A Guide to Concrete Sealers Used in Construction

Surya Yadav

Ask any contractor and they will tell you that concrete is one of the most durable materials you can use to build or remodel a home. Be it driveway, flooring, or roofs, concrete is the best alternative due to its durability and easy maintenance. However, if the concrete surface is not properly cared for, it might become stained or damaged over time. Concrete sealing is an essential component of the maintenance process.

What Is Concrete Sealing? 

Concrete sealing is the application of a construction sealer to your concrete that produces a hydrophobic water barrier that leads water and other liquids to condense on the surface. Instead of soaking into the pores of the concrete slab, the water soon dries or flows off. Concrete sealing helps prevent damage caused by chipping, spalling,  breaks, crumbling, stains, sun exposure, mould growth, and other factors. 

Nowadays, you can find a variety of construction sealer types available on the market, ranging from film-forming sealers that result in a high-gloss surface to sealers that penetrate the surface without changing its look. Each of them offers different benefits and is suitable for different applications. 

Film Forming Sealers 

Also called topical sealers or surface-coating, film-forming sealers coat the whole surface. The sealer clings to the pores of the concrete and forms a protective layer on top of the surface. They provide great moisture and spill protection, are extremely durable, and are simple to care for and reapply. Three varieties of film-forming sealers are available, each formulated for a specific function, which are described below.

Acrylic Sealers

Acrylic sealers can be used in both indoor and outdoor applications to ensure protection against dirt and grime. They are a cost-effective solution that is easy and quick to apply and the result is a thin protective layer on the concrete surface. However, due to their thin layer of protection, they wear more easily and require recoating. They are available in both water-based and solvent-based formulas, as well as a range of sheen levels to complement the surface colour, stamped design, or exposed aggregate.

Polyurethane Sealers

Polyurethane sealers offer a long-lasting, non-yellowing barrier for both interior and outdoor concrete surfaces. Aside from providing great protection against chemicals and abrasive materials, polyurethane is also a versatile sealer that can be coloured and can create a variety of gloss levels. Commonly utilised in high-traffic locations, polyurethane sealers are available in water and solvent-based formulations to suit a wide range of situations.

Epoxy Sealers

Epoxy sealers are suited for interior applications that require long-lasting surface protection. There are several epoxy sealer types to choose from, each with its own set of advantages. Some, for example, have quick drying turnaround times for areas such as shopping malls, while others can provide greater strength for industrial and commercial sectors such as car parks. The finish is glossy, however, a matting component can be added to get a more natural, matte surface. Tinted epoxy sealers are also available.

Penetrating Sealers 

Penetrating sealers protect the concrete from water, stains, and pollutants while keeping its natural finish. As the name suggests, these sealers penetrate the concrete’s capillaries to establish a long-lasting, robust barrier against the ingress of water-borne contaminants and salts. Penetrating sealers can be used for concrete, porous natural stone, and concrete pavers in both indoor and outdoor applications.

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You can find different penetrating sealers suitable for different purposes.

  • General Purpose – This type of sealer is a great option to protect against general dirt and spills in large commercial or industrial concrete areas.  
  • Substrate Colour Enhancement – A good solution for bringing out the colour of the concrete while protecting it from a variety of pollutants and stains.
  • Stain Blocking – Recommended for areas that require oil and stain resistance from food and drink spills, such as public areas, alfresco eating areas, and food service.
  • Industrial Protection – A great option for industrial concrete surfaces to protect against dusting, wear, and staining caused by oils and greases.

Tips for Choosing a Surface Sealant vs. a Penetrating Sealant 

Repairs vs. New Construction

Based on the nature of the material and how it was installed, you may need to use more than one type of sealant at times. The same sealant can be applied throughout the structure, including patchwork and small repairs. However, depending on the type of material, surface age, and location, certain areas may need something different.

Surface Age

Some concrete sealers perform best on newly cured or relatively new concrete and materials. Penetrative formulations should be added as soon as possible since the accumulation of oils, grime, chemicals, and other impurities can impair how quickly and deeply the sealant can penetrate. As a rule of thumb, the longer the material is exposed to the weather, the less effective penetrating seals become. Topical coatings are usually more effective and a better long-term investment in older building applications.

Type of Concrete and Its Density

The type of concrete utilised, its density, and how it is employed in the building’s construction are other factors that need to be considered. Porous concrete types would benefit from a penetrating seal, whilst smooth and dense concrete can be treated with a superficial coating. The environment in which the sealer will be applied and what it will be exposed to on a regular basis might also influence the ultimate decision of waterproofing coating choice.

Environmental Conditions

The effects of environmental exposure on the structure can be severe. What environmental elements the surface will be exposed to on a daily, monthly, and annual basis? Sun exposure, average seasonal weather impacts, severe high and low temperatures,  chemical and pollution exposure, storm cycles and severity, and other impacts such as smoke, and so on are all factors to consider. All of these factors can have an impact on the concrete surface and the sealants utilised.

Building Codes and Engineer Specifications

Specific codes and requirements can often influence the type of sealants required, especially for new structures or modifications that may fall under updated codes and regulations. The original structure may be grandfathered into specified requirements, whilst future additions may require additional safeguards. It is advisable to speak with the builders and engineers because some sealants are more suited to protecting specific materials than others. Following the recommendations of engineers and builders might help remove some of the confusion in selecting a sealant.

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