Decorative concrete, also commonly referred to as architectural concrete, can most easily be described as any technique that alters what would be plain, grey concrete to be more aesthetically pleasing. Decorative concrete can encompass many different looks and techniques. It can include simple coloring techniques such as acid stains, acrylic stains, concrete dyes, and integral colors (also called integrated colors; mixed into the concrete before it is poured). It can also include special treatments including stamping, scoring, chiseling, and polishing that can change the texture of the surface. Many times, decorative concrete integrates multiple techniques to truly customize the slab.
Probably one of the most well-known techniques for transforming plain concrete to be more design-friendly is staining, especially for interior applications. This technique involves taking a cured concrete slab and literally staining it to be a different color (or colors). There are two main types of concrete stain. The most common type of concrete stain is an acid stain. It is known for producing rich color. The acid reacts to the concrete and takes on its own life. The result is a marbleized coloring, much like grainy leather. It is probably one of the most difficult stains to work with; it requires much caution while applying because you are working with acid, after all. This stain does not cover defects in the concrete. On the contrary, it will likely show defects, even those you didn’t see when the concrete was in its natural state. However, this character that the acid stain reveals is part of the allure of the finished product of an acid POR34 stain job. Water-based concrete stains and acrylic concrete stains create a much more uniform look than do acid stains. These stains have a thin, milky consistency, allowing them to seep into the concrete’s pores, which differentiates them from any concrete paint, which can flake off because paints simply coat the surface. Because there is no chemical reaction between the stain and the concrete, it applies more like a dye.
It is a better alternative than acid stain for concrete pads that have cosmetic defects because coverage is fairly consistent. However, it is still a semi-translucent stain, so it will not completely disguise soils and other defects in the concrete. Water-based stains are also commonly called concrete dyes. It is often used to accent the work of an acid stain job by giving certain areas of the concrete a different color. Acrylic stains offer a wide variety of deep and bright colors with a much broader selection than acid stain offers. Also, whereas acid stains rely on a reaction with the concrete to produce color, the acrylic stain colors are usually the same in the bottle as they are on the concrete. This makes predicting the outcome much easier. It also allows for easier mixing at the jobsite to match other colors around. After the stain job is complete, it is recommended to put some sort of protective coating on the surface. This will prevent fading and wear. For outdoor applications, a concrete sealer is recommended. A solvent sealer or xylene-based sealer will leave a durable, semi-gloss coat, whereas a water-based sealer will leave a matte finish. For indoor applications, it is generally recommended to apply a wax, much like that which is used on a gym floor. In summary, staining is usually a good option if you have a concrete slab currently that you would like to add color to. Stains do not hide defects in the concrete, nor do they change the texture of the concrete. They simply add a semi-transparent, semi-permanent color. There are many tools and techniques that expand design options when using concrete stain. For example, there are stencils on the market that allow for a color design. Also, scored lines are also commonly used to add a pattern or design into the concrete.