DIY – Strip Wax Off Linoleum Flooring

Regular readers here know that we have a duplex that we rent out. But for us it’s not really a passive investment. Rather than handing off the investment to a property management company, we’re in there actively ourselves finding new tenants, and DIY-ing as much of the maintenance and repairs as we can.

Our latest DIY project took us a few tries to get right, so we want to share the “how to” here for others to avoid the trial and error that we had to fight through.


The Project – Refinishing Linoleum Flooring


Top – Stripped and clean, Bottom – as good as it got before this process.

One of our units has linoleum floors. You might remember them from staring at the floor in your second grade classroom. Or third grade. Or fourth. Or tenth. They’re the classy 12” square tiles that scream, “Pass your homework to the front of your row.”

The good thing about linoleum tiles like these is that they are durable. Heck, if years of students can run, jump, and spit all over them, what harm can a few members of the college orchestra really do to them?

The bad news is that cleaning them properly (a task that we unsuccessfully attempted in 2010 when we first rented this unit) is not easy, and the “how to” aspect of it seems to be a secret as well-guarded by elementary school janitorial staff as magic tricks are by magicians. But we’re going to break that secret here today.


He Said / She Said: Did It Really Need To Be Done?

Mrs PoP – Honestly, the floors looked like they were in a school where the janitors had been laid off years ago. But, I thought it was a hopeless cause and just wanted to give them a good mopping for the new tenants and convince Mr. PoP to lay 900 sqft of relatively inexpensive ceramic tile in a few years. After all, it’d be great practice for when we finally address the tile problem in our own house.

Mr PoP – They looked awful. Whenever prospective tenants came to check out the place, they’d love the high ceilings that made the little unit feel bigger, the new cabinetry and dishwasher. But they’d always ask if that was as good as the floors got. People noticed more than Mrs PoP thought they should. Plus, I don’t want to put down 900sqft of tile if I can avoid it.

So Mrs. PoP caved and I got free rein with the credit card to see if there wasn’t a way to salvage these tiles and bring them back to their former glory by removing years and layers of yellowish discolored wax not to mention paint droppings, dirt, grease, and scratches in between the wax layers from tiles that were otherwise fine.


An Aside on Linoleum vs Vinyl

First off, let’s clear up the difference between vinyl and linoleum tile. Check out this article for more info, but basically linoleum is a type of flooring that is made of linseed oil (making it fairly “green”), lasts for 30-40 years in commercial environments, and is made in such a way that the colors go all the way through the tile. Naked linoleum is porous, so you have to maintain it with a sealer and wax. Vinyl tile is made from oil, has a printed pattern tends to wear off after a while, but is slightly easier to install in sheet form (in tile form it’s a wash for installation), and only lasts about half as long as linoleum.

Part of the problem is that nobody knows the damn difference between linoleum and vinyl. To see how bad this is: Google actually uses the terms interchangeably. When Google doesn’t get it right, you know it’s confusing. Even though linoleum is mostly seen in commercial settings in the US nowadays, for some reason we wound up with about 900 sqft in our duplex. These directions are for linoleum floors, so if you try it on vinyl and you screw something up, don’t come to me.


Project Requirements:

See, we weren’t kidding about the name!

  • Time: About 1 day solid of hard work for 2 people stripping, and a few more hours after that spread out for applying sealers and wax. (Preferably the better part of a week when you’ll have the floors all completely cleared.)
  • Stripping Chemicals (~$45 for 2 gallons): We used BetCo Extreme Stripper (what a name!) that we picked up from a janitorial supply company. It’s a concentrate that you’ll dilute – you can try the “light strength” first, but ours needed “full strength”. Zep Floor Stripper (sold in Lowes and Home Depot) was useless, and a combination of ammonia and vinegar was also pretty useless. Don’t waste your money.
  • Sealer/Wax Chemicals: For these, we’re using Zep Floor Sealer and Zep Floor Finish and since we’re not in a commercial environment we figure these should be okay.
  • Mops/Buckets ($5-$15): Sponge mop for applying chemicals (this will be basically dead at the end of this process), and rope mops for applying the sealer and wax. You’ll also want a couple 2 gallon buckets for holding the chemical solutions.
  • Commercial Buffer (Rental $60 includes a couple scouring pads): We recommend renting one of these from a janitorial supply company. We only learned later, but it is much cheaper than renting from Lowes or Home Depot. We used the scouring pad attachment and had two of them. Get lessons before turning this on – they are NOT intuitive to control!
  • Wet Dry Vac ($97): This is key. And don’t cheap out. Get one with a powerful motor (we went with a 5Hp), a long handle so you don’t have to hunch over, and pay the extra $8 to get a squeegee-like attachment that you’ll use to be sucking all the used stripping chemicals off the floor. Luckily this part is reusable and we will be keeping it.
  • Safety equipment: Ok, so we didn’t actually use goggle and respirators, but you might want to consider it. Mrs. PoP said her throat was scratchy the day after, but I felt ok.



