If you want to upgrade the look of your kitchen by installing new countertops, concrete is an economical and sustainable choice. It offers several advantages other materials can’t match, especially when it comes to versatility. Like natural stone countertops, concrete imparts an earthy and elegant look that appeals to many homeowners. Concrete also gives you the creative freedom to choose the exact countertop color and shape you want, pick a unique edge profile, add embeds, or polish the surface for a shiny finish.
Durability is another positive attribute of concrete countertops and a strong selling point when staging a home for resale. The Achilles heel of concrete is its natural porosity, and, like granite, it should always be sealed to protect it from food stains, minor scratches, and water absorption.
The right sealer will protect the countertop surface and enhance its color and sheen. Following are some simple guidelines for choosing and applying concrete countertop sealers and tips for cleaning and maintaining your sealed countertops.
The natural beauty of concrete countertops is preserved and enhanced by the application of a sealer. Photo courtesy of Absolute ConcreteWorks, Port Townsend, WA.
Choosing the Right Sealer for the Job
When you shop around for countertop sealers, it’s important to understand what’s available, how they work, and what each type is best suited for. Here are the most important factors to consider:
Be sure to choose a heavy-duty sealer that is food safe, colorless, non-yellowing, and heat and scratch resistant. Look for a food-grade product designed specifically for concrete countertops and bar tops.
In most cases, you’ll be applying the sealer indoors (with the exception of precast countertops that are finished in the shop and installed later). Use a product that is safe for indoor application, contains no VOCs or harmful chemicals, and is low in odor.
Countertop sealers are available in a range of sheen levels. For a more natural look, you’ll get the best results using a sealer with a low-sheen matte finish. If you want a shinier porcelain-like finish, choose a high-gloss sealing product.
How to Apply Countertop Sealer
How a sealer is applied can significantly affect the final appearance and performance of your concrete countertops. Often, the job is best left in the hands of a professional who knows the most appropriate products and tools to use to achieve the desired finish. If you choose to tackle the project yourself, follow these important ground rules:
Be sure to test any sealing product you’re considering before you apply it to the entire surface. Testing is the most accurate way to verify that a concrete countertop sealer will deliver what you expect in terms of both appearance and performance.
Using the right tools is critical to achieving the best coverage rate and sealer thickness. While there are some general guidelines for applying sealer, you should always refer to the sealer manufacturer’s installation instructions regarding the tools and procedures they recommend.
Always keep in mind that less is more. You should apply sealer in multiple, thin coats versus one thick, heavy coat to ensure proper curing and even coverage.
For additional protection and luster, consider applying a food-safe finishing wax over the sealer. This sacrificial protectant will help to preserve the sealer, so it maintains its effectiveness longer. Like wax for floors, reapply the finishing wax as needed to keep the surface protected.
How to Clean and Maintain Sealed Countertops
As long as your concrete countertops are properly sealed, they should be as easy to clean as a laminated surface. As a general rule, use a pH-neutral cleaner and avoid the use of aggressive scrubbing pads or abrasive cleansers that can wear away the sealer. Also, be sure to clean up spills and messes right away. This is especially important with acidic foods that can etch into the surface, such as citric acid from fruit or acetic acid from vinegar-based products.
Although concrete countertops are highly heat resistant, the sealer itself may be vulnerable to heat damage from scorching-hot pots and pans. It’s still wise to use trivets or another form of heat protection.
Expect (and Embrace) Imperfection
Concrete countertops are not a manufactured product that comes off an assembly line. Some minor imperfections due to natural aging are to be expected, even with sealed countertops. Many people are lured to concrete countertops because they have a natural look that can’t be duplicated with manufactured materials. Don’t fight the aging process. The unique character and warm patina concrete acquires over time will only make your countertops more distinctive.
Learn more about the pros and cons of concrete countertops here.
Anne Balogh has been a contributing author for ConcreteNetwork.com for nearly 20 years. With a background in concrete construction journalism, she shares valuable tips for ways you can enhance newly placed and existing concrete driveways. ConcreteNetwork.com can also be found on Facebook and Instagram.