Everything About Wood Floor Wax Removers and Stripping
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A hardwood floor is the most popular choice for homeowners across North America. Waxing floors has been a natural way to preserve the wood since the mid-1800s. In wealthier homes, craftsmen would hand scrape intricate parquet floors then seal them with wax to protect against moisture and spills.
We’re not talking about floors with a polyurethane finish, that’s not wax, and you should never wax that finish. Instead, we’re talking about wood floors that have wax as their protective coat
Wax is still a popular topcoat that brings out the beauty of each plank. However, despite regular cleaning, wax can collect fine dirt and become dull over time. Reapplying wax rejuvenates the floor, but eventually creates a hazy build-up. The wax needs to be removed using a wood floor wax remover and reapplied to make the floor look new again.
In this article, we’ll cover what wax is, how to use it, and the best wood floor wax stripper to use without damaging your floor.
Why Wax Hardwood Floors?
Floor wax typically contains two types of wax, carnauba, and beeswax. Carnauba is a hard-yellow substance derived from a Brazilian palm tree. Beeswax is a by-product of processing honey and is naturally soft. By combining the two with a solvent, they form a thick paste, or a liquid if it has more solvent. After applying the wax, the solvent evaporates, leaving the hardened wax behind, sealing the wood.
There are two reasons to wax a wood floor. First, the wax is impervious to water. It protects the wood from spills, preserving the finish and stain of the wood. Because you have time to mop up spills, wax prevents accidental staining.
Secondly, buffing wax leaves a pleasing satin shine that makes the floor look spotlessly clean. There are also colored waxes in various tints of brown that can add a deeper color than clear wax alone.
Other benefits of waxing floors include:
Covering minor scratches - Wax diminishes or eliminates the appearance of light surface scratches and scuffs marks.
Extends the Life of the Floor - Waxed floors have more protection. They can last many last years longer than unwaxed floors with regular maintenance.
However, floor wax is not permanent or as hard as polyurethane. Wax does wear off and can become dull. If buffing doesn’t bring it back to life, it’s time to use a wood floor wax stripper to remove the old wax and apply a fresh coat.
Finding the Best Wood Floor Wax Remover
Before you go hog-wild throwing strippers all over the floor, check to see if it’s wax on the floor or something else. The National Wood Flooring Association has a pdf brochure that you can download, called “Maintenance and Recoating of Hardwood Floors.” In it, they offer three suggestions to determine if there is wax on the floor. Be sure to test an inconspicuous area.
- Add a few drops of mineral spirits on a clean, white rag. Rub an out of the way area. If a smear of yellow or brown color appears on the cloth, then it’s probably wax.
- Use a piece of screen or sandpaper for sanding the floor lightly. If residue balls up, it’s wax.
- If white spots appear after putting two drops of water on the floor (about 10 minutes), the finish is probably wax. Afterward, remove the white spots by gently rubbing them with a soft cloth or synthetic pad dampened with wax.
There are homemade floor wax removers and commercial, ready to use products. The National Wood Flooring Association suggests using mineral spirits to remove wax. There are less toxic alternatives, but most solutions use water, which isn’t suitable for a wood floor.
A Solvent That Dissolves Wax
Most wood floor waxes use mineral spirits to dissolve the wax to make it soft enough to apply. Therefore, your best hardwood floor wax remover is mineral spirits.
Yes, strong solvents like acetone and lacquer thinner will remove wax. Unfortunately, they will remove any other finish and could adversely stain the floor. Don’t use them!
You may see a homemade recipe that uses hot water with ammonia or vinegar and detergent. Again, the hot water will soften the wax but will end up ruining the wood. Water-based floor strippers are not the answer. The water will seep into every crack, causing crowning, cupping, and staining.
Beware of Commercial Wax Removers
You can buy commercial wax removers, but most of them are too harsh for wood floors. Always read the label carefully before buying one.
You need a product specifically for hardwood floors. If you buy a wax remover for linoleum or vinyl, it could seriously damage the floor’s finish.
Here are three products that you should avoid.
Trewax Instant Wax Remover is not the ideal stripper for wood floors. Why? When people asked, “Can I use your wax stripper on my hardwood floor?” The company’s response was, “As this is a water-based product, it should only be used on sealed/finished wood. Using on unsealed/unfinished wood can allow the product to soak into cracks or crevices and cause lifting or swelling. We recommend testing in a small, inconspicuous area first to ensure desired results. For questions or more information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.”
If you are searching online, do not get this product confused with their other product, “Heavy-Duty Floor Stripper.” They are not the same, and it would be even worse to use this product on a wood floor.
Here is another wax remover not meant for wood floors. The label clearly states, “This product is not intended to be used on unprotected wood surfaces.” Yet, websites are recommending it because they get a commission.
This product is for furniture, railings, and molding. It could make the floor slippery.
Beware of wrong information. Websites promote these three products as usable on wood floors. Read the label. Don’t rely on websites alone. Check with a flooring store, a paint store, or reviews on the internet.
So, what can you use for wood floor wax stripping?
Go with mineral spirits, plain and simple.
The NWFA’s Method to Strip Floor Wax
Wax removal is a big job if you have a large floor. There are no shortcuts to getting on your knees and removing the wax one section at a time. Plan on 4 to 6 hours for an average living room and kitchen.
Before you get started, here are the items you’ll need:
- Odorless Mineral Spirits
- Knee Pads or Knee Cushion
- Rubber Gloves
- Face mask or respirator
- Old painter’s clothes
- Broom & Dustpan
- Microfiber Cloths
- Bucket & Mop
- 0000 Steel Wool
Before you begin the stripping, you must do a bit of prep work.
