The days when gray and off gray were the only colors available for concrete flooring are over. Today you can achieve almost any design or pattern using this versatile material.
If you are installing a new concrete floor then there are a couple of options you have for adding the color directly into the structure of the material. Color hardeners and integral pigments can both be mixed into the concrete when it is placed. These allow you to achieve dramatic pattern effects on the surface of the material.
Natural pigments including metal oxides are generally going to produce more subtle color effects in the concrete. Chemical coloring agents can provide brighter, more eye-catching colors, but these will tend to fade over time. You can also combine this with parallel and perpendicular etching to create the appearance of grout lines on the floor, in order to simulate a tile installation.
Chemical Acid Stain
This is a technique that can be performed on a concrete floor after it has been installed. The application of hydrochloric acid to the surface of the concrete results in a chemical reaction which causes the surface of the material to discolor. The coloration that occurs is dependent on a number of factors that are unique to your floor including its porosity, chemical makeup, age, climate, and composition.
The results of acid staining are highly unpredictable and will vary across the surface of the floor. However, this is often the desired effect, as the random nature of the chemical process creates a surface that looks like naturally occurring stone.
This is a somewhat controversial treatment in the world of concrete flooring. The problem with paint is that eventually it will tend to flake, chip, and fade, and may need to be reapplied every few years. You will especially have a problem if it is an at grade or below grade floor that may suffer from moisture issues.
If you do decide to paint your concrete surfaces you want to use a specially formulated 2-step latex epoxy that is made specifically for this purpose. You will also have to acid etch the floor prior to application. The benefit of using the right paint is that it can create a waterproof surface over the concrete and act as a barrier against grease and oil.
Water Based Stains
These are substances that penetrate the surface of the floor and cause a chemical reaction, which results in the material taking on pigment. Unlike paint these stains will allow the concrete to breathe, so moisture will not cause them to chip away. You can often get much more dramatic color effects using water based stains than you can with acid staining techniques.
Tinted Concrete Sealers
A sealer is a chemical agent that you apply to the surface of a concrete floor in order to create a protective barrier that will protect the porous material from moisture penetration and stains. In some cases, these sealers can be tinted with coloring agents, which will cause subtle shades of hue to appear on the surface of the floor when applied.
These substances are comprised of very small particles of color, which are able to penetrate down into the concrete floor and directly stain the material. Water-based concrete dyes will produce a more natural marbled look, while solvent-based dyes are better at creating a uniform color effect on the surface of the concrete.
Concrete Flooring Textures
The surface texture of concrete can be made smoother, or rougher, during the place and pour installation of the material, depending on how much care is taken to effect the finish. There are also a variety of textural elements that can be worked into the surface of the floor after it has been installed.
Polishing allows you to achieve the perfect look of glistening marble without having to worry about the maintenance issues. After the flooring is poured and set, the material is polished with a series of pads that start out very coarse and then slowly work their way down to smoother and smoother polishing treatments. Generally, concrete is considered polished when it has been treated with 400 grit polishing pads, but typical installations will have the material treated by up to 800 grit pads.
When the concrete is poured, but before it has had a chance to dry and set, it is possible to work a variety of textured patterns into its surface. This can be useful in a bathroom, or in other moist environments where slippage may be an issue. This may also be a decorative treatment used to add visual beauty to an otherwise monotone installation.
Another popular treatment for concrete floors is to etch into the existing material to create scratched motifs in its surface. These can be patterns or designs, or you can etch virtual grout lines into a solid surface concrete that has been acid stained, in order to simulate the look of real stone tiles.