Stain manufacturers differ on when to apply stain. Some say that a new slab must cure for 28 days before work is started. Others suggest 14 days. Installers sometimes prefer to do their work as soon as possible after the concrete is placed.
When choosing how to apply stain, keep the following things in mind:
- Colors are more intense if stain is applied soon after concrete is placed. Stain diluted with water and applied immediately can often achieve the same results as full-strength stains applied later.
- Water drives the chemical-stain reaction. To achieve color consistency, make sure the moisture content of the concrete is roughly the same for every placement colored. If one concrete placement is stained 2 days after its placed, then other placements should be stained when they are 2 days old for color consistency.
- Staining, sealing, and covering finished work before other construction trades return to the area saves on cleanup, achieves a better-looking installation, and makes damage repair during the rest of construction easier to handle.
There are many ways to apply stain, with each method providing a different final appearance.
However, there are some general guidelines.
Sprayers often are used to apply stains, but they should be rated for acid and have no metal parts. Acid will quickly destroy metal parts, which can affect the color of the stain. Miller advises using a spray tip with a circular pattern, spraying in a pattern that goes from left to right and then right to left, with someone scrubbing the stain into the surface using a medium-bristle brush in a circular motion just behind the spray. It's important to scrub in the stain and not just push it around. An additional spray pass just behind the scrubbing removes brush marks. This method ensures good penetration and minimal marking from either the sprayer or brush.
Additional water can be used to create different concentrations of stain color. Wetting the concrete before stain is applied is one way to do this. Following the application with water from a spray bottle is another way.
Stains applied by paintbrush will penetrate well, but care must be taken to minimize brush marks, which are not usually regarded as creative or desirable effects.
Whatever stain application method is used, be sure to carefully mask surrounding areas to avoid accidental staining. Acid stains can be difficult, and in some cases impossible, to remove.
The increased interest in chemical-stain finishes is in the direction of more subtle effects. Installers frequently dilute stains with water to produce less intense effects. For example, one contractor often applies the stain the day after the concrete is placed, starting with a 3% stain dilution (3 parts commercial stain to 97 parts water by volume), and then adding more acid to increase the strength to 10%. In this manner, the contractor can gradually build up color to meet owner expectations. Second and third colors can also be added in the same fashion to create color overlays.
Sometimes a stained overlay is the best solution for concrete surfaces that show damage or have been abused during construction. Commercially available overlay materials can be integrally colored, textured, and stained to provide a new range of decorative possibilities. The overlays have high flexural strength and wear resistance. As with everything involving stains, however, it's wise to create a sample to ensure compatibility of the overlay cement with the stain and to get owner approval for the result.
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