Enhance Your Home's Curb Appeal With Concrete Staining

Jeremy Holderness

Concrete staining on a pool deckLet's face it, bare concrete looks pretty plain.  And while a plain concrete driveway is probably fine with most people, a bare concrete walkway, pool deck, or patio has the effect of detracting from your home's curb appeal.

We often get the question of what is the best way to go about painting concrete.  I always hesitate to suggest painting horizontal concrete surfaces because there is just so much that can go wrong -- and usually does.  But when I suggest concrete staining to homeowners as a better alternative, I hear the sound of intimidation in their voice as they respond with, "Oh...ok."

Staining your concrete sounds horrible, doesn't it?  It probably requires that I get a few gallons of oil-based wood stain, then use a brush and a rag and painstakingly work it into the pores of the concrete.  But surprisingly enough, it actually applies much like paint, and I personally think it's easier to do than many other painting projects that I've done around the house.


Why Stain?  Why Not Paint?

Penetration - Most paints aren't designed to penetrate the surface they're applied to.  They dry to form a protective film that adheres to the surface and protects the substrate from the elements.  Stains, on the other hand, are a thinner-bodied product that is made to penetrate into the pores of the concrete allowing them to adhere much better.

Peeling vs. Wearing - When you apply a coating that doesn't adhere well to a horizontal surface, the eventual result is that it will begin to peel when it's exposed to UV rays, rain, foot/vehicle traffic, freeze-thaw cycles, etc.  And while all coatings will eventually wear over time, the great thing about concrete stain is that its penetrating nature will allow it to wear away rather than peel, and at a slower rate.

Chemical Resistance - Stains are also made to help resist damage to the coating caused by gasoline, oil, and other types of automotive leave-behinds that one might commonly find in their driveway.  They also hold up better to de-icing salts, as well as pool chlorine.

Breathability - Paint films tend to not be incredibly breathable so when moisture gets behind them and they try to escape -- whether we're talking about the siding on your home or ground moisture under your concrete -- they will cause paint films to blister and peel.  One of the biggest advantages of concrete stain is it's breathability, which allows moisture to better escape without damage to the film.

Drawbacks - So what are the drawbacks?  In this application, versus concrete painting, there really aren't any.  Concrete stains can also be tinted to a wide variety of colors to either match or compliment your home's current color scheme -- just like paint.


Before You Prepare Your Concrete For Stain

If your concrete is new there is a good chance that the contractor applied a 'cure and seal' type of product to the surface when they finished their pour.  These products do exactly what their name would suggest -- they help the concrete to cure and they help seal the finish to protect from water, grease, oil, salts, etc.  The problem is that they also prevent subsequent concrete stains and sealers from penetrating as they need to.

When these 'cure and seal' products have been recently applied it may be readily apparent that they're there because the surface may have a bit of a sheen and they may cause water to bead-up rather than soak-in.  However, if they've been down awhile they will have gradually begun to weather-away over time, but could still have enough sealant remaining on the surface to interfere with the proper application of your concrete stain.  Even if your concrete is not new, the person who previously owned the home you now live-in could have had concrete sealing work done to protect it.  In which case you will still need to remove the sealer.

One way to tell if there is any treatment existing on your concrete's surface is during the acid-etching step of the surface prep.  We will get to the specific details of acid etching in a moment, but it may be a good idea to test-apply acid on an area to see if it has the visible chemical reaction that it's supposed to when it's applied to the surface.  If it does not then there's a good chance you have a 'cure and seal', or other type of sealer on your concrete and you will need to remove it with a 'cure and seal' remover, such as Prosoco's Cure & Seal Remover, before proceeding.


Surface Prep

Clean & Degrease - The first step in prep'ing your surface is to make sure that it's thoroughly clean and free from any grease, oil, etc.  If you attempt to stain overtop of grease and oil stain spots, at best you will continue to see the staining through the concrete stain film; at worst you will have a product failure in those areas.

Wet the surface of the concrete, as well as the the surrounding lawn and landscaping, with your garden hose.  Apply an extra-strength cleaner/degreaser (I like H&C's Concreteready Concentrated Cleaner Degreaster and Prosoco's Cleaner/Degreaser) to the surface, following the label instructions, and scrub the concrete using a long-handled, stiff-bristled brush.

