Concrete cleaners are designed to remove all the contamination from concrete surfaces and are commonly available. They clean the concrete surface in different ways based on the type of concrete cleaner you are using. Understanding how these cleaners work can actually save you money and time the next time spring cleaning comes around.
First of all, you will have to understand how basic soap works so that we can get into the more complex chemistry of concrete cleaners. Since oil and water do not mix, soap emulsifies the dirt, oil, and grease with a formula of fatty acids. These particles are easily removed due to the water-based solution of soap and water. Plain water doesn’t have much cleaning abilities but it can do wonders when mixed with fatty acids that are present in the soap.
Keeping the basic concept of soap in mind, more complex cleaners have been created to remove stains and dirt from concrete. You will need an expert cleaner since concrete is porous and holds dirt well. It is a tough surface to clean, which is why doing proper research will definitely pay off in the long-term. Once you have a cleaner that works for you, you can cut down on the maintenance costs for the concrete. You will also increase the lifespan of the concrete surface and prevent cracks from emerging.
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Types of Concrete Stains
To properly understand which concrete cleaner you will need, you have to analyze the type of stain you have. This will ensure that you choose the right kind of cleaner that will clean the surface in the best possible way.
- Dirt: The dust from the environment can often embed itself into the concrete. Driveways that deal with dirt from shoes and cars every day may experience the brunt of it. Even garden fixtures like walking paths can also gather a lot of dirt.
- Grease/Oil: Cars can often leak onto the surface. Oily substances often go deep into the surface and are hard to clean with just water. You may need specialized cleaners to break down the oily compounds more effectively.
- Pet Urine: This problem is more common for homeowners than you may have imagined. If you have a dog in the house, you may have to wash down the concrete surfaces plenty of times to keep them clean. Since concrete is porous, the odor can continue to linger on the surface.
- Efflorescence: This can emerge from high alkaline soil, exposure to hard water or high salt content in the soil. It is a crystallized residue or white powder that can make the concrete surface look rather grainy and textured. Since it is insoluble in water, you will need a strong solution to properly remove it from the concrete surface.
- Paint: If you are revamping the house, you may find drops and smears of paint all over the concrete surface. To remove such tough stains, you may need a heavy-duty concrete cleaner.
4 Types of Concrete Cleaners
There are some main types of concrete cleaners that you may be able to find in the market. Depending on the type of stain you have, you can use any of the following concrete cleaners for your floor.
1. PH-Neutral Cleaners
PH-Neutral Cleaners are mild and are designed for indoor concrete surfaces. These sealed surfaces do not have a lot of dirt and grime embedded in them since they are cleaned frequently. They can also be used for unsealed exterior concrete but only if you require mild cleaning.
The pH-Neutral Cleaners are usually diluted in different amounts of water. You will need to add water according to the level of cleaning that is required and most brands have instructions written on them.
After thoroughly saturating the concrete surface with the cleaner, you will have to perform light agitation or scrubbing to get the stains and out. Then, you can either mop up or vacuum the residue away, followed by rinsing the floor with clean water. If dirt still remains then you will have to try one of the stronger cleaners listed below.
2. Acidic Cleaners
Acidic cleaners are designed to remove contamination, stains, and dirt that are soluble in acidic solutions. They are usually heavy-duty mixtures that are especially effective at removing efflorescence from concrete. This is an insoluble metallic salt which tends to appear as crystalline residue or white powder. It doesn’t wash away from plain water and can be clearly seen. They may occur from exposure to hard water, high soil alkalinity or high salt content in the concrete surface.
To combat the salt, acidic cleaners contain active ingredients. The acid comes in ready-to-use concentrated formulas. They are applied directly to contaminated areas and can dissolve the dirt, salt, and grease easily. On some occasions, you will need to scrub the surface to properly remove all the stubborn stains from the concrete surface. It is of utmost importance to neutralize the acidic cleaner on the concrete after you are done the cleaning otherwise it can easily lead to a hazard. You will have to rinse the surface with clean water properly.
If you want to prevent salt or alkaline contamination in the future, your best option is to consider adding a sealer to your concrete.
