How to Stain Concrete to Make Your Home's Walkways Look Like New

Stain concrete patios, pathways, and even garage floors to update your home.

Whether you're dealing with an old concrete porch, a new concrete garage floor, or a grass-stained walkway, adding a stain is a great way to give concrete a renewed look. Concrete stain is available as a water-based product or as an acid stain, which chemically reacts with the minerals in the concrete to form a new color. Water-based stains seep into the porous concrete and create an exterior coating in the color of your choice.

You can stain concrete with a roller or brush, but for the best results, it's recommended to invest in a paint sprayer. Before starting this project, it's necessary to assess the area and ensure that there is proper ventilation. Wear personal protective equipment (PPE) like a mask and set up fans to help remove harmful chemical odors from the area. Also, take proper precautions to protect any objects or surfaces that you don't want to stain. Below, discover how to stain concrete with our helpful guide.

organized garage with concrete floor with stain
David Patterson

Take Time to Properly Prepare Concrete

When you stain a wood deck or fencing, one of the most important steps is to thoroughly clean it before you start. Concrete is not as porous as wood, so to get the best results, you need to be even more diligent when you are cleaning the target surface. Start by removing any items from the area and sweeping away dirt, dust, and debris. Next, use a mop or a stiff broom to scrub the concrete to clean any stuck-on dirt or grime.

If you are working outdoors, consider using a pressure washer and mild concrete detergent to quickly remove layers of dust, debris, and discoloration from old concrete. A paint or stain stripper can help remove previous sealers, paints, adhesives, and other coatings, though you will need a degreaser and neutralizer to clean old oil spots. Just make sure that you don't use muriatic acid as this product will damage the concrete.

Take the opportunity to repair cracks in the concrete surface with a concrete crack sealant. After applying the sealant, wait at least 24 hours for it to dry, then use a floor scrubber to buff uneven patches. Finally, before starting to stain the concrete, make sure to use drop cloths and painters tape to protect any nearby objects or surfaces that you don't want to stain.

Safety Considerations and Weather Concerns

Paint, stains, sealants, and adhesives typically have a strong chemical odor that can be harmful if the workspace is not properly ventilated. Take appropriate precautions to stay safe while you work by opening windows or doors, setting up fans, and wearing personal protective equipment (PPE). It's recommended to have closed-toe shoes, long pants, a long-sleeve shirt, gloves, safety glasses, and a mask when you are staining concrete.

Another factor to keep in mind is the weather. If you are working outdoors, it's necessary to plan your project for a dry day. Rain can quickly ruin the finish if the stain is not fully dry. Additionally, you should start the staining project early in the day when it is still relatively cool to allow the stain to dry at a consistent rate. Applying stain under a hot afternoon sun can result in a splotchy, uneven finish as the heat rapidly dries patches of stain while you are still finishing the application process.

cement patio black pergola
Paul Costello

How to Stain Concrete

Staining concrete takes time, so be prepared to set aside at least 24 to 48 hours to complete this job. Just keep in mind that most of this time is spent waiting for the stain and sealant to dry because the finish can be ruined by rain, water, and any activity on the concrete surface if these coatings are not fully dry.

What You'll Need

  • Stiff broom
  • Hose
  • Pressure washer
  • Caulking gun
  • Concrete crack sealant
  • Floor scrubber
  • Paint stripper
  • Degreaser and neutralizer
  • Painters tape
  • Drop cloth
  • Paint sprayer
  • Paint roller
  • Paintbrush
  • Concrete sealant

Step 1: Clean dust, dirt, and debris.

The best results can only be achieved with a clean, prepared concrete surface. Otherwise, dirt, dust, and debris can prevent the stain from bonding to the concrete, creating a splotchy, uneven mess.

Start by sweeping and scrubbing the concrete with a stiff broom. You can also use a mop, water, and mild detergent to remove stuck-on grime. If you are working outdoors, it might be easier to use a pressure washer to clean the concrete.

