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What You Didn't Know About Hardscape Maintenance: Concrete

All non-living man-made materials and elements in an outdoor area are considered hardscape. This includes your walls, outdoor kitchens, etc. A more common use of the term hardscape is to describe outdoor flooring areas, such as your driveways, patios and walkways.

Your hardscape features are the most resilient part of an outdoor project and require less maintenance. And although your hardscape features are a lot less maintenance heavy than their landscape counterparts, there are a few things you should look out for to keep it in good shape.

Because there are various hardscape materials that require different types of upkeep, this article will focus on concrete features.

White Haze or Efflorescence

All concrete based products- pavers, concrete and block, are susceptible to a chalky white film that can develop on the surface, this is called efflorescence.

Efflorescence is a white haze that may appear on the surface of concrete products sometime after they are installed. It forms as the result of a natural chemical reaction that occurs when minerals in the cement react with water. The appearance of efflorescence will stop once there are no longer any reacting minerals to move to the surface.

Since efflorescence brings out salts that are not ordinarily part of the concrete, it is not a structural but rather an aesthetic concern. The white haze may give the impression that the color of the concrete product is fading, but this is not the case. Efflorescence may occur randomly or be concentrated in certain areas. If efflorescence does occur in your hardscape, it can be removed with cleaners specially made for concrete pavers or you can simply wait it out until the efflorescence stops.

Concrete Maintenance

When you think of concrete, you think durable and long lasting, without any maintenance- in most cases this is true. However, to really ensure the natural concrete will look clean and bright instead of stained with oil and grimy looking, some basic maintenance is required. This especially goes for colored concrete to help it retain more of its luster and color.

Cleaning Concrete

In order to maintain your concrete products, make sure to clean on a regular basis, at least once per year. The easiest way to clean concrete outdoors is to use a power washer to remove normal grim and dirt build up. You will be able to blast away dirt, mildew and grime in one afternoon.

If you don’t already own a power washer, you can rent one and read the instructions on how to use the machine before you start the project. Spray your patio surface with a detergent and use a stiff brush to scrub into the concrete. Make sure to never use a metal bristle brush, the metallic fibers can get trapped in the porous surface of the concrete and begin to rust. Before moving on to the pressure washer, put on safety goggles and gloves. Then you can turn on the pressure washer, move the wand from one side and using the same motion as you would if mopping a floor.

Are you dealing with stains on your concrete? There are several options for handling stains.

  • You can use bleach, ammonia (note: never mix the two) and other commercial solutions. If you’re looking for a natural solution to use on stubborn stains on interior concrete floors, mix flour and hydrogen peroxide into a paste similar to the consistency of peanut butter. Once your paste is mixed you will spread it over the stained area and let it sit overnight. The next day, you should be able to scrape if off with a plastic-edged scraper tool.

  • Trisodium Phosphate (TSP) mixed with water and scrubbed onto the stained area with a nylon bristle brush can remove tough stains. Continue to scrub until the stain is gone and then rinse with a hose. You can find TSP available at most home improvement stores.

  • Muriatic acid can be used on outdoor floors to clean the toughest of stains, like rust or dried grout. It is a powerful and toxic material that should be used with extreme caution. When using this product, wear protective eyewear and gloves and be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how to clean concrete using muriatic acid.

A gentler approach will be needed for concrete floors that are polished or stamped. You’ll only need to use a mop and a bucket of water mixed with a mild cleaner. You should not use ammonia, bleach or any other highly acidic substance on polished or stamped flooring. Some good options for mild cleansers include Castile soap, liquid dish detergent, stone cleaners and mild floor cleaners. Once you have mixed your solution, apply it to your floor with the wet mop and then rise with a mop dipped in clean water.

How to Seal Concrete

Sealing concrete is one of the best things you can do for long term maintenance. Sealers come in a variety of finishes, so you may need to do a small test sample to make sure you get the look you want. If the concrete is new, you will need to wait four weeks before sealing it to make sure it has gone through a complete cure.

Step One: Surface preparation before applying a sealer to existing concrete is extremely important. You need to remove all oil, grease, stains, dirt and dust, or they may prevent the sealer from adhering properly. Also, if you’ve previously used a different sealer, most manufacturers advise removing all traces of the previously used sealers since the products may not be compatible. Some manufacturers recommend first etching the surface of your concrete with an etching solution to ensure the best adhesion.

Step Two: Using the right tools is critical to achieving the best coverage rate and sealer thickness for optimal performance. The two most common methods of applying sealers to concrete surfaces are by roller or sprayer, often depending on whether the sealer you’re using is solvent- or water based. Always refer to the manufacturer’s specific application guidelines.

Step Three: Whether you are rolling or spray applying a sealer, always strive for maximum coverage. The typical coverage rate is 250 to 300 square feet per gallon, depending on the porosity of the concrete. The most important rule to remember is less is more, its best to apply two thin coats, making sure the sealer doesn’t puddle or form uneven thick areas. After applying the first coat, wait to apply the second coat of sealer for the time recommended by the manufacturer (typically two to four hours). When applying a second coat of sealer, apply it in the opposite direction or perpendicular to the first coat to ensure even coverage.

Sealing Colored Concrete

When sealing colored concrete, there are a few more things to consider.

  1. You can purchase tinted sealer to match or augment the color of the existing concrete.

  2. Check the manufacturer recommendations to see if the sealer is compatible with the coloring system used.

Concrete Countertop Maintenance

Because concrete is naturally porous, concrete countertops should always be sealed to protect them from food stains, scratches and water absorption. The right sealer will not only protect the countertop surface, but also enhance its color and sheen. There are many factors to consider when choosing a countertop sealer. Following are some tips for selecting a product appropriate for the function and design intent of your countertop.

With so many countertop sealers to choose from, it’s important to understand what’s available, how they work, and what each type is best suited for.

For countertops, be sure to choose heavy-duty sealer that is food safe, colorless, non-yellowing, and heat and scratch resistant. There are sealers which resist heat and are impervious to lemon juice and red wine.

Most countertop Sealers can take hours to become tack-free and sever days to reach full cure. If you want to speed up the process, fast-curing sealers are available that cure almost instantly upon exposure from a special ultraviolet light.

Be sure to test any sealing products you’re considering before you apply it. Testing is the most accurate way to verify that a countertop sealer will deliver what you expect in terms of both appearance and performance.

How to Apply Countertop Sealer

How a sealer is applied can significantly affect the final appearance and performance. Using the right tools is critical to achieving the best coverage rate and sealer thickness. While there are some general guidelines for applying sealer, you should always refer to the manufacturer’s installation instructions regarding the tools and procedures they recommend. The most important rule to remember is that less is more. You should apply sealer in multiple thin coats instead of one heavy coat.

Minor scratches can occur in concrete countertops by cutting directly on the surface. If scratches appear, they are usually in the sealer and not in the concrete itself, making it easier to repair.

Minor scuffs and shallow scratches in countertop sealers can usually be buffed out. If the scratch is deep, you might need to fix it by filling the scratch with more sealer.

Stay tuned in the upcoming weeks for tips on how to maintain the rest of your hardscape features, including pavers and stone.

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