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How to Choose Between a Dye and a Stain

What is the difference between concrete stain and dye?

While many people use the terms interchangeably, there are some significant differences that need to be considered for each project.

 

Note that in the following information, when referring to concrete stain we are NOT including concrete acid stains as they are completely different in nature.

Concrete stains, like Tru Tint WB, are more or less a suspension of fine pigment particulate in a carrier, usually a water base.  This particulate is dispersed and spread onto the concrete, and the particles stay put once the carrier evaporates. They often contain a certain amount of resin, i.e. glue, to help them lock onto the surface.  Due to different sizes of the particulate, the profile or “openness” of the concrete surface will determine how effective this type of product will be for you.  The rougher, more “open” the surface is, the deeper and better the stain will adhere to and grab onto the micro-surface that the concrete presents.  Very smooth and burnished surfaces give stains the most trouble, since they provide very little for the stain to grab onto.  Stamped or textured concrete surfaces, brush finished, and hand troweled surfaces work great for concrete stains such as Tru Tint WB.  Concrete stain color pallets tend to be large and provide most needed tones, especially when mimicking the colors needed to replicate natural stone-scapes as in stamping and texturing.  Stains usually allow a fair amount of working time for faux finishing, i.e. layering, sponging, etc. and often allow for quick correction from overspray and spills. The color contained in stains tends to be hardy outdoors with good resistance to UV fade and, when on the right surface, will look great for a long time with proper care. Stains are usually applied by sprayer, brush, roller, etc.

 Concrete dyes are also a pigment particulate, but they are many, many times smaller than what is contained in stains, and the pigments actually go into solution rather than a suspension.  The carrier is often a solvent such as acetone or alcohol, though in the case of Tru Tint Dye, water is the preferred and safer carrier.  The nature of dyes allows them to penetrate into the concrete almost regardless of the “openness” of the surface.  A rough analogy is the stains are a form of paint, and dyes are more like an ink.  Dyes are preferred for those burnished and polished surfaces that are going to be hard for stains to effectively penetrate.  This often comes into play in commercial flooring and custom concrete countertops as those surfaces are often highly burnished or polished. Concrete dyes work fast and are not quite as forgiving with mistakes as stains.  If you’re using a solvent carrier, keep in mind that they often dry almost instantly so leave little room for major error. Tru Tint dyes, blended as instructed with water, are far more forgiving and allow application by spray, roller or brush. Incidentally, polished surfaces tend to be indoors, which is good because that is another difference between the two product types.  Dye particles do not exhibit good light fastness.  In other words, they tend to fade in sunlight.  That makes dyes a poor choice for patios, driveways, etc., where the color hardy stains thrive in sunlight. A few companies will claim their dyes are UV stable but that is a little misleading. In that case they added some UV absorbers into the product which does coat the dye particulate with that safeguard but it is often short lived as the absorbers have a short lifespan. The dye color pallet is usually a bit smaller than that of stains, but will still provide plenty of options for most projects.

How do I know if my surface is going to be stainable? This is the type of information that is hard to answer because every surface is different and concrete pads tend to hold all sorts of invisible surprises that can affect a stain job. This is really where experience can really come into play. You must be sure your surface is free of latent contaminants like grease, oil, paint, etc., anything that can impede the stain (or even dye) from getting into that surface.  Even if it is squeaky clean, a surface still may have to be acid etched, ground, scarified or sanded to open the pores enough.  An imperfect but quick test is to hose down your clean, dry surface lightly with water and watch how it absorbs into the concrete.  It should immediately darken (wet out) and begin to absorb the water.  Any beading or resistance you might see are areas that need to be addressed since the subsequent stain will be equally repelled.

Do I need to use a sealer? Yes, a sealer is highly recommended to protect your concrete stain or dye from wearing away long term. Without a sealer, even though Tru Tint stains and dyes penetrate deeply into the substrate, the concrete can wear away along with the stain or dye. Most sealers will also enhance the look of a dyed or stained surface. The only exception would be a polished concrete floor or counter in which a dye would be used and often goes without a traditional sealer. Sealer application can be as soon as the stain or dye is thoroughly dry, if other surface requirements are met regarding the chosen sealer.

Is high heat an issue when using either a stain or a dye as on a countertop?  Generally no.  The stains or dyes will handle heat of that nature.  Direct flames such as near a fire pit can darken/burn the surface as it would with any stone type surface.

Can I use concrete stains or dyes on natural stone? Yes, if the natural stone has not been sealed and is porous enough to allow the stain or dye to penetrate. A test area is recommended.

Do Tru Tint Stains or Dyes last long term? Both concrete stains and dyes are manufactured to be as durable as possible. When your project is outdoors, a stain is preferred because it will not fade quickly. The dyes can lighten over time when subjected to UV light. This is a property of all dyes on the market. Otherwise, when applied to a properly prepared substrate and protected with the proper sealer either will last indefinitely.

When can I walk on a stained or dyed surface? You can walk on a concrete stain or dye after it is dry to the touch. The length of time depends on temperature and humidity.

Do Tru Tint Stains or Dyes emit toxic fumes? Tru Tint Stains and Dyes are formulated to be safe and ultra-low VOC. Tru Tint dye can exhibit a mild odor but it is very short lived.

Can I stain or dye a freshly poured slab? Yes, the typical 30 day wait period for new concrete really does not apply here. New concrete can be stained or dyed without affecting the concrete integrity. Be aware concrete lightens in color over time until fully cured therefore a newly stained or dyed slab will also change color as well.

Do Tru Tint Stains or Dyes chip or peel off the surface? No. Unlike some concrete stains or dyes on the market which are more like paint, Tru Tint Stains and Dyes penetrate into the pores of the concrete so the substrate itself would have to chip.

What maintenance is required of a stained or dyed floor? In general concrete that is stained or dyed requires very little maintenance and more durable than most flooring products. Once sealed, the surface should just be cleaned as needed and in accordance to any instructions given as it relates to the sealer. If the application is a textured floor then it is recommended to apply a sacrificial wax (such as Floorshine) over the sealer to minimize surface wear. This can be reapplied as part of a maintenance program. An exterior stain project may need a coat of sealer every 2 yrs. to enhance gloss and keep a protective layer.

What sort of coverage can I expect from a stain or dye?

Tru Tint Concrete Stain covers about 250 sq. ft. per gallon. The Tru Tint Dye covers about 300 sq. ft. per gallon. Variables that will affect the coverage rate are surface profile (a textured surface has more area and may need more) and porosity of the concrete. The more porous the substrate is, the more stain it may take because it does not spread and is absorbs the color like a sponge. Application technique will affect how much is used. You should always avoid heavy pooling of either on the surface.

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