So you’ve decided to jump on the concrete flooring trend, and it’s down to just one decision: polished vs. stained concrete. Which is the right choice for you?
More homeowners and business owners are seeing the benefits of concrete flooring. Concrete is extremely strong and durable. After all, it makes up bridges, roads, and critical infrastructure, so why can’t it support foot traffic in our homes or offices?
Don’t think that the dirty, basic concrete you see on the sidewalk at your local park is how your floors will look, either. Today’s concrete floors are modern, beautiful, and look great in any home or business.
When you’re calling contractors and shopping around for concrete floors, there are two main types to consider: polished concrete and stained concrete. Which is better for your home?
We’ll explore the differences between the two and see how they stack up when put head-to head across six categories, helping you make the wisest, most financially-sound decision when it comes to your new flooring.
In this guide, we’ll explore:
- Side-By-Side Comparison
- Indoor/Outdoor Use
- Final Verdict
|Polished Concrete||Stained Concrete|
|Durability||Extremely durable||Extremely durable|
|Cleaning||Daily cleaning with broom, dust mop, or vacuum. Can be wet mopped with a mild cleaning product.||Daily cleaning with broom, dust mop, or vacuum. Can be wet mopped with a mild cleaning product. Must be resealed/waxed 1-2 times per year.|
|Installation||More extensive and more expensive||More affordable and less labor-intensive than polished concrete|
|Colors/Styles||Colors and patterns can be customized||Highly reflective finish. Can be customized with stain.|
|Installation Costs||More expensive than stained concrete||Cheaper than polished concrete|
|Outdoor Use||Highly-polished concrete not recommended for outdoor use||Yes, but outdoor stain must be used|
One of the most important factors to consider when installing new flooring is its durability. Whether you live alone in your home or you have constant traffic with kids, pets, and house guests, you want to make sure that your flooring can withstand your daily lifestyle.
Polished concrete is extremely durable. Because of a more involved installation process, polished concrete is designed to retain its beauty even in the most high-traffic areas. This is why polished concrete is such a popular choice in retail stores, restaurants, and even busy households.
Stained concrete is also very durable. However, stained concrete is also more susceptible to scratches, faded colors, and worn coatings in high-traffic areas.
While stained concrete can have a long lifespan, more maintenance – which we’ll discuss in more detail later in this article – is required to keep it looking and performing its best.
Although both types of flooring are extremely durable, polished concrete comes out on top. The extensive installation process ensures that polished concrete withstands wear in even the most high-traffic rooms.
We’ve discussed durability, but let’s get more specific and talk about the lifespan of polished concrete and stained concrete.
With polished concrete, many installers will guarantee their floors for a set period of time, such as 20 years. However, with proper care and maintenance, these floors can easily last a lifetime.
With stained concrete, the concrete itself will last for many years, potentially over 100 years. However, in order for the stain to last, the floors will need to be sealed or waxed once or twice per year. If floors aren’t sealed or properly maintained, the stain may begin to fade after just a few years and possibly even sooner in well-trod areas.
Both stained and sealed concrete have very long lifespans. When properly cared for and maintained, each floor can last for a lifetime. However, polished concrete tends to have the longer lifespan of the two, and doesn’t require as much maintenance to retain its beauty.
When discussing the cost of concrete, there are a lot of factors to consider. For instance, do you need the concrete to be poured, or do you have an existing concrete floor to work with? How big is the project, and are there any potential hurdles that could prolong the project, potentially increasing the cost?
Because there are so many factors to consider, we’re not going to get specific with pricing, since there is such a wide range. Instead, we’ll compare the two to see which is the most expensive overall.
On average, you can expect to pay $5 to $8 more per square foot for a polished concrete floor, compared to a stained concrete floor. This is because you will need more equipment to complete the job. The installation process is much longer and more extensive.
However, you shouldn’t immediately write off polished concrete just because of the expense, especially if you’re a business owner looking to install new floors in your business or office. Many business owners find that the return on investment is much higher with polished concrete.
Even though the initial expense is more, the lower costs of maintenance over time and the higher resistance to wear makes the extra expense worth it, especially in very high traffic areas like warehouses.
However, if you want a more cost-efficient option for your home or business, stained concrete is a perfectly suitable choice.
Based on pricing differences, stained concrete takes this round. It is far less expensive than polished concrete, although business owners may want to weigh out the return on investment between the two to see which has the best ROI over the long term.
We’ve already touched on this a little bit, but let’s get more in-depth. Whether you don’t want to spend a fortune over the years on maintaining your floors or you just don’t have the time, which is the easier floor to maintain: polished or stained concrete?
When it comes to daily maintenance, both floors are extremely easy to maintain. For daily cleaning, using a broom, dust mop, or even a vacuum designed for use on hard floors is sufficient. For a deeper clean, a steam mop or a regular wet mop used with water and a mild cleaner both work fine.
