What Is Concrete Staining
Unlike paints and coatings that sit on top of concrete floors, penetrating stains chemically react with the concrete to deposit color pigments deep into the surface.
This molecular bonding process creates highly durable, long-lasting floors that improve as they age.
How Concrete Staining Works
Quality concrete stains use metallic salts, reactive minerals, and water or solvent carriers.
As the staining mixture penetrates the concrete slab, a chemical reaction occurs between the calcium hydroxide in the concrete and the metallic salts/minerals in the staining solution. This reaction causes the color pigments to expand and become trapped within the concrete pores.
These deposited colors expand over the next few days and develop richer, darker hues through this chemical reaction process.
The result is a vibrant, permanent color that keeps improving over time.
Types of Concrete Floor Stains
There are a few standard options when it comes to concrete stains:
- Acid Stains – Contain hydrochloric or phosphoric acid to help penetration. More corrosive.
- Water-Based Stains – Safer formula with metallic salts suspended in water.
- Solvent-Based Stains – Penetrate exceptionally well but contain volatile organic compounds.
Each stain type reacts slightly differently with concrete floors.
Results vary based on the concrete’s composition, porosity, and surface prep, impacting stain absorption.
Testing different options on a small section is wise to determine your optimal stain.
Benefits of Stained Concrete Floors
Decorators and designers are embracing stained concrete floors for indoor rooms and outdoor spaces thanks to the many practical and aesthetic advantages this option offers compared to carpet, tile, or hardwood overlays.
The artistic design potential of concrete staining is limitless.
Through color choices and faux finishing techniques, stained concrete can realistically mimic everything from natural stone and marble to weathered wood planks.
Unlike synthetics, these looks improve in patina and character over time.
Even superficial one-color stains introduce incredible visual depth and dimension thanks to the concrete canvas’s variegated absorption and transparency levels.
The molecular bonding stain process results in unbeatable durability that holds up beautifully to decades of heavy residential and commercial foot traffic. Spills, dirt, and grime are easily cleaned without diminishing the stain’s vibrancy or patina over time.
Properly sealed stained concrete floors essentially preserve their original beauty forever with minimal maintenance required.
Unlike slick tile or varnished wood, concrete’s lightly textured and porous nature creates stellar traction underfoot – even when wet.
This safety makes it ideal for busy family spaces.
Concrete staining offers incredible ROI, saving thousands compared to tear-out replacements or overlay flooring options.
Decorative polish concrete is comparable in cost but offers no custom color or design potential.
Unlike carpeting or faux wood laminates, which end up in landfills after their lifespan, concrete staining preserves and extends the service life of existing slabs.
Low-VOC and zero off-gassing make stained concrete a healthy, environmentally friendly flooring choice.
Preparing Concrete Floors for Staining
Getting gorgeous, long-lasting stained concrete floors starts with proper prep work before applying staining solutions.
The concrete canvas must be pristine for maximum stain penetration and reaction.
Ensure Concrete is Fully Cured
Any new concrete must be allowed to cure for at least four weeks before attempting to apply stains.
This allows excess moisture to fully evaporate so a chemical reaction can occur between the metallic salts in the stain and the calcium hydroxide in the cured concrete.
Staining concrete too early often leads to lackluster results.
Use a commercial-grade concrete degreaser to remove any dirt, oil, grease, wax, paint splatters, or food spills from the concrete pores.
These can block proper stain penetration.
Apply degreaser diluted with water, let it sit for 5-10 minutes, and then pressure wash thoroughly.
Repair Any Cracks
Use a concrete patching compound to fill small holes, cracks, or imperfections.
Allow patches to fully cure based on manufacturer guidelines before staining.
Uneven spots may also need to ground down to prevent blotchy stain absorption.
For guaranteed uniform staining, apply an acid etching solution before staining.
This opens up microscopic texture, enhances porosity, and allows the stain to occur evenly across the slab.
Once the concrete canvas is pristine through cleaning, patching, and etching, it can absorb stained colors and faux finishes beautifully.
Staining Concrete Floors Step-By-Step
- Stain, acid, degreaser, sealer, tools
- Tape, rollers, brushes, sprayer
Step 1: Deep Clean & Remove Residue
Start by liberally applying a concentrated concrete degreaser (Simple Green or Krud Kutter brands) diluted with water over every inch of the concrete floor.