Once you’ve got all the right supplies, it’s pretty straightforward.


This is a close-up of the waxy slurry that you’re stripping off. If you let it dry in place, it will harden where it falls. Eww.

  1. Have one person use the sponge mop to apply your stripping chemicals to an area that’s about 3’ x 10’. Set a timer for 5 minutes, and keep an eye on that area, keeping that area wet and applying more stripping chemicals as needed for 5 minutes.
  2. When your timer dings after 5 minutes, you should be able to use your fingernail to scrape off some of the wax on the floor. Now the other person can start buffing on one end of the area. You want even pressure, and the scouring pad will be stripping up all those layers of wax and sealant.
  3. As the person with the buffer moves along the area, the second person should grab the wet dry vac and follow behind sucking up all the excess wax and used stripping chemicals that are being left behind. (Note, some instructions will tell you to mop this slurry up. The authors of those instructions are either masochists or morons. Perhaps both.)
  4. Repeat Steps 1-3 until the entire house is stripped. Every few repeats, you’ll need to rinse out the scouring pad on your buffer set it aside to dry and swap it out with the clean one. You’ll also need to empty out your wet-dry vac, too. This gets a good 98% of the wax off the floors. You may want to use hand applications and a hand-held scrub brush to get in the corners where the circular buffer surface can’t reach.
  5. After it’s stripped, let it dry overnight. Then…
  6. Apply the sealer using the rope mop following the directions on the bottle. Wash, but don’t dry the mop heads. (They shrink if you dry them – a LOT!)
  7. Apply the wax using the rope mop following the directions on the bottle. Mr. PoP went back and did this several evenings in a row letting it dry 24 hours in between each coat. Again, wash but don’t dry the mop heads between each nightly application.

And that’s it. Now you’re all ready to admire your shiny redone floors. And by admire, I mean really lay the praise on thick. This was a crap-load of manual labor and you need to pat yourself on the back.

New Clean Linoleum!

Admire, Damnit!

We’re aiming to repeat this complete process every few years, though we will probably mop and then put an additional layer of wax on every year or so when tenants move out. And now instead of tiling, we’re expecting to get a lot more life out of the existing floors.


Any questions? Anyone have more sympathy for their elementary school janitors after reading what they went through for you?

50 comments to DIY – Strip Wax Off Linoleum Flooring

  • Looks good! There’s no reason to replace it if you can get it to look that good, I think.
    Holly@ClubThrifty recently posted..Legalizing Marijuana: Is it Time?My Profile

  • Sounds like you are really earning that rent! I don’t know how you did it, but you made an article about linoleum maintenance actually fun to read.
    CashRebel recently posted..Prepare For An Interview Like a ChampMy Profile

    • haha, glad you enjoyed the post! You have to make something like that fun otherwise you’ll want to gouge your eyes out reading it

  • Holy awesome looking floors, Batman! That process sounds like it completely sucks. I would have taken fifteen pictures of me getting hammered after that….
    AverageJoe recently posted..What Villains Lurk In Your Financial Plan?My Profile

    • As it happens, by the end of the day we had inhaled so many fumes and eaten so little food while expending tons of calories that we probably were a touch on the loopy side =)

      PS – The next day my legs were ALMOST as tired as they are the day after a marathon. Almost.

  • Wow, talk about DIY! The end result looks great, so good work. Sounds like it was definitely worth saving yourselves the time and money it would have taken to replace it.
    Matt Becker recently posted..Why Do You Have to Beat the Market?My Profile

  • Debi

    Wow, what a great job you did. Fits in perfectly with my mantra of reduce/reuse/recycle. Another advantage over tile is that you don’t have to scrub stains out of grout lines and won’t have to replace cracked tiles when a tenant drops a can of soup in the kitchen.

    • Ohh, I hate light grout lines. We chose a nice dark dark brown grout for the tile we put on the other side. Way better for keeping us and the renters sane!