However, when it comes to long-term maintenance, polished concrete is easier to maintain. When you polish concrete, the pores close. This means that the floor is resistant to staining and damage that results from moisture.
When stained concrete is installed, a coating is applied to the surface. While this coating may last for several years, spots can wear over time. This leads to faded color and a lack of shine, especially in high-traffic areas.
When this happens, you need to use new coatings and protective waxes. This is both time-consuming and adds to your ongoing maintenance costs.
How long does a concrete stain last? There is no way to tell how long it will last for certain, but you can be confident that this is a durable investment. In the process of staining, the stains penetrate into the surface of the concrete floor, leaving a permanent finish.
If the whole process is done properly, it will last you for decades. The only thing you need to keep an eye on is the coating, which can show signs of surface damage. Opt for a clear sealer or floor wax that will bring back the life of your concrete floors.
Although daily maintenance between the two is similar, the long-term maintenance for polished concrete is much less expensive and time-consuming than the maintenance of stained concrete floors.
With stained concrete, you can choose from a variety of different colors of stain. You can even create your own custom stain for a floor that’s truly unlike any other. You can apply different colors to create stunning designs on your new floor.
With polished concrete, you can achieve a highly polished finish. While you primarily will see these high-shine floors are industrial areas or even showrooms, polished concrete is now becoming a popular choice in high-end residences as well.
You can also customize the look of your concrete floors. However to change the color, you will need to use a stain. Depending on the colors used and the designs chosen, this could increase the cost of your installation.
In this category, stained concrete is the winner. Polished concrete has a beautiful shine. However, your concrete floors won’t be truly personalized until in a style that is uniquely yours.
The type of concrete flooring you select may be determined based on where you plan to use it. Whether you plan to use this type of flooring indoors or out, which is the better concrete to choose?
Stained concrete can be used in any room indoors. However, as mentioned earlier, stained concrete in very high-traffic areas may show wear over time.
Stained concrete can also be used in outdoor applications, such as on patios or around pools. However, you must make sure to use an outdoor stain to prevent premature wear and fading.
Polished concrete is an excellent choice for your business or even your home. Many high-end homes have polished concrete foyers, hallways, dining rooms, or living rooms.
One drawback of polished concrete is that it can be very slippery. This means that you may want to avoid pouring them in rooms where wetness might drip on floors, such as in kitchens or bathrooms.
Because highly-polished concrete can get so slippery, it’s also not advised to install it in outdoor areas where it can be exposed to water. If you do want to use polished concrete outdoors, you should use a low-sheen or matte polished concrete floor.
Because of the risk of slipping on polished concrete floors, stained concrete is the better choice for both indoor and outdoor use.
Yes, polished concrete is stain-resistant, but you still have to act quickly if a spill occurs. The truth is that if you let the spill stay for a longer time on your floor, it will leave a nasty stain. That’s why the secret behind stain-free concrete is to act promptly.
The reason why you should be fast when cleaning spills is because most of the liquids that get on your floor have an extreme pH that can be damaging and leave a permanent stain that is very hard to remove. They end up etching the surface, which later requires a repair that can be costly.
Some of the liquids that usually end up on the floor are liquid detergents, bubbly drinks, fruit juices, pet stains, nail polish, wine, vinegar, and more.
Another thing to keep in mind is that an acid stain that is not addressed quickly can cause significant damage to your floor. Although concrete is relatively stain-resistant, when acid contacts its surface, it stimulates a chemical reaction.
This reaction is known as acid etching, and creates a porous surface of the floor. When the acid reaches the floor’s surface, it can react with the calcite that is present in the concrete, and slowly starts dissolving the concrete as a result.
Yes, there are many products that can cover the surface of polished concrete floors so that they can offer extra protection. However, they do not provide 100% protection and will not save it if once an acidic reaction gets underway.
Some of the acidic substances that your floor can get in touch with are lemon juice, vinegar, wine, pet urine, and more. These are all common things that you probably have around the house, and accidents can happen quite easily.
Both acidic and alkaline products can cause burns to the floor, so my honest advice is to clean them up as fast as possible. You will not only preserve the fabulous appearance of your concrete floor, but also save yourself money on repairs.
How To Clean Spills On A Stained Or Polished Concrete Floor?
As I said before, the secret to cleaning spills is to act as soon as they happen. Accidents can happen to everyone, it’s important to know that you have to clean them right away– otherwise they can lead to stains.
Concrete floors in general are simple to clean and don’t require special solutions.
Make sure that you have a mop in your house so that you can absorb most of the spill. If you don’t have a mop at the moment, use any cleaning rag, towel, paper towel, or material that can absorb the liquid that is on your floor. Microfiber rags are one of the best options when it comes to cleaning wet or dry spills because they are gentle.
