How to Stain Concrete: Adding Color to Cement Surfaces

Learn how to stain concrete and give your cement surface a permanent color that won't fade, dull, crack or peel.


This foyer incorporates acid stains of various colors.

This foyer incorporates acid stains of various colors.

The advice in this article may seem straightforward, but it is following the directions and being diligent that provide the best results.

Concrete Design Options

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Stained Concrete

Staining concrete can add a marbleized color to standard gray concrete surfaces while maintaining the integrity and durability associated with concrete.

Concrete Dye

Similar to faux finishing techniques, concrete dyes are applied in creative ways with sprayers, mops, sponges, rags, plastic sheets and other materials. As it's applied, the concrete is simultaneously stained and sealed. With concrete dye, it's difficult to achieve the depth of color that acid staining offers, but it's a fairly inexpensive process, and the ease of application can reduce labor costs. Concrete dye is also able to hide imperfections to some degree. A clear coat must be used on acrylic dyes to protect the color. Image courtesy of

Epoxy Coating

Often used in garages to protect and beautify floors, epoxy coatings have come a long way. Available in acrylic, epoxy, urethane, polyurea or polyaspartic varieties, these coatings allow for quick application and are highly durable. Once available almost exclusively for commercial applications, these coatings are now highly sought-after in residential settings as well. Image courtesy of

Stamped Concrete

Stamped concrete uses patterns that mimic tile, stone, rock, wood and other textured surfaces. The technique allows a large area of concrete to be decorated without sacrificing the structural integrity of the concrete. Image courtesy of

Stamped Concrete: Stone Pattern

The texture that results from the stamping process can very closely mimic the look of real stone. The added texture can also provide increased slip-resistance. Image courtesy of

Stamped Concrete Overlay

One way to renew the look of damaged concrete is to use a stamped overlay. Rather than tearing out existing concrete, which can be expensive and time-consuming, spread a thin layer of concrete over the damaged area (typically 1/4- to 3/4-inch, depending on the pattern used). Image courtesy of

Stencil Resurfacing

Concrete stencils create a unique decorative accent that adds a focal point to a pool, patio or driveway. They can be colored and layered with a wide variety of designs. The stencils should be cleaned by pressure washing, and sealed surfaces should be resealed every couple of years. Image courtesy of

Exposed Aggregate

With the look of a small field of stones or pebbles, applying an exposed aggregate finish is an excellent way to improve the look of a standard gray concrete finish. This type of finish is durable, offers slip-resistance and is difficult to damage. It requires basic cleaning with occasional pressure washing to remove grit. Image courtesy of

Acid Stain

In the acid-staining process, a chemically reactive stain is applied directly to unfinished concrete. Because it bonds with the concrete, it offers excellent resistance to peeling, flaking and fading. Acid stains typically produce rich, earthy tones in a wide variety of black, brown, orange, aged copper and green hues that highlight the natural variations present in concrete materials. Resealing every couple of years is recommended; unsealed concrete may require occasional pressure washing to remove absorbed grit and debris. Image courtesy of

1. Make sure the surface on which the stain will be applied is clean, free from unwanted defects, stains and markings and ready for coloration. When adding any translucent color to anything, the pattern and colors of the substrate will show through. It's similar to applying a wood stain to a piece of wood with knots and wood grain. Concrete stain can actually highlight and intensify the variations found in the concrete — natural as well as man-made blemishes and markings.

2. Use manufacturers' color charts as a guide only. Because acid stains react differently to each type of surface, it is imperative to do a sample on the actual concrete or surface that is going to receive the treatment. The methods and timing for the sample installed should be the same as how the rest of the surface will be stained. Even though you may encounter variables during the onsite sample, it's still the best way of predetermining how the stain will react with a specific substrate.

Stained Concrete 01:00

See a concrete floor transformed into a thing of beauty.

3. If all concrete were the same, an exact application procedure could be developed. But that simply isn't the case. Acid staining is as much art as function. You must understand the application technique as well as how much stain to apply. The installer's experience and the skill level play an important role when choosing an acid-stain finish.

Potentially great jobs can turn into disasters because of improper application methods. Too little product won't give complete coverage, nor will it etch the surface sufficiently to deeply deposit the color. Too much product can cause unwanted puddling and pooling, causing those areas to have too much color.

If you use the scrubbing method, remember to scrub with a natural flow and pattern. Otherwise, mop lines and obvious swirls may appear.

4. Removing residue and neutralizing the surface is key to the success of an acid-stained concrete finish. Residue from the acid etching must be removed, and the surface should be neutralized to ensure proper adhesion of the sealant or coating system. Before it's sealed, the surface is still subject to staining and damage at this point. Take care to thoroughly wet and neutralize the entire area to avoid boot prints, splashed residue marks and other man-made unnatural blemishes.

5. Once the concrete is sufficiently dry, apply a sealant coating. Although the sealant is usually the last stage of installation, it must be done right; an improperly applied sealer system can show roller lines, leave lint and debris in the finish, or delaminate or flake off the surface. Experienced professionals can choose and apply the right sealer for the job, using techniques such as spraying, cross-hatch rolling, back rolling and buffing (in the case of a wax finish).

A lot of work goes into a stained concrete finish, and practice makes perfect. If you hire a professional, choose someone who has the skills that match the level of difficulty of the job at hand. Visit past work and talk to some of the former customers.

Even if you hire the best acid-stain concrete contractor in your area, his abilities will depend on the surface he'll work with. It may not be possible to completely hide and blend in color on a badly stained and damaged concrete slab. The concrete slab is the decorative concrete artist's canvas, so it must be kept clean and free from stains, spills, paint and other flaws. That will ensure that the finish will be everything you hoped for when you chose to use acid stain as a finish.

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