Repairing and Resealing Your Asphalt Driveway

An asphalt driveway.

Many of us don't even think about it, but driveways, just like everything else around the house, do need to be maintained. In the U.S., asphalt is far and away the most common material for driveways, and if you spend any time driving on a highway, you'll quickly see asphalt needs maintenance.

Problems with Unmaintained Driveways

An unmaintained driveway will develop cracks, allowing water to get in under the asphalt. If you live in a cold climate where water freezes in the winter, the expansion and contraction will cause heaves in the surface, make bigger cracks, and eventually destroy the driveway.

Even if you live in a warmer climate where the water won't freeze, if it gets under the drive, the ground will expand and contract with the changes in water content, causing cracks.

So if you start to see small cracks in your asphalt driveway, or it's starting to look a little gray (rather than that nice shiny black color), you need to do some driveway maintenance.

Pros of Sealing the Driveway

While it may be tempting to skip resealing your driveway, it's actually something you should make a priority to do. Sealing the driveway can prolong its life and its beauty.

Not all experts, however, agree on this front, so you may want to ask a specialist in your area what they think. Weather conditions in some areas, for example, could be a factor in their advice when it comes to resealing a driveway.

Resealing Your Driveway Yourself

Resealing your driveway isn't a difficult job, and everything you need to do the job is readily available at local home stores. However, it's a messy job and needs to be done over a couple of days when there's no rain in the forecast.

brush applying sealant on driveway

Frequency of Resealing Driveways

While many people wait until their driveway starts looking a little dull in color or has noticeable cracks to start to repair and reseal it, many home improvement experts actually recommend doing the project every two to three years. This will ensure your driveway looks its best and doesn't develop more serious issues.

While it may be tempting, resealing your driveway every year can be problematic. It can cause the seal coat to crack and even peel. Plus, it's just not necessary. Do it every two to three years instead.

Time Needed

While the amount of time it takes to reseal a driveway varies greatly depending on how large your driveway is, make sure you take into account drying time. You will likely be doing more than one coat of sealer, depending on the manufacturer's recommendations, and will need to let your driveway fully dry in between coats.

Make sure you have a full weekend set aside for this job and move your vehicles onto the street before you begin so that you can still get to them if need be without having to ruin the job you just started.

Sealer Types

man pouring sealant on driveway

Driveway sealers come in two types: oil-based sealers and water-based sealers. Both have different pros and cons which are important to understand before deciding which type of sealer is the right fit for your project.

Water-based sealers are either coal-tar emulsions or asphalt emulsions whereas oil-based sealers are petroleum-based and suspended in oil.

Oil-based sealers take longer to dry than their water-based counterparts. If you're trying to complete the project more quickly, that may make a water-based sealer a better choice for you.

Oil-based sealers also have a strong smell that can remain in the air for a long time even after the job is complete. If you're having people over shortly after completing the resealing project, that's definitely something worth considering.

Water-based sealers are better for the environment than their oil-based counterparts because oil-based sealers also contain volatile organic compounds which are bad for the environment. Some states or municipalities actually have laws banning oil-based sealers, or limiting the amount you can use. Before you start your project, look up the laws in your area.

Some people prefer oil-based sealers, however, because they penetrate the surface of the asphalt and decrease the likelihood of issues like cracking in the cold winter months. A water-based sealer, meanwhile, only forms a protective layer on the top of the driveway and does not go below the surface.

Since water-based sealers don't penetrate the driveway as deeply as their oil-based counterparts, you will likely need to reseal the driveway again sooner than if you used an oil-based sealer.

Before you begin the project, you'll also need to understand how to get rid of any sealer you have left at the end of the project. Oil-based sealers generally have to be disposed of at a hazardous waste facility.

If it's dry, however, it may be able to go out with your normal trash. Make sure you check local jurisdiction rules to understand what is and is not allowed in your area. Water-based sealer leftover from your project, meanwhile, can be thrown away with the rest of your garbage, as long as you let it dry first.

Purchasing Sealer

Sealers can be purchased at any home improvement store or even online. Make sure you order enough for your project as it would be incredibly frustrating to get halfway through and realize you don't have enough to finish the job.

Depending on the sealer you're using, you may have to apply more than one coat so make sure to keep that in mind when ordering the sealer. If you buy it in person, someone at the store may be able to help you decide which type of sealer is the best for your project and give you some tips on using it correctly.

Step 1 - Clean the Driveway

Your first step is to clean your driveway. Sweep or power-wash any grit off the surface, and then wash it with a product like TSP (Tri-Sodium Phosphate) or specialized asphalt cleaner.

