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The Great Debate: Glossy Sealers vs. Matte Sealers

This job was sealed with Acri-Soy Penetrating Sealer from Eco-Safety Products, which offers a satin sheen. Photo courtesy of Rick Richter
This job was sealed with Acri-Soy Penetrating Sealer from Eco-Safety Products, which offers a satin sheen. Photo courtesy of Rick Richter

Most people will tell you choosing the gloss level of a sealer mostly comes down to preference and personal taste. But besides aesthetics, what are some factors to consider when choosing one finish over another?

If you want to make your decorative concrete stain and design really pop like what you’d see in polished stone, choose a high-gloss sealer. “It will achieve more vibrant hues,” says John Bennett, founder and president of Eco Safety Products.

Sealers with a higher solids content tend to form a thicker film or coating, creating a glossy surface that looks as if it’s wet, a look many people today associate with high-end projects.

Another of the benefits of a high-gloss finish is its reflectivity, says Richard Cofoid, national sales manager for Increte Systems. “The glossier the finish, the more reflection from lighting you’ll get. And the more reflective a surface, the less lumens you’ll need to produce a decent amount of light. In office settings, this means you can cut down on power usage because of the reflectivity.”

But reflectivity also can be a deterrent in some instances, such as in a restaurant with southern-facing windows. “If the floor is really glossy it will bounce the light too much and you’ll need more window coverings to tone down the reflection,” says Dennis Florianovich, owner of FloriArtisan, a decorative concrete company in Spokane Valley, Wash. “In this instance, I think a matte finish would be more beneficial.”

Matte finishes are also a better choice if you are after a natural stone appearance. “The matte finish looks more realistic if you are going for that quarried-stone look,” Cofoid says. “You don’t see a lot of shiny rocks in nature.”

Another variable to consider, Florianovich says, is the level of darkness in a particular room’s design scheme. “If there aren’t a lot of windows, a high gloss is nice because the floor will reflect the lighting you do have. If you have a dark room with dark-colored fixtures or furniture and walls, gloss is nice because it makes the room look bigger. The reflections exaggerate the lines and give the room more depth. A matte finish will make the room look darker and smaller.”

This church floor by Increte of the Ozarks was sealed with a high-gloss sealer from Increte Systems. Photo courtesy of Increte Systems
This church floor by Increte of the Ozarks was sealed with a high-gloss sealer from Increte Systems. Photo courtesy of Increte Systems

Cleaning and upkeep are factors
Florianovich says that a floor with a glossy finish is easier to clean than a matte because it’s so much smoother.

On the other hand, Cofoid notes, that high-gloss look will require a more stringent maintenance program. “High-gloss finishes will show scuff marks, and areas on floors where there’s higher traffic can get hazy.”

Florianovich points out that a matte finish on an interior floor hides more imperfections than a glossy one and also doesn’t show dirt as easily. If a floor in uneven, he says, matte is really the only way to go. “A high-gloss finish will emphasize how uneven the floor is.”

Color and effects
A decorative concrete contractor may note that the differences between gloss and matte present some design possibilities. When he can, Florianovich likes to mix gloss and matte finishes to create a visual effect. “Instead of using an area rug at an entrance with a shiny floor, I’ll work in some strips of matte,” he says. In restaurants, he likes to seal floors with a matte finish and include a logo somewhere with a glossy finish. “You change up the sheen instead of the color and it looks pretty cool.”

Also, when comparing sealers that have different gloss levels, keep in mind the related fact that a solvent-based sealer will do a better job than a water-based sealer enhancing the color of the concrete. “Not only is the gloss level slightly lower on the water-based (sealer), but because it doesn’t penetrate the concrete as deeply as the solvent-based (sealer), it doesn’t darken the concrete as much,” Cofoid says.

Something Bennett has been seeing more of these days involves sealing a floor with a penetrating sealer, which doesn’t increase the sheen level, but does slightly darken the colors while protecting the concrete against moisture. With a penetrating sealer, customers may later change their minds and decide they want a shiny surface. In these cases, applying a high-gloss floor finish over the sealer does the trick. “You can regulate the sheen level by the number of coats applied,” he says. “The more coats you put on, the higher the gloss.”

As for which type of sealer is more popular — glossy or matte — the general consensus is that overall there isn’t a movement one way or another. Some people lean toward the natural look and abhor the shine. Others are ecstatic about a shoddy job just because it’s shiny.

“The design options are endless,” Florianovich says, noting that one day clients are calling to tone down the gloss on their floor and the next it’s someone looking for more pizzazz and shine. “Every year it’s something different. It comes and goes in waves.”

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