Can a Square Scrub Machine Really Dry Strip a Floor?

There has been much debate among floor care professionals as to the ability of a typical square scrub floor machine to dry strip a floor. Some people are really sold on the idea, while others are very skeptical that the machines can accomplish what the manufacturers claim.

First of all lets define what it means to strip a floor. A commercially tiled floor is usually made up of vinyl composite tiles (VCT tiles) with layers of floor wax applied to the top to give it a shine. Over time (depending on how much wear and abuse the floor gets) the wax coating will become scratched, scuffed, dirty, dull, and possibly yellowed. It’s time to get that old wax coating off and apply a new finish.

But, the wax coating that’s on the floor is very tough and durable, despite the wear over the years, and not necessarily easy to remove. Mere scrubbing with a lot of elbow grease will not remove this kind of finish. The traditional way to remove floor wax is with the application of a stripping solution.

Stripping solution is generously applied to the floor and left to sit for awhile (always follow the manufacturer’s directions as every stripping solution is different). A chemical reaction takes place to loosen and soften the wax coating. Then a rotary floor buffer with a coarse stripping pad is used to thoroughly grind off that loosed wax.

This creates a very unpleasant slurry mixture on the floor that then needs to be mopped or vacuumed up from the floor before it dries. Once all the slurry is off the floor the surface should be neutralized with a different solution. The neutralizer is a necessary step to help prevent clouding of the floor wax in the future. Then a clean rinse with plain water is advisable before applying the wax.

Phew! That’s a lot of work! No wonder floor care professionals seriously consider a labor-saving way to strip a waxed floor. So when a new way of removing layers of wax from a floor without using stripper, neutralizer, and water comes along it seems very appealing.

A typical square scrub machine acts much like a very large random orbital sander. It’s something very different than a rotary floor buffer or polisher. The rectangular face of the machine vibrates in random circular motions, offering a scrubbing or sanding motion to scrub or strip a floor. Imagine stripping the varnish off an old piece of furniture. Sometime you can effectively use a hand sander to remove some, if not all, of the varnish from the wood. A square dry strip machine works in the same way. You’re essentially sanding off the dried wax coatings from your floor.

The main argument against a dry stripping floor machine is that it really doesn’t remove all of the wax from the floor. There’s no way to get wax out of grout, cracks, or low spots in the floor. Why should this machine be touted as a stripper if it really can’t get the same result as traditional floor stripping, the argument goes. Well, that argument is right – to a degree.

A dry stripping machine cannot be expected to remove 100% of the wax from the floor. But, if your goal is to remove the majority of the old wax and get down to a level surface then, yes, it certainly can do an admirable job of that. A dry stripping machine should really only be considered as a “top stripper” – just taking the top layers of wax off.

Using a dry stripping machine like this gives you a couple of advantages over the old way of stripping the floor. First, you don’t have to deal with that nasty stripping solution. Second, you can get right to your stripping job without waiting for the stripping solution to work on your floor, scrub it around, vacuum it up, rinse it off, and let it dry before getting to the waxing part. And third, you can market your dry stripping services as a “green” solution to floor finishing.

It is, however, important to point out to your client that the dry stripping procedure does not take off all the layers of wax on their floor. The point is to take off the majority of wax, and not to get all the way down to the tile underneath. And because the dry stripping procedure takes a lot less time than traditional wax removal you can save your clients some money – by saving time. A “green” alternative that saves money, what’s not to like about that.

That being said, there are circumstances where you definitely want to use a chemical stripper to get all the wax off. The dry stripping machines are not meant to be a total replacement for the old way of stripping a floor, but it’s a serious alternative that should be considered in many situations where you need to take off the majority of wax before re-waxing and buffing.