SUNDEK Products USA in Grand Prairie, TX.

Polished concrete has been popular for years for both residential and commercial floors because of its beautiful sheen, ease of maintenance, and durability. But many flooring contractors are discovering that they can save time and effort, while achieving a similar level of shine and beauty, by burnishing the concrete rather than polishing. Although burnishing isn’t a substitute for polishing on every project, it’s a great alternative for jobs that don’t require a super-high-gloss finish or the need to grind down and correct the surface.

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What is a burnished concrete finish?

Burnishing machines are similar to floor buffers but spin at a much higher speed, typically around 1,500 to 2,500 rpm. Equipped with diamond-impregnated buffing pads, burnishers use their powerful rotation action to heat, melt, and buff a chemical coating into the surface (typically a waxed-based product) that fills the pores of the concrete and gives the floor a glossy, satin-like sheen.

Like polishing, burnishing can only be done on fully cured, hardened concrete. The resulting finish is very different from the burnishing of newly placed concrete, which involves troweling the fresh concrete over and over again to achieve natural highlights and lowlights. To learn more, read How to Make a Concrete Floor Look Like Marble.

How does burnishing differ from concrete polishing?

Although the terms polishing and burnishing are sometimes used interchangeably, polishing is a multistep process requiring the use of heavy machines equipped with diamond-segmented abrasives to grind down the concrete slab and achieve the desired degree of gloss and smoothness. Concrete polishing also involves applying a chemical hardener to the surface before grinding to densify the concrete and improve its durability.

Burnishers aren’t powerful enough or heavy enough to grind down and abrade concrete, so they will not correct any bumps or dips or remove minor surface flaws. As with polished concrete, a densifier can be used when burnishing concrete to give the surface a greater degree of durability and toughness, but it won’t achieve the same level of surface hardness.

What are the pros and cons of burnished concrete floors?

The primary advantage of burnished concrete, for both contractors and their clients, is the cost savings when compared to polished concrete. When you factor in the expense of a heavy-duty concrete grinder and all of the accessory items needed to polish a concrete floor, you’re looking at a major investment (see Concrete Polishers and Equipment). Plus there are many safety precautions that must be taken during the grinding process, especially concerning the generation of silica dust, which can be dangerous if inhaled.

Burnishing won’t achieve the same degree of light reflectivity possible with polished concrete. It also won’t give you the same ability to “customize” the finish and choose different levels of sheen and aggregate exposure (see Levels of Concrete Polishing — Comparing Different Finishes). However, burnishing will still create a floor surface that’s extremely durable and easy to maintain, and dust generation is minimal.

What decorative effects are possible with burnished concrete?

Although burnished concrete can be left its natural color, it can also be stained with special products designed for this application, such as SunBurn Burnishable Stain from Sundek. a concrete stain and densifier that anchors to the minerals within the concrete to create long-lasting color that does not flake or peel.

One of the benefits of using a burnishable stain is that you can control the level of transparency by applying and buffing in more layers of stain to make the color darker. You can also combine two colors, if desired, to create greater variation and depth. It’s possible to produce patterns as well by separating areas of the floor using scorelines or tape and applying a different stain color to each section.

Can all concrete floors be burnished?

To achieve a beautiful burnished finish, you must start with a concrete slab that’s in near-perfect condition, with no major pitting, cracks, or unevenness. Although a burnishable coating or stain will permeate the surface and give it some color, it will not hide cracks or other imperfections.

Does burnished concrete require a sealer?

Even though a wax-based chemical is applied during the burnishing process, it’s still important to protect the finish with a high-quality concrete floor sealer to inhibit the penetration of stains and other contaminants. A sealer will also enhance the sheen and make the floor more resistant to scratches and wear from foot traffic.

Is burnished concrete slippery?

Concrete floors that have been polished or finished with a high-gloss sealer can save energy and reduce lighting bills by amplifying the amount of natural light entering a home during the day and reducing the need for artificial lighting at night. The glossier the finish, the more reflection from lighting you’ll get and the greater the reduction in energy costs. See Reflective Concrete Floors.

How do you maintain a burnished concrete floor?

To clean and maintain a burnished concrete floor, you can follow the same general maintenance guidelines recommended for polished concrete. The main goal is to keep the floor free of dirt and grime that can abrade the surface and dull the shine. If the floor begins to lose its sheen, you can simply reburnish the concrete to restore its like-new appearance. For commercial floors exposed to heavy foot traffic, reburnishing may be needed every few months.

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