Chris Sullivan is the Vice President of Sales and Marketing for ChemSystems Inc, and is considered an expert in troubleshooting and problem solving within the decorative concrete industry. Chris has written over 200 articles on different aspects of Architectural Concrete for various magazines including Concrete Expressions, Concrete Décor, and Concrete Products. He is one of the technical experts working with www.concretenetwork.com, having recently written his 4th E-Book in a series on emerging trends within the stained concrete, stamped concrete, decorative overlay and polished concrete markets. Chris has authored the Sullivan’s Corner Blog http://www.concretenetwork.com/chris-sullivan/ for close to 10 years, dealing with technical questions and problem solving in all aspects of the decorative concrete industry. Chris also authors a column in Concrete Décor magazine called Concrete Questions dealing with common problems facing decorative concrete contractors from around the country. He has been a presenter at the World of Concrete since 2003, as well as at the Concrete Décor Show since 2010. Chris received his B.S. in Chemistry from the University of Pittsburgh, is certified with the American Concrete Institute (ACI) and sits on the board of the Decorative Concrete Council, which is part of the American Society of Concrete Contractors. Chris can always be reached via his email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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When concrete is stamped using colored antiquing release, the stamps actually push some of the colored powder into surface of the concrete. This process causes the secondary color to be permanently encapsulated in the surface paste of the concrete. So, without writing a Master’s thesis and getting into a lot of chemistry, I will keep it simple and tell you that it will be very hard to remove the colored release powder if the slab was stamped properly. The sealer, however, can be removed with a chemical stripper (see Advice on Using Chemical Strippers and The Concrete Network article Best Method for Stripping Sealers).
During that process, you may be able to remove some of the release color. Try attacking the concrete with a stiff-bristle brush, and scrub until you remove some color. This can take a long time, and produce a lot of sweat. If you need to remove more color, try using a very dilute acid (40 parts water to 1 part muriatic acid). Spray down the dilute acid, covering small sections of the slab at a time, then scrub it in with a brush and rinse with soapy water. The acid will actually take up some of the concrete paste, along with some of the color. Test this in an inconspicuous area first to be sure you are getting the results you and the homeowners desire.
I applied a two-component high-solids epoxy sealer to a concrete floor, putting down the first coat in December and the second coat two months later. Prior to applying the second coat, I sanded the floor and wiped it with xylene. I used a squeegee to apply the sealer, then rolled it with an epoxy roller with a 1/8-inch nap thickness. Then I rolled over it with a spike roller. The sealer did not lay out smoothly, and is very uneven and rough. What went wrong, and how do I fix it?
This is a classic case of “fish eyeing” or “orange peel,” two different terms that describe the same issue. It’s caused when the second coat of sealer fails to “wet out” or become one with the first sealer coat. This can be due to chemical or dirt contamination or because the surface is just too hard and smooth to accept the new coat of sealer. By wiping the floor with xylene, you may have left behind a chemical residue. Or maybe you didn’t sand the surface enough prior to applying the second coat of sealer. How did you sand, and with what grit of sandpaper or screening? When sanding, you have to micro-scratch the surface enough to reduce the surface tension that can prohibit the second coat from adhering to the first coat. The two sealer coats look like they are repelling each other, which can occur with high-solids coatings if the first coat is not prepared properly.
I have no hard evidence to support that stains don’t take due to the addition of plasticizers to the concrete, but evidence does exist to support that a high fly ash content will limit stains from developing their full color. If you consider that admixtures such as plasticizers and water reducers have been used for decades in concrete, I doubt a strong case can be made that these are causing the problems. Plasticizers are used in such small amounts in comparison to the overall volume of concrete that it would take a mix design with massive amounts of these chemicals to cause an issue. Chemical admixtures used in excess may cause a reduction in color development, but the chemistry and historical track record do not support outright color rejection.
In terms of fly ash, this can cause a problem, but only if it is used in high doses—in excess of 20%. Fly ash will increase durability and concrete density and consume free lime, thus “stealing” the raw materials that stains need to produce color. (Acid stains need to be able to penetrate into the concrete to get at the free lime for a reaction to occur.) I always recommend pure cement mix designs or the use of less than 10% fly ash if staining is to be performed.
The other factor to consider is that in the last two years, the green movement has come into its own, promoting the use of all kinds of eco-friendly methods and materials. Using fly ash is considered to be an eco-friendly manufacturing method and increases the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) value of concrete. It also reduces material costs at the ready-mix facility. Those forces have made it politically correct to use more fly ash, without much consideration for the effects down steam.
Keep in mind that it is your responsibility, as the stain applicator, to make sure the slab is ready to accept the stain, whether you poured the concrete or not. Take the time to look at the batch tickets to see what’s in the concrete mix, and always do a sample prior to stain installation to ensure that the color is correct.
We also need to look at why and how stains work to understand why problems might be occurring. I will throw out a few ideas and opinions based on what I have observed in regard to acid stains over the last few years.
Advancements in placement and finishing techniques create a tighter, denser concrete, which makes it harder for acid stains to take. Increased surface preparation is needed.
“Closing” the surface vs. “opening” the surface by grinding. I am seeing more and more applicators using diamonds to try and open up the concrete, but in actuality they are tightening the surface even more.
Total lack of surface preparation—just apply the stain and hope for the best. There are not many situations in which concrete does not need some type of surface preparation prior to staining.
To answer the second part of your question regarding the use of chemical hardeners and densifiers, they will cause color reduction if applied prior to the stain. No matter whether the hardener is a sodium-, lithium- or potassium-based product, these materials create a harder and denser surface through chemical means. Anything that will retard stains from getting into the concrete will have an effect on stain color. That said, the type of concrete and surface profile will play a big part as well. The tighter the surface, the more effect a chemical hardener will have in terms of retarding stain color. The only way to determine the effect these chemicals will have on color development is to prepare a prejob sample.
As a side note, the use of concrete dyes eliminates most of the issues discussed above. Dyes are significantly smaller in particle size than acid stains, penetrate into much harder and denser concrete than stains, and don’t need any free lime to develop their color. The trend in the industry is moving toward dyes and away from stains based on ease of use, time and labor savings, and elimination of potential color problems.