If you have any stubborn oil or grease stains in your driveway that won't come clean you may need to apply a poultice cleaner to those areas to pull it out of the concrete.

If you have any algae growth on your concrete surfaces, you can mix some household bleach in with your cleaner, per the label instructions.  Once you've given it a good scrubbing, rinse it well with your hose.

Acid Etch - The reason why etching is so important is that the concrete surface needs some profile, or teeth, for the coating to stick to.  Acid etching is by far the simplest way to achieve this on concrete.

Again, wet down your surrounding lawn and landscaping, and starting with a wet surface, apply a mixture of water and acid-etching solution (try H&C's Concreteready Phosphoric Etching Solution) per the label instructions to workable sections of the concrete using a plastic watering/sprinkling can.  When the acid solution touches the concrete you should quickly begin to see a visible "foaming" chemical reaction happen.  This is the acid lowering the pH level of the surface of the concrete, causing it to deteriorate.  If you see no visible reaction then you have something on the surface of your concrete that needs to be removed prior to the etching step.

After a couple of minutes of letting the acid do its thing, work the solution into the concrete a bit with your stiff-bristled brush.  After a couple more minutes, or once the solution has stopped foaming, thoroughly rinse the surface with the hose.  Then move on to your next section of concrete until you've finished and the surface is rinsed clean.

Be sure to wear eye protection, rubber gloves, and old clothes during the cleaning and etching phases.

If you have particularly smooth concrete you may need to do a second etching to create sufficient profile for the stain to adhere to.  When you're finished etching, the surface should feel similar to 120 grit sandpaper.

Remove Dust - Allow the concrete to completely dry, probably a couple of days at least.  Acid etching creates a thin layer of concrete dust on the surface from where the concrete had deteriorated during the process.  This needs to be removed before you apply your stain.  At a minimum you'll want to sweep off the area.  A better idea would be to use a shop vac to vacuum the concrete until there is no sign of any dust remaining.


Putting Down The Stain

My personal favorite concrete staining products are H&C's Colortop Solvent-Based Solid Color Concrete Sealer and H&C's Colortop Water-Based Stain.  The solvent-based version is the far superior product for use in areas that will see vehicle traffic such as driveways, carports, and as alternative to an epoxy garage floor coating.  The water-based version works great for everything else; it's easier to clean-up, can be applied over existing coatings, and can be applied indoors.

The actual application of the stain is easy -- just like painting a wall.  

Water-Based Application - Using a nylon or polyester paint brush, cut-in the perimeter of each workable section, maintaining a wet edge at all times.  Follow up with a 3/8" to 1/2" nap soft-woven roller cover to apply the stain, rolling in one direction.  

Be sure to stir the product thoroughly before and during the application to prevent settling.

Allow at least 2 hours of dry time before applying your second coat.  Apply the second coat the same as the first, only rolling it perpendicular to the first coat.

Two coats is usually sufficient, but a third can be applied if the coverage looks insufficient.  If you want to add slip-resistance to your finish you can add H&C's Sharkgrip Slip-Resistant Additive to your final coat, per the label directions.

Cleanup spills, tools, etc. with warm water and soap.

Do not introduce heavy traffic to any of the stained surfaces for 72-96 hours.

Solvent-Based Application - Using a synthetic or natural-bristle brush, as well as a 3/8" to 1/2" solvent-resistant soft-woven roller cover, apply the stain the same as the water-based version.  Keep your material stirred during the process as well.

As opposed to the water-based version, with the solvent version you need to allow the material to dry at least 12 hours in between coats.

The same rule for the number of coats to achieve sufficient coverage also applies to this material, as does adding the slip-resistant additive, and observing the wait time for heavy traffic to resume.

Cleanup spills, tools, etc. with Xylene.



For only slightly more prep-work effort, and a little more waiting-time, than what it takes to paint a room, you can stain your plain-looking concrete and make it look beautiful.

And most, if not all, of these supplies can be picked-up at your local Sherwin-Williams store so you won't have to make any special trips to get everything you need.


If you live in the Greater Tampa, Fl area and would like some assistance with your house painting project please give us a call at (813) 570-8800, visit our Contact Us page, or click on the button below to request your free, no-obligation consultation and quote.


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