The Concrete Network

I hear a lot about using dyes on concrete. What are they, and how do they differ from chemical stains?


Dyes are the latest buzz in the decorative concrete community. Their ease of use, extensive palette, and vibrancy of color (which can be more intense than chemical stains) are creating a wave of popularity that is gaining momentum.

Unlike stains, which react chemically with the calcium hydroxide in concrete, dyes are nonreactive and impart color by penetrating concrete or other porous cementitious surfaces. Dyes are much smaller in particle size than chemical stains or acrylic stains, thus allowing for easier penetration and color saturation while leaving less residue on the surface. A good analogy for comparing the color intensity and penetration of dyes to stains is that you can fit a lot more marbles than bowling balls into the same size container. The small dye particles fill the pores of the concrete and are very hard to remove, making dyes nearly as permanent as stains. Because there is virtually no residue, minimal cleanup is required, greatly speeding the application process.

Dyes are available in water- or solvent-based formulations and produce looks ranging from monotone to translucent, depending on how they are applied. Water-based dyes typically produce more marbling and variegation (similar to the look of a chemical stain), while solvent-based dyes tend to be more monotone and uniform in color. Some manufacturers' water- and solvent-based dyes can be combined to produce special color effects. The downside to dyes is that they penetrate very fast, leaving little room for error during application. Also, they are not UV stable, so most manufacturers recommend indoor use only.

I encourage you to try dyes and discover the unique effects you can achieve with this new coloring technology.

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Author Chris Sullivan, technical expert and vice president of sales and marketing for ChemSystems Inc.