My husband and I recently undertook a barn renovation, or a “barnovation,” as we’ve taken to calling it. What was, quite literally, a horse barn – manure and all – was renovated into a 900-square foot live-work studio. While we paid contractors to run the electrical and plumbing, frame and drywall the interior, and lay the first coat of paint, all the finishing work was up to us. And, if you’ve ever walked around on unfinished concrete – oh, the dust – you know that finishing the floors was one of our first items of business.
For us, truly finishing the floors is going to be a three-stage process that we plan on undertaking over the next month. We’re trying to live and work in the studio while completing it, which means we can’t tackle the entire surface at once. We decided to start with the back third of the barn – an area we could get away with not walking on for three days. It’s also the area we intend to use as our fitness filming studio, so it was important to make it functional as quickly as possible.
Dying Concrete Floors
We decided to dye the concrete rather than lay down flooring for three reasons:
- It offers a sleek, cool aesthetic that works with the overall “rustic industrial” feel we’re going for.
- It’s a relatively simple process – we didn’t need to have any serious home improvement skills to do it.
- It’s cheap. The space we were covering was just under 300 square feet, and we were able to buy all of the supplies for about $100.
While it’s possible to finish concrete without dying it, it was important for us to add some color because we wanted our home and studio space to look “done.” The total process includes floor prep, dying, and finishing. If you like the appearance of plain concrete floors, however, you can skip the dying step and simply do the prep and finish work.
Deciding Whether to Grind
First and foremost, you need an unfinished concrete floor. I can’t stress this enough. If there’s any finish on your concrete – paint, a sealant, or other dye – you’re going to need to grind it down so the dye has a chance to actually seep into the floor and adhere to it. We were working with newly poured concrete, so this wasn’t something we had to worry about.
If you’re not sure if there’s a sealant on your floor, do a drop test: Drop water on your concrete and watch if it remains beaded up or if it gradually seeps into the floor. If it seeps in, you should be good to go, but if it beads up, you need to do some work.
You should be able to rent a concrete grinder at your local home improvement store for less than $100. My husband ground down a concrete floor in our old garage to put down epoxy paint by using a hand-held grinder. It’s a labor-intensive process, so if you can afford to rent the somewhat more expensive standing push grinder, I’d suggest it – the whole process is faster and easier.
Cleaning Your Floors
Our floors were disgusting. After weeks and weeks of construction, they were covered in paint and wall texture dust, as well as some good ol’ dirt.
To achieve effective dye adhesion, your floors need to be as clean as possible. My husband used hot water and laundry detergent pods to mop the floors, then he scrubbed them thoroughly with a scrub brush. It took him three clean-and-scrub series before he was satisfied with the floor’s cleanliness.
We opted to use laundry detergent pods because they were pet-safe for our furry friend. You can use other floor cleaners as you see fit – even bleach or acid. Just be careful if you choose to use a stronger chemical cleaner – while they do a great job cleaning your floor without hurting the concrete, they could damage your baseboards, clothes, or even your skin if used incorrectly. Make sure you follow directions for dilution and application.
When floors are clean, they should feel clean to the touch and should be free of any noticeable dirt or dust. People can generally get away with a single, thorough cleaning. We did three because of the additional dirt and grime that had built up during construction.
We spent a lot of time at Home Depot to make sure we had everything we needed. We picked up the following items there:
- One gallon of Behr Premium Cleaner & Etcher – an acid solution that helps open up the pores of the concrete to let the dye soak into the floor
- Two gallons of Behr Premium Decorative Concrete Dye in Arctic Black
- One gallon of Behr Premium Low-Lustre Sealer
- Four paint rollers
- One paint tray
- Blue painter’s tape
- A long-handled painting rod to use with the rollers
- Paper towels
The total cost was about $100.
Cleaning and Etching
Once we had our supplies and a clean, well-prepped floor, it was time to start dying. The first step is to use the Behr Cleaner & Etcher to further prep the floors.
The product’s chemicals react with the concrete to open up the porous surface and allow the dye to soak in. Because our concrete surface was new, we were able to use a diluted mixture: one one-gallon bottle of the Cleaner & Etcher plus one gallon of water. The product has extensive directions for dilution and application, making it easy to prep and apply. After diluting the product, my husband applied it liberally to the floor using a mop.
