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Stained Concrete FAQs
Wondering if stained concrete is right for you? To help you decide, here are answers to common questions about stained concrete benefits, appearance, performance and maintenance.
Why do people choose stained concrete?
Stained concrete appeals to many people who want to achieve unique decorative effects for a reasonable cost. For as little as $2 per square foot, you can use stains to create an infinite array of colors and special effects on both interior and exterior surfaces. Concrete stain does more than simply add color. Rather than produce a solid, opaque effect like paint or colored coatings, stains permeate the concrete to infuse it with rich, deep, translucent tones. Some stain manufacturers use adjectives such as "antiqued," "variegated," or "mottled" to describe the distinctive look. Even when treated with the same staining product in the same shade, no two concrete floors, walls, or countertops will look alike due to factors such as the composition and age of the concrete and surface porosity.
Can all concrete be stained?
Both acid and water-based stains can be applied to new or old and plain or integrally colored concrete. They can also be used both indoors and out, on everything from concrete floors and kitchen countertops to pool decks and driveways.
The most important consideration is the condition of the surface. If the concrete is covered by grime, glues, coatings, curing membranes, or sealers that inhibit the stain from soaking in, the stain won't be able to penetrate and achieve full color development.
What are my color options with stained concrete?
Your color options will vary depending on whether you are using an acid or water-based stain. With acid stains, your color choices will be limited. Most manufacturers offer only eight hues, mostly subtle earth tones, such as tans, browns, terra cottas, and soft blue-greens. Although the basic color palette is sparse, you can mix two or more stain colors before application to achieve a different shade or apply one color over another. You can also produce deeper color effects with a stain by applying two coats.
If you want to go beyond the subtle drama and subdued color palette of acid staining, water-based acrylic stains will give you a wider spectrum of hues to choose from. Most manufacturers offer dozens of standard colors, including black and white and even metallic tints. And in many cases, the different colors can be mixed, like water-based paints, to broaden your options. (See Creating Excitement with Color and Water-Based Stain Gives Concrete Contractors a Full Palette.)
How do I choose the right stain color?
Color choice is often dictated by personal preference or by a desire to match or complement an existing color scheme, such as staining a concrete floor to mirror the same tones in a wood-paneled wall. Because stain color is permanent, many homeowners opt for neutral tones, such as light tans, browns, grays and greens. Regardless of what stain colors you choose, be aware of the following caveats:
- With acid-based stains, wide color variations are normal. Surfaces will have a mottled, variegated appearance, and these variations will be emphasized when the final coat of sealer is applied.
- With some acid stain colors, what you see in liquid form may not be what you get once the stain has reacted with the concrete surface. The stain may not reveal its true color until it has been allowed to remain on the concrete for several hours or longer. Always apply the stain to a small test area before covering the entire surface.
- Color effects will generally be more intense on new concrete than on older or weathered concrete.
Most stain manufacturers will provide color charts or even actual samples of stained concrete to help you visualize the options. Contractors may also be able to provide samples of the various stain colors they work with.
What special effects are possible with stained concrete?
Depending on the color and application techniques used, stained concrete can be made to mimic everything from polished marble to tanned leather to natural stone or even stained wood.
Some of your options include:
To see several examples of what creative contractors are doing with concrete stain, used alone or in combination with other decorative techniques, see Six Concrete Staining Techniques Revealed.
What are the differences between acid stains and water-based stains?
Acid-based concrete stains are made up of inorganic metallic salts dissolved in an acid and water solution. They penetrate into the surface and react chemically with the concrete to form a permanent bond. The color they impart is translucent rather than opaque, resulting in deep, rich tones and attractive marbling effects.
Non-reactive water-based stains (typically a blend of acrylic polymers and pigments) fill the pores of the concrete surface to produce a colored film or coating, ranging from translucent to opaque depending on the product. The key difference is that no chemical reaction takes place, so the color is more consistent. Most of these products are also low in VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and safer to apply because they are free of solvents and acids. To learn more, read New Products for Staining Concrete.
How much does stained concrete cost?
The cost of staining will vary considerably depending on the complexity of the stain application, surface prep requirements, and the size of the project. A basic one-coat application of stain on concrete requiring minimal surface prep will run about $2 to $4 per square foot, while more elaborate staining projects involving multiple colors and special design details can cost $15 per square foot or more due to the time and skill level involved. See this overview of stained concrete costs and price ranges.
Can I stain concrete myself?
When applying stain, using the proper tools and application techniques is vital to achieving good results. Once the stain is down, the color is permanent—there's no going back. If you have any doubts, hire the services of a professional, especially if you want to incorporate multiple colors and elaborate decorative effects. (See Stain Application: DIY or Hire a Pro?)
Another factor to consider is safety. When working with acid-based chemical stains, it’s important to take the proper precautionary measures because they often contain corrosive components that can cause eye and skin irritation and produce strong odors.
Will the color fade?
Because stains penetrate into the concrete surface, their color is durable and long-lasting. When applied to properly prepared concrete, the color will not fade, chip, or peel away.
How do I maintain stained concrete?
Although concrete stain is permanent and won't flake off like paint, it penetrates only the top layer of the concrete surface and will eventually wear away as the surface is worn by traffic or weather exposure. To prolong stain life, you should protect exterior stained concrete surfaces with a clear sealer and interior floors with a good floor wax. To keep your stained concrete looking its best, you will also need to clean it periodically by dry dust mopping and occasional wet mopping with a neutral-pH cleaner. Get more tips on how to seal and maintain stained concrete.
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