  • Awesome Mrs Pop, you are so good at DIY, The end result is so neat and clean. It is impressive and very cost effective means to clean the floor and actually make it look like a new one
    Rita P @ Digital Spikes recently posted..What to look for in a credit card : How to choose credit cardMy Profile

    • While I’d love to take credit, I was just the assistant in this project. Mr. PoP was the one who was determined to figure it out, did all the research, and ran the buffer most of the day (and the buffer is tough to run!). Whadda guy, right? =)

  • That looks good, but now I know why that type of flooring isn’t used as much anymore. Even many commercial environments are doing away with it. Nice work on the DIY!
    Grayson @ Debt Roundup recently posted..My Quest For More Life InsuranceMy Profile

  • Honey

    It’s free REIN (like reining in a horse you are riding), not free reign (like ruling a country, and which doesn’t even make sense). Sorry, PET PEEVE.

    DIY rule!!

  • I’m admiring, I’m admiring, honest!

    They look fantastic — that’s some great sweat equity and it’s allowed you to avoid the costs of new flooring.
    Done by Forty recently posted..Our Values, the Goal, & the PlanMy Profile

  • Awesome job! I don’t have much expertise on DIY projects yet, but I want to learn as much as possible for when I have to do them. Thanks for the detailed overview!
    Jake @ Common Cents Wealth recently posted..Why Should You Bike to Work?My Profile

    • You’re very welcome! DIY might take a couple tries (this one took us a couple times to get it right) but in the long run, it’ll definitely save us some $$!

  • Really impressive! We kept the concrete floor, just painted it and polished, it is super easy to clean and maintain, and keeps cool in summer. Linoleum brings childhood memories, I wonder how it was ever fashionable.
    Pauline recently posted..Make extra money: Rent your parking spaceMy Profile

    • Oooh, I’ve always liked the look (and ease) of polished concrete, though it wouldn’t really go with the decor in our current house. I think linoleum was fashionable when “avacado” colored appliances were all the rage. What were they thinking? =)

  • That looks beautiful! It sounds super time intensive, but the results are amazing!
    anna recently posted..Combining FinancesMy Profile

    • Luckily the stripping will only be once every few years… and hopefully it’ll go a little quicker the next time for us since we won’t have the trial and error!

  • I admire you for undertaking this challenging project. It always feels rewarding after accomplishing something spectacular like this. Especially when it looks so good?

    My wife and I used to lay floor tile in our rental houses. It was challenging and rewarding too. But, at some point, our knees told us that this was a job for younger knees than ours. So, eventually, we started hiring out that job.

    My knees still ache a little when I think about it!
    Terry recently posted..Will Rogers’ Secret of Seizing OpportunitiesMy Profile

    • I hear you on the knees… Even at 30, I like to use an old child’s kickboard as a knee pad when I’m down on the ground painting baseboards. I should watch them as I want to keep this pair of knees for a while! =)

  • That’s a nice big rental property! I honestly am not sure what type of tile we have in our basement, but it’s in really bad shape, perhaps beyond repair. I would really like to carpet over it or lay some new tile. The rental part of our basement has newer tile that looks good and should last a while. We do plan on tiling the rental bathroom before the next renter moves in (4 weeks away!).
    DC @ Young Adult Money recently posted..Is it Possible to Focus on Both a Career and a Small Business?My Profile

    • Thanks, DC! I’ve heard basements can be tough for flooring because of the possibile humidity that can develop there. Might be worth asking a local handyman about before choosing what to put down there. Good luck and hope your tenant is great! =)

  • Wow, that sounds like a lot of work! But the results look great! Hopefully you get some great tenants as a reward for your hard work.
    GamingYourFinances recently posted..The road to financial freedomMy Profile

    • Fingers crossed on these ones. They were referred by some our great current tenants that are on the other half of the duplex. They all play in the college orchestra together to in my dreams I envision the place becoming “the orchestra house” where we come by and they’re all sitting around playing violin quartets together on the front porch. =)

  • PK

    That looks great – and the fact that you’re now able to host school is a bonus. Wonder what a classroom rents for?
    PK recently posted..Predicting S&P 500 Closing Prices – July 2013 EditionMy Profile

  • slccom

    Folks, if this Betco extreme stripper, used full strength, was that powerful, what do you think it would do to your eyeballs? Or your lungs? You are aerosolizing the stuff with the vacuum, flipping it around with mops, getting it on your skin, and otherwise exposing your one and only body to it. And what about the sealant? Did you read the safety instructions on the containers?

