How to Strip Wood Floors

Wood floors, while often considered a staple of any refined modern home, are worthless if not finished properly. Finishing is a crucial part of wood floor maintenance, with many industry professionals suggesting a new finish at least once a year to maintain a high quality (and selling value) to your home. But many flooring amateurs make the fatal error of rushing into the finishing process without properly stripping their wood floors. Like anything else, the right preparation is crucial to a great end result when it comes to finishing your wood floors. Here is a walk-through to stripping wood floors.

Sanding vs. Chemical Stripping

Many floorers are often at a loss when it comes to the key question on stripping wood floors: to sand or to chemically strip? Many argue the pros and cons of each. Chemical stripping is ideal for floors that have already been repeatedly mechanically sanded and are becoming too thin. Chemical stripping also eliminates gritty wood particles in the air, especially considering how harmful these can be to surrounding furniture and equipment. However, the fumes caused by chemical stripping are extremely objectionable to some, and manual stripping (sanding) is far more eco friendly. However, either method will essentially give you the same results, so consider the pros and cons when choosing which method is best for your home and work style.

A Guide to Sanding

It is important to prep floors for sanding before proceeding. Clean thoroughly, carefully removing any residue and drying thoroughly when finished. Check for nails, gauges, or general imperfections and care for them specifically before proceeding to tackle the entire surface.

Also carefully select what type of sanding device you will be using. Circular shaped sanders should be avoided, as they usually leave undesirable patterns (often swirls) behind.  Belt sanders are ideal, but beware - belt sanders are cumbersome and require a lot of muscle to control, as they can easily fly away from you during use. A hand sander will take a little extra time and effort, but is a better option for females or floorers who require a bit more ease in their efforts.

Take time and care when sanding, as mistakes or impurities can require a complete floor replacement to correct. When completed, sweep or vacuum to collect all sawdust before embarking on finishing.

A Guide to Chemical Stripping

Unlike with manual sanding, any pre-cleaning efforts should be done with either only water or "green" (i.e. non-toxic and non-chemical based) cleaning products. Dry carefully, and then take some time to read the manufacturer's notes that come with your chemical stripping product. No matter what the brand, it is crucial to remember that these products are highly toxic. Work in a well ventilated area, ideally wear a surgical mask, and block the area off from any family members or pets.

Spread the chemicals evenly throughout the area (it is highly suggested that you wear latex gloves and rubber kneepads), and adhere to the leave-on time suggested in the product's directions.  Exit the room to avoid excess inhalation, periodically returning to check if the chemical stripper is working properly.  The product ought to "bubble," which is a sign that the old finish is being lifted.

A scraper blade will be used to remove the chemical stripper and the lifted finish, and be sure to dispose of the waste in securely tied plastic garbage bags, as the waste material will be highly toxic. Some areas may need a second application to lift; when doing so, make sure not to affect areas that have already been successfully lifted, as additional stripping product may damage the integrity of the wood.

Once you have stripped successfully, you are ready to embark on finishing. Good luck!