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How to Polish a Concrete Floor

Date posted: 29 March 2017

You can end up with a fantastic, stylish floor by polishing concrete - but only if you go about it in the right way.

Concrete is obviously very hard, so in a domestic setting many objects will break if you drop them on it, just as they would on flagstones or even tiles – and it is equally unforgiving if you fall over on it (so perhaps not the most toddler-friendly of flooring options!).  That said, polished concrete is becoming increasingly popular and, thanks to its long-lasting qualities it is an economical option. It is extremely hard-wearing and easy to keep clean, and doesn't harbour dust mites and other allergens – plus any damage to the surface can simply be removed by re-polishing. 

Few householders attempt to create a polished concrete floor themselves from scratch, simply because the skills and equipment involved in pouring and polishing tend to place it outside the realms of most DIY amateurs. Many people do, however, decide to tackle the polishing of existing concrete floors by themselves – simply by hiring the appropriate floor polishing equipment to create a sleek finish. This is not a complicated job, but it does require patience and sticking to the necessary steps!

Wet vs dry concrete polishing

There are wet and dry methods of polishing concrete, each of which has its pros and cons.

Wet polishing uses water to cool the diamond abrasives and eliminate dust generated during the grinding process. It is a more powerful method but requires clean-up because it creates a lot of slurry (water mixed with cement dust) that has to be collected and disposed of in an environmentally-friendly way. 

The dry method, on the other hand, is quicker, easier and more environmentally friendly -- and, as a result, home customers and many polishing contractors tend to opt for this method. A dust containment system extracts most of the dust from polishing as you work, keeping the area clean and the air quality safe. For the purposes of this guide we have focused on the very popular dry polishing method.

DIY concrete floor polishing steps

Modern polishing equipment enables you to grind old or new concrete floor surfaces to create a smooth, high gloss finish that never requires any wax or other coatings.

The task involves following several steps, without rushing the job, and requires specific equipment and the right grinding discs. It is a similar process to sanding wood. Floor polishing or grinding machines are equipped with diamond-segmented abrasives, similar to the sandpaper you would use on a wood floor sander. These grind down the concrete surface to achieve the desired smoothness and lustre. Just as you would when sanding wood, however, you must make several passes over the floor – and with each pass over the surface you gradually progress from coarser-grit to finer-grit abrasives until you achieve the desired finish. You can hire electric floor grinders or petrol-powered units, that will tackle large, tougher areas of concrete.

To give you an idea of the process involved from start to finish, these are the basic steps:

  1. Before you start you need to clear the room of all objects and clean the floor thoroughly to remove any dust, dirt or other debris.
  2. Next, start polishing your concrete floor using the grinding machine and a coarse-grit polishing disc (e.g. 500 grit). The exact discs required will depend on the roughness of the existing concrete surface. We can offer advice on this. The first pass will remove any old stains and start to smooth any rough areas on the old surface. It is best to start at one end of the room and work methodically, using circular motions, until you have passed over the entire surface – without overlapping (or you will polish some bits twice on a single pass and end up with an uneven finish).
  3. Switch to the next polishing disc with a finer grit. Repeat the process of polishing the entire surface systematically and without overlaps. Any remaining stains should now disappear if they didn't during the first grinding. The surface should now appear uniformly polished and clean.
  4. Switch to a polishing disc with the finest grit (e.g. 1500) to buff any scratch patterns from the previous stage and create a sleek finish. For this step only you will need to overlap, using circular motions.
  5. Some customers – often working in trade/commercial settings – then apply a liquid chemical hardener to their floor to help make the concrete less permeable and therefore protect against stains and water penetrations. This is not essential, however.
  6. Finally, use the floor grinder to apply polish all over the surface to complete the job.

More steps may be required in the grinding / polishing process if you are trying to perfect very damaged concrete.

If you wish to create a tone / colour for your finished concrete floor you will need to use a special reactive concrete stain / dye, which needs to be applied halfway through the polishing process outlined above.

Ongoing maintenance

The floor may require resealing after a period of time. If anything is spilt, always make sure you mop it up as soon as possible to avoid staining. If the floor does get stained you can purchase stain removal treatments that will often be very effective. And of course when you eventually decide to re-polish the floor in the future, any remaining staining will be removed by that process – restoring the polished concrete floor once again to its former glory.

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