Let me tell you a story of the hardest, slowest and costliest floor job in my cleaning history. . .

My girlfriend and future wife was away at school in London and I needed to make some quick money doing extra work. I had stripped floors from time to time with my Dad in our family janitorial business so I figured I would take a floor job on my own.

When I got to the job site, I remember that the floor looked pretty good. It had a shine to it but also had a shadow of dirt under the “wax”.

No biggie right? Wrong! The first night I stripped the same 8×8 area for six hours using over a gallon of stripper and three black pads. After much trial and error, I figured out that following the instructions on the back of the stripper container helped greatly (what a thought). Warm water, properly diluted stripper, proper dwell time and multiple pads eventually did the trick. Still, I couldn’t figure out why this floor had taken me 10 hours to do instead of 3.

Tired and beaten I packed my supplies and equipment up to discover the villain in the story . . . cheap finish!!! The janitorial closet was stuffed with cheap Costco finish. Later I found out that the previous contractor was laying finish on the floors weekly to keep up the shine. If you have ever followed a contractor using this product, you know the finish comes off like glue (sometimes in sheets). It does not emulsify, it is just good old paste. From that day forward, I vowed never to lay cheap finish and to learn the best ways to apply it.

Here are five things I have learned that have saved me beaucoup bucks:

  1. Strip the edges and corners. Common sense to strip the corners right? You’d think but a lot of people don’t do this because doing it properly requires a lot of extra work. Since a machine can’t fully reach the corners, good old-fashioned elbow grease is the only thing that is really effective. If you stick with a machine, eventually you will end up with a lot of built up finish that looks terrible. To fix this, use a 3M Doodlebug unit with a brown pad after soaking the edges for ten plus minutes with stripper solution. If you wish, you can use an aerosol baseboard stripper but be careful not to leave it on too long as it can ruin rubber base cover and VCT if let to dry. I recommend staying away from it in general, but it is a great product for metal thresholds.
  1. Flip your pad. The four elements needed for efficient cleaning are temperature, agitation, concentration and time. Most people focus on the concentration and temperature and forget that dwell time and agitation are essential too. In a perfect world you would have all four elements but often you will be missing one, usually temperature. This doesn’t always matter, however, since most floor strippers don’t require hot water because it can cause the cleaning agents to evaporate. Lukewarm water will do just fine. Checking your pad often to see if it is “loaded” will ensure that you have agitation needed. The first 8×8 section you strip will tell you a lot about how much you will need to flip and replace pads. Check it often.
  1. Lay finish to edge every other coat. After years of applying finish to the edge each coat, I was taught by an old floor zen master to take it every other coat. Of course you have to edge off doorways but this practice makes the stripping process so much easier later on. Still, box out your areas and stay six inches away from the coving. Never apply more than three coats of finish to the edges at any time. So, if you choose to apply five coats or more, never add more than three to the edges.
  1. Take it slow. Stripping a floor is dirty, labor intensive work. Take a break between the stripping and finishing of floors, otherwise you may go too fast and achieve less than satisfactory results. Taking a break also allows you to phase off workers (you won’t need the same amount of staff for finishing) and get some perspective on the floors appearance prior to finishing. When you are finishing the floors your head should be in a totally different almost calm place. Take your time…every flaw will show up in your finish. The first coat must be perfect!
  1. Burnish after beauty. After spending so much time, money, and resources on producing this masterpiece, top it off with a good burnish (aka polish). Most manufacturers recommend you wait 24 hours before burnishing. This is a very good recommendation but one that is hard to execute because the reality of floor care is we just do not have 48 hours of time to keep areas traffic-free. It is very important that you burnish the floors BEFORE people start to trample all over them. Therefore, if you do not have 24 hours, give the floor as much time as possible to cure, then burnish. If you carefully select a floor finish, you can find formulations that allow for immediate burnishing. Adding this step will heat up the floor finish and bond the coats together creating a more durable surface.

Ultimately, mastery of floor care takes years of trial and error. If you strive to be the best at it, you will fall in love with the result of your work (if you fall in love with the work call a therapist immediately). If you have been doing floors for a while, these tips can really help put you over the edge to mastery.

I would love to hear what tricks you use to save money and produce better results. Use the comment area below and we can chat about it.