How to Care for Concrete Countertops: The Essential Guide

Date: January 27, 2020
Author: Jon Smith
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When you build a home or purchase a home, a lot of thought and effort goes into making it just right for you and your family.  One of the main gathering places in many homes is the kitchen.  On any given day, my own kitchen is a gathering place of laughter, fun, and fellowship, not to mention a room that gets used more than any other in the house.

How do you care for concrete countertops? Caring for concrete countertops is very easy to do.  To maintain your concrete countertop, all you need is mild dish detergent and a soft cloth or sponge.  You also need to be prepared to reseal the countertops every 6 months to a year.

Because this location is such a key aspect of any home, the countertops need to be top-notch and must be maintained appropriately. Read on to find out how to care for your beautiful and unique concrete countertops.

I Have Concrete Countertops. How do I Maintain Them?

If you have finally made the decision to install a concrete countertop, congratulations!  You have made a purchase that will last for a very long time with proper care.  When caring for a concrete countertop, you don’t need a lot of special tools. However, you must know the type of sealant that was used to ensure you use the proper cleaning solution and tools.

Concrete Countertops Care and Maintenance

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What Type of Sealant Can be Used on Concrete Countertops?

When browsing the internet or aisles of a home improvement store, you are going to notice the options for sealants seem limitless.  True, there are many types of sealants for concrete, but remember not all are formulated for countertops.  Even the concrete countertop specific formulations will give you a variety of results.  Choose carefully based on your desired outcome.  This list will highlight some of the options you have when choosing a sealant.

Penetrating Sealers

These sealers are formulated to penetrate the concrete and dry without altering the appearance of the concrete.

  • Liquid Hardeners: designed to penetrate the concrete and lessen the porous nature of the concrete.
  • Repellants: work to increase the surface tension, thereby allowing liquid to bead up instead of soak into the concrete.

When using a penetrating sealer, it is very important to quickly wipe up spills, especially those that could cause unsightly staining.  The countertop is sealed, however, because concrete is such a porous material, it is nearly impossible to completely seal the countertop.  Because of this staining and marking can occur if liquid is left to sit.

Film-Building Sealers

These sealants provide a protective layer over the countertop, but they can easily be wiped away.

  • Wax: This is a common type of film building sealer but can easily be melted or worn away. It is important to note that you cannot use automotive wax on countertops. The formulation is completely different.
  • Acrylics: This type of sealant can be water or solvent-based. The downfall of this type of sealant is the frequent scratching that can occur.  Because of this, it is important to reapply the sealant when scratches appear.
  • Epoxies: This type of sealant will create a durable, stain-resistant surface, but it is not heat resistant and can be easily scratched, which means reapplication of the sealant will be necessary.
  • Urethanes: This is the Cadillac of sealants if you will. Urethanes are stain, heat and scratch resistant, but are also extremely costly.  Although durable, they don’t always look the best, so not many countertops use this sealant.

What Should I Use to Clean Each Type of Sealant?

Although there are many different types of sealants, the best way to clean them is with a mild dish detergent and water mixture.  Using a soft cloth or sponge, you can easily wipe the countertop clean.

Can I Use Stronger Cleaning Solutions?

Perhaps you feel the need to clean your countertop with something a bit stronger than dish detergent.  There are several concrete specific cleaners on the market. Be sure to select an item that is for concrete countertops.

If spray bottles of cleaner aren’t your thing, you can also find countertop wipes with the cleaning solution already in them.

When looking for alternate cleaning solutions, it is always helpful to check with a person experienced in concrete maintenance to ensure you are using the proper material.  The act and cost of refinishing a concrete countertop could be very costly in the long run.

Things to NEVER Use on Concrete Countertops

As you can see, the list of concrete cleaning options is quite short, and you will find most cleaning products formulated for concrete countertops are very mild.  The mild nature of the products allows the sealant to remain protected.

There are some items that you should never use to clean concrete countertops.  If you use these items to clean concrete countertops, you will certainly jeopardize the integrity of the sealant.

  • Ammonia
  • Bleach
  • Vinegar
  • Lemon Juice

Unfortunately, most cleaning products contain at least one of the items listed above.  You will not find any of these ingredients in a concrete specific cleaner.  The reason being their acidic and abrasive nature.  If these items get sprayed or spilled on a concrete countertop, they will begin to etch the countertop.

Please know this does not mean an occasional spill or splash of lemon juice or vinegar will ruin your countertop.  Constant spraying and wiping with these products will cause damage over time though.

