4-types of Concrete Stains-Every Property Owner Should Know About and What to Avoid.

​Most customers are shocked to learn that there is more than one type of concrete stain!

Not only is there more than one but in fact, there are several.

For most people, concrete stain is just water and color that are applied over concrete, but for others, it can be a means to add durability and longevity to concrete, hide imperfections, add color to a boring gray concrete slab, or increasing property value through an aesthetically pleasing appearance that concrete staining offers.

In this post, “we” (Concrete Design and Repair) will discuss the 4 most common types of concrete stains as well as what to avoid.

1. Acid Stain

Acid Stain Atlanta Georgia
Acid stain reacts with the surface of the concrete, so the color is permanent, as long as the surface is protected by a sealer. 

We find this to be a great stain for exterior concrete surfaces because the color won’t change over time as long as you keep the surface protected.

What to avoid from Acid Stains?

An experienced contractor will neutralize the surface after the stain is done reacting. 

We do this because there is always a chance that ground moisture comes up through the concrete and causes the stain to start reacting again.

Be sure to remove any stain residue that might create a barrier for sealer penetration. 

We use a pressure washer on exterior surfaces and by mopping interior concrete floors.

On Acid stain, the good news is that if the project goes as planned, the color is permanent because Acid stain reacts with the chemistry of the concrete.

For the same reason, the bad news is that if it doesn’t go well the options are to either learn to live with it put carpet over it or pay for an expensive fix. 

In summary: “Make sure you get this type of Concrete Stain done right the first time”.


What to know about Acid Stains before selecting Acid Stain as an option?

Again, you are limited to earth-tone color choices. We often dilute acid stains to create a lot of amazing effects, but our color palette is still restricted to earth tones. 

However, acid stains do provide vibrant marbleized colors that become unique to each project.

We find this to be a great stain for exterior concrete surfaces because the color won’t change over time as long as you keep the surface protected.

The final look is not 100% predictable. Since Acid stain reacts with the lime of the concrete, there is no way of knowing what will be the exact final color.  

Even if a mock-up is performed variances may still result from water to concrete ratio, chemicals absorbed in the concrete, time of the year the concrete was poured, just to mention a few.

2. Concrete Dyes (Also known as "Penetrating stains")

Here we will discuss two types of dyes:

a. Powdered Acetone Dyes –

Most acetone-based dyes come in powdered form.  They are great for interior use and come in a wide range of color options.

But they are not UV stable, so they typically can’t be used outdoors. 

A big advantage of dyes is their short dry time. Acid stains need to react for hours, while dyes can dry in seconds.

b. Liquid Acetone Dyes –

A liquid dye is not actually a dye but more accurately a very thin, UV-stable solvent-based stain with particles small enough to absorb into the surface. 

They come in a larger range of color choices than non-UV-stable powdered dyes. 

We love the color ranges that can be achieved in a short amount of time. Like their powered cousins, these dyes dry very quickly.


What to know about Concrete Dyes before selecting it as an option?

Concrete surface preparation is most important – Since acetone dyes are interior-only products, the profile of the concrete surface becomes extremely important. 

In order for the dye to bind or absorb into the floor, the pores in the surface must be open. We do this by grinding the surface.

If the surface is prepared by chemically etch to open the concrete pores, we can tell you from years of experience that muriatic acid will not break down the surface enough to give you as good of a bond for stains and dyes than grinding does.

Powdered dyes are the only type of dye that can be used to color floors that will be polished because they penetrate into the concrete.

Again, you can’t polish surfaces colored with liquid dye, like you can with powdered dye. 

Although liquid dye does a great job of penetrating into the concrete, it will still leave a small film on the surface that would be removed during the polishing process.

We use acetone dyes all the time with very hard top coatings like urethanes and epoxies and we have no issues with call-backs on these types of floors.

3. Water-Based Stain

Most water-based stains are more of a paint designed to bond to concrete, and like paint, they come in a broad range of colors.

However, they are a surface coating only because the particles tend to be too large to absorb into the concrete.

For this reason, they are also referred to as “film-forming stain” which can be applied with a plastic sprayer, roller or brush.

Once a water-based stain has dried for 24 hours, a sealer can be applied for added protection.

If you rush the process and apply the sealer before the stain is fully dried; the remedy to fix it will cost twice as much.


What to know about water-based stains?

Whether you DIY or you hire a “Professional”, make sure that any pooling or dripping water-based stains is avoided in order to achieve a consistent and uniform look.

With water-based stains, the concrete surface profile is extremely important.

Since these stains are more about bonding and less about absorption, the surface needs to be rougher than with dyes.

When we are called to fix a filed stained job, this is where most handyman’s and painters without the proper equipment fail.

These stains work well in outdoor settings since they are UV stable, but remember to budget to reseal them regularly.

Since these stains are like a sheet of plastic bonding to the surface, you need to protect them.

Only water-based stains and UV-stable acetone dyes have white as a color option.

That’s because the actual particle that makes white — titanium — is too large to absorb into the concrete.

4. Solvent-Based Stains

Solvent-Based Stains are used primarily to tint solvent-based coatings. Depending on the solvent used, they can dry fairly quickly. 

Indoors, we at Concrete Design and Repair like to use solvent-based stains with epoxies and urethanes as an easy way to create a solid color that will last, especially for industrial or other high-traffic floors.


What to know about solvent-based stains?

When using these stains to tint coatings, make sure they are compatible with the chemical-makeup of the coating. 

We got a call from someone that mixed paint and concrete sealer purchased at a box-store and resulted in an expensive fix.

Use caution when using these stains to tint outdoor coatings. 

Because the stain will be bonding to the coating rather than the concrete, the color will come off if the coating wears away.

We see this happen all the time, and it is very difficult to recoat and correct the color in these spots. 

Normally we protect outdoor surfaces with solvent-based sealers. It is always best to reseal every 2 to 3 years.

5. Final tips on Concrete Stains

Whenever possible, make samples for each project so you can see the results.  

Unlike other flooring options, looking at color charts, hard samples or pictures from another project will not give the same result since the chemistry of every concrete slab varies.

For exterior projects, you may need to find a hidden area of the concrete slab to create samples on. 

On interior floors, you can always test in closets. Perhaps do a sample on floors in rooms to be covered by tile or carpet.

It is important that you see the process done before going full scale.  

A knowledgeable decorative concrete specialist like us can show you ideas that you never imagined possible.

If you are planning to keep your home for a long time and want to get the best value for your dollar in the long run, hiring an experienced contractor like Concrete Design and Repair is the best option for you.

We can help you choose a long-lasting stain or dye for each project and properly install it to help you achieve the desired look. 

We are so confident on our ECON-STAIN™ System, that we give a standard 3-year warranty on all of our concrete stain jobs.

We will even offer a 10-year warranty with the purchase of our CDR protection plan which includes maintenance and one sealer redcoat (during the life of the warranty) for as low as $0.75 per sq. ft. Call us to learn more.

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