Safe & Effective Use of
Floor Finish Strippers

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Hard floor care involves one of the most dangerous chemical products that janitors use - floor finish stripper. Stripper usually comes in two forms: a liquid concentrate for stripping large floor areas, and a ready-to-use aerosol for taking floor finish off of baseboards. Both of these strippers contain chemicals that can seriously harm the user, and may also affect building occupants and the environment.

Floor Stripper Ingredients

This fact sheet gives floor stripper safety tips and ideas on how to reduce the amount of stripper you use.

This table lists chemicals that are found in most floor stripper products.

Floor Stripper Ingredients and Risks


To The

To Building Occupants

To The Environment

Butoxyethanol Absorbs through skin; damages blood, liver, kidneys, & developing baby. Usually no contact, so fairly low risk. However, some people are sensitive to its vapors or residues. Usually none unless disposed of outdoors (which is illegal).
Monoethanolamine Can damage eyes and skin.

Absorbs through skin; damages blood, liver, kidneys, & developing baby.

Usually no contact, so fairly low risk. However, some people are sensitive to its vapors or residues. Usually none unless disposed of outdoors (which is illegal).
Sodium Hydroxide or Sodium Metasilicate Can cause blindness and severely damage skin. Usually no contact, so fairly low risk. However, some people are sensitive to its vapors or residues. High amounts usually prohibited by sewer agency (pH too high).
Zinc (from the floor finish removed) None. None. High amounts usually prohibited by sewer agency.

Because of these risks it makes sense to limit the amount of stripper that you use, and to do everything possible to reduce the exposure of your workers to these harmful ingredients. How can that be done?

Reduce The Amount Of Floor Stripper You Use

Reducing stripper use is a good idea for safety reasons and for saving money. Floor stripping takes lots of time and so it is expensive. Stripping should be done only when needed, and then done right so that no time or chemicals are wasted.

Prevention: You can cut back on the stripping that you have to do by keeping abrasive dirt particles from reaching the floor in the first place.

  • Keep dirt outdoors. Use walk-in mats at each entrance to the building. Clean these mats frequently.
  • Use dust mops and vacuums to sweep up dirt frequently.
  • Wet mop the floor with a liquid cleaner or surface buffing product.

Monitoring: The next step for reducing stripper use is to carefully monitor the floor refinishing work that you do.

  • Strip floor finish only when needed. Keep track of

    your floors - check them out monthly, or more often if they get a lot of traffic. Refinish only those areas where the surface is wearing out.

  • With good records, you will easily spot patterns in the way that floors are wearing. Draw a sketch map of each building you maintain, and record your inspections of the hard floor areas. If you use a computer, make these sketches with your spreadsheet program and record your results each time you do an inspection.
  • Keep track of the amounts of floor stripper that each crew uses. Your people will respond to what you measure, and so will use less floor stripper when they know that you will be checking.
Stripping floors on a fixed time schedule can waste money.

If done too soon you'll refinish the floor before it's needed, and that will waste labor and chemicals.

If you wait too long, traffic will wear through the finish and damage the underlaying floor material. When this foundation becomes worn, you'll either have to replace floor tiles or spend lots of extra time trying to get a satisfactory new finish.

Training: Additional reduction in floor stripper use comes from training your staff on how to refinish floors correctly.

  • Train your people to mix the stripper with as much water as they can while still getting the job done. Most stripper products are meant to be mixed with something like 10 or 20 parts of water to one part of concentrate.

Try working at the high end of the dilution range suggested by the supplier. If that works, then try adding a bit more water - but not too much. If you add too much water the stripper will work too slowly, and extra time will be needed to get the job done.

  • Help your employees to minimize mistakes, spills, and waste. For example, mistakenly using the same mop to apply stripper and floor finish can cause problems. One good idea is to use different colored buckets or colored heavy-duty trash can liners in the stripper, rinse water, and floor finish buckets. Buy mop heads or handles that are the same three colors as the buckets or liners.
  • Also train your people on how to apply stripper to the floor and then rinse it off. Be sure that a machine or hand scrubber is used to help lift the floor finish - simple agitation makes the stripper work more quickly and more uniformly.

Follow set procedures to assure that the stripper will work properly, and thereby reduce the amount of rework that your people have to do.

