I was feeling ambitions a few weeks ago and thought I should sweep the garage. I pulled the car out and before I could brush the cobwebs off of my trusty broom I saw all of the oil stains and other sticky patches. Gross! There’s got to be a better way.
So should you paint your garage floor? You should consider painting or protecting your garage floor in some way. It adds to its durability, makes it easier to clean and generally brightens up the place. Literally.
But painting is messy and the prep work is difficult and if you don’t do it right the results can be less than stellar.
You may want to consider other floor protection options or get it professionally painted.
First let’s look at why you should do something to your garage floor.
Where does all that dust come from?
You can sweep the floor and get the big things like leaves and other debris but really an unpainted garage floor is just a self perpetuating dust and dirt factory and it never really gets totally clean.
Believe it or not garage dust comes from the garage. Yup! The cement floor generates its own microscopic layer of fine powdered cement which then gets all over everything. It makes your car dirty and ruins the finish. (If you’re going to bother to have a whole big room just for your cars, the least that room could do is keep the cars cleaner than it does.)
That “garage smell” is fine dust coming off of your floor. Not only does it get on everything, you breath it every time you go into your garage. It may not be as bad as coal dust (you’d pretty much have to snort your garage floor for it to do any real damage) but it’s still gross and if you have allergies, it can certainly make matters that much worse.
Oh and when you walk into your house from your garage? Guess what you’re bringing into the house with you.
An unprotected floor is harder to clean and more vulnerable to damage
It gets worse than that though. Those oil and fluid stains get absorbed into the floor and over the years lead to damage. The salt from winter roads slowly corrodes your garage floor.
Little nicks and pits appear over time and seem to multiply over the years.
Your unpainted/uncovered floor sucks the light out of the room
The cement used in garage flooring has very little reflective ability. It creates a dull and dim environment and for not too much money and time and effort you can change that into something that has a little cheer and may actually inspire you to work on a project rather than beat a hasty retreat tracking all that cement dust with you.
SOME HARD TRUTH ABOUT DIY GARAGE FLOOR PAINTING:
Now that I’ve got you all excited about having a nice dust free garage floor, here’s the bad news.
It’s hard to get good results with consumer garage floor paint. It just is.
When a professional does this, and by professional I mean someone that paints garage floors for a living, they acid wash and/or grind down your floor until it’s bone white, and then apply epoxy and paint. They get a very thick layer that is bonded to the concrete. This will last you a decade or more. There are precise measurements involved as well as harsh chemicals.
If you do it, no matter how hard you try, your paint job will last at most 1-3 years before it needs to be touched up. This is because there is no way you can prep the floor as well as the pros and the epoxy paint you can buy only has a quarter of the epoxy that professional stuff has.
If you do it, no matter how hard you try, your paint job will last at most 1-3 years before it needs to be touched up.
Even if you use a DIY epoxy sealer good luck. You have to measure everything exactly and then you only have 20 minutes of work time. If you’ve ever used plaster and had it turn to rock in the bucket before half of it was on the wall you know the pain.
Here are some things that can go wrong with DIY painting.
- It can add a slippery when wet surface to your floor unless you coat it with an anti-skid medium
- “Hot tire lift” can create bald spots where your tires rest on the floor. (Hot tires adhere to the floor and lift off the paint as they cool ruining all your hard work
- Paint can peel and chip and if you don’t prep well it will happen within weeks
- It needs to be touched up and redone every year or two or three
Rust Bullet may be the one “paint” that is worth using.
I use quotes because Rust Bullet is not really paint as such but is easiest to understand if you view it as a paint rather than a high tech floor treatment.
Rust Bullet reportedly gives professional long lasting results with consumer level effort and tools. It comes at a price, over $100 gallon to cover 250sqft., but it is supposed to be amazing. Go to Amazon for more info here.
- It bonds with the floor
- No hot tire lift because it has high temperature resistance
- It’s not slippery
- It requires reasonable prep work for long lasting results
- The kit includes their high quality oil stain cleaner
Garage Floor Painting Options:
If Rust Bullet is too expensive but you still want to paint, I understand. It’s still a reasonable thing to do:
- It’s an inexpensive way to go.
- It can look good, keep the dust down and help protect the floor.
- You can keep the hot tire lift at bay by using tire mats and just keep up after the dings and scratches with some touch up paint.
Epoxy Paint vs Latex Acrylic Paint vs Two-Part Epoxy Kits
Latex acrylic paint is by far the cheapest of the options and will deliver a good bang for the buck. If you want to prevent a slippery when wet surface, scuff it slightly after it drys with a buffing pad or add an anti-skid medium to the paint. Normal traffic will eventually create those micro scratches as well if you can wait.
Be sure to clean up oil stains promptly as they will stain the floor. Brake fluid will actually cause the paint to pucker. All the warnings about hot tire pickup and chipping mentioned earlier apply to this kind of paint so be prepared to touch it up yearly.
Epoxy paint (also known as one-part epoxy paint) is very similar to the latex acrylic paint but is stronger and bonds better to the concrete. It should last twice as long as latex paint. Some brands even include an anti-skid additive.
