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How can I Paint Concrete?

By Darrell Laurant
Updated May 16, 2024
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Concrete, in and of itself, is rarely beautiful. Making it something other than a dreary expanse of gray depends on you. The first thing to realize before beginning to paint concrete, however, is that all concrete is not created equal. Some of it presents a surface that is smooth and rigid; in other cases, older concrete might be pitted and porous.

Thus, traditional paint is sometimes the wrong covering to use for concrete. Stains specific to concrete have filled a niche in the paint industry, even as they penetrate and fill niches in the surface they're designed to cover.

Nevertheless, that penetrating power is a mixed blessing. Unlike concrete paint, a concrete stain is forever. Some varieties even form a chemical bond with the concrete itself. Therefore, a decision on what color to stain a concrete surface has to be a final one.

If you decide to paint concrete, you will have the opposite problem: a tendency for the paint to separate from its surface over a short period of time, especially in high traffic areas. Experts on painting or staining concrete recommend that color not be applied until the surface has had at least a week -- and, according to some, as long as 28 days - to dry and cure. Curing compounds have been developed to accelerate the setting and drying processes. The problem is, these compounds can often keep paint from properly adhering.

One solution to this is acid etching. After a surface has been cleaned of dust and grease (with a power washer, if necessary) and washed with a cleansing solution, a diluted solution of muriatic, phosphoric or sulfamic acid is applied, generally with a mop or spray unit to avoid contact with the skin. This solution will produce a rough surface more receptive to paint or stain.

Moisture is the primary enemy of painted concrete floors. If areas of seepage aren't dealt with before the paint is applied, water will build up beneath the paint and cause it to blister. Application of a sealer is the most direct way to respond to this problem. Once this is done, certain types of paint will "breathe" to allow the moisture to evaporate.

There are literally dozens of types of paint and stain that can be used to paint concrete, from bright colors to earth tone stains that give the concrete a natural look. Epoxy paint is another viable option.

It is generally recommended that several coats of paint be applied in thin layers to make sure the irregular areas are properly covered. To paint concrete (or stain it) takes a lot of work, in other words. But the alternative is gray.

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Discussion Comments
By GiraffeEars — On Sep 25, 2010

@ Highlighter- I had epoxy concrete floor paint installed in my garage and it was the best money I ever spent. I had a five coat treatment applied, and it was even warrantied against chipping, peeling, and cracking. There are two layers of epoxy, a layer of color chips and two layers of a special polyurethane designed for contact with abrasives and harsh chemicals. I can easily work on my truck in the comfort of my garage, and I don't have to worry about oil and fluid spills staining the concrete. I also don't have those ugly tire stains on my concrete floor anymore, and it is much easier to hose out the dust and dirt that builds up.

By highlighter — On Sep 25, 2010

@ Submariner- That sounds like a great patio. My basement in my old house was essentially a concrete box. We decided to paint the concrete walls and floors to help add value to the home, and it turned out great. We had the contractor use soy based stains because there is little ventilation down there and wanted to use something that was low in VOCs. After it was painted we turned an empty space that had little appeal into a game room, complete with a couple of couches, a TV and a game table.

My wife loved the new space too because we had a nice area for movie night, and she could get my friends and I out of the living room on game day. Finishing the concrete was definitely worth the money spent on home improvement.

By submariner — On Sep 25, 2010

My back patio is a stain treated concrete slab. I decided against trying to paint the concrete floor myself. As the article stated, it is a lot of work, and I didn't want to deal with acid treating the slab and being responsible for the clean-up. I did find a very competent company that did concrete etching and finishing, and the patio looks great.

The patio was etched and acid treated. I had custom etching done so the patio looks like an ancient fossil site. I had the company etch fossilized animal footprints, petroglyphs, fossilized plants, and fossilized bugs into the concrete. It was then stained an earthy reddish brown. We already have bamboo planted on the edge of the patio, and the concrete staining really sets it all off.

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