How to Get Perfectly Smooth Concrete

gloved hands using a long board to smooth concrete
  • 5-10 hours
  • Beginner
  • 50-500
What You'll Need
Screed or Darby
What You'll Need
Screed or Darby

When it comes to concrete, the goal is usually to get a smooth, long-lasting finish, both for aesthetics and durability. Shoddy work can lead to fault lines that affect the concrete's structural integrity. For best results, familiarize yourself with the essential methods and tool types available before you dive into your project. The processes include leveling, floating, troweling, and finally polishing, which may include either mechanical or chemical methods to get a lustrous finish.

Step 1 - Level the Concrete

The first critical step after laying your concrete is leveling it. Two commonly used tools to get an initial smooth layer are the screed board and the darby. You can make the screed board out of several materials, such as aluminum, wood, or plastic, or you can pick up a professional one at your favorite hardware store.

Regardless of the material used, it's the flatness that matters. The surface should be level, so it creates a smooth layer when drawn over wet concrete. A screed board is especially useful when the concrete surface is small, but a darby can be more efficient in large spaces.

person flattening concrete with a long, even board

Step 2 - Wait for the Water to Dissipate

Once you've got things basically level, wait for the excess water to run off. If the water is not given time to dry, it may result in cracks, dusting, and scaling within the concrete, leading to structural weakness.

Step 3 - Float the Concrete

hand smoothing concrete surface with a float tool

Once the screed board or darby has flattened the surface, you can start taking a more detailed pass with a float to create a uniform level. Screed boards and darbies may leave slight imperfections that floating can thin out.

There are two common ways of conducting the floating process. You can either float by hand or with a machine. If you float concrete by hand, you can either use a small hand float or a bull float. The small hand float is often used on small surfaces, while the bull float, which is quite large, is used on large spaces.

Thanks to technological advancements, mechanical floating has become more common. If you take that route, just make sure the concrete is relatively firm before you start. These machines are mounted with large metal plates, which may destroy the surface if you plunge in too soon.

Step 4 - Trowel the concrete

After the floating process is finished, you can take your surface to the next level of smoothing with some finer troweling. This process is often recommended for indoor concrete surfaces, which are more likely to see frequent contact and aren't subject to damage from exposure to the elements.

Troweling can actually refer to a diverse range of tools such as float, finishing, and flooring trowels. For the process to be maximally effective, you should do it repeatedly in succession. It's important to increase the pressure as you trowel so that a long-lasting smooth effect is attained. During this stage, you should generally refrain from adding water. Even if it seems like it might help, it can cause more work than it helps you avoid.

hand leveling concrete with a float tool

Since troweling is done in the final stages, edging is a common element of the process. This is often done using a small hand trowel around the concrete slab for that desired clean finish. Since concrete expands and contracts due to changing environmental conditions, joints are added at specific intervals. Lack of joints may prompt the use of spacers, which in turn guide you when cutting grooves into slabs.

Step 5 - Cure and Polish

This is the final step in attaining perfectly smooth concrete. Once you have finished the other four steps above, you need to allow your concrete to cure. Once your concrete has completely cured, you can move to the polishing process.

machine polishing concrete to give it a smooth finish


Polishing is recommended to achieve a nice burnish or glitter. Mechanical polishing has the best results as compared to hand polishing. Diamond polishing is among the commonly used mechanical polishing methods. It ensures a long-lasting shine by the use of industrial diamonds to grind and smooth surfaces properly. It is vital to adhere to these steps so that the concrete surface lasts longer while maintaining the desired shine keenly. It also ensures fewer repairs on the concrete surface, which is cost-effective.