Stains on My Concrete Countertop

Let’s face it. Life is busy, families are busy, and the kitchen is the main area of traffic in any house.  I don’t know about you, but when you throw kids into the mix, spills are bound to happen.  They can’t be prevented, no matter how hard you try.  So, let’s say you notice an unsightly stain on your beautiful countertop.  What do you do?

After you have panicked for a few moments, gotten irritated and tried to find the culprit, it’s time to get it cleaned up.

Removing stains from a concrete countertop is not always the easiest task to complete, depending on the type and size of the stain.  One of the most important things you can have is patience when dealing with the stain.

In all honesty, the first thing you may want to do is grab a kitchen sponge with the pot scrubbing side and just start scrubbing until the stain is gone.  DO NOT DO THIS!!! As tempting as it is to just obliterate the stain, you will also be removing the sealant from your countertop, thus opening it up too many more stains than you bargained for.  Follow these methods instead.

Removing Simple Liquid Stains

Sometimes the stain on your countertop may be caused by something simple, such as juice, wine, or any number of food items.  Although minimal, these stains detract from the appearance of your countertop, so you will want to remove them in the best way possible.  For these minor liquid stains, try these ideas

A Cotton Ball

Yes, you read that correctly a cotton ball soaked in a mild cleaner could save your countertop.  To use this method, soak a cotton ball or pad, both of which can be found in the beauty and face care section of any store in a mild detergent.

Place the cotton ball or pad directly on the stain and let it sit for several minutes.  This should allow the stain to lift from the concrete.

Once you remove the cotton ball, you should be able to wipe the countertop clean.

Laundry Detergent and Stain Remover

Both items are probably sitting in your house and will safely clean a porous surface like the concrete countertop.

To use this method of cleaning, you will need to spray the stain remover onto the countertop and let it sit briefly. After it has been sitting for a short time, sprinkle powdered detergent over it and gently wipe it off.

The laundry detergent is abrasive, but not abrasive enough to harm the sealant.

Hydrogen Peroxide Paste

Again, these are items you probably have around your house. You are going to make a poultice with peroxide and flour.  Allow the poultice to sit on the stain for several hours and wipe it away. This should pull more stubborn stains out of the countertop.

This process is best used when all other options have been exhausted.  The hydrogen peroxide is not meant to stay on porous surfaces for a long period of time.

Oil Stains

If you are looking at a stain caused by oil, you have a much more challenging job ahead of you and will need more than a cotton ball and detergent. To remove an oil stain, you will need to use something called a poultice.

Most poultices contain a solvent of some type because they need to allow the cleaner to penetrate the concrete and oil stain.  Remember, solvents are not a friend to your countertop.  Check with an authorized concrete expert before concocting your own poultice.

When using a poultice, you will need to apply a coating that is at least ¼ inch thick and will need to be covered with plastic wrap that is taped down.  This mixture needs to be left on for at least 24 hours to allow the stain to be broken up and released from the concrete.

This process is very lengthy and may need to be repeated several times. If you find this method is not working the way it should, it is time to contact a professional to help remove the stain.

Because of the solvent that is used in this process, the longer the countertop is exposed to it, the greater the risk to your sealant is.

CAUTION: If you decide to do an online search for stain removal methods, don’t trust everything you read.  There are some sites that encourage placing bleach or other abrasives on the cotton and allowing it to soak.  Although this is short term exposure, it could easily harm the sealant.

If you are doubtful about your ability to remove a stain properly, ask an expert for help.  Your countertops and wallet will thank you.

Stains on Unsealed Countertops

If your countertop has not been sealed or the sealant has worn off, and you get a stain on it, the difficulty level of removal has increased exponentially.

When removing a stain from unsealed concrete, you will need several items.

  • Sponge
  • Mild detergent
  • Dry towel
  • Fine sandpaper
  • Paste wax
  • Sealant

Once you have gathered these items, you are ready to begin.

  • Step 1: Using the sponge, wipe off the counter with mild detergent and water.
  • Step 2: Dry the countertop with the towel and let it sit until it is completely dry
  • Step 3: Gently sand the stain with wet sandpaper to remove the stain
  • Step 4: Wipe the dust away and allow the counter to dry completely
  • Step 5: Apply a layer of sealant and allow it to dry completely
  • Step 6: Apply a layer of paste wax and buff

When using this method to remove stains from your unsealed countertop, know that some stains are extremely stubborn and cannot be removed this way. If you find yourself sanding in excess without removing the stain, STOP.  Do not cause further damage to your countertop.

If it isn’t working, please call a professional. Some stains are so deep in the concrete that only a professional will have the solution and tools to adequately remove the stain.

How Often Should I Apply Sealant?

