Your Guide To Concrete Protective Coatings and Sealers

Concrete is one of the most widely used building materials in the world today, especially for flooring. It is incredibly strong and robust, but when it comes to floor areas, concrete can experience a lot of wear and tear and be exposed to loads of abuse.

The answer to this abuse is to coat the concrete with a protective coating. Some coatings are all about concrete protection, while other coatings have been designed to also improve the aesthetics of the concrete surface. Rather than simply having bare and boring grey concrete floors and walls, they can be made to look nice and pleasant, totally changing the image of the concrete and surrounding environment.

This comprehensive guide is going to delve into protective coatings for concrete floors and other concrete surfaces in a variety of situations, so you have a better understanding of what might be the right solution for your needs.

Ultimately, consulting with an industry expert will ensure you make the right choice.

What Is Concrete Protective Coating?

A concrete protective coating is any coating that helps to protect a concrete surface from things like general wear and tear, crumbling, moisture, storm damage, abrasion, damage from harsh chemicals and more. Exterior concrete surfaces are often protected by simply adding several coats of paint, if that’s all that is required. When it comes to high traffic areas such as concrete floors, often applying a coat of paint just isn’t nearly good enough.

Aesthetics are important, but the main reason to protect concrete surfaces, in particular the floors, is to prevent the occurrences mentioned above, but also to avoid contamination of the floor space in certain environments, such as food production. Another key reason is to render a floor non-slip, which is vital in commercial environments where there is the possibility of water or other moisture on the floors and making them hazardous. Other protective coatings protect the concrete from things like chemical spills and other corrosive substances.

Concrete floor protection also makes the floors far easier to clean and keep clean and hygienic.

Let’s summarise some of the main points of concrete protective coatings and what they protect against:

  • Wear and tear
  • Crumbling
  • Moisture
  • Storm damage
  • Contamination
  • Chemical spills
  • Easier cleaning and maintenance
  • Hygiene
  • Aesthetics

How Do You Protect Concrete Structures?

It can depend on the type of structure, what it’s predominantly used for and the environment that the structure is in, what type of protective coating is best or recommended.

As a general rule, in just about any circumstance, unprotected concrete is rather porous and prone to absorbing all sorts of liquids, along with being prone to substances that can cause concrete to deteriorate, such as carbon dioxide and chlorides.

Epoxy coatings that cover the concrete and sealers prevent liquids and other destructive contaminants from entering into the concrete and, just as importantly, from breaking the bond between concrete and reinforcing rods embedded within it. Some protective surfaces are rigid while others are known as being plasto-elastic or elastic systems, designed to enable some flexibility for areas like joints or where slight movement of the concrete is likely, such as on a bridge, for example.

Repair mortars, smoothing mortars and pore fillers are other products used to both repair and protect concrete structures from deterioration.

In some instances, just painting the concrete surface with several coats of paints provides enough protection from the elements and also gives the concrete structure much more aesthetic appeal.

How Do You Protect Concrete In Water?

It was mentioned in the section above that raw concrete is quite porous, so naturally, when concrete is immersed in water (either fresh water or salt water), such as for bridge pylons, it will need to first be protected from absorbing corrosive and damaging water.

Polymer-modified cementitious coatings have been successfully used to protect concrete that is constantly exposed to or immersed in water. These coatings are also employed to provide concrete protection for potable water plants and the like. These coatings also provide a degree of flexibility. Why this is important is it allows the polymer coating to seal things like hairline cracks, where a degree of movement might be likely due to expansion and contraction through temperature extremes.

Epoxy coatings are not recommended for concrete that has a moisture content greater than 4%, as this moisture can prevent the epoxy from effectively binding to the concrete surface. For concrete that has a higher moisture content, an epoxy-cement mixture can be used to form a solid bond.

Other methods of waterproofing concrete include densifiers, crystalline admixtures and water repellents, such as a variety of concrete sealers.

What Are the Different Types of Concrete Coatings?

You may have been asking yourself the question: What is the best concrete coating? Well, this depends on where the concrete is located, the conditions and environment and whether the concrete you wish to protect is a floor or another part of a structure.

Let’s take a look at some different types of concrete coatings scenarios, so you have a better understanding of the need for different coatings depending on the application and environment.

Sealers for Polished Concrete

Polished concrete floors need to be coated with a protective sealer to maintain their look and integrity. The term “polished concrete” is rather generic and relates to a number of different decorative concrete floor coverings. Different floor sealers work better on different surfaces, but Epimax has something to suit every circumstance.

Industrial Concrete

When it comes to concrete used in industrial areas, there are a variety of different protection systems available, depending on the environment and what types of chemicals or substances the floor especially might be subjected to. For example, the concrete protection for the wine industry differs from what will be used in a chemical plant. Talk to Epimax about just the right concrete protection for your particular industry.

Extreme Environments

Resources and heavy industry often use concrete structures for manufacturing and storage purposes. Conditions in these environments can be extremely harsh, ranging from highly-abrasive materials through to enduring temperature extremes. In order to withstand extremes and prevent failure of surfaces and structures, the concrete requires special protective measures. Epimax not only has a range of concrete protection materials for extreme environments, but also protection for steel as well.