    Yeah, the floors look great. And you are SO LUCKY that one or both of you didn’t end up in the emergency room. Your flippant blowing-off of very basic safety instructions was a huge disservice to your readers, and I hope very much that nobody else is as stupid as you were.

    • Considering the BetCo product materials list using a wet-vac as an appropriate method of removing the used product from the floor, I don’t think that presents any specific risk of “aerosolizing the stuff”.

      All the products (including sealants) recommend a well-ventilated environment, which we had with fans and lots of open doors and windows (though perhaps we should have specified that more in our post – seemed like a given similar to whenever you’re painting). But that’s really the only safety recommendation of note. Masks aren’t even recommended, though splash goggles are suggested, admittedly and we didn’t wear any protective eyewear outside of our normal nerd glasses that we wear all the time.

  • […] read this piece at Planting Our Pennies that details how they fixed an old flooring problem called: DIY – Strip Wax Off Linoleum (that title alone is enough to click RIGHT NOW, isn’t it?).Hey, don’t fall asleep yet. […]

  • Oh my goodness…it brings back the memories. In the Dark Ages, all we had by way of “modern” flooring was linoleum — it was that or wood, or concrete. A few people had tile but it was expensive and only went in a bathroom. And most houses had “a” bathroom. 😀

    I can remember my parents stripping the linoleum in a kitchen. Once. After that, they avoided the job forever.

    The stripper really is dangerous, and the job is a back-wrecker.

    Nice job, though! The place looks good. Lucky renters to have landlords who care enough to go to all that work.
    Funny about Money recently posted..Fell Off the Diet Wagon!My Profile

  • That is amazing. I would have probably ripped it all out, but I’ll think twice if we ever run into a similar situation. I’m pretty sure our rental house floor is vinyl. It was so bad when we bought the house, that I thought the floor was gray. After much scrubbing, I realized it was actually white!
    Kim@Eyesonthedollar recently posted..Why I Love My New SmartphoneMy Profile

  • “seems to be a secret as well-guarded by elementary school janitorial staff” That line literally made me laugh out loud. Good for you guys for saving some money and learning a new skill.
    KK @ Student Debt Survivor recently posted..Good Customer Service = Loyal CustomersMy Profile

  • I’ve never considered doing this – we ripped up linoleum from our basement when we put in the suite and replaced it.

  • Kristen

    I’m so thankful for this! It’s really hard to find advice from someone who knows the difference between vinyl and lino and I’ve been too chicken to try the wrong thing and wreck my floor. Thanks!

  • Caitlyn

    Hi, Great read! I was just curious, could this same process be used on sheet linoleum? (It’s from the 1950s so i’m pretty sure it’s not vinyl)If so, is there an alternative to renting a machine? The flooring in question only covers our hallway, and such a large machine would seem like a waste for such a tiny space.

    • I’m not sure, Caitlyn – sheet vinyl/linoleum is much thinner, so I don’t think you would want to use the buffer machine and I’m not sure if those chemicals would be too harsh. I’d recommend trying to find a local janitorial supply store in your area – that ended up being where we got the best advice. Good luck!

  • Leland

    This looks like it is actually vct that stands for vinyl composition tile ver popular in comercial or institutional settings still very different from sheet vinyl or stick on vinyl tile

  • Gloria

    We are looking for the BETCO Extreme Stripper to do over our Kitcher floor….but I was reading about the product on the Betco website and it says not to use it on linoleum….are there two different kinds? I noticed your bottle is purple and the one on their website is red….

  • Gloria

    No…I looked again, the bottle has a purple label but says no linoleum…I ignore instructions like this when someone tells me it works but I’ll have to hide it from my Mr Pops!

  • Freddy

    The pictures you are showing are of VCT Tile, not Linoleum flooring, big difference.
    but you did a great job.

  • Good article. The main thing in stripping vct tile is timing. Take too long strip dries up and you gotta start over.

  • Claudia the Librarian

    Thank heavens someone has finally gotten it right – linoleum IS.SO.NOT.VINYL.FLOORING!!! Newb bloggers who get this wrong drive me nuts! It took me days to find your post and it’s the only helpful info that addresses stripping/sealing/cleaning vintage lino floors that I came across. I’ve just got a bitty set of stairs to my basement to work on…can’t say thanks enough for your Good advice…and what a phenom job on that floor!!