One final thing to consider is product mixing stations. Automatic dispensers might make sense if you use lots of chemicals, and are working in a building with custodial closets. A well-designed dispensing system can save you money, and also can make chemical mixing safer for your employees. However, mixing units can have problems, particularly when filled with seldom used chemicals, so it is important evaluate your needs carefully before selecting a dispenser.

Permanent vision loss starts within 10 seconds after a worker splashes stripper concentrate into his eyes.

Immediately flushing the eyes with water is essential to stop the damage from getting worse.

Skin burns start to develop in seconds as well. Quickly washing the burned area with water usually avoids permanent damage.

Harmful chemicals in strippers can be absorbed through skin to poison the user.

Reduce Worker Exposure To Harmful Ingredients

Floor strippers are most dangerous to eyes and skin. These risks are greatest when a worker is handling the concentrate, but the diluted product is still strong enough to cause harm.

  • Train your employees in safe work procedures.
  • Insist that protective gloves and goggles are worn, particularly when your employee is handling concentrated stripper products.
  • Be aware of Cal/OSHA regulations that require a 15-minute full-flow eye wash station be provided in any area where workers are exposed to corrosive chemicals.
  • Many accidents occur when a worker lifts a full mop bucket to pour its contents into a janitorial sink. Teach your employees safe lifting methods.

Reduce Impact On The Environment

Some floor stripping products affect indoor air quality. However, strippers usually have their biggest potential impact if they are improperly disposed of outdoors.

  • Use Ventilation: Some building occupants may be sensitive to the vapors or residues from floor stripping products. If that is the case, do your stripping work at night, on weekends, or during holidays. Also, open windows if possible and use fans to increase the amount of outside air flowing into the area where you are working. Take care that these fans don’t make the new floor finish dry unevenly.
  • Avoid Outdoor Disposal: Floor stripper products should never be disposed of outdoors. It is illegal to pour strippers or any other chemicals on the ground, in a parking lot, or any other outdoor area.
  • Control Outdoor Use: If the floor you are refinishing is outdoors, be sure to keep the stripper and rinse water in the work area. Put up absorbent pads or other barriers. Have your janitors use a shop vacuum and wet mops to pick up all excess stripper. Also, have them wash their equipment and dispose of any left over product or rinse water at an indoor sink.
  • Be Aware of Zinc Problems: Most modern floor finishes have zinc in them. Zinc is only about 1% of the total product, but it is an important ingredient that makes the floor finish harder. When your janitors strip the floor, this zinc is picked up by the stripper and rinse water.

Some local sewer agencies have strict limits on the amounts of metals like zinc that you can put into the sewer. Why? Because their treatment plant cannot take these metals out of the sewage very well. Enough zinc gets through the treatment plant to harm shellfish and other animals living in the river or bay where the treated sewage is discharged.

Check with your sewer agency to see what level of zinc they allow, and have some samples tested to see how much zinc is in your stripper and rinse water. You have three choices if your zinc levels are too high:

  1. Change to a floor finish that does not have any zinc. Although less durable, non-zinc finishes work well for low traffic floor areas.
  1. Dilute your floor stripper as much as possible when you mix it. Doing so will reduce the amount of finish that you pick up each time, and at therefore will reduce the amount of zinc that you put into the sewer.
  1. If using a dilute stripper doesn’t get you beneath the limit that the sewer agency requires, then you will have to dispose of used stripper and rinse water as a hazardous waste rather than putting them into the sewer.

Where To Get More Information

There are a number of places you can go to find out more about the chemicals you are using in your work:

  • You can learn about floor finish products and how to use them safely from your vendor. Ask for material safety data sheets, user instructions, training videos, and any other available information on these products.
  • Read trade magazines and visit the internet sites that they operate. One such site is located at You can find others by using an internet search engine.
  • Contact your local health department or the California Department of Health Services if you want help understanding a material safety data sheet or have questions about the health impacts of chemicals you use.
  • Contact your local sewer agency if you have questions about what chemicals may be disposed of in their sewer system.

Janitorial Products Pollution Prevention Project - Sponsored by US EPA, State of California, Santa Clara County, the City of Richmond, and the Local Government Commission. Written by Thomas Barron, Carol Berg, and Linda Bookman. 6/99.