Two types of garage flooring
Your concrete garage floor takes a lot of abuse from moisture, oil drips, chemical spills and road salt as it ages. Applying a garage floor coating or covering will not only improve the way your floor looks but also protect it against stains and deterioration, make it easier to clean, and hide cracks and other surface problems. A lot of different garage flooring options are out there, but will they actually work and look as good in your garage? The answer is—it depends. This article will outline the main flooring options and their pros and cons to help you choose a floor that’s feasible, durable and affordable.
There are two general types of garage flooring: coatings and coverings. If your garage floor is in good condition, you can pick either one. But if the floor has lots of cracks or pockmarks, a covering is better because it hides damage. A coating, even a low-sheen version, has a tendency to highlight blemishes. Coverings are also immune to moisture problems that can make coatings peel.
Garage floor coatings
Coatings include floor paints, epoxy paint, stains and sealers. Coatings generally cost less than coverings if you apply them yourself. They protect against stains, corrosive chemicals (like road salts) and moisture penetration. But coatings can fail for two reasons: damp concrete and incomplete floor prep.
Coatings can’t be used where ground moisture rises through the concrete and keeps it consistently damp. Moisture prevents the coating from sticking to the concrete, and the coating soon delaminates, chips and flakes. That’s why it’s critical to test your concrete slab for moisture before you apply a coating.
The main disadvantage of coatings is that they require several hours of careful floor prep. Depending on how dirty or greasy your floor is, this can include intensive cleaning with a pressure washer using solvents or degreasers to remove any sealers, grease or previous coatings. You need to repair cracks, holes and other surface problems and then finally etch the concrete with muriatic acid to leave it completely clean and penetrable.
Coatings: Concrete floor paint
Concrete floor paint is just a tougher version of the paint that goes on walls and is by far the least expensive coating. You roll it on just like other types of paint; there are no tricky, unfamiliar steps. It’s also easy to touch up damaged areas or recoat the floor completely. Latex floor paint is easier to apply and clean up than oil-based paint. It dries to a low-sheen flat finish while oil dries to a high gloss. Oil-based paints must be used with a primer coat and are generally more durable than latex. Overall, floor paint isn’t as tough as other coatings and is especially vulnerable to road salts and other chemicals. Under typical conditions, you’ll have to touch up areas every year or two.
Cost: 15¢ or less per sq. ft. for one coat. Available at home centers.
Coatings: Epoxy paint
Most epoxies are two-part formulas that you mix just before rolling them on (one-part epoxies come premixed). With proper site preparation and application, this is the toughest floor you can get (and a glossy, beautiful one at that).
Epoxies can be tricky to work with because the floor prep is so critical and you have to work fast to apply them before they harden. Also, you can’t drive on them until they’ve cured completely, which can take up to a week.
A typical DIY epoxy kit provides enough primer (or sealer) and epoxy to apply one coat of each to an average one-car garage. For extra durability, consider applying a second epoxy coat or a finish coat of urethane sealer. Depending on the wear your floor gets, you may need to recoat every three to five years.
Cost: 30¢ to $1.50 per sq. ft. for a single coat of epoxy.
Available at home centers and online dealers.
Coatings: Concrete stain
A stain isn’t really a coating but a translucent decorative coloring that soaks into the concrete and creates a pigmented, marbled appearance that resembles natural stone. It typically requires two coats and is applied with a roller or sprayer and then immediately worked into the concrete with a nylon scrubbing brush. The stain itself doesn’t protect the concrete, so after it dries, you rinse the surface and then apply one or two coats of urethane sealer to protect against moisture, chemicals and stains (see “urethane sealer” below). Depending on the traffic your floor gets, you may need to wax the sealer annually and touch up the stain and reseal the floor every two years.
Cost: 20¢ to 85¢ per sq. ft. for one coat (not including the price of the urethane topcoat). Available at home centers and online dealers.
Coatings: Concrete sealers
Sealers are like floor paint, but tougher. After paints, they’re the least expensive coating and they’re very easy to apply with a brush or roller. They dry to a clear satin or semigloss finish depending on the product, and you can also get them tinted. There are water-based and solvent-based versions.
Like floor paint, acrylic/latex sealer is vulnerable to chemicals and isn’t as tough as an epoxy, so it’ll benefit from an annual protective waxing or reapplication every few years. Acrylic/latex sealer will stick better to a concrete floor than urethane sealer, which is why it’s sometimes used as a primer for oil-based floor paint or epoxy.
