The Difference Between Sealed and Polished Concrete
Exposed concrete floors are gaining in popularity, both in residential and commercial applications. This material is durable, easy to maintain, and cost-effective.
When planning for a concrete flooring installation, it’s important to compare the different types of finishes available. Here’s what every property owner should know about sealed concrete vs polished concrete.
While polished concrete and sealed concrete look similar, the installation process and properties of these finishes differ.
Sealed concrete floors feature a protective film that covers the concrete surface. The installer will typically grind the concrete surface to help the floor coating adhere to the material. They will also fix any cracks or imperfections to obtain a smooth result.
Applying a sealer to the surface creates a barrier. This film keeps moisture, oil, chemicals, and other substances away from the porous surface.
Acrylic remains one of the most popular solutions for sealing a concrete overlay since it’s a cost-effective and versatile material.
However, an epoxy seal can provide additional protection for high-traffic areas. Some property owners are opting for durable polyurethane seals, and penetrating sealers are another option to consider for those who need extra protection from moisture or chemicals.
Concrete sealing is versatile, and the installer can recommend the best sealant after assessing a customer’s unique needs. It’s also possible to apply a stain to obtain an aesthetic result.
With polished concrete, the installer will use floor grinders to polish the concrete surface. They will typically use different grit levels to achieve the shine and finish the property owner wants.
Depending on the grinding diamonds and techniques used, the installer can achieve a matte or glossy finish. They can also use a finer grit to add a sheen to the flooring and create a reflective surface.
Polished Concrete is a Good Choice for Commercial, Retail, Industrial and Even Residential Floors
Concrete polishing results in a smooth and durable surface. A polished floor is less porous and will absorb less water and chemicals.
However, installers typically add a concrete sealer before polishing a surface. Sealing the concrete before polishing it creates an additional protective barrier.
Which concrete finish makes the most sense? The answer varies depending on each customer’s unique needs and budget.
Adding a finish to concrete flooring will enhance the durability of the material. However, some techniques result in a more durable surface than others.
Polished concrete flooring tends to be the most durable solution. After the polishing process, the top layer is a smooth concrete surface that will not wear off easily.
When an installer seals a floor, they create a barrier that will wear off over the years, especially in high-traffic areas.
Polished concrete will retain its sheen and finish indefinitely, provided that the property owner keeps the surface clean.
The lifespan of a sealed concrete surface varies depending on the sealant used and the amount of traffic. Installers typically apply one to two miles of sealant, and this material becomes thinner with traffic and exposure to fine particles or chemicals. Acrylic coating lasts one to three years, while epoxy can last five to ten years.
However, it’s possible to mix additives into the concrete to extend its lifespan. Several factors can affect the durability, but, as a rule of thumb, polished concrete lasts longer.
Concrete is a porous material that lets water seep in. Over time, water can cause small cracks to appear on a concrete surface. For outdoor surfaces, water can cause significant damage if it seeps into the concrete surface and freezes.
Polished concrete flooring has a smooth surface that slows down absorption. Polished concrete will still absorb water, but it’s possible to prevent water damage by cleaning spills immediately. An installer can create a waterproof concrete surface by adding a sealant before polishing the floor.
Sealed concrete remains the most cost-effective solution for protecting the concrete floor from water on a budget. Depending on the sealant used, the top layer will create a barrier that prevents water from seeping into the concrete. Some sealants penetrate the pores of the concrete and block water.
However, a concrete seal will degrade over time and start letting water in. Maintenance is crucial for preserving a sealant’s waterproof properties.
The cost per square foot is a key consideration when choosing a concrete finish. When comparing sealed concrete vs polished concrete, it’s important to keep in mind that polished concrete has a higher upfront cost.
The process of polishing a concrete surface is more time-consuming while sealing a concrete floor requires less time and labor.
While polished concrete costs more in the short term, there are ongoing costs linked to maintaining a sealed floor since the property owner will have to reapply the sealant once every few years.
A polished concrete floor can result in fewer recurring costs and improve the value of a property. However, sealed concrete flooring remains the best option for property owners looking to upgrade their concrete floor on a budget. Sealed concrete flooring is also more versatile since it’s possible to reapply a different type of sealant if the needs of the property owner change.
Telling sealed concrete apart from polished concrete isn’t always easy. Both finishes result in a smooth surface.
The appearance of sealed concrete can vary depending on the product used. It’s also possible to install stained concrete to add some color to an indoor or outdoor space before adding a sealant.
Polished concrete can also include a stain, and the installer can achieve different levels of sheen by using different grits. The property owner can also choose between a glossy or matte finish.
An installer can also create a highly reflective surface with polished concrete if they use fine grit. It’s difficult to get the same high sheen result with a sealant.
The downside of sealed concrete is that the appearance can change as the film wears off. The flooring can lose its smooth and shiny finish in high-traffic areas while polished concrete will retain its appearance much longer.
Even though sealed and polished concrete floors look smooth and shiny, these surfaces aren’t slippery in clean and dry conditions.
However, polished concrete can become slippery if fine particles are present. The smooth surface can’t absorb powders, dust, and other fine particles, which can create a dangerous environment.
Sealed concrete can become slippery if the water sits on the surface. It’s possible to add a grit additive to the sealant to reduce slipperiness and make the environment safer.
Oil and grime can create slipping risks regardless of the type of finish. For an environment where oil spills are likely, it’s best to add a grit additive to the finish to make the surface less slippery.
Slipping risks are low as long as the surface remains clean, but it’s important to consider whether any activities will result in fine particles, water spills, or exposure to oil.
Concrete is a popular material because it’s easy to clean and maintain. Both finishes require little maintenance compared to other flooring solutions.
Sweeping on a daily basis is crucial since debris and fine particles can cause microabrasion for polished or sealed concrete.
While polished concrete is more resistant, micro-abrasion can cause small tears into the smooth surface besides making the floor slippery. In the case of sealed concrete, fine particles will cause unnecessary wear and tear on the protective film and reduce its lifespan.
Mopping with warm water is sufficient to keep both types of finishes clean. If needed, janitorial staff can use a neutral cleaner to break down oil and grime.
For stubborn stains, professional pressure washing is a potential solution. However, pressure washing isn’t ideal for sealed concrete since the pressure can break down the protective barrier and push water into the concrete.
Pressure washing is generally safe for polished concrete as long as the installer added a sealant before polishing the surface.
Outside of routine cleaning, there is very little maintenance required for polished concrete. Property owners should add more sealant or apply a stain protector once every few years to maintain the surface.
Sealed concrete flooring requires more maintenance. Depending on the type of sealant used, property owners will need to wax the floor four to five times a year. They’ll also have to reapply sealant as often as once a year for some products like acrylic.