How to stain concrete floors

Shannon Lee | Improvement Center Columnist | June 3, 2015

Concrete without adornment looks like what you might see in most garages -- quite dull and lacking any sort of character. But concrete that has been carefully stained and finished can be a real conversation starter. Best of all, you can easily stain concrete on your own. Here's what you need to know in order to create an impressive finish on your concrete floors.

How to stain concrete floors

There are two types of stains to choose from: water-based and acid-based. Water-based stains are easier to apply, safer for you and for the environment, and produce a very consistent color. However, they tend to fade and wear away quickly, especially in high-traffic areas. The acid-based stains are harsher and react with the concrete to form a permanent stain. They do fade over time, and they come in limited colors, but for a "do it once" job, acid stains might be the best bet.

No matter which options you choose, remember the three things that can spell success: Proper prepping of the floor, using the right tools, and following application directions to the letter. Any deviation from this can lead to serious problems with the stain on your floors.

Ready to try your hand at the job? Here are the basics:

  1. Thoroughly prepare the surface. It is vitally important to start with a smooth, dust-free surface. Anything less can ruin the look of your concrete stain. Make sure to remove all grease and oil stains as well, as these can interact with the stain and make it look very different from what you envisioned.
  2. Remove all trim and mask the walls. This can help you avoid unintentional staining. Since you will be spraying the stain on the floor, make sure to cover the walls for at least a few feet up from the floor.
  3. Test the stain in an inconspicuous place. The way it looks on the can or in the showroom might not be what you get. Make sure of the look before you commit to the entire floor.
  4. Get to know the tools. For most applications, you will use a sprayer to put the color on the floor. Make sure you know how to use the sprayer properly so you get the right amount of coating. You can practice this by filling the sprayer with water and dousing your driveway until you get it right.
  5. Follow the instructions exactly. Each stain is different, so be sure to stick to the instructions on the label. Take your time in mixing or diluting the solution, if necessary, and be very patient when applying it. Rushing can ruin the job.
  6. Don't expect perfection. Stains are not meant to make the floor look uniform; they are meant to bring out the natural beauty and variations. For instance, areas where there is more lime in the cement will react with acid stain to bring out brighter colors.
  7. Apply drying time between coats. The more coats you add, the darker or more vivid the finished product will look. Again, read the instructions and follow them exactly.
  8. Neutralize the stain. If you are using an acid-based stain, it is necessary to neutralize the formula when you are finished. There are several ways to do this; the most common is to use a mixture of four parts water and one part ammonia. Commercial neutralizers are also available.
  9. Clean it up. When the floor is completely dry, go over it with a broom and mop. Make sure the surface is completely smooth and clean, because you have one more thing to do.
  10. Seal the floor. Choose a sealer that is compatible with the stain you just applied. This will protect the floor over the years, as well as enhance the beauty of the staining you worked so hard to achieve.

With each step, remember to take your time. You are creating a beautiful floor that you will enjoy for years to come, so make certain that it is up to the highest standards. You can never go wrong with taking a few extra minutes at each phase to ensure that you get it done properly.

When should you call the pros?

Learning how to stain concrete floors can be easy, but there are still times when you might want to turn to a professional to do the work. If your floor has been previously stained, if small imperfections need to be repaired, or if you have visions of intricate staining work, it's a good idea to call a contractor who specializes in concrete floors.

About the Author

Shannon Lee is a freelance writer and occasional novelist with a serious weakness for real estate. When she's not writing, she and her husband are taking road trips to explore covered bridges, little wineries and quaint bed-and-breakfast inns in their beloved Pennsylvania.