Learn How to Give your Drab Sunroom this Brilliant Makeover
Concrete dye is an ideal choice if you’re going to be dealing with a smooth concrete surface, indoors or out. Capable of delivering vivid colors, dye has fewer pre-requirements than acid stains. The latter require testing to make sure they’ll take to the surface and to ensure final results. Dye is more forgiving as long as you prepare properly.
The age and composition of the concrete will not affect the results of using dye, and it’s also much easier to build up and add color using dye. Available in powder form, it’s the easiest to transport and the most cost-effective option.
There are some drawbacks compared to acid stains, but there are very few. Concrete dye does require an acetone solvent, which needs to be purchased separately. Unlike with acid, the surface you’re applying it to must be absolutely dry first, and the dye requires vigorous shaking during application.
The results can be spectacular, though, as you’ll see with our before and after examples.
For this project, the customer had about a thousand square feet to cover between the two areas, requiring five gallons in order to apply two thin coats to each. They chose Direct Colors Vibrance Dye in Stormy Gray and Water-Based Acrylic Sealer with a satin finish. The sealer is applied both before and after the dye, to provide a primer and protection.
So how do you apply concrete dye to floors? Here are the steps.
1. Be Prepared
If you’re starting with a newly poured concrete surface, it must have cured for a minimum of 35 days, depending on weather conditions, particularly temperature and humidity. Cold can slow down the process and lead to weaker concrete. Conversely, hot, dry weather can leave the concrete un-hydrated, making it chalky or soft.
Whether your concrete is new or old, it must be free of anything that might prevent the color from bonding with the surface. You might think that indoor concrete would be pretty clean, but it can be covered with debris, dirt, oils, sealers, adhesives from carpet or drywall, or a number of other things that can interfere with the process.
To figure out whether your concrete needs to be degreased or have a sealer removed, pour clean water on it and see what happens. If its absorbed in a few minutes, you’re good to go. Otherwise, if you see little rainbows seeping up, then you need to degrease. If the water just sits there, then you need to strip old sealer.
Remove stains with a degreasing dish soap, water, and white vinegar or an orange or citrus degreaser at medium concentration. Scrub with a nylon brush, then rinse with clean water. For a project where the water won’t run off, like an enclosed room, use a mop, squeegee, or shop vacuum to contain the water and quicken drying time.
Note that while concrete dye will cover up some minor imperfections, you’ll still need to fill in any cracks and sand them smooth before you start the application. And don’t forget: An important part of prep is masking the surfaces that you’re not going to be dyeing.
This includes walls, baseboards, and any adjacent countertops or hardware. Use plastic sheeting and painters tape to cover these securely. Now you’re ready to begin.
2. Apply the primer base sealer
Using the same sealer you’re going to be applying at the end, apply a thin layer to the concrete and allow it to dry. This can take two to four hours. Basically, it should not be tacky or sticky when you touch it. If the floor is particularly rough, you might need to apply two coats.
3. Prepare the dye
Once the sealer is dry and ready, it’s time to mix the dye. You’ll need one gallon of acetone for every gallon of dye you need to make. You can find acetone in the paint department at your local hardware or home improvement store.
Empty the dye you’re using into the acetone, seal the container tightly and shake vigorously for at least one minute.
IMPORTANT: Never use any kind of electrical mixer when working with the acetone and dye. Acetone is highly flammable, and a spark can cause a fire or explosion.
When you’re done mixing the acetone, let it sit for at least one hour to allow the dye to dissolve completely. Applying the dye too soon can lead to unwanted results, like lumping, inconsistent color, and issues with pumping properly.
To apply, pour the dye into your acetone-grade pump sprayer. Make sure that the sprayer has a conical tip in order to avoid clogging. Do not use any kind of fan tip. Also ensure that the sprayer is tightly sealed. Now you’re ready to dye your concrete.
5. Seal the surface
Once the dye is completely dry, it’s time to seal the surface, using the same product you used before dyeing as a primer. Remove your shoes and only walk on the concrete in your stocking feet.