Water and Wastewater

Water and wastewater plants and facilities face their own unique challenges when it comes to protecting concrete surfaces. For potable drinking water, the challenge is to ensure surface integrity is maintained at all times so water cannot be contaminated, and also to guarantee that the surface itself doesn’t contaminate the drinking water supply. Wastewater is also being recycled these days, so it’s vital that even wastewater remains free of any contaminants and that facilities are fail-safe due to concrete protection measures.

Aesthetics

When it comes to aesthetics for concrete flooring, for example, an epoxy resin coating or a decorative coating is one of the most commonly-used finishes to create a pleasant appeal. These coatings then need to be sealed to protect them from wear and tear as per the section above regarding polished concrete floors.

Densifiers

The way concrete densifiers work is they chemically react with the pores in the concrete, creating within those pores a calcium silicate hydrate. This actually increases the strength and density of the concrete. If concrete is weak and surface abrasion is occurring, then a densifier is the answer.

Concrete Water Repellents

Water absorption can cause:

  • Spalling
  • Cracking
  • Staining
  • Freeze/Thaw damage

Water repellent sealers are designed to reduce the occurrence of those issues mentioned on the list above. Once again, a chemical reaction takes place within the pores of the concrete. A hydrophobic barrier is created that causes liquids and water to bead on the surface rather than being absorbed into the concrete.

Acrylic Sealers

Concrete with a glossy surface will be enhanced by coating it with an acrylic sealer. The protective surface film created by the sealer will protect the concrete from water absorption, as well as surface abrasion and help maintain the aesthetic appeal of the glossy surface.

How Long Do Concrete Coatings Last?

The answer to this question can depend on many factors, including environment, the abuse the concrete is subjected to, whether the concrete is in a place where harsh chemicals may be spilled on treated concrete flooring, if the concrete is exposed to moisture or submersed in water and a whole host of other factors.

As a general rule, expect the concrete coating and protection to last between 5 to 10 years. This figure can vary obviously, but it works as a very general guideline. To be absolutely certain, regular inspections of the concrete surface by an expert are recommended, as these inspections will reveal if a concrete surface has been compromised and needs to be resurfaced to protect it.

The length of time the sealer or concrete protection treatment lasts also depends on the type of treatment. For instance, you can expect an epoxy or urethane system to last up to 10 years, but if you treat the concrete with an acrylic resin sealer, the protection may only be sufficient for up to 3 years or maybe a lot less.

There are a lot of variables that come into play when determining how long concrete protection will last and they depend on the environment and punishment the concrete is subjected to, along with the type of sealer or protection the concrete is coated with.

If a particular sealer costs a little more but is guaranteed to last longer, then it’s well worth spending the extra cash. In the long run, it could save you money by not having to reseal the surfaces as often, or save you from having to actually repair concrete surfaces in the future.

How Do You Keep Concrete From Deteriorating?

The 2 most common causes of concrete degradation include:

  1. Water absorption
  2. Surface abrasion

The single best method to keep concrete floors and structures from deteriorating is to seal it with a quality concrete sealer, specially designed for that particular environment. The chosen sealer can also be dependent on the actual condition the concrete is currently in.

Unprotected concrete is vulnerable to the elements, water absorption, abuse and wear and tear, harsh chemicals and so on. With no protection at all it’s going to degrade. That’s just a fact.

Protected and coated concrete also has much more aesthetic appeal, so the concrete surface looks better along with being adequately protected.

Can Crumbling Concrete Be Repaired?

To prevent crumbling and flaking of concrete in the first place, always seal it with a penetrating concrete sealer.

The good news is that crumbling concrete can be repaired, so long as the main infrastructure and overall strength has not been compromised. In that case, the concrete that’s crumbling would need to be replaced.

For crumbling concrete that is repairable, you can apply a concrete resurfacing agent to resolve the problem. This works on cracks and areas of minor crumbling. For bigger crumbling issues, it may be necessary to remove the crumbling section and replace that portion with fresh concrete, after which it should either be sealed with a quality sealer, or at least painted for protection.

Polymer resins can also be used to fill in cracks and chips in crumbling concrete. This is often in the form of a vinyl concrete patcher. This will bond the repair to the existing concrete and even out the surface.

Unless the structural integrity of the concrete has been compromised, you can successfully repair crumbling and cracking concrete surfaces and have them looking as good as new again.

It’s best to discuss your situation with an Epimax expert to discover just the right solution for your particular concrete problem.

In Conclusion

There are many concrete protection solutions available and the right one will depend on the environment your structure or floor is located in, how much wear and tear the concrete receives, whether it’s subjected to things like harsh chemical spills, if aesthetics are important, if surfaces need to be non-slip and so much more.

To get it right and to make the correct decisions when it comes to protecting the concrete in your premises, consult with an industry expert to determine the very best plan of attack to achieve the desired outcome.

It’s worth putting some thought, time and money into protecting those vital concrete surfaces and floors, as your business longevity will depend on the overall quality and integrity of the concrete. Concrete protection and sealers are an investment in your business’s future.

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