Concrete stain is a fast, simple
way to turn your dull gray
patio into a lively, colorful surface
that will make your outdoor space
more inviting. The stain is nearly foolproof
to apply—just wet the concrete
and spray on the stain. If you’re not
happy with the result, you can go back
and apply a second or third coat to
enhance the color.
In this story, we’ll show you how to
apply the stain, including ideas for
mixing stains to create a unique, multicolored
surface that looks like marble.
You’ll save a substantial amount of money by doing it yourself, and you won’t need any
special tools—just basic painting tools
and rain-free weather. If you’re cutting
kerfs into the concrete, you’ll need a diamond
for your circular saw.
You can apply the stain over worn
concrete, but don’t expect a miracle.
You’ll still be able to see the old
appearance through the stain. And
avoid staining spalling concrete. The stain will turn a darker color wherever the concrete is pitted.
What is concrete stain?
Concrete stain is a water-based product
that coats the concrete and becomes a
permanent part of the surface. The
stains can fade and wear over time, but
sealer helps protect them.
Concrete stains are different from
acid (or etching) stains, which chemically
react with minerals in the concrete
to change the color. Acid stains
are available for DIYers, but there are
fewer colors to choose from, and applying
it involves more steps.
Time, money and materials
You can do this project in a weekend.
Prep the concrete and apply the stain
on Saturday, then seal it on Sunday. If
you decide to add a second coat of
stain, you’ll need another day.
The stains are available at home centers
in the paint section—the color is
added just as with paint. One gallon
covers 200 to 400 sq. ft. A gallon
of sealer also covers 200
to 400 sq. ft.
The color you choose may look
slightly different after it’s applied. Each
patio will accept the stain a little bit
differently. However, the color will be
close to what you see in the brochure.
The stain is semitransparent. It won’t
completely cover the surface as paint
would. You’ll see the concrete through
the stain, especially if you’re using a
Cut kerfs and clean the concrete
This project is much faster and easier if
you stain your whole patio a single
color. All you have to do is wet the concrete
and apply the stain. Then backroll
with a 3/8-in.-nap roller if you
want even coverage. That’s it—there’s no need to block off sections or switch
sprayers. If you want a pattern with different
colors, start by deciding on a
color scheme. Anywhere you want to
switch from one color to another, such
as for a border or the checkerboard pattern
shown here, you’ll need a kerf (a
shallow cut in the concrete). This gives
the colors a crisp separation. Taping off
the concrete won’t work. The stain will
run under the tape.
If you already have expansion joints
in the concrete, incorporate them into
your design to avoid cutting kerfs. But
if you need to cut kerfs, start by snapping
a chalk line where you want to
cut. It’s important for the cuts to be perfectly
straight. Crooked cuts will be
obvious once you apply the stain. So
use a wide board as a saw guide and
weight it down with buckets of water
Install a diamond masonry blade
in a circular saw
and set it to a depth of 1/4 in. The cuts
don't need to be deep—just enough to
separate colors. Have a helper spray a
water mist on the blade during the cut to contain the dust (Photo 1). Don't use
cheap abrasive blades for cutting concrete—you can't spray them with
water, and you'll end up with dust all
over your siding and windows.
You won't be able to get the saw
blade right next to the house, so finish
off the kerfs with a masonry chisel and
a hammer or a grinder with a diamond
As with any other staining project,
surface preparation is critical. Any
stains, such as rust, will show through
in the finished project. Clean the entire
surface with a heavy-duty cleaner (Photo 2), working in 4 x 4-ft. sections
at a time. Then rinse the concrete with
water until you don’t see any more soapy
tough rust stains, use a stain remover, and rinse it off with
water. For grease or oil stains, use a
product that's designed to
remove those stains. Blast dirt and
debris out of the kerfs with water.
Prep the area for staining
Now that the concrete is clean, make
sure your shoes are, too, before you
walk on the patio again. The surrounding
ground will be wet from concrete
cleaning. We changed into a pair of
clean, dry shoes to work on the patio.