If the concrete has old sealers, paints, or adhesives, you might need to use a stripping product to remove these old coatings. Similarly, oil spots will need to be removed with a degreaser and neutralizer. Make sure to thoroughly rinse the concrete after use to ensure that the surface is clean and prepared for staining.

Step 2: Repair cracks with concrete sealant.

Concrete materials can crack over time, so before staining, apply a concrete crack sealant with a caulking gun to repair any existing cracks. Allow the sealant to dry for at least 24 hours, then use a floor scrubber to buff uneven patches for a smooth finish.

Step 3: Prepare the stain.

Set up drop cloths and apply painters tape to any objects or surfaces that cannot be moved out of the workspace to protect them from the stain. You can apply stain with a roller or brush if you are staining a relatively small surface or working in a tight space, but if you are staining a large surface, like a garage floor, it's recommended to use an acid-resistant airless paint sprayer. Load the water-based stain or acid stain into the paint sprayer according to the manufacturer's directions or fill a paint tray with stain for easy access with a roller or brush.

Step 4: Apply stain with a sprayer, roller, or brush.

The goal when you are applying a stain is to get even coverage. If you are in an enclosed space, start from the back of the room and work your way towards the door so that you don't trap yourself in a corner. Use a roller and brush combination to apply the stain in even strokes across the surface. The brush is especially helpful in tight corners and narrow crevices that a roller can't reach and a sprayer might not be able to access.

If you choose to use a sprayer to apply the stain, make sure to use broad, even passes to spray the concrete surface and maintain a wet edge with a slightly overlapping spray pattern. Move slowly and carefully but pay attention to the amount of stain you are applying. It should never be so much that it puddles on the floor.

Step 5: Let the stain dry.

Once you've successfully finished staining the concrete, you need to give it time to properly dry. Different stains will have different drying times, so check the manufacturer's directions for the recommended duration. On average, a stain requires at least 24 hours to fully dry before you can apply sealant.

Keep in mind that if you are using an acid stain, the chemical reaction continues until you wash the concrete in a neutralizing solution. Wait until the acid stain and concrete have taken on the desired color, then use a neutralizing agent, like water and a mild detergent, to stop the chemical reaction. The acid stain manufacturer will typically provide an estimated timeline to follow for application and neutralization.

Step 6: Use a concrete sealant to protect the stained surface.

Stained concrete can be protected from chemical and physical damage if you apply a concrete sealant. Make sure the stain is fully dry, then apply the sealant to the target surface. Many concrete stain manufacturers recommend sealants that work well with the specific stain, so it's a good idea to check the information provided by the manufacturer before purchasing a sealant. After application, allow the sealant to dry before resuming regular use of the area.

Choosing the Right Concrete Stain

There are two types of stains used on concrete: water-based stains and acid stains. Water-based stains are the easiest option and come in a wide variety of colors, allowing you to choose your desired finish. A water-based stain seeps into porous concrete and forms a coating on the surface, similar to paint.

Acid stains don't coat the concrete. Instead, when these products are applied to a concrete surface a chemical reaction occurs that permanently changes the color of the concrete. This process continues until the stain is treated with a neutralizing agent. Due to this method of color activation, acid stains can be difficult to use. However, they last longer and have superior fade resistance compared to water-based stains.

If you are relatively new to staining projects, it's recommended to stick with a water-based stain, but if you have significant experience and want to try something new, opt for an acid stain to complete the job.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does it take to stain concrete?

    Depending on the size of your project, staining concrete can take anywhere from 24 to 72 hours, so this is a project best saved for a weekend. The good news: Much of that time is spent allowing the stain and sealant to dry, so will not be actively working that entire time.

  • How much does it cost to stain concrete?

    Assuming you choose to do the job yourself instead of hiring it out, staining concrete is actually a very inexpensive project. Your only expense will be the materials and supplies you need to complete the staining. Some supplies, like the paint roller and caulking gun, you may already have at home. In general, you can expect to spend anywhere from $100 to $400 to stain your concrete.

  • How long does stain last on concrete?

    Provided you've properly stained and sealed your concrete, a fresh coat of stain should last up to 10 years or more, experiencing very little fading over time.

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