Two-part epoxy kits are not actually paint. You mix together the resin and the color and as the water evaporates the resin hardens forming a beautiful glossy finish. You will do two coats with a kit like this. The benefit is that you get a stronger bond and harder finish.
Proper Preparation Prevents Peeling Paint.
If you don’t prepare your surface the paint will peel off on no time flat. It will be all your fault and you will have wasted a lot of time, money and effort. I’m sorry if this sounds harsh but it’s true.
Before you buy anything do the water test:
Get a shot glass of water and pour it on your garage floor. If the water puddles and beads you will most likely need to grind the floor before you paint it or do any kind of sealers.
Seriously consider other options or consider hiring a professional if your floor doesn’t pass the water test.
You can consider painting if the water gets absorbed .
Whatever you do follow the instructions on the product and really clean the surface and make sure it’s dry.
It is a really good idea to do a layer of concrete primer first. This gives a better adhesion for the paint.
Concrete sealers and densifiers: color free alternatives to painting
If you don’t mind the actual look of cement but just want to keep the dust away and protect the floor a good densifier sealer can do the trick. The added benefit of either of these options is that they do not create a slick surface.
What are concrete densifiers and sealers?
Garage dust is literally fine concrete particles coming off the floor. As concrete hardens the water rises to the surface. This extra water closer to the surface makes that concrete less dense. The less dense concrete creates more dust and is more vulnerable to chipping and cracking.
A lithium densifier gets absorbed into the pores of concrete, forms a bond and hardens making it stronger and more resistant to cracking and dusting.
A silicate sealer also penetrates and gets absorbed but creates a moisture resistant bond with the concrete making it more resilient to fluids.
The combination of sealer and densifier gives you the best of both worlds so I see no reason to do one without the other.
The silicone sealer gets absorbed closer to the surface and makes the floor more fluid resistant. What you want is a LITHIUM SILICONATE densifier sealer such as PS104 made by ConcreteSealers USA. This is available on Amazon here. The company is really good about answering questions and if there is such a thing as concrete nerds this company is full of them.
Before you apply a densifier sealer, be sure to clean your floor and get rid of all stains. Any stains on your floor will become a permanent feature. You can use really cheap kitty litter to absorb oil stains. Be sure to rub it and grind it in very well and use enough so that there is no hint of moisture left where the stain is. It can take a while so leave it alone for a day.
If the kitty litter doesn’t finish the job there are a few other things you can try. Read more details here as I go over a few different ways to tackle oil stains.
Floor Tiling Options
The cool thing about tiling is that you can get a really great looking totally customized floor that will last a good long time. There are a few options here ranging in cost, difficulty to install, and degree of maintenance.
Vinyl Tile (VCT)
Update January 10, 2019: I spoke to Johnsonite, owned by Tarkett floors. They’re no longer recommending VCT for garage floors. You could put one in, but the location (garage) might void the warranty.
This is the cheapest solution and if you have a DIY kind of mindset, it is a very good solution. If vinyl tile makes you think of your old high school hallway or the supermarket you are dead on.
It can look very funky/retro “Mel’s Diner” to have this sort of floor. It is also very durable as far as fluids and road slat is concerned. But doesn’t tolerate sharp object very well so use some kind of covering like cardboard when you work with tools or jacks. It does require some maintenance like waxing and buffing to keep it looking nice. You’re looking at $0.70 /sqft or so.
Peel and Stick Tile
This is a very decorative solution. There are lots of colors to choose from and optionally have a tread pattern. It is easy to install and require no maintenance. They are over 4x the cost of the VCT but if you want a no headache floor this is a good option.
Believe it or not but this is actually one of the most durable garage floor coverings. It is very hard to chip and crack and resistant to any kind of fluid. Porcelain is also pretty inexpensive and requires no real maintenance. Doing tile work is a DIY/handyperson solution and a bit more intensive than the VCT but for a bit more effort up front you get a more durable floor for roughly the same cost. It also classes up the joint.
There are two main varieties of interlocking tile, rigid plastic (polypropylene) or more the rubbery, flexible PVC type. They are very durable, and easy to install. They don’t fade or scratch and they come in all manner of styles and colors. One of the things to look at when choosing a brand is the length of the warranty, some brands offer them as long as 15 years.
This is not like any of the other tiles that adhere to the floor. This is a floating installation and the weight of the floor keeps it down. Because of that, you need to have a level floor for this to work properly, especially for the rigid plastic ones.
The best thing about these tiles is that you can take them with you if you move so it can be a longer term investment than the other options. Cost wise this is similar to the peel and stick tiles.
I hope I gave you some things to think about when it comes to your garage floor. As you can see the possibilities go way beyond just painting and there are some good reasons to pursue these other avenues. Regardless of which one you wind up choosing, there are some very good reasons to cover or treat your garage floor:
- protect it from road salt, oil and other fluids
- keep the dust down (protects your car and keeps your home clean)
- protects it from cracking and chipping
- improve the look of your home
Hopefully we have shed some light on the many options available to you and helped you to narrow down your choices. Remember that beyond the initial cost, the degree of difficulty and ongoing maintenance should really align with your ultimate project goals.
If you’ve read this far thank you and please check out our product recommendations page for more ideas.
Improve Garage Floors