Before cracking open the stain,
shield the lower portion of the house
and any nearby landscaping materials
to protect against drifting spray. Tape
plastic film along the siding. You don't have to protect
plants and grass if you don't want to (any stain that gets on them will
hardly be noticeable). If any dirt gets on
the patio after you've cleaned it, brush
the concrete lightly with a broom to
avoid pushing the dirt into the surface.
Apply the stain
You shouldn't apply the stain in direct
sunlight (partial or full shade is best),
so wait for a cloudy day or a time of
day when the patio is shaded. Also
avoid windy days so the stain won't
drift. You'll need a few garden sprayers
for this project—one for each
stain color you’re applying and one for
water. Fill the sprayers over tarps on
the grass (don't fill them on the patio
since spills will stain the concrete).
Test the spray pattern on cardboard.
If you're creating a pattern, you'll need
shields to place in the kerfs or expansion
joints to prevent spraying onto adjoining
areas. We used fluorescent light lenses
(available at home centers), but you could use
cardboard. Have four or five on hand.
Don't use them if they're dripping wet
with stain or they’ll drip onto (and stain)
Work in small sections (4 x 6 ft. or
so), starting near the house and working
outward. Plan the application so
you don't box yourself into a corner.
Start by spraying the concrete section
with water. Get it wet but don't
leave standing water. To create the marbleized
look shown here, have a helper
hold the shields in the kerfs (if necessary)
and apply the first color (base
coat) of stain in a circular pattern (Photo
3). The base coat makes the second
color more prominent. Immediately
after spraying, mist the section with
water and apply the second color (Photo
4). Then spray more water over the top
to create swirls or small runs in the second
color (Photo 5). The first and second
colors will intermix, producing the marbleized
effect. Use the water to “push”
the color all the way to the edges or onto
bare spots. If the water pools in a low
spot or starts to run onto an adjacent
section, dab it up with a cloth.
When switching to a new stain color,
be sure the lens shields are dry, or use
new shields so the old color doesn't
run onto the section of the patio with
the new color. Don't worry if a leaf or
debris blows onto the wet stain. After
the stain dries, remove the debris and
touch up the stain (see the next step).
Add more stain for deeper color
Let the stain dry for 24 hours. If the
color isn’t as vibrant as you want or the
coverage is spotty, go back and add
another coat of stain. Wet the concrete
and apply the stain using the same
steps as before. We added a second coat
to the corner squares of our patio to give them a deeper, richer color.
You’ll probably find bare spots that
you missed, especially along the edges.
Touch-up is simple. Fill a spray bottle
with stain, spray the stain on a cloth
and dab it on the bare spot (Photo 7).
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Finish with the sealer
The manufacturer says the sealing step
is optional, but we recommend it
because it protects against fading and
wear, and it enhances the stain. You’ll have to clean the patio with heavy-duty
cleaner and give the patio a fresh coat of
sealer every three to four years.
Give the stain a full day to dry, then
apply the high-gloss sealer. Choose a
day or time of day when the patio is
shaded (don’t apply the sealer in direct
sunlight). Start by cutting in with sealer
along the patio edges with a 3-in. brush.
The milky white sealer turns clear as
it’s applied. Roll sealer on the rest of the
patio with a 3/8-in.-nap roller (Photo 8).
Let the sealer dry for two hours, then
apply a second coat. Roll the second
coat perpendicular to the first coat.
Photo courtesy of Quikrete
This project can be as basic or as elaborate
as you make it. Keep it quick and
simple by applying a single color to your
entire patio. Or divide your patio into
sections as we did and color them differently.
Apply layers of different colors
for a "marbleized" look or
spray two colors at the same time for a
one-of-a-kind look. If you don’t
like the result, just keep applying new
colors until you get the look you want.
To see hundreds of examples of how
stain can enrich concrete, do an online search for
"stained concrete," then click on the "Images" option.