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How to Stain a Patio

Want to turn your plain patio into an inviting outdoor oasis? All you need is one weekend and an easy-to-use concrete staining kit from your local home center.

Written by David Stone
How to Stain a Patio


Backyard entertaining is bigger than ever. And why not? It’s tough to beat spending a warm summer evening in the yard with family and friends, a few favorites on the grill, and a cold beverage to wash away the cares of the day.

Look through most of the lifestyle magazines, though, and they’ll tell you that entertaining in style outdoors requires an elaborate (meaning expensive) space with a backyard kitchen, a wet bar, and an outdoor entertainment system. Really? Whatever happened to just kicking back and having a good time on the patio?

As much as I hate to break it to those who push style on folks with deep pockets, entertaining on the patio can be just as fun. And, as you can see above, a patio can have plenty of style. Plus, you can create it without emptying your pockets.

In fact, if you have two days and an extra $200, you can turn your drab concrete slab into an appealing entertainment area. The secret is a simple concrete staining kit made by Rust-Oleum that you can pick up at a home center. It comes with everything you need to turn plain concrete into a richly colored surface with a mottled appearance that mimics stone.

And yet the process couldn’t be easier. The stain goes on with a sprayer that’s included with the kit. You just choose the color you want (there are several available), clean the concrete, and then spray on the stain. We’ll walk you through the process.
 
 

Clean and Prep the Concrete

Before applying the stain, you need to prepare the concrete. This is a two-step process that consists of cleaning and then etching the surface.
 

Start by Cleaning  the Patio

If the concrete is dirty, the stain simply won’t stick. It will just sit on the dirt and get washed away during the next hard rain.

Cleaning isn’t difficult. The manufacturer of the stain we used says you can simply scrub the concrete with soapy water and a stiff-bristled brush. But I recommend using a pressure washer, especially on old or rough-surfaced concrete. Though our concrete didn’t look particularly dirty, we were amazed by how much dirt the pressure washer flushed out.

If you don’t have a pressure washer, you can rent one for a few hours very economically. I recommend choosing a gas-powered washer because they produce higher pressure than most of the electric models

Etch For Success

Once the concrete is clean, you need to etch the surface. The etching solution (included in the staining kit) gently abrades the surface of the concrete. This makes it more porous, so the stain can soak in.

To etch the concrete, use a watering can to drizzle the solution onto a few square feet at a time. Let it sit for a couple of minutes, and then scrub it in using a stiff brush.

After scrubbing an area, rinse it with water to neutralize the solution. Then let the concrete dry (which usually takes 18 to 24 hours).
 
 
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Spray the Base Color: Spray the first stain color onto the concrete by moving the wand in a circular motion until you’ve evenly covered the entire surface.

Spray on the Stain Colors

Once the concrete is dry, you’re ready to stain. This is a three-step process: First, you apply a base color, then an accent color, and finally a clear coat.
 
 

Lay Down the Base

Before you apply the base, you need to decide what final look you want for your patio. That’s because with this system, you can apply either color first.

The “Terra Cotta” kit we used, for example, came with a reddish-brown stain and a medium gold. We applied the dark color first, and then added light highlights. Reversing the order of application would result in a lighter background with dark accents.
 
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Mask & Edge: After protecting all of the surrounding surfaces with plastic, brush or roll stain onto hard-to-reach areas.

Once you’ve made your decision, mask off any areas you need to protect. Then brush or roll stain onto any hard-to-reach areas.

After that, you simply apply the stain using a pump sprayer. There’s no real trick to this. Just keep the sprayer pumped up to maintain pressure, hold the nozzle at a consistent height above the surface, and keep the nozzle moving in small overlapping circles. You want to cover 100 percent of the surface with this first color.
 
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Add Accents: Spray on the accent color using random strokes that will give the surface highlights and a mottled look.

Add the Accents

Let the base coat dry for at least two hours, and then you can add the accent color. The process is exactly the same, except you’ll only partially cover the surface with the accent color using random strokes.
 
 

Protect the Surface

Finish up by spraying on a clear top coat. This seals the surface and protects the stain against wear and weather.