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What Are Concrete Dyes and How Do You Use Them?

Alone, concrete is plain and cold in appearance. To add life to an otherwise dull surface, contractors and homeowners have long been adding color to concrete.

In the past, the only option for adding color to concrete was to use a stain. More recently, concrete dyes were created as an alternative coloring option.

But what are concrete dyes, and how do you use them? What's the difference between concrete stains and dyes? Continue reading to learn the answers to these questions and many more.



What Are Concrete Dyes

What Are Concrete Dyes?

Concrete dyes are a more modern coloring alternative to traditional concrete stains. Dyes are translucent solutions used to penetrate concrete and similar porous materials.

There are two types of concrete dyes. These include water-based and solvent-based dyes.


Water-Based Dyes

Water-based concrete dyes are a more environmentally friendly option because they contain less harmful chemicals versus solvent-based dyes. They offer a subtle, soft finish and are easy to clean up.

The downside is that water-based dyes don't achieve the bold colors of solvent-based options. They also don't hide imperfections in concrete since they provide less color coverage.


Solvent-Based Dyes

Solvent-based dyes are primarily used by contractors to achieve bold, full-coverage coloring schemes. These stronger dyes will hide concrete imperfections and provide more versatility.

Used at full-strength, solvent-based dyes provide dark, rich color. To create lighter colors, the dye may be diluted with water.

The downside to solvent-based dyes is they're more dangerous than water-based alternatives. Since they contain more chemicals, these dyes are highly flammable and produce more fumes.

When using a concrete dye with a solvent-base, you must wear protective gear. Masks, gloves, and safety glasses are the minimum safety requirements.



Concrete Dyes vs. Concrete Stains

Concrete Dyes vs. Concrete Stains

Concrete stains and dyes are both used for coloring concrete. They achieve this through very different methods, however. Since the coloring method differs, the results possible from either application vary.


Concrete Dyes

Concrete dyes achieve results by penetrating concrete or similar porous materials. This is possible because the particles in dyes are much smaller than those in stains.

The small dye particles fill the pores in concrete, which makes them difficult to remove. The downside to dyes is they're not UV stable, so they're recommended only for indoor use.

The colors produced from dyes are much brighter and bolder than what stains can create. For this reason, dyes are often sued to create stenciled designs, graphics, or logos on interior concrete surfaces.


Concrete Stains

Concrete stains achieve results by reacting chemically with the calcium hydroxide present in concrete. During this chemical reaction, color is imparted onto the surface.

The reaction produced creates semi-transparent colors that are lighter and weaker than what dyes produce. The potential color schemes of concrete stains are primarily limited to earth tones, although a few additional options are available.

One benefit of using concrete stains over dyes is that they're UV stable. This means they won't fade in direct sunlight. Stains can be used both indoors and outdoors.



How to Use Concrete Dyes

How to Use Concrete Dyes

For concrete dyes to be efficient, there is an exact process on how to apply them. The step-by-step instructions to this process are discussed in detail below. 

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Step 1: Check Flooring to Ensure It's Ready for Application

Before beginning the process of dying concrete, you need to ensure it's ready. Concrete that is finished or sealed won't allow the dye particles to penetrate properly.

At best, you'll end up with weak coloring. At worst, the color won't penetrate the concrete at all.

To test if the concrete is ready to be dyed, you can use a "drop" test. Place a few drops of water on the concrete and see what happens.

If the water beads on the concrete surface, the flooring has either been finished or sealed and isn't ready to accept the dye. If the droplets slowly soak into the concrete, it's unfinished and ready to dye.


Step 2: Clean Floor of Dirt and Debris

After testing the concrete, clean the flooring of dirt and debris that can negatively affect the dyeing process. Begin by thoroughly sweeping the surface to be painted. Then, use a damp mop to gather up any leftover dirt or dust.

Allow the flooring to dry entirely before moving on to the next steps. Wet flooring won't accept the dye as readily as dry concrete.


Step 3: Protect Surrounding Areas

Since the dye can stain other surfaces, you want to ensure they're protected before starting the project. Use painters tape on surroundings walls, including baseboards.


Step 4: Apply a Cleaning and Etching Solution

Applying a cleaning and etching solution will help open up the pores in the concrete. The solution should be applied following the manufacturer's directions.

It's recommended you repeat the process detailed on the bottle two or three times for maximum results. When finished, the concrete should be rough and textured to the touch.


Step 5: Apply the Concrete Dye

To apply the concrete dye, you can use either a paint roller or a sprayer. There are pros and cons to each.

A paint roller offers more control during application. The finished result is more likely to be patchy or even, however.

A sprayer provides a more even application. But, it can be significantly more challenging to control.

It's recommended you apply at least two coats of dye to the concrete. Wait for a minimum of two hours between coats. If a room is hot, humid, or poorly ventilated, you'll want to wait at least 24 hours between coats.


Step 6: Apply a Sealer

Once the second coat of paint has been allowed at least one full day to dry, you want to apply a sealer. The sealer will both protect the color you just applied and even out the concrete's texture.

Be sure to follow the application directions on the sealer. If the sealer initially looks milky or slightly white when applied, don't worry. This is normal, and the sealer will turn clear as it dries.

Most water-based, solvent-based, and urethane-based sealers are compatible with concrete dyes. You'll likely need to apply two or more coatings of sealer, depending on the results you're looking for.



Do You Have More Questions About Concrete Dyes?

Concrete dyes are a modern alternative to concrete stains. Although they aren't UV stable, dyes produce significantly bolder results than other options.

Do you have more questions about concrete dyes? Feel free to check out our guide on how to stain concrete

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