3. Alkaline Cleaners
Alkaline cleaners are also known as ‘concrete degreasers’ since they are the best concrete cleaners for oil, greases, and any other hydrocarbon-based stain. These cleaners have a higher pH level (alkalinity) which can help break down or emulsify oily contaminations.
Another major application for alkaline cleaners is to help neutralize concrete surfaces after you have used acidic cleaners. Alkaline cleaners are the best way to balance the pH of the concrete surface to a basic level so that no harm or damage comes to it.
A lot of DIY methods suggest using baking soda and water to neutralize cleaned surface but this method doesn’t work well for hard surfaces like concrete. It is also an expensive method as compared to modern alkaline cleaners and soaps that come at low costs and are significantly more efficient. Just one gallon of fully diluted alkaline cleaner will be able to clean up to 4,000 sq ft of concrete. To clean the same amount with baking soda and water solutions, you will end up spending hundreds of dollars.
Alkaline cleaners mostly come as concentrated solutions that have to be diluted with water. You can add as much water as you need, depending on how aggressive the stain on the surface is. For deeper, older stains, you will need the cleaner working at full strength but you can dilute the solution for any new stains that haven’t been absorbed into the concrete yet.
One common mistake that homeowners make when they are using alkaline cleaners is that they don’t give enough time to the cleaner for it to work properly. Depending on the depth and type of oil stain, you may need to implement multiple applications. Every application may need to a few hours to work properly.
Another important thing to note is that alkaline cleaners are designed to ‘lift’ the oil and grease stains from the concrete after emulsifying it. This means that you will have to wipe it away with rags, poultice, or industrial wet vac to properly remove all the oil from the surface.
Clean the surface with water and reapply the alkaline cleaner until the stain is completely gone.
4. Bacterial/Enzymatic Cleaners
Bacterial/Enzymatic cleaners are a comparatively new type of concrete surface cleaners. They use active enzymes and organic chemistry to break down, attack and even digest contamination and stains. They are commonly called oxidation cleaners because they use the chemical process of oxidation to break down certain stains like starch-based, protein-based, and hydrocarbon-based stains. These specific stains are eliminated with thorough targeted cleaning.
For example, many homeowners may experience the common problem of pet urine stains on the concrete surface. In order to break down the protein from the stain and odor of the urine, it is advisable to use enzyme cleaners because such cleaners are specifically designed to target protein. This targeted action works exceptionally well when it comes to getting rid of these types of stains from your home since they are formulated to deal with such types of stains. Another active cleaner you can use is bacterial. They consist of genetically engineered bacteria that feed on grease, oil or hydrocarbon elements.
The biggest benefit of using enzymatic or bacterial cleaners is that, unlike soap, they don’t need water to activate. There is also little to no residue that you will have to wash or scrub away from the surface. The bacteria or enzyme will simply break away the contamination until it is all gone.
However, they do have one drawback, which is that they need time to work properly. Depending on the size of the stain or the contamination, the bacteria or enzyme will require at least a few days or weeks to completely do the job. Since you can apply these cleaners with little to no need for agitation or scrubbing, you may be able to simply apply the solution and then leave it to work. For more stubborn and large stains, you may need to combine the application with other methods or solutions.
Specialty cleaners are designed to remove a very specific type of contaminations on the concrete surface. They may be a blend of two or more of the above concrete cleaners to allow more efficient and effective cleaning. For example, you may get a rust remover and non-acidic efflorescence remover in one bottle.
The concrete surface is highly porous which allows the water and dirt to adhere to it. Experts recommend getting a high-quality finish to reduce the concrete porosity so that it remains clean. However, this can be really expensive to do since waterproof finishes are significantly costlier and can only be applied by an expert. The finer aggregates and more cement that is used, the more finishing you will require to make a difference.
Though concrete behaves well and endures being immersed or exposed to water, contact with water can still cause damage to concrete. In fact, the more water present on the concrete, the more organic materials and dirt will adhere to it. This is why you should try to keep water away from it as much as you can.
It is important to keep concrete surfaces clean since contaminations can be unhealthy for the residents of the home. The more grease and dirt that is embedded into the concrete, the smaller the lifespan of the surface. If it is not well-maintained, concrete surface can crack or shift. This can be a huge and costly nuisance for homeowners. This is why investing in the right type of concrete cleaner can improve the condition of your flooring.