Cost: 20¢ or less per sq. ft. for one coat. Available at home centers and online.
Urethane sealer is significantly tougher than acrylic/latex sealer, but it doesn’t bond well with bare concrete. It provides a clear, high-gloss finish that resists chemicals better than epoxy alone and is less likely to yellow in sunlight, which is why it’s used as a seal coat over epoxy and concrete stain. However, urethane sealer is more expensive than acrylic sealer, and solvent-based versions require the use of a respirator during application.
Cost: 25¢ to 50¢ per sq. ft. for one coat depending on the product. Available at home centers and online.
Garage floor coverings
Coverings come in two forms: interlocking tiles and rollout mats. The big advantage of coverings is how fast and easy they are to use. You can cover the floor of a three-car garage in a single morning. And the only prep involved is a good thorough sweeping or vacuuming. Best of all, coverings hide cracks and craters and go right over damp concrete, so they can make a nasty floor look better than new. The downside is that coverings can easily be four or more times as expensive as coatings.
Coverings: Rigid snap-together tiles
These are made of a stiffer plastic than the flexible tiles shown below. Because of that, they can handle heavier loads, which is important if you use floor jacks or kickstands. They also expand and contract less than the flexible tiles during extreme weather conditions. They come in many different colors and styles, including perforated versions that drain spills and snowmelt, making mold beneath the tiles and slippery spots on top less of an issue. They’re easy to clean and are more chemical resistant than softer plastic tiles or mats. They do make a clacking noise when you walk on them. Like the other coverings, they’re easy to install. All you do is line up the tiles, step on them and click the male and female loops together.
Cost: They range from $2.50 to $4.25 per sq. ft. depending on the kind.
Coverings: Rollout mats
Rollout flooring is a thick, rubbery mat that comes in a variety of lengths, widths, colors and patterns. You can use a single mat under a car or put several mats together to cover an entire garage. The mats are easy to clean and move. To install them all you do is sweep the garage floor, unroll the flooring and butt the edges together or overlap them and then trim the mats to fit with a utility knife. The mats are durable, but like most coverings, they can be permanently stained by hot tires and chemicals. These mats are also slippery in snowy or icy weather and are susceptible to being cut or gouged by motorcycle kickstands, hot metal shards and gravel. The mats expand and contract in extreme climates (up to 2 percent). To ensure the mats can move during temperature fluctuations, don’t tape them to the floor at the edges.
Cost: $2.50 to $4 per sq. ft. depending on the type.
Coverings: Interlocking flexible tiles
These are typically 12 x 12-in. or 18 x 18-in. flexible plastic tiles that come in a bunch of cool patterns and colors that allow you to create custom designs in your garage. To install them, you cut the tiles with a utility knife and then tap or press the interlocking edges together with a rubber mallet or wallpaper roller. They’re more slip resistant than rollout flooring, and compared with rigid snap-together tiles, they offer better resistance to liquid seepage through the seams and are more comfortable underfoot. Like rollout mats, flexible tiles are subject to staining, but unlike mats, damaged tiles can be easily replaced. The tiles do contract and expand in extreme temperature changes and with exposure to direct sunlight, so leave expansion room near walls and other obstacles.
Cost: They range from $2.50 to $5 per sq. ft. depending on the kind.
What about Ordinary Vinyl Tile?
Vinyl composition tile (VCT) is the stuff commonly used in kitchens, schools and stores. Although it’s not recommended by the manufacturer for use in garages, many people do use it as a garage flooring material, and under the right circumstances, it’s worth considering. For one thing, it’s cheap. It also comes in a large variety of colors and patterns, so you can really use your imagination when designing your floor.
But when it comes to floor prep and application, VCT is closer to a coating than a covering. Once the concrete is clean and degreased, you trowel on adhesive and lay the tile and then wait a week before applying three or more coats of sealer, depending on how glossy and durable you want it to be.
VCT is best suited for temperate
climates or a heated garage because
damp subfloors and temps below
55 degrees F can cause bonding
problems. It’s also slippery when
wet and is susceptible to staining
from salt and other chemicals (but
tiles are inexpensive to replace).
Cost: 29¢ to $4 per sq. ft. depending on color and type. Widely available at home centers.