and uniform coat. Allow plenty of time for drying. Once this heavy flood coat has dried, a few coats of floor finish should be added. You will need to stand and walk on the sealer during the process, so be careful not to slip.

This technique is unorthodox, but it works. The flooding process allows the sealer to penetrate deeply into the tile and beautifully restores original color. The tile is thoroughly encapsulated with sealer which is important when considering the asbestos content. Also, this method takes less time because more sealer is delivered quicker. Tell your customers about this procedure the next time you encounter asphalt tile. They will get terrific results.

Louie Davis Jr. is a 22-year veteran of the jan/san business, having worked on the manufacturing and distribution sides. He is currently director of sales for Central Paper Co., in Birmingham, Ala.
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