Use a stiff scrub brush to work the solution into the microscopic pores and textures.
This crucial step removes any oil, grease, wax, dirt, or food spills that could prevent the stain from adequately absorbing.
Let the degreaser solution sit for 5-10 minutes before thoroughly washing away all residue.
You’ll know the concrete is clean when water evenly sheets across the surface without beading up.
After waiting 15-20 minutes, neutralize and flush the acid wash thoroughly with plain water.
Once concrete floors are degreased, etched, and dry – they’re ready to accept penetrating stains.
Step 2: Make Any Needed Repairs
Scrutinize the concrete for small holes, cracks, divots, or uneven spots.
Use a quality latex-modified concrete patching compound to fill any imperfections.
Carefully trowel and smooth patches flush with the surrounding concrete grade.
Allow freshly patched areas to cure fully per manufacturer instructions before attempting to stain (usually 24-48 hours).
The repaired sections must return to the same density as the rest of the slab so the stain absorbs evenly.
If the concrete has patches or areas of very different porosity levels, which would show through staining, consider applying a concrete resurfacing overlay product first to even out the variances.
Proper prep creates a pristine and consistent concrete canvas that ensures the penetrating stain bonds evenly across the entire surface area. Take time filling holes, smoothing uneven patches, and cleaning oil drips before opening those cans of colorful concrete stain!
Step 3: Plan Out Design
One of the most exciting aspects of concrete staining is selecting a custom color palette and designs through faux finishing techniques.
The concrete canvas absorbs and transmits stain pigments differently than drywall or wood.
Test sample boards are beneficial to perfect your vision.
Most stained concrete floors use a single base color coat that covers the entire surface consistently.
Popular neutral base shades include beige, light grey, ivory, tan, or brick red, which beautifully mimic natural stone and wood.
Bolder base colors like navy, emerald, and black create dramatic backdrops too.
Accent colors in contrasting hues are applied next using faux finishing techniques like sponging, rag rolling, splattering, and hand brushing to create varied textures and multidimensional effects.
When applied last, metallic acrylic glazes in silver, gold, and copper add excellent polish.
Plan your base color, accent colors, and decorative application techniques on paper first.
Use painter’s tape to block off diamond, square, and rectangular patterns.
Create cohesive harmony by limiting your overall palette.
The concrete canvas absorbs more pigment than drywall, so even a single base coat stain significantly impacts design.
Step 4: Apply Base Color Coat
Once you’ve chosen your base concrete stain color, use a paint roller, quality nylon brush, or HVLP spray system to apply the penetrating, non-toxic water- or solvent-based stain evenly across the entire concrete surface.
Apply enough where the surface stays wet for 3-5 minutes before soaking in.
This allows sufficient time for the metallic salt reactants in quality stains to bond within the pores chemically.
Unlike thick acrylic concrete paints that coat surfaces, penetrating stains must soak deeply into the microscopic concrete texture.
Applying too thin a coat prevents proper chemical bonding within the slab, leading to premature wear and fading.
Don’t spread the product too far. Allow plenty of wet time for penetration.
Tip: Only work in small sections you can cover before the stain dries.
Constantly overlapping wet-to-dry stain edges create ugly lap marks in the finish.
Maintain a wet edge until the entire floor area is covered, then immediately re-roll to blend any slight saturation differences.
The base color coat chemically reacts with the slab for weeks afterward, intensifying hues and developing a patina for an authentic aged appearance that keeps improving.
Step 5: Add Decorative Elements
Before sealing the stained concrete, consider embedding decorative thin-set mortar accents or colorful flakes into the still-tacky base coat for added visual drama.
Create faux tile squares, lattices, or geometric shapes using thin-set mortar in contrasting colors to the base stain.
Let it cure overnight before continuing with secondary accent colors.
The subtle mortar texture adds realism, depth, and custom artisan detail.
Showcase your artistic flair by tossing eco-friendly color quartz flakes onto the wet base coat concrete stain.
After a few minutes, press them gently into the surface using a flat trowel or weighted roller.
Choose from a rainbow of translucent and shimmering flakes like red, green, blue, and metallic gold that catch the light beautifully.
By adding natural stone aggregates, colored quartz and glass flakes, metallic powders, or accent tile mortars, ordinary concrete transforms into a work of art.
These decorative elements enhance depth, dimension, and visual interest before clear coating for glossy protection.
