Low-Maintenance Concrete Flooring for High-Traffic Kitchens

modern kitchen with concrete floors
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Concrete works well as flooring in kitchens for the same reasons it works well in the usual places, like garages, mudrooms, and basements. Namely, it's virtually indestructible. It's also easy to clean with a quick sweeping after a meal, and it won't be damaged by any amount of water. Of course, the toughness of concrete is also one of its main drawbacks. Its natural look is another, but that can be overcome with any number of decorative treatments to give you a beautiful kitchen floor that's nearly worry-free.

Kitchen Concrete Design Options

A concrete floor can be enhanced with a variety of treatments, whether it's an existing floor or a newly poured slab. Like the concrete itself, all of these treatments are tough and permanent and never need to be refreshed or reapplied.

  • Polishing and honing: It is a relatively simple process for a professional to take a sanding or grinding machine to a concrete floor, to smooth and polish the surface. The result will be a perfectly flat, even surface, that's easy to clean and isn't rough on your feet. The only problem with polished floors in busy kitchens is that the surface can be slick when wet, depending on the surface sealer used. It's best to use a sealer that adds some traction to prevent slipping.
  • Tinted concretePowdered pigments can be added to wet mixed concrete before it is poured to achieve a color that is true through the full depth of the slab. This is often used for patios, driveways, and other outdoor concrete projects so the exposed edges have the same color as the walking surface. It also makes sense for a kitchen floor that steps down to an adjacent floor level or simply to get a solid color without the variation in hues typical of most surface-applied color treatments.
  • Acid-staining: Acid-stain is a popular coloring treatment for cured concrete. The stain is a solution of water, acid, and inorganic salts that is applied to the surface of concrete, creating a chemical reaction the permanently colors the material. Staining can yield a variety of unique colors levels of visual texture or depth.

Potential Drawbacks to Using Concrete in Kitchens

Like all flooring materials, concrete has its disadvantages. These should be considered seriously before committing to a concrete kitchen floor. On the upside, if you try concrete and decide you don't like it, it makes a great subfloor for almost any other type of flooring, especially if the kitchen is above grade (not basement-level, which may cause moisture problems).

  • Cracks: One of the most common problems with all concrete structures is cracking. A properly finished slab on a carefully prepared site is unlikely to have significant cracking problems, but fine cracks are all but inevitable somewhere on the slab. If the surface below the slab is stable, cracking is seldom a problem other than aesthetic. On the other hand, many people don't mind the look of minor cracking, as it seems consistent with the raw, stone-like appeal of concrete.
  • Hard: A kitchen is a place where you are standing on your feet for long periods of time, and standing on a totally unyielding surface like concrete can be particularly fatiguing. The best way to handle this is to place waterproof kitchen gel pads on the floor in areas where you do the most standing, such as the sink, stove, and food prep areas. Similarly, rubber is often used in professional kitchens, many of which have concrete floors or tile flooring over concrete. Another option is simply to wear comfortable, cushioned shoes (Crocs are a good option) when working for long periods in the kitchen.
  • ColdConcrete flooring can be cold to the touch, especially in cold-winter climates. Gel mats and kitchen-worthy area rugs can help, or you can simply wear shoes when it's cold. If the floor has yet to be installed, you can opt for in-floor radiant heating inside the slab.
  • Sealing: The Achilles' Heel of concrete floors, especially in the kitchen, is its porous surface, which is highly prone to stains if it's not sealed properly. Therefore, it is critical that you seal a concrete surface every 1 to 2 years to protect it from stains. This is the primary—and often the only—maintenance requirement for concrete floors.