Project Guide

How to Stain Concrete

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Choose a Concrete Stain
A container of concrete stain.

As you learn how to stain a concrete floor, keep in mind that the outcome is permanent. You must work carefully for successful results. The amount of active depends mostly on the size of the area to be stained. Overall, plan on the project taking several days because of drying time.

Before you start this project, you must first choose a concrete stain that fits your needs. There are two types of concrete stain to choose from: acid-based and water-based.

Acid-based formulas for are long-lasting and resistant to fading. They react chemically with the concrete to create a permanent chemical bond. This means it will not peel or chip and help produce a natural-looking finish.

Water-based stains are available in a wider variety of colors and are often easier to apply. This type of non-reactive produces color by bonding to the concrete surface, filling the pores and making a colored film or coating. These formulas generally have fewer toxic chemicals, and they dry more quickly.

In some cases, homeowners select concrete paint as an alternative to permanent stain. For garages, driveways and porches, choose high-performance options that will withstand hot tires, automotive oil and UV rays.

Prepare the Concrete Surface
A person applying sealant to a crack in concrete.

The most important step of how to stain a concrete floor is surface preparation. New concrete should be at least four weeks old.

Begin by removing all items from the floor and cleaning the area thoroughly. Sweep and mop to remove all dust, dirt and debris, as these will show through the stain and can impact the finished look. If needed, use a pressure washer to clear stubborn marks and discoloration from the old concrete.

This is also a good time to repair cracks in the concrete surface. All repairs should be completed before starting the application of stain. Coatings of any kind must be removed before staining. Use a concrete crack sealant according to product instructions to fill any gaps along the floor. Allow at least 24-hours for the product to fully dry. Then, use a floor scrubber to buff away any uneven patches.

  • Do not use muriatic acid to clean. It will destroy the important minerals necessary to produce the color range selected.
  • Strip and remove all previous sealers, paints, adhesives and coatings. For oil spots use a degreaser and neutralizer (diluted 4 to 1) and rinse well.
  • For acid staining, use a concrete etch and cleaner to prepare the surface and rinse well.
  • Concrete must be porous enough to accept water. Dense concrete surfaces may require mechanical preparation to accept acid stain.
  • Mask for over-spray with masking tape and water-resistant construction paper. Duct tape over masking tape to prevent stain bleeding.
Apply the Stain and Remove Residue
An airless paint sprayer sitting in grass.

Use an acid-resistant airless paint sprayer to neatly and evenly apply the stain on the concrete slab. You may also use a paint roller or handheld brush for stain application in smaller areas and tight corners on the slab. Work in sections as needed. Go over each sprayer coat with the paint roller for a smooth and uniform finish.

  • Dampen the area with water but do not let it puddle.
  • Spray in an overlapping manner, maintaining a wet edge.
  • Allow acid stain to react with the concrete floor for at least 6-hours.
  • Clean residue and pour water on floor to approximate the final color. If darker color is desired, apply a second coat.
  • Clean residue from floor with degreaser and neutralizer solution using an acid brush. Repeat.
  • Rinse with clean water and mop up excess water. Use a wet-dry vacuum if needed. Rinse with clean water until rinse water is free of color and you can wipe floor without picking up color.
  • Concrete must be completely free of residue. Expect to rinse with clean water several times.
  • Once dry, test the readiness of the concrete by wiping floor with a white cloth. If it shows residue rinse and dry again. Repeat until no residue remains.

Water-based stains do not generate excess residue. Review the label instructions and follow the manufacturer's guidelines for the correct drying time.

Safety: Wear safety gear during when staining cement and concrete. Protect your skin, face and lungs from chemicals, and make sure the area is well-ventilated.

Apply Finishing Sealer
A person using a roller to apply sealer to a concrete floor.

Concrete sealers protect the finish of your stained concrete. Test before application. Use clear sealer to enhance the depth of color and to repel dirt, water and environmental wear. Choose a concrete sealer that offers the right amount of gloss and durability for your needs.

Allow the stain to cure for a full 24-hours, then spread the sealer along the floor as directed on the label. Drying time for the sealer can vary depending on environmental conditions. Plan on two days for it to completely harden.

Consider using a concrete floor polish to help reduce slipping and scuffing.

Concrete Staining Tips
A concrete patio stained with brown stain.

Keep these tips in mind as you are learning how to stain concrete.

  • Test a small section and allow to completely dry before staining the entire area. Preview the finished look and decide if the color is a good fit before applying the full first coat.
  • Use painter’s tape along the bottom of each bordering wall to avoid stain splatters in unwanted areas.
  • Allow new concrete to cure for at least a month before applying stain.
  • Use a plastic airless sprayer for acid staining. Metal parts are prone to damage and corrosion.
  • For water-based stains, spray the area in circular motions to avoid pooling on concrete flooring.
  • Remove any existing concrete sealer before applying a new stain color.

Staining concrete can bring new life to a basement floor or outdoor concrete. Surface preparation is an important part of how to stain concrete. Take time to clean the old concrete before the staining process and work carefully as you apply stain to the concrete floor. Shop online when you're ready to begin staining cement and concrete. The Home Depot delivers online orders when and where you need them.