Acid Stain Alternatives for Concrete

Hugh Monteith, of Ventura, Calif., created this floor with CF-630 Amber in the Old World Stain series, an acid alternative from Smith Paint Products. Photo by Tom Henry

We explored several acid-stain alternatives in “Acid Stains: Still Strong,” published in the March/April 2009 issue of Concrete Decor magazine. As it turns out, the trend was too widespread to cover in just one article.

As contractors discover the beauty of water-based products that mimic acid stains but don’t need to be neutralized or rinsed, some are reportedly starting to forgo the old way and convert to the newer technologies.

“Time is money,” says Linda Meierer, one of the owners of L&M Industries LLC, which manufactures SimStain. “And contractors are discovering they can get in and out quicker (with a water-based pH-neutral alternative).”

Demmert & Associates, of Glendale, Calif., colored this hallway with CF-700 Fawn, a color available in Smith Paint Products’ Old World Stain series. Photo by Craig Demmert
Case study

Case in point: Reid Langston, one of the owners and Chairman of NewLook International Inc., which makes Designer Series Enhancer, cites a recent staining job involving a 300-square-foot floor. The job lasted 4 1/2 hours from prepping the surface with his company’s QuickEtch to applying three colors of stain and allowing it to dry. “I think we’re starting to see a trend where contractors are shying away from acid and moving to water-base because they can control the color better and there’s less labor involved,” says Langston.

SimStain in Black, Accent Black, Yellow and Silver was used to create this 3-D effect. The color scheme was chosen to coordinate with the customer’s Hummer H2. Photo courtesy of Concrete Alternatives

Chuck Brunner Jr., co-owner of Smith Paint Products, maker of Smith’s Color Floor Old World Stains, agrees. “You get a really cool look with acid stains,” he admits, “but half of what you need is in the bottle and the other half is in the slab. With water base, you take a few variables out.

“For optimum control, Brunner, Langston and Meierer all agree water-based stains are best applied as a light mist through an airless, HVLP (high-volume, low-pressure) gun. Pump-up sprayers also do a good job. “Less is more,” Brunner says. “Just lightly mist over the floor. You can always put more on later.”

Using water-base stains for patchwork

You also can use water-base stains for patchwork, he adds. “A lot of acid stain guys are discovering water-based products when they have a slab with a bald spot. They can be used to fix it as long as the acid has been neutralized.” And when they see how closely the water-based stain can match the acid stain, some contractors are converting to water-based altogether. ”

(Unlike with acid stains,) you can show sample boards to your customers and say this is what you are going to get,” says Langston.

Five water-based acid alternatives were highlighted in the March/April 2009 issue of Concrete Decor. Here’s the scoop on three more. All three are UV-resistant, can be used on interior or exterior surfaces, and can earn the contractor LEED points.

Colors of all three stains can be mixed with other colors before application. You can also layer colors one at a time, depending on the look you’re going for. “If you layer the colors,” Brunner says, “go light to dark for best results.”

This floor was developed using Designer Series Enhancer’s Safety Blue color, from NewLook International. Photos courtesy of NewLook International

Smith’s Color Floor Old World Stain

Smith’s Color Floor Old World Stain, which creates dark burn marks, light coloration and everything in between, closely mimics the traditional look of acid stain.

On the market since 2000, the low-VOC stain is sold in seven colors as a concentrate with a recommended dilution of 4 parts distilled water to 1 part stain. “We recommend using distilled water, because hard water will attack our resin system and affect the adhesion and consistency of the product,” says Brunner.

For the base coat, he recommends diluting with water and Smith’s Base Boost, a blend of silicates that reacts with the unhydrated calcium hydroxide in the concrete and creates a chemical bond between the stain and the substrate. For this coat, substitute two parts distilled water with two parts Base Boost. “Base Boost makes for a more stable and durable substrate,” Brunner explains.

After you put down your base coat, Brunner says, relax. “The stain will automatically variegate for you. You don’t need to sponge or rag or use any of those other tricks. Just walk away and see what it does for you.”

Applications should be sealed once the stain has fully cured. Old World Stains are compatible with any single- and two-component sealer that doesn’t have high concentrations of methyl methacrylate. “You can’t use a penetrating sealer with this product,” Brunner says. “It has to be a film-forming sealer.” Smith’s recently launched a full line of sealers for application over its stains.

No special training is required to apply Old World Stains. However, Smith Paints representatives do demonstrations around the country, and there is a demo video on the company’s Web site.

Concrete Wizard made this patio for NFL Hall of Famer Larry Csonka using five SimStain colors: Mahogany, Olive, Black, Silver and Tangerine. Photo courtesy of Concrete Wizard


L&M Industries’ SimStain, which has been on the market for three years, also produces the variegated, mottled look with very little effort.

Latex- and acrylic-free, the low-VOC, environmentally safe stain comes in 25 colors, including a white that can be used to create a clean slate and a true black for accents, borders and marbling. “We also have blues and greens that are great for pool decks and outside areas because they don’t darken when they get wet,” Meierer says.

Besides a sprayer, you can use a mop, foam brush, rag or sponge to apply. “The different application methods give it a different look,” she says. “As the stain dries, the color gets darker, so you may want to wait before you apply another coat, but you don’t have to.” You can apply wet on wet, she adds, if you want colors to mottle together.

Meierer recommends sealing a SimStain surface with the sealer of your choice as soon as the stain is dry enough, usually in two to four hours. “Our stain is compatible with all sealers,” she says.

The whole concept behind SimStain was to make life easier for contractors, Meierer notes. “You can buy directly from us, you don’t have to go to any classes and you don’t have to purchase our cleaner or sealer. You can add to your product line without being committed to buying everything from us.”

To create this bathroom, NewLook’s Solid Color Stain in Caramel was used as the base color. They then used Light Oak and Spanish Clay from the Designer Series Enhancer line were applied on top.

Designer Series Enhancer

NewLook International is currently touting its Designer Series Enhancer. This product is similar to its Translucent Color Enhancer, except that the designer series is four times as intense. “The regular enhancer is designed for stamped concrete surfaces, while the designer series is for interior faux finishes,” says Langston of the VOC-free products. Besides being sprayed on, the stain can be rolled, ragged or broom-applied – and not just on floors. “It’s fantastic for vertical applications,” he says. “It dries to a matte finish and can look like natural stone.”

Designer Series Enhancer comes in more than 80 standard colors, including eight that replicate traditional acid stain colors. Others reflect new, vibrant dye-based colors, Langston says. NewLook’s complete system includes solid base colors. These colors are ready to be topped off with translucent colors, which also can be used independently.

The stains can be used to create surfaces with any traditional color combination. They can also be great for fun color schemes like those you would find in an amusement park. Stained surfaces, especially faux finishes, should be sealed.

Langston recommends NewLook products be used only by professionals who have completed a training program. Group classes and personal training are offered at least monthly throughout the country in one-day or two-day sessions

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