Remove everything from the floor, then dry-mop (with a microfiber pad) or vacuum using a dust brush attachment. Remove any dust and any loose wax from the floor.
Now it’s time for some good old-fashioned wood floor wax stripping.
Step 1 - Fill a spray bottle or a plastic condiment squirt bottle, as you use for ketchup, with odorless mineral spirits. Despite the name, mineral spirits are not odorless. They give off VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds), so open the windows and keep the room well ventilated while you’re working. If you’re sensitive to VOCs, be sure to wear a respirator.
Step 2 - Spray the solvent along the floorboards in a 4-foot by 4-foot area. Make it easy to reach from a single position. Moisten the cracks to dissolve the wax there too. You’re going to work one small section at a time working from the far corner until you are out of the room.
Step 3 - While the solvent is still wet, use a green kitchen scrubber or 0000 steel wool to scrub the area. Scrape or rub in the direction of the wood grain. Once the wax is loose, wipe it up with a rag.
Step 4 - Repeat wetting and wiping until the rag shows no more discoloration from old wax. Now, move on to the next bit of the floor and keep going.
Some experts recommend that you finish by mopping one time with hot water and dry it quickly with towels or rags. If there is no standing water and you can have a fan turned on to speed the drying, it should not be an issue.
Tough Stain Removal
On an older floor, you may have some deeper stains. Wet the stain with the mineral spirits. Carefully scrape using a putty knife or scrub with a toothbrush. Wipe it with a clean cloth and repeat, as necessary.
When you’ve finished stripping the floor, it should be clean, dry, and ready for a new coat of wax.
This video from Zeorez shows how the pros do it, with good before and after pictures.
What type of Wax Should You Use?
Not all floor wax is alike. Do your research and read the label. The wax must be suitable for a wood FLOOR, not just wood.
Furniture polish works for wood, but if you put it on the floor, it creates a slippery, dangerous skating rink. A couple of other waxes to avoid are water-based or acrylic waxes. They can damage unfinished hardwood floors.
Also, don’t use “No-Buff” wax. It’s slightly stickier than the other waxes and collects dust and dirt faster.
There are two types of wax appropriate for wood floors, solid paste, and liquid. The liquid is thinner because it contains more solvent. It applies faster and dries faster but may not save you time. You’ll need multiple coats to get the same protection as paste wax.
Here are a few waxes that will do a great job on wood floors.
- Trewax Paste Wax contains Brazilian carnauba, the hardest natural wax. Reviewers love the finish but complain about the new container. Apparently, the wax can dry out after an extended period. Cover the surface of the unused wax with a piece of plastic wrap before covering the container and storing it.
- Lundmark Liquid Paste Wax with Carnauba Wax is a liquid floor cleaner and wax combination that contains carnauba wax. The manufacturer claims it’s for “Parquet, Plank, and all Finished Wood Floors.”
- Holloway House Pure Wax is a liquid wax that you apply straight from the bottle. Customers say it has a beautiful shine, but you’ll need more than one coat on the wood.
Caution: Some websites use “Wax” interchangeably with “Reviver,” “Polish,” and “Restorer.” They are not the same thing. These products are for wood floors that already have a polyurethane finish, not bare wood.
Waxing Techniques to Achieve the Best Results
Remember, you can use wax on a hardwood floor previously treated with a penetrating wood sealer, lacquer, shellac, oil, or unfinished floors. Never on urethane-finished planks.
Applying Liquid Wax
If you plan to use liquid wax, you’ll want to gather a few supplies.
- A new, non-shedding sponge mop or flat applicator
- A pail wide enough for the mop, lined with a garbage bag to hold the wax
- Rubber gloves to protect your hands
- A dust mask for added protection
- Eye protection because splashes can happen
Here are the 4 steps to apply liquid wax:
Step 1 – Pour some wax into the bag-lined bucket.
Step 2 – Dampen the mop, but not so much that it drips.
Step 3 – Apply in short even strokes along the wood grain. Start from the far corner out to the door.
Step 4 – Allow the wax to dry before applying another coat. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s directions.
As liquid wax is thinner, expect to apply two to three coats, then buff the floor after it’s dry.
Applying Paste Wax
- Putty knife
- Lint-free cloths
It just takes 2 steps to apply the paste wax:
Step 1 – In a kneeling position, scoop out about one tablespoon of wax and put it in the center of a lint-free cloth.
Step 2 – Spread a thin layer of wax over a 2 x 2-foot area, starting in the far corner. Rub the wax firmly into the wood in the same direction as the grain.
You’ll know the wax is dry when it becomes hazy. Now it’s ready to buff.
Buffing the Final Coat
If you want to combine exercise with polishing your floor, you can buff it manually. Use a mop with a terrycloth head or other soft material. Rub/buff the boards in the same direction as the grain, working your way out of the room as you did when applying the wax.
You can save time and energy by renting an electric floor buffer. It’s only going to cost about $30 for a day, and it’s well worth it.
You’ll want clean new pads for the buffer. Ask the dealer what they recommend for buffing wax on a hardwood floor.
Once you’ve buffed the floor, try not to walk on it or move furniture for at least eight hours. Give it time for the wax to harden fully.
Don’t Wax Your Hardwood Floor If…
Use wax on wood floors that don’t have polyurethane or varnish on them. Wax works over natural or stained wood, but not with a synthetic topcoat. It won’t bond properly and will look unfinished as a result.
It’s becoming harder to find wax products due to the popularity of prefinished wood and polyurethane finishes. It’s no wonder since the synthetic finishes are more durable than wax.
If you are considering installing a solid hardwood floor, look at Easiklip’s line of prefinished floors. They are ready to walk on the moment you install them, and there is no waxing required to maintain them.
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