By Anne Balogh
If your home plans call for concrete floor slabs, don’t automatically assume you need to hide them under other flooring materials. Why waste resources and money to add another layer of flooring when you can simply leave the concrete exposed? With the multitude of products available today for coloring concrete, it’s possible to transform plain-gray concrete into a colorful, attractive flooring surface suitable for any room in the home.
In fact, when it comes to decorative concrete floors, the most difficult decision is choosing among the plethora of color options available, from basic brown to vibrant shades of purple, blue and red. You can even bedazzle your floors with luminous metallic shades that resemble silver or copper. To help you sort through your options, here’s a roundup of the most common methods for coloring concrete floors and ideas for implementing them in your own home
Integral Concrete Color
Integral coloring admixtures are one of the simplest methods for infusing rich, uniform color into newly placed concrete floors. Integral colors are easy and economical to use because they are mixed right into the concrete before placement. Best of all, the color is permanent because it goes all the way through the floor slab.
Be aware that when using integral pigments, the cement color can affect the final results. For example, adding integral color to concrete containing light or white cement will produce brighter, richer tones. Concrete containing a grayer cement will result in muted hues. To maintain uniformity, be sure to use cement from the same supplier throughout a project.
Best applications: Integral color is ideal for new concrete floors or floor overlays to achieve uniform tones with no variations. It also works well as a contrasting base shade for surface-applied colors, such as stains and dyes.
Staining is by far the most popular method for coloring residential concrete floors, allowing you to achieve just about any look imaginable to suit your design tastes and budget. Rather than producing a solid, opaque effect like paint or colored coatings, stains permeate the concrete to produce fade-resistant, permanent color.
Depending on the color effects you want to achieve for your stained floor, you can choose from acid-based chemical stains or water-based stains. Acid stains penetrate and react chemically with the concrete, creating natural color variations similar to the appearance of stained wood. However, the color selection is generally limited to earth tones, such as tans, browns, terracottas and soft blue-greens.
If you want to go beyond the subtle drama and subdued color palette of acid staining, consider using water-based stains, which come in a full spectrum of hues. In many cases, the different colors can be mixed, like water-based paints, to broaden your options.
Best applications: Stains can be applied to new or old and plain or integrally colored concrete floors. If you want to match an existing color scheme or make a bold design statement, water-based stains will give you a broader array of color options. If you want to achieve rich earth tones with natural color variations, chemical stains are often the best choice.
Although stains have long been the gold standard for coloring concrete floors, more decorative flooring contractors are using dyes to rev up the color palette. The growing popularity of dyes can be attributed to their ease of use and vibrancy of color, which can be more intense than chemical stains (see this color chart for Brickform’s Pro-Dye).
Available in water- or solvent-based formulations, concrete dyes can appear opaque or translucent, depending on how they are applied. Use them full strength to attain a greater depth of color or dilute them with water or solvents to produce paler shades or a light wash of color. Contractors can easily mix dyes at the jobsite to obtain custom shades that complement any design scheme.
Best applications: Use dyes as a standalone color application or layered over stains or integral pigments to enhance or amplify the color. Many dyes also take well to polishing, and some products are specifically formulated to impart rich color to polished concrete floors.
One of the hottest trends in decorative concrete floors is metallic coatings that allow you to “gild” your concrete to replicate the look of copper, silver, aged bronze, nickel and other shimmery patinas. Some of these coatings contain real metallic powders, while others use special reflective pigments. Although metallic coatings may look exotic, they are installed similarly to a typical epoxy floor coating. You can intensify the dramatic effects by applying one or more metallic pigments over the top of a base color or by using different application tools and techniques.
Best applications: Because of their dazzling color effects, metallic coatings are ideal for creating a contemporary look with real wow-factor.
These days, gray isn’t the only option for concrete floors. No matter the solution you choose, you can use concrete to add a dose of color and interest into any home.
For nearly 20 years, Anne Balogh has been a contributing author for ConcreteNetwork.com, the top online resource for the decorative concrete industry. With a background in concrete construction journalism, Anne shares valuable tips for creating incredible decorative concrete work. ConcreteNetwork.com can also be found on Facebook and Instagram.