When sealing a stone floor, the person operating the buffer needs to keep up to the one spreading the product, and the one spreading the product also needs to not get too far ahead, or they’ll make life difficult for the buffer.So last month we discussed the difference between an impregnating sealer and a topical one and how (and why) to wet the stone properly with the sealer. So is that it? Is it that easy? Sorry, boys and girls, but the next part is just as important if not more so.

Fifty percent of the problem I see with sealers is that the residue on the surface was not removed properly or at all (the other 50% is in not applying it long and wet enough – see last month’s article). The single most common fallacy I hear to correct this problem is to “add more product to re-activate the sealer and then buff off.”

Seriously? Now, I cannot remember if this advice was originally printed on the label or not (I cannot find it on the labels of any product we now use), but I have heard it offered by sales people and online pontificators alike.

Step back and think about this for a minute.

If you have drips in paint, are you going to add more paint to remove them? No, and neither should you add more sealer to remove cured sealer residue from stone.

Now, I am not a scientist and neither does it profit me to pretend to be one (after all, if I were a scientist, why would I be wasting my gift and knowledge working with stone? I would do research and try to discover a cure for cancer and such) but adding more product just compounds the problem.

Trust me, removing cured sealer on stone is not a pleasant experience (nor cheap, nor easy). The chemicals needed to reactivate the product are expensive and highly toxic, so it is just plain better to learn how to apply it right in the first place, and (if you choose to) kill your brain cells on your own time with the chemical of your own choosing (with me, it would be Crown Royal) instead of at work. Now, let’s focus on doing it right.

First, you have the floor or countertop wet for 5-10 minutes, then take a squeegee and pull the wet product over to the next area and respread it, (yes, I re-use it if I can. That stuff is not cheap, you know) adding more product as needed. While that area is soaking, you buff the previously treated area with an absorbent towel.

On a counter, this can be done by hand, but on 15,000 sq ft of floor, you could get a little tired doing it by hand. We prefer to place our towels under a floor polisher (aka swing machine, buffer, motor on a pole, etc.) and buff back and forth.

Now, the secret here is to change your towels out frequently under the machine, because once they get wet, they are no longer removing the sealer, but just smearing a fine film on the surface. You have to buff the surface dry.

To make the buffing process easier, you want to make sure that the squeegee kid (the one pulling the product off of the floor) is using strong downward pressure on the hand closest to the floor. This way the rubber from the squeegee also gets down and removes the pools of product from the grout and recessed lips between tiles.

I know this sounds simple, but if not executed properly (and quickly) you could end up with a mess. Plus, towels get expensive, and as much as I am all for re-using things if we can, once a towel has been saturated with sealer, it is useless as a towel again because you have effectively waterproofed it, thus never allowing it to soak up anything again.

Two things at this stage can cause problems if you are not prepared. First, if you do not buff off the excess while it is still wet, the curing sealer will cause friction between the floor, the towel and the machine, and you will end up with what we call “Cubans.”

Not the Latinos floating into Florida on life rafts, but perfectly tight-rolled towels that resemble a Cuban cigar. And once all rolled up, these towels never function again properly (they just want to stay rolled).

This not only cuts into profit because you will go through way more towels, but as you are continuously changing your Cubans for fresher towels, the sealer keeps on curing, therefore, becoming even harder to remove (and this adds to your time budgets as well).

The person operating the buffer needs to keep up with the one spreading the product, and the one spreading the product also needs to not get too far ahead, and thus making life difficult on the buffer.

The second cautionary problem to look out for is lippage. If you are sealing a floor that has lippage, the towels under the machine for buffing will continually be grabbing on the lips and want to roll into Cubans.

It is also harder to remove (and re-use) the sealer in the negative lips and, therefore, wetting your towels prematurely. If the lippage is mild, you can usually still meet your quota for floor area to product usage/time ratio (basically, you are billing this much $$$$ and expect to only pay out this much $$).

To avoid losing your shirt on a sealing job or being mired in curing sealer on the surface, you want to look out for this problem in advance and budget in for additional time and material.

You could also use “carpet bonnets” instead of towels. A carpet bonnet is what carpet cleaners use to scrub carpets. They look like circular mop heads sewn together. These will attach nicely to your floor buffer and ride over the lips without rolling up like an expensive cigar. 

However, bonnets are about 200x the price of a towel. They will only give you a little more square footage then a towel will (however, you can use both sides) and just like the towels, they are useless for sealing afterwards.

Of course, you could just get on your hands and knees and save yourself all that expensive equipment and bonnets and do it tile by tile, by hand.

Hopefully, you end up with a perfectly sealed surface with no residue or film. And there is no satisfaction like a job that is done right (and that job paid for). 

Until next time, keep your stick on the ice.

Tom McNall is founder and owner of Great Northern Stone, an Ontario-based stone cleaning and restoration company servicing Ontario and Chicago, Illinois. Tom also offers corporate and private consultations as well as speaking at conventions. He can be reached at tom@greatnorthernstone.com.