After reading about all the potential stains and methods for cleaning, you may be asking yourself how often sealant should be applied to your countertops.  Unfortunately, there isn’t a cut and dry answer for this question.

Like anything, the more you use it, the more maintenance it may require.  If you are constantly in your kitchen and using the countertop daily, the maintenance may need to be more frequent.  Some contractors will tell you that sealant is good for several years.

Again, the amount of traffic your counter sees will dictate just how many years the sealant will protect the counter.

A good rule of thumb is to be attentive to the counter.  If you find yourself frequently cleaning stains out of the counter and see water soaking into the counter, it is probably time to get it resealed.

Can I Apply Sealant Myself?

You may be wondering if this is something that must be contracted out or if it can be completed without outside help.

Many sealants require multiple steps to complete. If you are comfortable following the steps, then you should be able to complete the task on your own.  If you look at the steps and feel overwhelmed or confused by them, it’s time to ask for help or to pay someone to do it for you.

When looking at sealants, make sure the sealant is specially formulated for countertops and that you have all the necessary materials before beginning the process.

It is also important to make sure the countertops are not going to be bothered or touched during this process.  The last thing you want to do is have the sealant ruined before it has a chance to dry thoroughly.

Tools Needed to Seal Your Countertop

When preparing to seal your own countertop, make sure you have the appropriate tools to do the job. Check the container of sealant to determine the exact materials you will need.  Typically, you will need the following items;

  • Rubber gloves
  • 2 buckets (one with water and one without)
  • Terry cloth towel
  • Sealant

Once you have all your tools gathered and a clean, well-ventilated area, you are ready to begin working on the countertops.

Reminders When Sealing Your Own Countertop

Looking at the supply list makes the task of resealing your countertops seem trivial. Let me be the first to say this is not a small job that needs to be taken lightly.  If you do not prepare the countertops correctly, you could cause them to look quite unsightly.

Given the idea that most families and guests spend a lot of time in the kitchen, you want it to look nice and complete.

Be sure to set aside enough time to work.  Adding sealant to a countertop may not seem like a time-intensive task, but factor in dry time, and you have a full afternoon project.

What Makes Concrete a Good Option?

When you think of concrete, you are probably more inclined to think of a garage floor, walls, a basement, or even a patio.  If the idea of concrete countertops is new to you, don’t worry.  The concept of concrete countertops is a more recent trend.

In the early ’80s, the first concrete countertop was cast, but the popularity of concrete as a focal point in a building didn’t pick up steam until the late ’90s. Now, you can find polished and stained concrete in many buildings, including homes.  Many people like the appearance of concrete and appreciate the durability of the material.

When thinking about countertops, concrete can be a great option for a home for these reasons

  • You can custom tint the concrete to match any décor
  • Concrete is heat and scratch-resistant
  • It provides a unique look
  • You can texturize the concrete if you wish

As you can see, concrete countertops can be a great investment in your home if you are looking for a unique and durable option.

What is Challenging About Concrete Countertops?

Now let’s look at the flip side of concrete countertops.  Although unique and durable, there are some challenges that come along with using concrete that must be considered.

  • You cannot DIY concrete countertops…you can try, but it will likely not turn out well
  • Concrete can crack with time
  • Concrete counters are custom made, therefore more costly
  • You must continuously reseal the countertops
  • The unique look you love, may not be adored by all

I can almost guarantee someone reading this right now is thinking, “I could do this myself.” Don’t get me wrong, maybe you are a Rockstar DIYer, and you can handle the challenge, but if you are not 100% secure with concrete work and don’t have the proper molds and tools, it is best to hire a professional.

When looking at this list, you are probably noticing problems that could come up with any countertop such as cracking and the need to be resealed.  True, these are common maintenance situations that arise, but as you will see, concrete is more susceptible to cracks and because of the porous surface sealant is frequently needed.

One other challenge about concrete is that it may not be loved by all. Gasp!  I know, not everyone will like your choice of décor.  Thinking back to a home we moved into with all gold accents and deep purple and forest green wallpaper, I’m sure the original owners loved it.  My husband and I couldn’t get it updated quickly enough.

I say this to caution you.  If you are ever planning to sell your home, be prepared for buyers to be turned off by this modern, industrial style.

Repairing Concrete Countertops

Over time, there is a chance that your concrete countertop will need to be repaired.  Knowing that concrete is porous, even with sealant, this is something you will need to plan on. The most common repairs you will need to think about are;

  • Hairline cracks
  • Scratches
  • Chips

Once you diagnose the problem that needs to be resolved with your countertop, there is a good chance you can repair it on your won.  Again, I will caution you if you are not confident in your ability, or do not have the proper materials, hire someone to do the job well.

