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Removing Excessive Finish from VCT

Have you ever been on one of those stripping jobs…

  • Where there was so much sealer or finish on the floor that it seemed nearly impossible to remove?
  • Where your pads/brush loaded up with slurry right away and the process took forever?
  • Where the job took two to three times longer to complete than normal?

Most contractors vow never to let that happen again… and then they’re surprised by a floor that didn’t look too bad, but turned out to be covered with excessive buildup of finish or sealer. Here’s how to avoid those tricky situations once and for all.

Test! Test! Test!

To avoid surprises before stripping a floor, perform some initial testing to determine the amount of sealer and/or finish is on the floor.

  1. Start by misting diluted stripper onto the floor. Apply just enough to soften the finish, but not enough to completely suspend it.
  2. After a few minutes of dwell time, scrape the floor with a razor blade scraper or putty knife.
  3. Take notice of how much sealer/finish is removed.

Initially this may be difficult to determine what is “a lot” or “not a lot,” but with time and experience, it gets easier. After doing the job, reflect back on the initial test and you will soon learn what’s “a lot” and “not a lot.”

Test a high traffic area as well as an edge, corner, and a hard-to-reach area. These sections tend to be the most difficult to strip due to excessive buildup, usually caused by untrained technicians applying sealer and finish wall to wall with each coat. (Technically, only two coats are needed because edges, corners, and hard-to-reach areas receive very little traffic. Plus, most edges, corners, and hard-to-reach areas are stripped manually with handheld tools, making the work more difficult and time consuming.)

If your test results indicate excessive buildup, try the Machineless Stripping Technique or the Dry Scrub Technique.

Machineless Stripping Technique

Rather than stripping the floor using conventional methods, the machineless stripping technique is simple and can save a lot of time and headaches.

After all the preparatory procedures are done (clearing the area, posting wet floor signs, etc.) it is time to apply the stripper to the floor.

  1. Flood the floor with an aggressive stripper designed for floors with heavy buildup (Contact a Jon-Don representative for specific product recommendations).
  2. Agitate the stripper with a mop or brush to break the surface of the floor finish and allow the stripper to penetrate. Allow 15 to 20 minutes dwell time.
  3. After the stripper has emulsified as much finish as it can without mechanical agitation, extract the suspended sealer/finish with a wet-dry vacuum or auto scrubber.

(This is the finish that would have been easily removed if you had agitated it with a pad or brush – and it’s also the same finish that would have quickly loaded up your stripping pads or brush.)

By removing the first several layers of floor finish without even touching the floor with mechanical equipment, you will save yourself a lot time and aggravation associated with difficult strip jobs.

After the initial application of stripper has been removed, you can now concentrate on the stubborn “stuff,” i.e., the sealer/floor finish that wasn’t removed using the machineless method. To remove the rest of the floor finish, apply fresh stripper to the same area and allow the appropriate amount of dwell time followed by normal stripping procedures.

By employing a machineless stripping technique initially, you will reduce the amount of slurry created during the mechanical agitation part of the job. You will also not go through as many pads and you will find that the process is a much neater and cleaner experience overall.

Dry Scrub Technique

Another technique that can be employed with some success is to dry scrub using an orbital scrubber (such as the Square Scrub Floor Scrubber) to remove the first several layers of finish.

This process requires no water. The machine will pulverize the top layers of floor finish, turning it into a fine dust that can be removed with a vacuum cleaner. You can then follow with a standard wet strip procedure.

A Word about Pads and Brushes…

The use of Hi-Productivity pads or an aggressive brush may be required. Hi-Productivity pads have an open weave design that holds a lot of slurry (slurry is the combination of emulsified sealer/finish and stripper) before having to be rinsed, cleaned, or thrown away. If the pad fills up with slurry relatively quickly, it is an indication that a brush should be used.

Brushes tend not to fill up as quickly, but when they do, they are easier to rinse and clean, whereas a pad can be much more difficult to clean. For really bad floors, the use of a stripping brush impregnated with silicon carbide may be more effective.

Note: Be careful of floors sensitive to heavy abrasion; a brush impregnated with silicon carbide could scratch the floor. Always test in an inconspicuous spot before proceeding with the entire area.


Dealing with floors that are coated with excessive buildup of sealer and/or floor finish can be a challenge, by allowing the product to work with you instead of against you, you’ll lessen the burden and decrease the difficulty of the job.

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  1. Unitex® Floor Pads, Black with 3‑Inch Center Hole (5 PK)
    Unitex® Floor Pads, Black with 3‑Inch Center Hole (5 PK)

    Designed for heavy-duty wet stripping. Aggressively removes wax, dirt, and old finish. For use with machines up to 350 RPM. Pads are packed 5 per case.

    • Aggressively removes dirt and strips old finish buildup
    • 3-inch center hole
    • Use on machines up to 350 RPM
    • Can be use with auto scrubber or electric floor machine
    • 5 pads per case

    Starting at $13.46

  2. Nylo Grit Brush, 80 Grit
    Nylo Grit Brush, 80 Grit

    This brush is made of silicon carbide-impregnated nylon bristles that are self-replenishing as the brush ages. Aggressive enough for general scrubbing or stripping finishes, this pad will outlast 100 floor pads!

    • Must be used wet
    • 80 grit
    • Outlasts 100 pads
    • 5-inch center hole
    • Select your brush 2" smaller than your machine size

    Starting at $187.46

  3. Minuteman Wet/Dry Vac 290, 15 Gallon
    Minuteman Wet/Dry Vac 290, 15 Gallon

    When you need a dependable wet/dry vac in your equipment arsenal, look no further than this great model from Minuteman. Durable construction, large capacity, a powerful motor—everything you need in one compact package!

    • 15 gallons dry capacity, 12 gallons wet capacity
    • Convenient drain port
    • Sure Fit Ultra-Lock system keeps hose in place
    • Tool kit included
    $909.57 $909.57 Add to cart to see price
  4. Unitex® Melt Down Plus Floor Stripper
    Unitex® Melt Down Plus Floor Stripper

    Melt Down Plus is fast-acting, and was specifically developed to quickly strip multiple coats of burnished finish from a variety of floors. Its rinse-free, low-pH formula requires no neutralization after use. This low-odor formula is ideal for use in occupied areas or around sensitive individuals.

    • No neutralizing required; non-ammoniated formulation
    • Easy to use, low-odor formula
    • pH: 11.8–12.8; pH at dilution: 11.0–11.4
    • Variable dilutions
    • Covers 400 sq ft per gallon

    Starting at $22.18

  5. Warner Long Handle Scraper
    Warner Long Handle Scraper

    This tool is designed to deliver maximum leverage to wall and floor surfaces. Made of super-durable materials, this long scraper is angled to get into the tightest corners. Both sharp and dull edges handle problematic caked-on deposits with ease.

    • 4-inch blade; 48-inch handle
    • Carbon steel blade
    • Long handle for hard-to-reach areas
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