Step 6: Apply Accent Colors & Texture
Once the base color coat has dried 24 hours, use faux finishing techniques to enhance the stained concrete’s visual appeal further.
Plan out borders, geometric patterns, or freeform shapes using painter’s tape.
Apply contrasting accent colors using rag rollers, sponges, brushes, or spray systems for artistic effects like:
Rag Rolling Dab and twist dampened rags into accent colors, then roll lightly onto dried base coats to create a mottled texture.
Dip large natural sponges into accent stains and dab them onto dried base colors to mimic Granite, Sandstone, or Slate.
Twist sponges as you go to vary mottling.
Water down accent stains 30%, then apply lightly with a paintbrush atop base colors to create a transparent stained glass effect.
Softer color washes beautifully diffuse light.
Scrape Texturing: While some base coat areas are still wet, use scrapers, stiff-bristled brooms, burlap, or special concrete texturing tools to etch various depths and scrape designs for incredible visual texture and depth.
Get creative with color-blocking patterns, custom textures, and layered faux finishes.
Metallic acrylic glazes as a final topcoat add showstopping shine and depth.
Combining base coats, accent colors, and creative faux finishes opens unlimited possibilities for stained concrete canvas works of art.
Step 7: Seal Concrete Floor
Once accent colors and decorative elements are complete, the final step is choosing an appropriate concrete floor sealer to protect and enhance the finish for decades.
Solvent Acrylic Sealers
Solvent-based acrylic concrete sealers provide good stain protection and light gloss in moderate traffic areas.
However, they do contain harsh VOCs.
Eco-friendly water-based acrylic concrete sealers like Stamp Store’s Wet Look provide excellent protection and enhancement without nasty odor.
It contains UV inhibitors to prevent fading.
Concrete Polyurethane is the ultimate for heavy-duty protection on vehicle-traffic garage floors or industrial warehouses receiving forklift abuse.
If extreme chemical resistance is needed, 2-part epoxy creates a thick plasticized shield ideal for commercial kitchens and chemical plants.
Apply two thin coats of concrete sealer, waiting for the first to dry for 4-6 hours before adding the second.
Thick coats risk trapping solvents trying to evaporate from underlying stain layers, impacting curing.
Reapply fresh sealer layers every 3-5 years, depending on traffic volume.
This keeps the beautiful faux finishes brilliant and floors protected despite heavy use for decades.
FAQs About Concrete Floor Staining
How long does stained concrete last?
Stained concrete lasts forever when correctly applied to quality concrete and maintained with regular sealer reapplication every 3-5 years.
The colors are molecularly bonded within the slab, while sealers preserve the decor for decades.
Many stained concrete floors installed 30+ years ago still showcase gorgeous, vibrant finishes.
Can you apply stain over existing sealers?
For bare concrete, no special pretreatment is needed.
However, if a concrete floor was previously sealed, you must first strip off any existing coatings.
Chemical strippers effectively remove old sealers so new stains can adequately penetrate the concrete instead of sitting atop a waterproof barrier.
What is the cost of staining concrete floors?
Concrete floor staining costs $4-$8 per square foot.
Factors impacting price include special prep needs, the number of stain colors used, the complexity of designs, and the final protective sealers.
Still, stained concrete remains remarkably affordable compared to $15+ per square foot for tile, stone overlays, or wood plank floor replacements.
Will stains fade in sunlight?
All concrete floors are prone to UV light damage from extensive sun exposure, resulting in fading and discoloration over time.
However, quality solvent- and water-based concrete stains contain superior lightfast pigments resistant to UV rays.
With tinted concrete sealers, stained indoor floors and outdoor spaces maintain their vibrant hues for decades.
Annual sealer reapplication helps prevent fading even in direct sunlight.
|Beautiful & unique custom designs||Significant preparation work required|
|UV-resistant colors & sealers||Can be challenging for DIY beginners|
|Stains and sealers improve over time||Re-sealing needed every 3-5 years|
|Slip-resistant traction||Imperfections in concrete show through|
|Allows totally custom artistic designs||Toxic materials require safety precautions|
|Liquid colors penetrate deep unlike coatings||Taping for patterns takes patience and skill|
|Colors designed for interior & exterior use||Long curing times between base/accent coats|
|Far more affordable than replacing concrete||No stain odor mostly dissipates after 48 hours|
|Low-VOC options compared to old-technology||Defects can occur from rushed application|