These products will remove any oil spills or stains on the driveway. Since asphalt is a petroleum-based product, the oil spills will break down the driveway surface, create soft spots and allow water to seep through.

Don't do this on a windy day as dirt, debris, pollen, branches, leaves, and more will end up right back on your driveway sooner than you can clean it. Instead, pick a day that's not too windy. You may also want to consider picking a day that is not too hot.

Asphalt can maintain heat. Since this project takes a while to complete, you may want to pick a day when the surface isn't hot as an oven. Also, pick a day when it is not supposed to rain as rain will make it harder to clean the surface. Plus, no one wants to be outside working in the middle of a rainstorm.

Step 2 - Fill Cracks

Fill any surface cracks with filler. Driveway crack filler is available in a couple of textures: a pourable liquid with a consistency similar to ketchup, or a much more solid product that comes in a tube and is applied with a caulking gun.

Before using the crack filler, try to widen out the base of any cracks (undercut them), so the crack is wider on the bottom than at the surface. This will help to keep the filler anchored.

Overfill the crack and then smooth the surface with a trowel or even a piece of wood. If you have deep cracks, fill them to about 1/2 inch of the surface with sand or "backer rod" (a crack filler that resists moisture), then apply your crack filler.

Step 3 - Deal with Holes

Any dips or holes in your driveway can be smoothed out or filled in with cold patch (asphalt pre-mixed with small aggregate). Scoop the patching compound into the depression, pack it tightly with the end of a 2x4 or a 4x4 and let it set up overnight.

Step 4 - Seal the Driveway

You will now be able to seal the surface. You'll need to do this on a day with no rain in the forecast so the sealer can dry thoroughly. Apply the sealer with a combination brush/squeegee, or a long-handled paint roller and a long nap roller sleeve.

Sealing the driveway is essentially the same as painting it, but since different types of sealers are available, be sure to read and follow the manufacturer's directions on the product.

Step 5 - Repeat

Different sealers require a different number of coats. Make sure you check the recommendations of the manufacturer of the specific product you are using. It's not uncommon for them to recommend two or three coats of sealer.

Make sure the sealer fully dries in between coats. This can take up to eight hours, so you may be waiting overnight before coming back to this project in the morning, depending on what time you start and how late the light stays out where you live.

Once the sealer has dried, your driveway will once again have its shiny black appearance, but even more important, it will be protected from any little oil spills and there will be no cracks to let water get under the drive.

Take Care

smooth asphalt driveway

A word of caution: Products used for driveway repair are very messy to work with. Any spills or splashes can usually be removed with a Varsol-like product if you clean them before they dry thoroughly. Even more important, be sure you don't track any into the house on your clothes or shoes.

Asphalt vs. Concrete

If all of this sounds like a lot of work to take on, you may be wondering why you have an asphalt driveway at all. Part of that comes down to cost. Asphalt driveways are generally cheaper than the ever-popular concrete option, costing roughly $2 a square foot less.

Concrete driveways do not require the same maintenance as their asphalt counterparts which need to be resealed every few years but cracks can still be a major issue. Any cracks in your concrete driveway will need to be repaired. Cracks in asphalt driveways, however, are generally easier to repair than cracks in concrete driveways.

Concrete generally lasts longer than asphalt. With proper care and maintenance, asphalt can last up to 30 years while concrete can last more than 50 years.

Concrete is easier to change the look of than asphalt. Concrete can be stained or even painted in different colors. You can also add a design like a sun to your concrete driveway which is not an option with an asphalt driveway. Asphalt driveways, meanwhile, generally have black as the only option.

Still, the most important factor in determining what type of driveway makes the most sense for you will likely be the weather. For example, concrete is known to crack in cold weather.

This means you will need to do some repairs if you live in an environment known for its harsh winters and may even need to replace the driveway altogether sooner than expected. Salt used on roads to make it easier to drive with snow is also known for having a negative impact on concrete driveways.

Hot climates, on the other hand, are not always desirable for asphalt driveways. The driveways will heat up and can be hot to the touch. The driveways will also soften and can even stick to your car tires, which no one wants for obvious reasons.

Asphalt vs. Blacktop

Contrary to what some may believe, asphalt is actually not the same thing as blacktop. While both are made by using the same ingredients, they are combined differently in the two surface types. Asphalt is mixed in a drum until it is malleable enough to be poured on your driveway.

Blacktops have a greater amount of crushed stone in them, which is why it has a slight sparkle. It is also heated before being poured onto your driveway. It is, in addition to driveways, used on playgrounds, trails, and parking lots.

Both are fairly easy to reseal.