Water-based vs. Acid-based Concrete Stain: Which is Better?

Updated on September 19, 2020
water based concrete stain

One of the most common questions customers ask is, “which is better — semi transparent concrete stain, water-based stain or acid-based stain?” While these two products act as floor armor, keeping the floor from damage, each has its advantages and disadvantages. 

How are they different from one another?

Water based concrete stain, semi transparent concrete stains, and acid-based stains differ in terms of the coloring material these stains are mixed with.

Acid-based concrete stains, also known as chem or reactive dyes, contain small amounts of metallic salts and hydrochloric acid used for coloring. These two substances react with calcium hydroxide present in the concrete.

The reactive properties between lime, cement, and acid stains create a permanent coloring for exterior and interior surfaces. Even if exposed to ultraviolet rays, acid stains on concrete don’t fade or peel. 

Since metallic salts are used in the coloring processing, acid-based stain’s color palette is limited and slowly runs on earth tones. As a result, the surface’s appearance is often marbled, mottled, or uneven. Also, before buffing or sealing, the acid needs to be neutralized.

On the other hand, water based concrete stain is generally non-reactive and only involves acetone or water, which are mixed with polymers and pigment to create the colors. As such, you will get a straight tone. 

On top of that, the coverage is more predictable and uniform. You can dilute the mixture as you add more coats to make some areas of the surface lighter or darker. A water-based stain’s color palette is also better than what metallic salts can achieve. 

A water-based stain is more workable and flexible. 

While acid-based stain came earlier than water-based ones, the latter has been the answer to people’s search for a more reliable and less complicated staining option. 

When the acid stain meets with lime or with calcium hydroxide in concrete, the color you get becomes a permanent solution. This is not the case with semi-transparent water based concrete stains. With the latter, once you over apply or once you encounter an application mishap, you can use tap water to diffuse the color. 

Since acid-based stains use chem, and water-based rely on tap water, it’s safe to assume that the latter is a more environment-friendly option. On top of that, the acid found in acid-based concrete stains can kill plants and vegetation when over sprayed outdoors. The metallic salts also pose a hazard to marine and aquatic resources. This means you if you use acid-based stains, you will have to be extra cautious when rinsing as copper ferrous might reach the sewer or your drain. 

Acids are temperamental

When choosing which stain to use, aside from color availability, you should also consider which concrete will you apply the stain to. Acid-based concrete stains can be temperamental in both the early and latter application process. 

Acid stain manufacturers advise users to wait for 28 days for the lime to develop so that it can react with the stain. Then again, as the concrete gets old, its chemical makeup and color range will also change. 

Meaning to say, the chemical in the concrete fade over time, and this can impact the darkness and depth of your concrete’s vibrant color scheme. 

It would be wise to have a test area before finally deciding to proceed or to choose an alternative, to avoid unpleasant surprises.

From the comparison made above, it can be said that water-based stains are more flexible, more productive, and more environment-friendly compared to acid-based dyes. 

For your water-based stain needs, contact Contractor Source, LLC today. They can give you expert advice on all your concrete staining needs. Whatever concrete staining problem you have, they are here with a solution. 


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