What is floor stripping and waxing and how it’s done

Refinished floor

Floor stripping is a cleaning technique which completely removes all of the dirt, debris and floor wax from a hard floor.  It is a difficult and labor-intensive task that should only be performed by a trained professional.  This is because the materials used to strip a floor can be dangerous and if the job is incorrectly performed, it can damage the floor.

Floor stripping is usually required when a hard floor has become very dirty and the wax is in poor condition.  Once all of the wax and debris has been removed from the floor, it can be covered with a new layer of wax.  The end result will be beautiful-looking floors that you will love!  This article will review the floor stripping and waxing process to help you understand what it involves.

The process for stripping a floor

The steps for stripping a floor include:

Step One — Preparing the area

All furniture and obstacles are removed from the areas that will be stripped.  The floor is then swept to remove large pieces of debris and mopped to remove dust.

The entire area is cordoned off and signs are placed at entrance points to inform people that the area is wet.  Mats are also placed at entrance points so stripping materials are not tracked through the rest of the building. 

Step Two — Preparing materials

hazardous materials

Many floor stripping fluids are hazardous chemicals that must be treated with a great deal of caution.  A professional cleaner has had training on how to handle, use and dispose of these chemicals appropriately.  The precise type of stripping solution used will depend on the condition of the floor, the age of the wax and the material the floor is made from.

The cleaner will put on the necessary safety equipment, including protective plastic boots, a face mask, specialized gloves and safety glasses.  They will then pour the stripping fluid into a bucket with a plastic liner.  The plastic liner allows the cleaner to use the bucket for other purposes later on. 

Step Three — Applying the stripping solution

Generous amounts of the cleaning solution are applied to the floor and left to sit for between 10-15 minutes.  The stripper should not be allowed to dry.

A stripper pad is attached to a professional floor buffer or auto scrubber.  An auto scrubber makes the task slightly easier by having a squeegee attachment which is used to later pick up the cleaning solution and wax after it has been scrubbed from the floor. 

It may take several passes to completely lift wax and debris from the floor.  Smaller stripping pads may be used to get into hard to reach locations and corners.  There are also dedicated baseboard cleaning tools.

Step  Four — Pick up the dirty stripping solution

If an auto scrubber is being used, the squeegee is lowered to collect the stripping solution as it scrubs.  If a floor buffer is being used, a certified wet recovery vacuum will be used to suck up the dirty floor stripping solution.  The solution must be picked up quickly after the floor is scrubbed and should not be left to dry.

Step Five — Wash the floor

Any excess stripping solution is safely discarded from the bucket and the bucket’s liner is removed.  Fresh water and floor stripping neutralizer are combined in the bucket, then mopped onto the floors.  Some auto scrubbers have a container for the water and floor stripping neutralizer solution.

The very alkaline floor stripping chemicals are neutralized by this solution.  The floor must be restored to a neutral pH before it can be waxed.  The entire floor must be wiped down multiple times to ensure all traces of the stripping chemical have been removed.  Litmus paper is used to test the pH levels of the floor.

Step Six — Cleaning of equipment

All of the pieces of equipment used during the process must be thoroughly cleaned.  The dirty stripping solution cannot be left in buckets or tanks because it can harden.  The floor must be completely dry before it can be waxed, so a professional cleaner will often use a separate machine for quickly drying it.

The process for waxing a floor


Once the floor has been dried, a protective layer of wax can be applied!

Step One — Prepare the wax

There are many different formulations of floor wax available.  It is important to read the instructions and prepare the wax precisely as instructed.  Different waxes may also have different application methods — for example, a polyurethane wax is applied quickly in overlapping lines. 

The wax should be put into a bucket lined with a heavy duty plastic bag.  Windows should be opened to allow good airflow into the room.

Step Two — Apply the wax

Using a new mop, dampen it with wax and apply a thin coat over a section of the floor.  Do small sections until the entire floor is coated.  The wax is then given time to dry, which can vary from 10 to 30 minutes.  Fans may be used to speed up the process.

Once dry, apply additional layers in accordance with the wax manufacturer’s instructions.  Follow the same path around the room each time to ensure a uniform coating of wax.

Step Three — Buff the floor

Some wax products may require the floor to be buffed after they are applied.

Common mistakes when stripping a floor

Unfortunately, when homeowners attempt to strip and wax their own floors, they often run into trouble!  The most common mistakes include:

  • Not matching the stripping chemical to the floor
    Different types of floors require different stripping chemicals and neutralizers. Many homeowners purchase the wrong kind of product and damage their floors.

  • Not handling stripping solutions appropriately
    Many homeowners are unfamiliar with handling potentially hazardous chemicals like stripping solutions. In some cases they can even injure themselves when they try to strip their floor. They also often leave the chemicals in buckets or containers for too long, leading to problems!

  • Not giving the stripping solution the right amount of time to work
    In many cases, homeowners try to remove the solution before it has had time to work, leading to a mess.

  • Not handling buckets and mops correctly
    It is easy to forget which mop or bucket you were using for a certain task. If you accidentally use the mop that was exposed to stripping solution to clean or wax the floor, the outcome could be disastrous.

  • Not giving the layers of wax time to set
    It can be difficult to judge when the next layer of wax needs to be applied. Sometimes homeowners apply it too thickly or unevenly on the floor — ruining its appearance.