After applying the product, he waited about 15 minutes, then began scrubbing the surface with a scrub brush, working it into the concrete. Finally, he rinsed out the mop and thoroughly mopped the floor again to rinse the remaining chemicals from the concrete – he performed this step twice. When he was done, the floor felt like sandpaper, but without any loose concrete grit. All that was left to do was let the surface dry.
Dying the Floors
Just like paint, concrete dye is mixed according to your color preferences. If you’d like, you can choose two different concrete dye colors to create an interesting, mottled finish. We decided that since we were going for a “basic black” look, we just grabbed two gallons of the Arctic Black dye, enough for two layers for our 300-square foot space.
Before breaking out the dye, I went around all the edges and taped them off with blue painter’s tape to prevent it from getting on our baseboards, doors, or the remaining concrete floors. Once that was done, we opened up the dye and mixed it with a painter’s stick over the concrete floor. Dye is much thinner than paint, so it’s very easy to accidentally fling droplets across the floor and walls.
Be sure to come up with a plan of action before you begin applying the dye – where are you going to start and where are you going to finish? You don’t want to paint yourself into a corner, or isolate yourself in the center of a room without a way to access the dye or leave the space.
We decided to start by running the dye around the room’s edges, then applying it straight from one side of the room to the other and ending at the back door. This way, we could walk out without backtracking over the wet surface.
The Behr instructions suggest using a paint sprayer to apply dye, but this sounded too messy – we didn’t want to accidentally spray a wall. Instead, we applied the dye using rollers. It was a two-person job – one person using the roller, and the other person managing the paint tray and wiping down droplets that would drip from the roller, preventing random splotches of drop-shaped dye from showing through.
If you’re using a roller, avoid doing a standard forward-back rolling motion – this leaves an obvious roller-stripe pattern that doesn’t look quite natural. Rather, use the roller in a circular or arcing motion as you apply the dye to give it a more interesting effect. And, don’t overdo it. This is concrete dye, not concrete paint – it’s not going to have an opaque look. Apply it so it thoroughly soaks into the concrete but doesn’t leave any extra on the surface.
After applying the first coat of dye, the Behr instructions say to wait at least two hours before applying the second coat. This didn’t work for us. Because our house was particularly humid, the first coat of dye didn’t feel dry enough after two hours to apply a second coat. Instead, we waited until the next day to put the second coat on, applying it exactly as we’d applied the first one.
Applying the Sealer
After applying the second coat of dye, you’re supposed to wait 24 hours to allow it to completely dry before applying the sealer. Again, because our house is so humid, we decided to wait a little longer – closer to 28 hours.
We applied the low-lustre sealer exactly as we’d applied the dye – in thin coats, with paint rollers. The sealer is a milky color when wet, but it dries clear. After applying the first thin coat, we waited the suggested four hours before starting the second.
Behr indicates that you can apply up to four coats for greater luster and protection – we opted for two. We wanted additional protection, but we didn’t want to overdo the luster – we don’t want it to add reflection to our videos.
A word to the wise: The sealer smells much worse than the etcher or dye – very much like a strong fingernail polish remover – so make sure you’re working in a well-ventilated area. We left our doors open throughout the application process, with our ceiling fans running on high to help minimize the product’s fumes.
We also realized that walking with bare feet on the surface after this stage left marks on the seal, so we wore clean socks when we applied the second coat of sealer – the cotton created enough of a barrier to prevent the oils from our feet from making marks.
After Sealing Your Floors
Unfortunately, you have to wait 24 hours after sealing your floors before you start walking on them. And even then, Behr recommends waiting 72 hours before using them normally. It’s a waiting game, but it’s worth it.
The well-sealed floors feel much softer than unfinished concrete, and they prevent concrete dust from escaping into your home. They’re also easy to maintain – sweeping and basic mopping are all you need to do to keep them looking great. Granted, ours still look like a mess right now because the rest of our house hasn’t been dyed or sealed, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Dying concrete floors is a simple but taxing process. The hardest part is summoning the necessary patience to wait for each coat to dry before moving onto the next step. If you’re trying to live in your house while taking on this project, it’s not easy to go about your everyday business. For instance, it wasn’t just my husband and I who couldn’t walk on the floors for three days – we had to prevent our dog from doing it, too. That said, we’re happy with the finished look, and we’re excited to move onto the next section of concrete.
Are you thinking about dying your concrete floors? What questions do you have about the process?