Cleaning wax off hardwood floors, whether it is candle wax from a romantic evening or wax buildup from years of wax applications, must be approached carefully to avoid damaging the floor. Paste wax was once the wax of choice for hardwood floors. The woman of the house would apply the wax, and the kids buffed it to a shine by "skating" on the floor in their socks. This wax may have built up on the floors for years, causing the hardwood to become dull and discolored. Newer hardwood floors are finished with urethane and do not require waxing.
Candle Wax Removal
Remove candle wax from hardwood floors by applying ice and then scraping off the wax. To avoid getting the hardwood floor wet, place the ice in a plastic sandwich bag. The ice will cause the candle wax to become brittle. Scrape the brittle wax off the floor with a plastic scraper or an old credit card. Remove as much of the wax as possible. Then lightly buff the area with extra fine steel wool dipped in mineral spirits. Wipe the hardwood floor dry, and buff it with a clean, soft cloth to restore the shine.
Floor Wax Types
The most prevalent waxes applied to hardwood floors are paste wax and acrylic wax. Paste wax is a petroleum-based wax, and acrylic waxes are water-based. The first step to removing these waxes is to determine which type of wax is on the floor, especially if you are not the original owner of the home or it is a rental.
Test for paste wax by wetting extra fine steel wool with water and wiping the hardwood floor in an inconspicuous area. If there is a light gray smudge on the steel wool, paste wax is on the floor. Another test for paste wax is to use mineral spirits on a cloth to scrub a small area. Paste wax will show as a dirty film on the cloth. If neither of these tests shows results, the floor has acrylic wax on it.
Acrylic waxes include products mopped on that leave a shine. The products appear dirty and patchy when wearing off.
Floor Wax Removal
Removing acrylic wax is accomplished by applying an ammonia-based stripper mixed into water. A stripper that is for wood floors is the best choice. With hardwood, it is a little tricky to allow enough time for the stripper to do its work without oversoaking the floor. It is best to work in small sections and not try to do the whole floor at one time.
Paste wax removal requires the use of mineral spirits and steel wool or a nylon scrubber. Mineral spirits is flammable and emits fumes. Work with the area well-ventilated and in small sections at a time.
Wax applied to hardwood gets in the grooves of the floor, and a small amount of it will remain after the wax is removed. If the hardwood is being waxed after cleaning, that will not be a problem. If you plan to apply polyurethane to the cleaned floor, however, it may not adhere to the grooves and can bubble or flake off. Test a small area and wait a few days for the urethane to react before proceeding to apply it to the entire floor.