Hate Carpet? Wondering how to stain interior concrete floors?
I get it! If you have pets or messy kids you’ve experienced the pain of constantly dirty carpets or having to hire carpet cleaners throughout the year. If you live in a house on a slab (as opposed to what they call pier and beam where there is a crawlspace under your house) it’s relatively easy to do stained concrete floors.
In my house we had cheap Pergo-type fake wood flooring. Every time my daughters dropped an ice cube it seemed like the floor would bubble up a little. We also had a leak at the back door every time there was a bad rain. Thus, after a year of living in our home the floors looked pretty terrible.
You can see some of the warping towards the top end of this shot.
I knew I loved stained concrete floors and I had lived in a loft once in Oakland that had those. But I wondered if it was something I could do myself? Or would I have to spend thousands of dollars I didn’t have??
There can be a lot of confusion about how to stain interior concrete floors!
- Acid stain?
- Water based stain?
- Do I need to “etch” my floors?
- How do you etch a concrete floor?
- Can I buy the right stain at places like Home Depot?
I researched the process for months.
That included watching dozens of videos, talking to people and going to countless stores. In the end, I determined that an acid stain would work the best.
Non-acid concrete stain seemed to me more like it is painting the surface of the concrete. It sticks and covers the surface but doesn’t penetrate the concrete and change the color of the concrete.
The biggest issue with that from what I saw was wear and tear. I didn’t want to have to repeat the process every year or two as the “painted” stain wore off.
If you opt for acid stain just know that at least in my visits to places like Home Depot or Lowe’s, they DO NOT sell acid stain.
Thus I had to find a local concrete stain dealer. There were plenty and most will sell to consumers as well as professionals. Just Google or Yelp to find them in your area.
The process of “etching” the concrete is essentially prepping your concrete to be porous enough for the stain to soak in.
You can easily check your concrete by pouring some water (less than a cup) onto the floor and spread it around a little by hand and see if most of it doesn’t soak into the concrete over the coarse of a few minutes. If it does soak in, you can skip the etching part. Etching isn’t hard if you do need to do it, it just adds an extra step.
Also know that in the event your concrete is new, you should always wait at least a month after new concrete is poured before attempting to stain it.
This cool video shows you the entire process from start to finish.
How much does it cost to stain a concrete floor?
All told, I spent less than $500. That includes renting the sander from Home Depot and buying the cleaning products, acid stain, acrylic sealer and wax. Obviously my labor was on the house!
Costs may vary on materials in your area and may go up over time. But suffice to say that learning how to stain interior concrete floors will save you a bundle over paying a pro to do it! The average pro would charge around $4.00 per square foot. But issues with slab or complexity of design can increase that significantly.
Thus in my kitchen and dining area, with a total of about 500 square feet would have cost me $2,000 or more, so I saved considerably by learning how to stain interior concrete floors myself.
Stained concrete floors aren’t hard and don’t require a professional
While you can definitely hire a professional and could get better results that way, if you’re like me, you don’t have an extra $2-3k laying around.
Thus with a little hard work and just a few hundred dollars in materials you can get stained concrete floors yourself that will look great.
More importantly, your new stained concrete floors will be durable, long lasting and be a great discussion piece when guests come over. Everyone will want to know how you got those amazing floors. Then they’ll be blown away that you did it yourself!
The first step in my project was to pull up the old Pergo-type floor boards. In most cases these are not nailed or glued and just “float” on the concrete with a moisture barrier (fancy word for plastic sheet) in between.
The floor boards just snap together. If you’re not trying to save the boards just pry one up with a flathead screwdriver or pry bar and then the rest will come up pretty easily after.
I did stained concrete floors in our kitchen and dining area (about 30’x15′) over the course of about 5 days (before and after work); right before our trip to Disneyland about 2 years ago.
That way I knew the floors would have plenty of time to dry while we were gone and we wouldn’t have to breath any of the fumes (which turned out to be not that bad).
So let’s review my . . .
5 Easy Steps on How to Stain Interior Concrete Floors
STEP 1 – Prep Your Floors & trim
You’ll likely want to remove the baseboard trim in your room if it’s touching the floor.
If it’s off the floor (like mine was due to there being the fake wood floor initially), you can just use painter’s tape to tape off the baseboards. If you opt to remove it, use a pry bar to gently pull it away from the wall which should leave it intact and allow you to reattach rather than replace.
TIP: On a piece of painter’s tape, mark each board as to which wall it goes on. If one wall has multiple boards, mark each section going left to right (ie: west wall section 1).
With baseboards done and the room empty of all furniture and/or appliances, now we need to sand the floor. If your floors are near perfect and don’t have any excess residue, paint or other things that would make your floors look less than perfect you can skip the sanding.
I rented a floor sander from Home Depot. This thing does kick up a lot of dust so I got sheets of plastic and tried to separate the rooms I was doing from the rest of the house and to hide the kitchen cabinets and countertops.
TIP: Make sure you wear a dust mask or respirator and safety goggles!
You want the floors to be relatively smooth and to remove any sealer, glue or wax that could have been on there.
In my home the original slab was obviously not totally level so they had used some kind of leveling compound. This looks and feels similar to concrete but was rougher and applied in patches so it was easy to spot. Know going in to the process that this will not stain as dark as the rest of the concrete.
You can see some of the leveling compound on my floors in this shot.
If it’s a thin layer you could scrape it off (it flakes up fairly easily) or in the staining process you could reapply stain to this part more than the rest of the floors.
But the beauty of stained concrete floors are the imperfections!
