The Pros and Cons of an Acid Vs. Water Based Concrete Stain

Concrete floors and driveways do not have to be dull, boring gray slabs. There are different concrete finishing options available, but concrete staining is a technique that adds color, giving your dull slab a face lift. The process is a permanent change, but the results produce an attractive decorative look. Concrete stains are available in acid or water-based varieties, each with their own advantages and disadvantages, depending on your preferences.

Staining gives color to a concrete floor.

Concrete Staining

Concrete staining is a process that transforms a dull gray concrete slab into a decorative surface. The staining process can be used on virtually any concrete surface, including floors, pool decks, driveways, patios and walkways. Staining produces a permanent color that penetrates the concrete surface and is resistant to moisture, mildew, UV damage and tire damage. Once applied, the color will not peel, chip or crack. Regular maintenance will keep your concrete surface attractive for many years.

Acid Stains

Acid stains are a mixture of water, hydrochloric acid and metallic salts. The mixture penetrates the surface of the concrete and opens the pores, allowing the salts to react with the chemicals in the concrete producing color. The acid stain produces translucent earth-toned colors with color variations, resembling natural stone, marble or wood. The stain becomes a permanent part of the concrete that will not fade, peel or crack. Acid stains may be used on interior or exterior surfaces. Since the stain is translucent, the concrete slab's surface textures and variations are visible, making each surface unique. Acid stains produce a limited selection of colors in earth tones of brown, tan, terra cotta and light blue-green. After staining the concrete, the surface must be washed with a solution to neutralize the chemicals and remove acid residue.

Water-Based Stains

Water-based stains, or dyes, are non-reactive solutions that deposit pigment into the open pores of the concrete, producing opaque colors that are more intense than acid stains. Almost any color is achievable with water-based stains, from soft pastels to vibrant tones. Because the color doesn't depend on reaction with the concrete, the end result is more uniform and predictable. Application of water-based stains is more user-friendly than acid stains. After application of water-based stains, the surface does not need to be neutralized and there is little clean-up necessary. The stain has a low VOC (volatile organic compound) count, and it won't damage your lawn like acid stains. Because the stain penetrates the surface quickly with permanent color, however, application leaves little room for error.


Although a stained concrete surface is resistant to weathering and damage from daily use, the color only penetrates the top surface of the concrete. Outdoor surfaces should be sealed with a clear sealer for protection. Indoor floors should be coated with floor wax. The sealer and wax provide protection and shine, as well as enhancing the color. Indoor floors only require regular dusting and damp mopping. Outdoor surfaces should be swept regularly and rinsed with a garden hose. Sealer or wax should be reapplied every year or two as the shine begins to dull.