Concrete Stain: Mix It In or Paint It On?

A concrete stain will enliven your carport, driveway, sidewalk or other concrete surface by giving it an appealing color. Coating concrete with a stain is a relatively simple process that can be done with minimal tools and experience, although creating a high quality and professional-looking stain takes practice and patience. To achieve the best results for your concrete, understand the different types of stain and methods of application.

There are three different types of concrete stain, each with its own merits and application techniques. Typically, concrete stains will not be mixed in with concrete before it is poured. The concrete needs to have set and dried before a stain can be applied.

Acid-Based Concrete Stains

Acid-based concrete stains are the most expensive, but they are also the most durable. Many acid-based stains will last for years or even decades if properly cared for. The reason for this durability is that acid-based stains bond chemically with the surface layer of the concrete surface.

If you are applying an acid-based stain to your concrete, begin by polishing and cleaning the concrete to clear away any debris. An acid-based stain should be painted onto the concrete surface evenly to ensure a clean finish and prevent irregularities. Acid-based stains work best with trowel-finished concrete surfaces that are very smooth.

Solvent-Based Concrete Stains

Solvent-based stains work by soaking into the minuscule pores that occur naturally in rough concrete. As such, solvent-based stains work best with concrete that is broom-finished. Solvent-based stains should also be painted onto a finished concrete surface. These stains may work best if sprayed on, although you should follow up with a rolling brush to ensure an even coat.

Stains that are solvent-based are less durable than acid-based stains, and may fade in the sun or become stained by a variety of liquids. Additionally, both acid-based and solvent-based stains are toxic and should be applied only in well-ventilated areas and with proper safety equipment and clothing.

Water-Based Concrete Stains

Water-based stains are environmentally friendly and are safer to work with. However, they have the lowest durability of all types of concrete stains. Water-based stains typically feature brighter colors than acid and solvent stains, although the colors fade within months and the stain must be reapplied frequently. Water-based stains do not bond with the concrete itself, but rather act like a paint on the surface of the concrete.

Before you stain your concrete, take the time to experiment with sample concrete slabs to determine the color and pattern that you prefer. You may dilute concrete stains with water, soap or other liquids, each of which will affect the final color of the stain in different ways. Additionally, you may use other objects like cloths and string to set patterns in the final stain. Consult with a home improvement specialist for further ideas on applying concrete stains and designing patterns.