The Great Debate: Glossy Sealers vs. Matte Sealers

the finish on this concrete is matte created by a penetrating sealer - its finish was a choice between 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

Most people will tell you choosing the gloss level of a sealer mostly comes down to preference and personal taste. But besides aesthetics, the debate of glossy sealers vs. matte sealers can get complicated. What are some factors to consider when choosing one finish over another?

Go for the gloss

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 fewer 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.”

Matte may be better

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
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. This 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.”

The choice is yours

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. He also notes 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.”


Questions from Readers

Question

I’m working on a finish for an AG building for a small high school. Half of the space is classrooms and restroom, and the other half is the shop area (we may decide to leave it as is). The concrete is brand new and has a really good tight finish. It won’t be stained, but it will be sealed. They want a matte finish. Do you have a product that you would recommend?

Answer from Concrete Decor

Thanks for reaching out to Concrete Decor with your question about a concrete coating for your AG building.

We offer a great product that we believe will prove to be extremely durable and easy to maintain. It has no odor, is water-based, easy to apply and non-slip while also delivering the matte finish you’re requesting.

The product is called IMPACT and it’s designed to be used on terrazzo (common to airports and other high-traffic environments). You can also buy an aluminum oxide additive for this material for additional slip and abrasion resistance.

Both products are available through the Concrete Decor Store.

Question

We’ve just resurfaced some concrete in the backyard. We have put a semi-gloss solvent-based sealer on but it has darkened the color a fair bit as it’s a very light gray. My question is are you able to put a matte sealer over the top and would it make much of a difference in color? (In regard to lightening it back up).

Answer from Concrete Decor

Generally speaking, if you use a solvent-based concrete sealer it tends to darken the concrete. It will subside over time but generally sealers don’t last forever. I encourage you to chalk it up as a learning experience this time. But next time, instead of using a solvent-based sealer choose a water-based sealer.

I’m not aware of any product that can be applied to the surface of your sealed concrete that can lighten the color of the underlying concrete.

Not seeing any pictures of your existing sealed concrete surfaces there are methods for removing the sealer you just applied. However, you must decide whether it’s worth the expense. The process can also be a bit messy.

Question

I applied a low-sheen water-based sealer over exterior concrete. If I apply a second coat will I get a little more luster?

Answer from Concrete Decor

Several light coats are always better than one heavy coat of a concrete sealer. The initial coat of sealer will always absorb heavily in some areas and not so much in other areas. Thus, it tends to leave the concrete looking hungry for more. Once the rate of absorption evens out you’ll likely find that lustrous look you’re looking for. However, please note that if you’re working with a penetrating sealer you won’t get a lustrous look as that type of sealer isn’t a film-forming material.

By the way, if you’re working with a film-forming concrete sealer, it’s important to add a slip-resistant additive to your sealer before applying it to the concrete. This will keep people from slipping on the surface in wet weather or if sprinklers hit those surfaces.

Question

We have built a small barn. We will use one section to store a mower and tools. Another section is a kitchen and the third will hold more tools. There is also a covered porch outside the kitchen. Do you recommend a glossy or matte finish?

Answer from Concrete Decor

I recommend a matte finish. You may also consider adding a slip-resistant additive to your floor coating.

Here are a couple of products we have had excellent experience with:

Impact – Matte Finish
Slip Resistant Additive


Got more questions about your project?

  • Drop files here or
    Accepted file types: jpeg, jpg, gif, png, pdf.
    Allowed formats: jpeg, jpg, gif, png, pdf
  • How would you like us to respond?

  • Note: Some questions will be published anonymously with their answers at the end of this story to share with other readers.