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The Exclusive Magazine for the Building Service Contracting Industry Since 1981
December 31, 2011

A New Approach to Chemical-Free Stripping

Written by  Lisa Kopochinski







One of the most innovative changes to occur in hard floor maintenance over the past few years is the concept of chemical-free stripping. The concept is not really new, as it uses technology that has been around for years. The process of applying orbital sanders and wood floor preparation pads to a finished surface to remove layers of floor finish through abrasion has been around for some time now. With the industry-wide push toward green cleaning, this method quickly gained acceptance and popularity among end-users. Besides the benefit of not having to introduce chemicals to strip a floor, the process was less messy and promoted the idea of top-scrubbing and re-coating, as opposed to stripping the finish down to the floor and re-applying it.

However, as with all new technologies, there have been challenges. The orbital pads, which typically move in an orbit of a quarter of an inch, load up with the finish that they are removing, which in turn forces the user to stop the process to clean or flip the pads before continuing. The constant stopping and starting is a drain on productivity.

It is difficult for a machine to apply down-force over the surface area of a pad. For example, a 14” x 28” pad has 392 square inches of surface area. If you apply 125 pounds of down-force to that pad you end up applying only .32 pounds per square inch. The lack of force certainly limits the amount of finish that can be abraded from the floor.

In fact, numerous studies have shown that this type of system requires far too many passes to be practical for actually stripping. One study actually showed that after 30 passes, a system like this was not able to remove all of the floor finish.

An improvement on this method, recently launched at the 2011 ISSA/BSCAI Show in Las Vegas, utilizes cylindrical rollers with the same stripping pads to address these concerns and provide a solution for chemical-free stripping. Call it “chemical-free stripping 2.0.” Cylindrical rollers offer a number of advantages over pads when it comes to chemical-free stripping.

First, cylindrical rollers do not load up with the abraded finish like pads do. Remember, this entire process is based on the physical removal of the finish through the abrasive process. Just like sanding a piece of wood with a small orbital sander creates dust and some of the dust sticks to the middle of the sand paper, affecting its ability to sand, the finish that is being abraded from the floor builds up on the pad and affects its ability to remove the finish. This reduces productivity and greatly affects the labor required to perform this task.

However, a belt sander works much more like a cylindrical system, in that the abraded wood (or in our case, floor finish) is pulled away from the surface, and centrifugal force keeps it from loading up the abrading material. This allows the process to be much faster and more productive because the cylindrical roller can be run much longer before needing to be cleaned.

Another advantage of cylindrical rollers is the amount of down force that can be applied to the surface. As we discussed earlier, a 14” x 28” pad has 392 square inches of surface area over which the down-force applied by the machine is spread. Cylindrical rollers are different in that the contact area for a cylindrical roller is approximately half an inch along the length of the roller. If you have two 16” cylindrical rollers on a machine, you have eight inches of contact area on each roller, or a total contact area of 16 square inches. If you apply 80 pounds of down-force over 16 square inches, you end up with five pounds of down-force being applied per square inch of contact area. That is 15 times the amount of down-force that is applied by an orbital pad.

Chemical-free stripping is the removal of finish by physical force. The more down-force you can exert on the finish, the faster you can remove the finish and get the job done. Consider looking into the benefits of a cylindrical chemical-free stripping system for your facility. It will make you more productive by allowing you to work longer without having to change, clean, or flip pads, getting the job done faster.


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