How to Use and Install Soil-Cement

Garage doors open on side of house

Patti McConville/Getty Images

Soil-cement is a simple, low-cost paving mixture that works well on driveways, sidewalks, patios, and even garage floors. It is most often used as a base for roadways, parking areas, and shoulders. According to the Portland Cement Association, "Its advantages of great strength and durability combine with a low first cost to make it the outstanding value in its field." The finished surface will be nearly as solid as concrete or asphalt but with much less effort and expense.

The components of soil-cement could not be more basic—just some soil, a little portland cement, and some water. The soil already exists in your yard, and the water is waiting for you at the tap. The only thing you have to buy is some cement. You will also need to borrow or rent a tiller and a roller. With these ingredients and a little labor, you can create a smooth, durable and dust-free surface. Soil-cement may not work well in soils that have a high clay content or a lot of organic content, but it is suitable for most soil types.

Remove the Topsoil

Clear the surface of all grass or sod, as well as any rich-dark topsoil.

Till the Soil

The first step in creating a soil-cement surface is to till the soil to a depth of at least 4 inches (walkway) or 6 inches (driveway).

Clear the Organic Matter

Remove all organic matter from the tilled soil. This would include weeds, grass, and roots.

Install Edging

The simplest edging for a soil-cement surface is treated lumber.

Spread the Cement

You will need about three to four pounds of Portland cement for each square foot of your soil-cement surface. Use a bit less for soils with a lot of sand or gravel, and a bit more for soils with more clay or organic matter. Carefully scatter one bag of dry cement over the tilled surface, and then work the cement into the soil with your tiller.

Smooth the Surface

Use a long board to smooth the surface. Move the board back and forth (a helper is useful here) much like you would when screeding wet concrete. Tamp the surface until it is firm. Repeat steps 5 and 6 with another bag of cement.

Add the Water

Once the full surface has had the soil and cement mixture applied, worked in and tamped down, it's time to add some water. Use a garden hose to spray water evenly over the entire surface. Let that water soak in a bit, then add some more water.

Roll the Surface

Let the surface dry just long enough so that it is no longer sticky. Now, use a roller to smooth and compact the surface. Once you are satisfied with the surface, cover it with plastic.

Let It Cure

Keep the surface covered with plastic for several days. Don't walk or drive on the surface for at least a week.

That's it. Once cured, you should be able to enjoy an inexpensive, solid surface for decades to come.