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Colorize your concrete patio

Dear Ms. Builder: I have always liked the appearance of a colored concrete patio. We tried painting it years ago, but it just peeled off over time and looked worse. Is there a way to color it without paint? - Diane N.

Dear Diane: Most common old gray concrete patios can stand some sprucing up with color. A rich deep brown or just a hint of green can greatly improve its appearance. This is particularly true if you have the patio surrounded by flower gardens or other ornate landscaping.

Unfortunately, as you found, painting it is not the best method to color the concrete. Painting is a process that covers a surface with a colored film. Not only will paint peel and chip over time, but it can be slippery when it gets wet and dirty.

Your best option for coloring a patio is to use concrete stain. This is available in many colors and tints - browns, greens and blues are most popular. Unlike paint, stain actually penetrates the concrete surface so it cannot peel off.

If you apply it correctly, it should last five years or more until you have to reapply it. Also, as the color of the stain fades, it will not be as apparent as when sections of paint peel off. Water vapor, moving up from under the patio, does not effect the stain like it does paint.

There are three basic types of concrete stain. One type, uses an acid base that chemically attaches itself and the pigments to the concrete surface. It is a complicated chemical reaction, but the color actually becomes part of the concrete to a shallow depth. This is one of the best staining methods.

Another type of concrete stain uses solvents. The stain soaks into the pores of the concrete surface. The finished color and depth depends on the concrete surface. A smoothly troweled surface will accept less stain and color depth, than a broom finished surface.

The third type of stain is water-based. It type is best for the environment because it basically just gives off water as it dries. It uses acrylic compounds to carry the color and to fix it to the concrete. This produces some very deep attractive tones. Whether you do the staining yourself or have a contractor do it, make sure that real stain is used. Some materials are called stains, but they actually produce a film type of surface like paint.

There are several reputable manufacturers of concrete stain - Bomanite (209-673-2411), Increte (800-752-4626), Ocon (800-237-0565), Safety Stain Co. (800-643-2436) and L.M. Scofield (800-800-9900).

The Portland Cement Association (800-868-6733) also has an excellent publication on staining concrete. It is called "Finishing Concrete Slabs with Color and Texture".

Although it is often used by professionals, you may consider using acid-based stain if you are an experienced do-it-yourselfer. If you have trouble finding a professional, contact the manufacturers listed above for names of local contractors. Solvent-based stain is probably the best choice for the average do-it-yourselfer because of the simplicity of application. Water-based stains are also easy to install but are a bit more sensitive to weather conditions at the time of application.

The key to a successful stain job is proper preparation. The concrete surface must be clean and especially free of grease and oil. If you have done much barbecuing, there most likely is grease and oil on it.

Either scrub it with soap and a brush by hand or clean it with a power washer. Let it dry thoroughly before applying the stain, at least a full day. The best application surface temperature is from about 50 to 90 degrees. This is not the air temperature. It is the concrete surface temperature. Apply per the manufacturer's instructions.

Send questions to: Ms. Builder, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, Ohio 45244 or visit www.dulley.com/msbuilder.