When you see that the floor is clean and you’ve removed the spill, you can now prepare a bucket of warm water with a gentle detergent or a special concrete floor cleaner. Remember that you need to use mild products that will only remove the spill and refrain from damaging the floor.
The best tip that you can get is to opt for a pH-neutral cleaner. Alkaline or acidic pH can lead to etching, and you will end up with greater damage than before. Some simple cleaners that you can find at home are dish soap, castile soap, and any other gentle store-bought cleaner.
Stay away from harsh ingredients such as vinegar, bleach, ammonia, citrus, and store-bought products that are based on these ingredients.
Now, you can mix the cleaner of choice into the bucket with warm water and your solution is ready to use. The stain should be completely gone after this step. If by any chance it’s still there, the best idea is to consult a professional.
What Are The Concrete Finishing Options I Can Choose From?
Both stained and polished concrete floors can have different types of finishes and colors you can choose from. It all depends on what you prefer and the locations where these floors will be installed. Here are some of the most popular concrete finishing options:
Water-based stains offer a wide range of hues to choose from and are very low in VOCs (volatile organic compounds). This is a durable option that has a more opaque finish. It’s a great alternative for everyone who wants to stay away from acidic-based staining and avoid a harsh chemical reaction.
This staining is much safer, since it doesn’t use volatile compounds, or uses an extremely low amount. The variety of colors is quite wide, and you can even combine several different hues to achieve the desired finish.
This is another common concrete finishing option that delivers a vibrant look. Once chemicals are applied to the surface, they react with the floor and you get a brand new color. Acid stains have a slightly transparent finish, which makes the floor look rich and fabulous.
You can again choose from a wide variety of hues to satisfy your taste. Something that you need to be aware of is that this stain does not provide a consistent look over the entire surface of the floor. If that’s something that bothers you, you definitely need to explore other possibilities.
An acid-based stain is a durable alternative that will not change in appearance for quite a long time. The main difference between acid-based and water-based stains is that the former is more transparent, while the latter one is opaque. Another difference is the use of VOCs with this method.
Most people consider this to be a less safe option, since it can include harsher chemicals in the process. However, if you love the way it looks, you should definitely consider using this kind of stain.
The name pretty much says it all. Concrete polishing will provide you with gorgeous floors that do not sacrifice their natural look and have a high-shine polished finish.
This finish will prolong the life of your concrete floors because it makes them more resistant to damage. It will also make your job easier since it’s simple to clean. Let’s not forget that it’s quite inexpensive and totally worth the investment that you’ll make.
The polished finish leaves your floors looking like very rich, shiny stone. One of the major benefits is that it rarely requires waxing. Almost all concrete floors can be polished.
Also, many people wonder whether polish is one of the concrete projects they can take upon themselves. The truth is that the polished finish requires experience, special equipment, and time. Yes, you can try doing it; however, it’s best if you contact professionals to tackle the job.
Decorative Concrete Overlays
Decorative concrete overlays are an excellent way to bring life back to your concrete floors. If they are old, damaged, stained, or have multiple imperfections on the surface, this is the finish that may be best to opt for.
Although overlay is a budget-friendly option, it’s still not meant for all floors. Your old floors must not have cracks or major damage, and they need to be sound for overlays to work. Before choosing overlays, it’s best to get a professional opinion on the matter.
The decorative overlays are available in many forms, and there are numerous installation systems. The final result is an aesthetically-pleasing floor without surface damage, scratches, or stains. These decorative concrete overlays are usually made as a blend of polymer resins.
Overlays do not damage the natural look of concrete, and they prolong its lifespan.
Does Stained Concrete Scratch Easily?
People often worry about scratches on their floors, so when they need to decide between stained and polished concrete, this is one of the top questions on their list.
As I mentioned before, stained concrete is more susceptible to scratches compared to polished concrete. That’s why you should opt for polished concrete in high-traffic areas in your house, to make sure that it’s as durable and scratch-resistant as possible.
If you have a very busy household with many kids and pets, I would recommend polished concrete over stained. The scratch-resistance of stained concrete floors can be improved by using a high-quality sealant or wax.
Another tip you can use to prevent scratches is to add pads to the bottoms of your furniture’s legs. You can also use rugs or carpets in high-traffic areas or place them right under the furniture. These two tricks will keep your furniture in one place, preventing scratches on your floors.
Concrete floors are great for residential and commercial applications because they are both durable AND beautiful. If you’re stuck choosing between polished and stained concrete, consider what you’re looking for in your flooring to make the decision process easier.
Some people want a highly-customizable floor that’s perfect for use indoors or out and is more cost-efficient over the short term. In that case, you can’t go wrong with stained concrete.
If you prefer a floor that has a highly-polished finish, looks great in businesses and homes, and requires less maintenance over time, go with a polished concrete floor.
No matter which type of floor you select, you can rest assured that you have a strong, durable floor that you can enjoy for many years to come.
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