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A general look at how to use decorative concrete staining products to breathe new life into your concrete.


Decorative concrete staining is a great way to improve interior or exterior concrete surfaces and increase your curb appeal. Stained floors are beautiful, easy to maintain, and can be a relatively affordable do-it yourself project.

The type of concrete stain you prefer will determine your specific preparation steps. No matter what type of stain is used, all require adequate cleaning and preparation of the surface. Do not skip this step. It will affect your overall results and new concrete is no exception.


First, gather all supplies and tools needed. These include personal protective equipment and clothing. If you are dealing with acid or reactive stains be sure to wear appropriate protective clothing including thick pants and socks, long sleeves, safety glasses and gloves. Next, use paper or plastic to mask off and protect the areas you are not staining. If you are acid staining outdoors, protect nearby vegetation or find an eco-friendly stain that will not harm your lawn or plants.

Note: If you are using tape, make sure the tape adhesion does not leave behind any sticky residue; this will affect the look of your handiwork.

Repair cracks or flaws in your existing concrete. Use as close to a cementitious material as possible when filling in cracks. Differences in texture can create differences in the color and finish. Different levels of porosity in your concrete will affect how well the stain or dyes penetrate.

Preparing your concrete also includes removing discoloration, residue, previous sealers, coatings, debris, efflorescence, etc. If your concrete has been treated with water repellant or curing compounds then consider removing them as this can prevent penetrating coatings from absorbing and bonding. The type of coating or contaminant you are trying to remove will determine what type of stripping agent you should use. Be sure to wash off any stripping or cleaning residue and wait for the concrete to dry completely before staining your concrete.

Note: If you are going to acid-stain, do not use acid-based cleaners or etching agents for prepping your concrete as they will effect the penetration of the stain.

In many cases, proper pressure washing is required to ensure the concrete pores are open and to remove obstructing particles. This rule applies even to new concrete. If you are prepping an interior surface where pressure washing is not an option, light acid washing, grinding, stripping or etching practices should be utilized. Again, wash off any residue left behind from your chosen preparation technique and wait for the concrete to dry before beginning to stain.

Note: If you've just poured your concrete, make sure it has cured appropriately before beginning any decorative treatments on it. Refer to the product label.

Test it:

You're almost ready to start staining. Before you begin, however, test a small area of the surface with your chosen product to make sure you have the right color, adhesion, consistency etc. It is important to remember to use a manufacturer's color chart as a guide only. Each concrete surface can vary in texture, porosity, age, temperature and more, effecting the penetration, shade and even the consistency of your stain.


The stain application process differs depending on the type of stain you are using. We will focus on three main types of stain: acid stains, water-based stains and dyes.

Acid Stains:

Mix the stain as directed by the manufacturer. Start in one corner of the area and stain from one side to the other. Then repeat in a typewriter like fashion being careful to not step on any wet, stained areas.

Note: It is important to ventilate the area.

After letting the first coat dry, which can sometimes take up to 24 hours, you can repeat the process for applying a second coat. If you are looking for a rich, marbled or textured look, the successive coats are applied in the same manner, but more selectively. You can continue to add textures and layers in different colors to your liking.

Acid staining may be applied with a sprayer, sponge or rag. It is suggested while one worker sprays, another follows with brushing. The brush strokes are then sprayed over one more time. This will prevent any evidence of what method you used being visible in your stain. You can spray on the stain, roll it on or brush it in depending on the manufacturer's recommendations. Again, sometimes it is best to use more than one method.

Acid based stain must be neutralized after application. Residue from the hydrochloric acid etching must be removed and the surface neutralized to ensure proper adhesion of the sealant. Wash the surface until nothing but clear water is visible.

Water-based stains:

Mix the stain as directed by the manufacturer. Again, an easy way to apply the stain is to start in one corner and work your way to the opposite corner applying the stain from side to side. Some stains, such as NewLook's ORIGINAL Solid Color Stain, require a re-brooming technique because of how the pigments are suspended in the mix. Other stains, such as NewLook's SmartColor, can be sprayed on with a standard HVLP sprayer. Be sure to read and refer to all instructions from the manufacturer in order to apply the stain correctly.

With water based stains, there is no chemical reaction taking place between the stain and the concrete as the stain simply penetrates into the concrete's pores. Therefore, neutralizing the stain after application is unnecessary.


Dyes may be solvent or water based. Many dyes are formulated specifically for use with polished concrete surfaces and should be used only for such purposes. Mix and dilute the dye according to the instructions. To apply, grind the concrete slab up to 200-400 grit resin level.

Note: The grit level you apply the dye at may vary if the dye is water-based vs. solvent-based. Read the instructions for the specific dye you have purchased.

Next, apply the dye according the manufacturer's instructions. A good approach would be to spray the dye in a consistent, overlapping circular motion. Once the dye has dried, perform a white rag test and clean off any excess material. Two applications of the dye may be necessary. After you have polished the concrete slab to 400 grit resin (again, this number may be different depending on the type of dye used), apply the second application of dye.  Finish by cleaning off any residual dye and polishing the surface again.

Note: Some dyes are not meant to be installed on exterior surfaces.


Once you have stained the concrete to your liking and let it dry for the recommended amount of time, you are ready to apply a concrete sealer. It is important to find a sealer compatible with the stain you have used. Contact the manufacturer for more information. Remember, some sealers will leave a slick, slippery surface. If this is a concern look for a skid resistant sealer or non-skid additives that can be mixed into your sealer.

Sealers can be brushed, sprayed or rolled on. No matter what method you use, be sure to apply adequate, thin layers, especially when using water-based acrylics. Sealers that are applied too heavily or too sparingly can ruin the look of your surface and leave you with more work to do. Usually more than one coat is recommended. Be sure to let the first coat dry sufficiently before applying another coat.

Note: High speed burnishing may be required for sealers formulated specifically for dyes and polished concrete surfaces.

After your sealer has finished drying you can further protect your masterpiece with a floor finish, or wax. You can apply the floor finish much like the sealer, applying more coats only after the prior coat has finished drying. Some wax coatings require a buffed finish. Again, be sure to read all instructions and contact the manufacturer with questions before beginning to stain or seal your concrete surface.

Note: Wax finishes are not recommended for exterior application.

Remember that even if you follow every direction and install your stain seemingly without flaws, in the end, the look is dependant on the condition of your concrete and the products used. It may not be possible to completely hide a badly damaged concrete slab with semi-transparent stains.