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Step 1: Surface PreparationWhether you are staining new or old concrete, thorough surface preparation is essential. Unlike paints and coatings, which are opaque and can mask many evils, acid stains are translucent. Any residue remaining on the surface of the concrete is likely to be visible through the newly applied stain. When done properly, this initial step dramatically impacts the finished appearance of the project. Surface preparation can be done in two ways, either by mechanical grinding or with the use of a specially formulated cleaner (often available from your stain manufacturer). Learn more about surface preparation before staining concrete.

Step 2: Decorative StainApplying stains to concrete requires multiple steps, which are as follows:

  • Mask off area to protect door frames, walls, etc.
  • Dilute stain with water to desired ratio (see your manufacturer’s recommendations for specifics).
  • Spray or brush on first coat. Popular sprayers include airless sprayers, HVLP sprayers, production guns, pump sprayers or even a trigger spray bottle. A brush or sponge may be used for cases that require precise control of the stain application.
  • Let the newly applied stain dry. Dry times will vary based on temperature, humidity and air flow. In optimum conditions, the concrete will be dry to the touch in 15-20 minutes; however, the total cure time is 24 hours.
  • Repeat if more color intensity is desired. Most stain manufacturers recommend waiting a few hours between applications.

Step 3: Residue RemovalOnce the stain has been applied, cleanup is required. Here is a standard cleanup process:

  • Rinse the concrete with clean water until the water runs clear.
  • Neutralize the stain with T.S.P., baking soda or ammonia. This is only necessary if you are using an acid stain, water-based stains do not require neutralization.
  • Use a soft bristled brush or broom to loosen any stubborn residue before the final rinsing.

Step 4: Protection CoatAfter allowing the stained concrete to dry overnight or longer, apply your sealer of choice. Most stain manufacturers recommend applying two coats of sealer for optimum durability. The type of sealer you use will depend on whether the concrete is indoors or outdoors and what level of gloss is desired (see Concrete Floor Sealers). In addition to the sealer, a floor finish or wax can be applied for extra protection against scuffs and scratches.

Common Staining Mistakes

  1. Washing the concrete with muriatic acid before staining
    This depletes the lime in the concrete, preventing acid stains from reacting properly with the concrete and producing the desired color.
  2. Skipping on-site color samples
    You should always do a color sample on the concrete you plan to stain since all surfaces are unique and the stain will react differently with each slab. Create your sample in an area that won’t be seen or will be covered up. Good places for samples are in a closet, under the stairs, in a utility room, or where cabinets or appliances will be installed.
  3. Using masking tape or painter’s tape to layout designs on the concrete
    On concrete that has already been stained the tape’s adhesive may pull color off the floor. On unstained concrete the tape may leave behind a residue that prevents the stain from reacting properly with the concrete. When masking is required, cardboard, paper or other materials should be used instead.
  4. Not neutralizing acid stains before sealer application
    When using acid stains, if neutralization is skipped or done improperly your sealer will not be able to form a proper bond with the concrete.
  5. Not allowing sufficient cure time for new concrete before staining
    Fresh concrete must cure for at least 14 days before staining. For extra assurance, many manufacturers recommend 21 days.

Get more information on common staining mistakes: How to Fix Concrete Acid Stains


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