Repairing Hairline Cracks

Hairline cracks tend to happen as the concrete ages.  If you look at your garage or basement floor, chances are you will see hairline cracks.  While they don’t harm the integrity of the countertop (yet), they may be unsightly.

When you are fixing a crack in any surface, the most important thing is to make sure it isn’t noticeable.  The last thing you want is darkened lines winding their way through your countertop.

Materials You Will Need

  • A filling material that will easily bond to concrete (make sure it is color-matched)
  • A sponge
  • Mild cleaning detergent
  • Towel
  • Sealer

Be aware that hairline cracks are extremely difficult to repair because there isn’t much room for the filler to get into.  Ask an expert for the best viscosity of filler to use for this repair

  • Step 1: Make sure the crack is completely clean and dry
  • Step 2: Begin the filling process (this takes patience and time)
  • Step 3: Let the filling dry
  • Step 4: Put countertop sealant over the area.

Repairing Large Cracks

The process to follow for this job is much like the above process, but it is much easier to fill in large cracks. This is the case because there is more surface area for the filling to bond to.  The downfall of filling a large crack is the amount of attention that needs to be put into color matching the filler.

If you are in doubt about the color, I would recommend hiring someone with a good eye for concrete color.  You also must be aware of the filling you use, because some tend to darken upon drying.

Fillers Commonly Used for Large Cracks

  • Polymer – modified cement grout
  • Silicone or latex-based caulking
  • Epoxy designed for stone

When working with each of these fillers, they all have positives and negatives.  The positive aspect of each is the fact that they are easily worked into the crack and can adhere quite well.  This provides adequate strength and support to the crack. They are also easily color-matched.

The negative aspect of these materials is that they can possibly crack over time, which will mean future repairs.

When looking to fill in a large crack, use the steps listed above, but epoxy will require you to blend and tint before you use it, as it can set quite quickly.

Can You Paint Concrete Counter Tops?

So, you took the plunge and installed the ever-impressive concrete countertops in a fantastic color that matched everything in your kitchen and bathroom.  Flash forward five years, and you have decided to redecorate your entire home, and the countertops don’t match.

Your first instinct may be to pick up a paintbrush and go to town.  DO NOT DO THIS!!! You will end up with a huge mess, and the countertops will look terrible.  Remember all the steps for sealing the concrete because of how porous it is?  Paint on top of sealant and you will have a mess.

It is possible to change the color of the countertop, but paint is not the way to go.

How Do I Change the Color?

If you decide to change the color of your countertops, it may be wise to hire a professional.  Let me explain why the color change may not be worth the DIY headache it is sure to cause.

When you decide to change the color of the concrete, you will need to sand away the sealant to expose the concrete.  If you accidentally sand to0 much or have a heavy hand on the sander, you will damage the concrete.

Once the sealant is sanded away, you need to be prepared to add your own new tint to the concrete and seal it again.  If you have previously repaired cracks in the concrete, this may be challenging and could cause the cracks to become more visible.  Therefore, it may be best to trust a professional.

How Long do Concrete Countertops Last?

It is difficult to say exactly how long concrete countertops will last, simply because it is dependent upon the care they receive. Think about a car.  Some people can get over 200,000 miles out of a car, while others are looking to buy after 75,000.

If you are meticulous with the care of your countertop and make it a point to reseal every 2-3 years, there is no reason you can’t keep the countertops for the life of the home, which we all know is a long time.

Without proper care, you may be looking to replace the countertops much earlier.

Concrete Countertops

As you have learned, concrete countertops are; unique, durable, and provide an amazing centerpiece to any home.  However, the maintenance of these countertops is more time-intensive than other options.

Before deciding if concrete countertops are for you, be sure to educate yourself about maintaining the countertops for a long period of time. If you know you cannot dedicate the time and attention needed for the countertops to remain clean and cared for, then perhaps you should choose a different material.

Concrete countertops are a fabulous addition to any home if you are willing to put the work into maintaining them.

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About Jon - Website Owner

Jon Smith

Hi, my name is Jonathan Smith. I have been in the granite business for many years and have worked my way up from an installer helper to an installer and then a countertop business owner. 

I started my countertop company with very little and grew extremely fast because of my knowledge and helpfulness. I started this countertop resource for 1 main reason. That reason is that there are no countertop websites with all the correct information and none of them are from an industry expert like myself. 

I am still in the trade every single day installing countertops, educating people on the type of material they are using for their homes, and making people's dream kitchens a reality.
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