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Colored Concrete

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Just about any surface can be transformed with a fresh coat of paint, and concrete is no exception. Depending on the application and the look you want to achieve, paint is a viable alternative to stains and dyes for adding instant color to lackluster gray concrete. But is painting concrete always a good idea? And if you do decide to paint, what are the best products to use? Read on to get answers to these and other common questions about painting concrete.

What concrete surfaces can be painted?

Almost any concrete surface that’s in sound condition can be painted. That includes interior floors and walls as well as exterior surfaces such as patios, sidewalks, and pool decks. Just make sure the surface is clean and free of existing coatings or sealers that could prevent the paint from adhering. (See these tips for preparing concrete surfaces.)

Because concrete paint is a surface coating and vulnerable to abrasion, it’s not the best choice for high-traffic areas such as concrete driveways. For these applications, an acid-based stain or dry-shake color hardener will offer better wear-resistance.

What is the difference between concrete stain and concrete paint?

The biggest difference between an acid-based concrete stain and paint is how they react with the concrete. Acid-based stains actually penetrate and react with the salts and minerals in concrete to impart rich, deep, translucent tones. Although the color is long lasting and won’t chip or peel away, it can be unpredictable and will vary depending on the makeup of the concrete.

Concrete paint is non-reactive (similar to a water-based concrete stain) and fills the surface pores of the concrete to achieve opaque, uniform, consistent color. However, paint can chip and peel over time, especially if you don’t prepare the surface properly.

What are the advantages of using paint to color concrete?

You can’t beat concrete paint if you’re looking for a product that is:

  • Easy to apply
  • Economical
  • Offers a broad selection of colors
  • Provides good coverage

Unlike acid stains, which must be applied with a sprayer, you can apply most concrete paints with a simple paint brush or roller. Cleanup is easy as well, since most concrete paints are water-based acrylic latex formulas. Concrete paints are also safer to apply, especially indoors. When working with acid-based stains, it’s important to take precautionary measures because they often contain corrosive components that can cause eye and skin irritation and produce strong odors.

Like latex-based house paint, most concrete paints are tintable, giving you an endless array of color options. And because concrete paints are opaque and can be applied in multiple coats, they are great at hiding hairline cracks and other minor flaws in existing concrete, as opposed to a translucent stain which would allow those imperfections to show through.

What kind of paint can be used on concrete?

When shopping around for concrete paint, make sure to choose a product specifically formulated for use on concrete or masonry. These paints are thicker and more durable than standard exterior or interior wall paints and contain binders that allow them to expand and contract along with the concrete.

Typically concrete paints are labeled to indicate the type of surface they are best suited for:

  • Concrete porch and patio paints are acrylic latex paints designed to resist fading, scuffing, peeling, and UV damage. They come in low-luster and gloss finishes and can also be used on interior concrete floors.
  • Waterproofing masonry paints are designed for brick and other masonry applications, but can also be used to paint concrete basement and foundation walls. They are ideal for exterior use because they resist mildew, dirt, and moisture penetration.
  • Concrete garage and floor paints are designed for applications such as garages, car ports, basement floors, and walkways. They are specially formulated to resist motor oil, grease, and gasoline stains as well as peeling caused by hot tires.

Don’t confuse concrete paint with epoxy coatings, which are typically two-component resin-based systems that chemically bond with the concrete. Epoxy coatings are not as easy to apply as paint and they cost more per square foot, but they often are more durable and wear-resistant, making them a good choice for garage floors and other high-traffic surfaces.

How do I get the best results when painting concrete?

Any concrete surface you intend to paint must be free of contaminants and existing coatings, sealers, or curing compounds. Otherwise, the paint will be unable to fully bond to the concrete. The concrete to be painted should also have a slight texture for proper paint adhesion. If the surface is extremely smooth or has a hard-troweled finish, it may need to be acid etched or mechanically abraded first. Much of this advice on preparing concrete floors before staining is also applicable to concrete paints.

Although priming is recommended for some concrete paints, many products are self-priming and can be applied directly to bare concrete. Be sure to follow the paint manufacturer’s recommendations. Also adhere to the manufacturer’s guidance for minimum air and surface temperatures during application, especially when painting outdoor concrete surfaces. In most cases, temperatures should be above 50° F.

For paint to adhere properly, the concrete should also be dry and free of trapped moisture. An easy way to test the moisture content of concrete before painting is to duct tape an 18-inch square of clear plastic onto the surface and leave it in place for 24 hours. If condensation collects under the plastic after that time, the concrete is too damp for paint application and needs additional drying time. Learn more about reducing bond failures caused by moisture-vapor transmission.

Are concrete paints slip-resistant?

Painted concrete surfaces can become slippery when wet. For areas that receive a lot of foot traffic, such as porches, steps, pool decks, and patios, a good option is to use an anti-slip concrete floor paint that contains fine aggregate, which gives the surface a light sand finish. If your paint is not slip-resistant, you can find anti-skid additives that can be mixed into the final coat of paint to improve traction.

How do I remove paint from concrete?

Removing an existing coat of paint can be difficult but not impossible because paints don’t penetrate into the concrete, as do stains. If the paint is peeling or blistering, you can often remove it with a wire brush, paint scraper, or power washer. To remove multiple layers of paint, try a gel-based paint stripper specifically for concrete and allow it to remain on the surface to give it a chance to penetrate and go to work. Once the paint is completely removed, you can repaint the surface or apply another type of decorative finish. Learn more: How to Remove Paint from Concrete