Be sure to remove any debris from the area. Once the floor is clean, you have a variety of options for applying the sealer, including a pump-up deck sprayer or high-volume, low-pressure (HVLP) sprayer.
Note, though: Use a different sprayer for your sealer than you did for your dye. If you’re using a high-gloss sealer, then you need a real decorative concrete sealer sprayer like those from Chapin, or B&G. This is because high gloss sealer is so thick that you won’t be able to mist it out of anything else.
You can also apply water-based sealers with a 3/8” nap roller, floor trim pad, or floor coater. Note that with a nap roller, the measurement refers to the thickness of the material surface on the outside of the roller, not the width of the roller. A floor trim pad is a specialty tool that looks like a cross between a squeegee handle and a rectangular sponge mop, while a floor coater is much closer to the size of a squeegee.
Note, though: When using a roller with sealer, you cannot squeeze down on it to get more product out of the nap like you can with paint, because this will leave obvious roller lines that will ruin the look of the final finish and need to be stripped and done over.
A WARNING ABOUT COLD TEMPERATURES: If the temperature of your floor or surface is less than 65ºF (18ºC), do not apply a water-based sealer or floor wax, as you can wind up with cloudy results that would need to be stripped off and redone.
You can turn on your central home heating to 75 degrees or set in-floor heating units at 60 to 65 degrees. Place a flat thermometer under a towel on the floor for 10 to 15 minutes to get the temperature, or use an infrared thermometer, testing in various places to check the consistency of temperature.
Once you’ve achieved sufficient temperature, turn off all heating sources and fans before applying the sealer. You can turn these back on afterwards to expedite drying.
Apply the sealer the same way you did the original primer coat and allow it to dry, giving at least twelve hours between coats.
4. Apply the dye
Before you begin applying the dye, extinguish all pilot lights, which you can find in gas appliances such as central heaters, stoves, water heaters, clothes dryers, and fireplaces. Also, do not smoke when applying the dye. Any of these things can cause a fire or explosion. Wear safety goggles and gloves.
If you have any doubts on how to safely extinguish pilot lights, please contact your local gas company for instructions or to arrange for shut-off and relighting.
If you detect a distinct “rotten eggs” smell after you shut off the pilots, open your doors and windows and temporarily shut off the gas at the main line outside. In this case, you will definitely need the gas company to come out later and check for gas leaks before turning things back on.
Pump up your sprayer as much as you can. The air pressure is essential to a successful dyeing process. Note that the dye should come out as a fine mist, and not in droplets. If droplets start to form, pump up the sprayer again. Also, shake it frequently during use.
Have a bucket and rag handy if the spray does drip, so you can quickly fix the dye on the surface and clear the end of the sprayer nozzle. You can find more tips on working with the acetone sprayer and dye here.
Practice does makes perfect, so try the sprayer it out first on a piece of cardboard to see if the misting is adjusted properly, as well as to get a feel for how quickly it will lay down coverage. Also, test a small corner area of the concrete first with a shot of color to see how dark it will appear on initial application.
Once you feel comfortable with the equipment and color, then it’s time to start giving your concrete a makeover.
Drying time before sealing is approximately four to six hours. If you’re going to use secondary coats of different colors to achieve various effects, like marble, apply those now following the same guidelines as above and also allow to dry completely before sealing.
Work with the thinnest layers possible. The more you lay down, the darker the color will be. Avoid allowing the dye to pool up, and wipe excess off of any such areas promptly. When you are finished spraying, allow the dye to dry thoroughly. Clean out the sprayer thoroughly with acetone, and store it for re-use.
6. Enjoy the results
Congratulations! You’ve just revitalized an important part of your home and made it a more enjoyable and welcoming place for your family and friends. Enjoy the new splash of style for years to come, and revel in the satisfaction of having done it all yourself.
Matthew Sutter is a full-time firefighter in Fitchburg Wisconsin as well as a carpenter and woodworker. Over the past few years he has built two new firehouses and as the “Department Carpenter”. Matthew was awarded the opportunity to build the kitchen tables and we are honored to have been an integral part of this project.