Just go through the entire room with the sander smoothly, evenly and a little slowly. The sander I rented did come with a vacuum as part of it which did help with dust and as much dust as this kicks up, every little bit helps!
You’ll notice my stove there. I did eventually move it before the staining process but since I knew that floor would never be seen and the rails to hold the range in place were attached to the concrete, I did not sand that area under it.
STEP 2 – Wash and dry your floors
Once your floors are sanded, you’ll need to thoroughly clean your floors. I started by vacuuming the excess dust first.
Here are my floors after washing, rinsing and being allowed to dry.
TIP: Also realize that the plastic sheets will have dust on them now too, so either wipe those down (before you vacuum the floors) or change them out so you don’t have excess dust falling onto your new beautiful stained concrete floors!
Once free of dust, you’ll want to mop the floors with a mixture of water and TSP (Tri Sodium Phosphate). That’s a big word, but it’s easy to find at places like Home Depot. This is just a mild cleaner/degreaser that is prepping the floors for the staining process. I let it sit on the floors for 20 minutes and then began to scrub with a long handled scrub brush before mopping it up.
TIP: If you rented that sander from Home Depot you can also use that with a scrubber pad to make the cleaning go faster.
Use a wet/dry vacuum (which you can buy or rent from most Home Depots) to vacuum everything up. You don’t want any TSP residue left so you’ll repeat the mopping process 2 or 3 times with just warm water to make sure the floors are totally clean.
TIP: If you find that when they textured the walls of your home they sprayed excess texture onto the concrete, this needs to come up but doesn’t come up easily.
I bought a long handled scraper and also used paint remover to try and get as much of that up as possible. The more you get up the better the results. In some cases, contractors also spray paint words onto the floors as notes. This doesn’t come up easily either, but you may also like the modern/industrial feel it creates also. If you do want to get it up a combination of paint remover and a power sander (again rented at Home Depot) can usually do the trick with some elbow grease!
STEP 3 – How do you stain your concrete floor?
I used a cheap plastic sprayer I bought at Home Depot. The same type sprayer used for spraying bug spray around the outside of your house. I used a figure 8 patter motion not staying too long in any one place and overlapping my sprays to apply the stain.
Here are my floors after 1 coat of stain.
TIP: No matter what sprayer you use, if you’re using acid stain, make sure it has no metal parts! These can dissolve and burn you in the process.
You can use that same long handled scrub brush to go behind yourself and scrub the stain in using a circular motion.
After 3-4 hours if you decide you want the stain to be darker, go ahead and do a 2nd pass of spraying the stain. Just bear in mind that the floor will look different (and lighter) once totally dry, sealed and waxed.
Here are my floors after 2 coats of stain.
Once your stained concrete floors look great and you’ve allowed the last coat of stain to dry at least 2 hours we need to neutralize the acid.
We do this easily by simply mixing more TSP and water and mopping it on and scrubbing it in; pretty much just like when we cleaned the floor earlier. Then rinse with water only enough times to completely remove any residue. Use your wet/dry vac to suck up all the extra water.
TIP: During most of this process I wore old socks I didn’t care about. In the event you’re walking on wet stain or sealer this is less conspicuous than a foot print from a foot or shoe.
Here’s that video again from part one which quickly moves through all the steps.
I used Chem Coat stain, sealer and wax products on my floors. It’s not an affiliate link but you can see all their products on their website www.chem-coat.com/products.html
Here’s their color chart. I went with the Aqua Mist color although in hindsight I would select a darker color as I think it would have done a better job of hiding some of the imperfections better.
STEP 4 – Seal your new concrete stained floors
After the neutralizing rinse of your floors, it’s imperative that you make sure your floors are totally dry before sealing them. I personally waited a good 8 hours. If you don’t wait long enough you risk the sealer coming out cloudy. Take a piece of painter’s tape and stick to the floor.
If the floor is dry you’ll have to pull it up. If the floor still has moisture it won’t stick fully to begin with.
TIP: If you use acrylic sealer as I did, you can mix acrylic paint in with it to enhance the color of the floors.
Here are my floors after 2 coats of stain and 1 coat of sealer with added color.
Rinse out your sprayer from the stain. Then simply put your sealer (and acrylic paint if using) into the sprayer. Coat the floor in the same manner as you did the stain. You can apply multiple coats of sealer but allow about 45 minutes in between each for it to dry. Any areas that look less glossy than others just give an extra coat to just that area.
STEP 5 – Wax your concrete stained floors
Once your floors are totally dry from stain (about an hour), the final step is simply to wax.
Spray one coat of wax (again using that handy sprayer) and allow to dry 1 hour. THEN remove all painter’s tape and plastic sheets from the wall. These may may have dust, sealer or stain which we don’t want falling on to wet wax.
Here is the finished project with our furniture back in place!
Then go through your floor thoroughly with a vacuum and/or broom. Lastly do 1 more coat of wax and you’re done!
You can walk on the floors after about an hour. But wait a full 24 hours before moving any furniture or appliances back onto the floors.
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Do you have any questions about how to stain interior concrete floors?
If you’ve done it, do you have any tips?
I want to hear from you!
Of course in the day and age we unfortunately live in I have to add the following: I am not a general contractor or professional concrete stainer. This post walks you though the steps I took in staining my concrete. Your results could differ. Please consult a professional if you need to.
Photo credits (that aren’t mine or which require attribution):
Metallic Marble Concrete Staining – Augusta GA- Augusta GA by Decorative Concrete Kingdom is licensed under CC BY 2.0
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