Oh no! You hear a familiar crashing sound. Perhaps a bubble or gurgle shoots through the air.
You know deep down what has happened. You now have wood stain on concrete. Maybe you just put in a new deck, and you spilled some stain on your pavers.
It could be that your child knocked over the can while you were away, and now it is all over your garage floor.
Fear not; you are about to discover the solution. Removing stain from concrete driveways, concrete pavers, or floors can seem daunting, but there are many approaches to solving this common household problem.
A Bit about Wood Stains and Concrete
If you haven’t had the chance to work in construction, janitorial, or cleaning services, the solution to this predicament may not seem obvious.
The real problem with wood stain and concrete is due to the nature of concrete. Concrete surfaces are porous.
The other issue is wood stain. Most are oil based.
So, let’s attack this problem like an oil spill. If you weren’t quick enough on the draw with absorbing towels, you should skip down to the solutions without the harsh chemicals.
Because concrete is absorbent, liquid gets into those pores.
Oil stains of any kind are the worst, because concrete allows discoloration that can be hard to get out. And just like your favorite sweater, time is of the essence.
So especially for fresh concrete stains: do not rub it in!
Of course, you can also try to blot it. But that won’t be enough.
If the stain is older or set into the concrete, you will want to skip over the ‘without harsh chemicals route’ and consider muriatic acid or intensive etching products.
Remember that with these kinds of spills, like paint stains, acetone may be an appropriate approach is not high on the list for optimal solutions.
Next we’ll discuss ways to remove the wood stain both with and without chemicals..
Immediate Help without Harsh Chemicals
You had a spill. Just as you could do with fresh motor oil stains, go get one of the following to dump on that stain: a dry material like cat litter, chalk, or salt (the finer, the better).
I would not use flour, cornmeal, or wood shavings unless the shred is super fine.
Dump your dry absorbent material all over the stain until it is covered.
Now, let it sit for at least a day. Anything less than 10-12 hours will probably you.
Think of it like salting a piece of red meat for flavor retention, except in this case color absorption.
You may even consider sealing in the absorbent with plastic wrap and tape, just like you would wrap a food dish.
After the time is up, sweep or vacuum up the excess materials (recommend a shop vac, not your regular vacuum).
Lastly, wash and scrub the area with soap and hot water. If you have to, repeat this last step until the stain is gone.
For a fresh stain that will often do the trick. But what if it is an older stain?
For that, we need some more background.
Remember that concrete is absorbent. And since most wood stains are oil based, they can be rather tenacious. It’s the same issue when oil paint stains concrete!
If your stain is older or a bit stubborn, try applying baking soda; rinse and repeat. You may also try making your own poultice out of your cat litter and acetone.
An Effective Solution: Going All In with Acid
Ok. So your concrete stain is entrenched, and you have already absorbed as much as you can with dry materials. What tools can you use?
If a construction company wants to get a floor ready for a coating, they turn to etching.
Etching is the application of muriatic acid, which is also called hydrochloric acid.
If you are inexperienced with harsh industrial chemicals, this isn’t the best solution.
This stuff is dangerous and known to cause a number of health problems due to long term exposure.
I recommend this video from the Chlorine Institute if you decide to use corrosive acid.
You should always protect your body, but more so in this case. Put on long sleeves and grab some chemical resistant gloves.
Rubber gloves are generally good for chemical safety. If you have goggles or a face mask, that would also be helpful.
Wear closed-toe shoes. Douse open flames which may be nearby.
Of course, read all the instructions and safety information that come with any chemical you might use. Follow the storage instructions to a tee. You do not want a preventable chemical burn.
Ensure you are in a well ventilated and open space. If you are not outside, open windows and doors as necessary or get respiratory equipment.
The process for applying is not too complicated.
You will need your protective equipment, your acid, a broom, and preferably a power washer. This is best for outdoors stains; for example, removing stain from concrete driveways.
Combine the muriatic acid with a minimum of 10 parts water to one part acid. Manufacturers recommend closer to 20 parts water in a bucket. Start with a more dilute solution; you can always make it stronger.
Brush the mixture over the stain with a scrub brush or any type of stiff brush or broom (make the mixture stronger if the stain doesn’t come out).
Powerwash or rinse the area until the mixture is neutralized (this won’t work super well indoors). Pressure washers work great here, and is great for concrete pavers or slabs outside. Any plants or living things that come in contact with a strong acidic mixture will die.
The concrete will be ‘etched’, the outer layer gone.
Apply an epoxy to avoid future staining, like in the case of a garage floor.
Be aware that this method has other drawbacks. It can cause the floor to become more porous after an application – making stains even more likely while also damaging your concrete.
Sensational ‘Middle Ground’ Products
Fortunately, today there are much safer alternatives.
In the past, it would have been easy to recommend something like Simple Green, Greased Lightning or paint stripper products. But now there are even better choices.
One such choice is Surface Gel Tek, which is also an etcher. You don’t have to mix it with water, just lay it down.
It also works quickly. In 15 minutes, you can hose it and shop vac it up. It’s really that simple.
It’s a professional grade solution. If you can’t get your hands on it, consider Clean-N-Etch etching solution. You can buy it at Home Depot. It’s less than $20 and can cover 400 sq. feet with 64 oz. But, it’s not a gel, so application, and clean up will not work as seamlessly.
Lastly, there is Echo-Etch Pro, an organic and safer alternative to hydrochloric acid. You can buy 128 oz for $30-$35.
As with other products, follow the manufacturer’s directions on the package. Proper application of this particular product should make the concrete clean.
Aside from all of the safety concerns, consider your long-term plans for the area. A few pieces of concrete paver can often be replaced easily.
For a small stain, using hydrochloric acid would be overkill. If you are looking to resurface or color your whole floor or section anyway, it makes more sense to go this route. It would also be a good excuse to cover it with epoxy.
There are lots of great tips and videos online about the merits of epoxy. Some epoxy floors look great even when you DIY!
Given these facts, you can choose your method for cleaning more effectively. So use a good dose of common sense before taking a course of action.
Q: What kind of kitty litter should I use?
If you don’t have a cat, it may come as a surprise that there are different kinds of cat litter. In this case, do not get any of the fancy gels or scented litter. Moreover, clay cat litter is preferable to pine.
Q: What ingredients are in Echo-Etch Pro?
Organic acid salt, surfactant, and water.
Q: Can you use Echo-Etch Pro on a wet surface?
Yes! It neutralizes immediately when in contact with water, so you will need to compensate for that.
Q: I have an epoxy floor what should I do?
Again, consult the manufacturer’s instructions for specific products, but generally, epoxy is like an extra coating over your concrete.
As such, you should not have a problem with stains if you have an epoxy coating because the epoxy seals those pesky pores. You should be able to get most of the wood stain up without much problem.
Wood stain on concrete may be intimidating to those of us new to home maintenance or construction.
But, these are great solutions for this problem. Take the soft-etch approach to getting the stain out of your concrete and invest in Echo-Etch Pro or similar products.