|MadSci Network: Chemistry|
Hi there and sorry for the delay.
From what I can find out about wax floor treatments the method of removal is different depending on the material of floor underneath. In combination with the support material e.g. wood, ceramic tiles or vinyl roll, the wax is there to provide a hard-wearing barrier. The wax upper layer means that the flooring lasts longer than if the support material were exposed.
However, the wax outer surface does not last forever, so before it wears away and exposes the support material the wax needs to be replaced. If the support material became exposed then the life of the floor could be shortened considerably as the support can usually be compromised in some way e.g. wood can swell and discolour if it absorbs water, vinyl / acrylic floors have poor tear strength and can rip easily, ceramic materials are brittle and will wear if small, hard particles can scratch the surface.
To strip wax off wood floors you need to use something that wasn't based on water as this would only damage the wood you had so carefully been protecting. Hence, products are available which are non-aqueous solvents, similar to those used in dry cleaning of clothes. The solvents (e.g. naphtha or mineral spirits) detach the wax from the wood without altering it and by removing the solvent you take away the wax. The wood underneath is then bare and ready for an application of new wax.
On floors which are unharmed by water, the stripping agent is usually a water-based detergent used at high alkalinity. Wax and water are not miscible, in the same way that oil and water separate into two layers when you try to mix them. However, the stripping agent, in combination with an abrasive stripping pad, loosens the wax and lifts it from the floor. Using either the stripping agent or the abrasive by itself to remove the wax would most likely be a very slow process but their combined effect allows the detergent to quickly emulsify and hold the wax within the water.
In some cases, the final part of the stripping process involves an acid-treatment (or a neutralisation treatment) and rinse which removes any trace of the strongly alkaline stripping solution. Once the floor has dried the support mateial is completely exposed and is ready for the replacement wax layer to leave it as good as new.
For references, type "remove wax coating floor" into Google. You can also find more specific details for individual floor types.
Try the links in the MadSci Library for more information on Chemistry.