Which floor treatment is right for your shop?

Staff
By Staff Writer
Sep 10, 2023 | garage, Workshop | Posted in Shop Work | From the June 2009 issue | Never miss an article

Photography Credit: David S. Wallens

[Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the June 2009 issue of Grassroots Motorsports.]

Story by Tom Heath

Talk about the bedrock of human society: Concrete is the material behind such significant architectural benchmarks as the Roman Colosseum, the Hoover Dam and Alcatraz. This simple blend of sand, gravel and cement has been with us since at least 5600 B.C., with a few ingredients mixed in along the way for added strength and durability. 

Of course, you don’t need to travel to Rome to come in contact with the stuff; most gearheads are old pals with their cement garage floors. This durable, easy-to-level material is a common choice for workspace flooring.

Although plain concrete makes a terrific construction medium, it still leaves a bit to be desired as a work surface. If poorly finished, it can be rough and dusty; it’s also cold to lie on, tiring to stand on, and easily stained by oil and grease. 

Modern sensibilities demand something more luxurious and appealing to the eye, whether the garage is used for real work or simply showing off. Luckily, a variety of options are available to make decorative and functional improvements to plain concrete floors, each with its own benefits and drawbacks. 

Paint

Pros: Inexpensive and easy to apply, simple to repair, no special equipment required.

Cons: Slippery, doesn’t offer much stain protection, prone to lifting, flaking and scratching.

Photography Credit: David S. Wallens

Likely the simplest method for finishing a garage floor, an exterior paint suitable for masonry can provide the visual benefit of a more expensive floor product—at least for a little while. As with most methods, preparation is the key to good results. A thorough cleaning with trisodium phosphate will pay dividends in the finished product. Paint will do the job of covering the concrete, but it isn’t well suited to work areas or heavy loads.

Epoxy Floor Coating

Pros: Lots of color and finish possibilities, do-it-yourself capability, can be used on older floors.

Cons: Can lift if poorly prepared, difficult to repair, slippery when wet.

Photography Credit: David S. Wallens

Thanks to their low cost, easy application and durable results, epoxies have become a popular floor finishing solution in recent years. Epoxy coatings are also much thicker than most other finishes, making them a good choice for surfaces that are slightly uneven or have small cracks. This thickness can also allow for some neat design elements, such as grip-enhancing textures and visible logos suspended in the epoxy layers.  Plus, the coatings come in a rainbow of colors to suit your space.

Stained or Dyed Concrete

Pros: Multiple application options, permeates below the surface, can be used to create intricate patterns.

Cons: Intricate finishes are expensive, needs periodic resealing, can be tricky to clean up.

Photograph Courtesy Polished Concreate Images

Some of the most visually striking floor finishes are created using dyes and stains. They can be rolled, brushed or sprayed onto a concrete surface after it’s in place, and in some cases the concrete can be dyed before it’s even poured. The chemistry of dyes and stains allows them to be absorbed into the concrete, so the finish won’t ever lift or peel. The dyes don’t do anything to protect the surface, however, so the floor will still be at risk for oil stains unless it’s sealed regularly.

Plastic Mats

Pros: Easy to install and clean, fewer seams than tile, can go over any surface.

Cons: Impractical to repair, susceptible to heat and chemical damage, can trap moisture and mildew.

Photograph Courtesy American Garage Floor

Garage mat flooring is sold in rolls of various sizes, making it similar to rubber carpeting—although no adhesives or fasteners are required to hold the mats in place. There’s also no surface preparation needed, as the mat is simply cut to fit. Garage mats can be installed over nearly any surface, making them a tempting option for covering rough or cracked floors.  

Plastic Tiles

Pros: Easy to repair, simple to install and relocate, non-slip surface.

Cons: Susceptible to heat and chemical damage, can trap moisture and mildew, can be uncomfortable to kneel on.

Photograph Courtesy American Garage Floor

Snap-together tiles offer a ton of design possibilities thanks to their molded plastic construction. Most also feature slip-resistant textures molded into the tiles themselves. We’ve seen some tile floors that have been affected by oil stains, but most claim to be chemical resistant. Plastic tiles might not be the best surface if you plan on doing a lot of welding, but at least they’re easy to replace if damage occurs. 

Polished Concrete

Pros: Marble-like finish, simple cleanup, won’t lift or chip.

Cons: Can’t polish freshly poured concrete, process can be labor intensive.

Photograph Courtesy Polished Concrete Images

Polishing a raw concrete surface is probably the most durable finishing treatment. The process isn’t all that different from polishing the paint on a car—the surface is ground with progressively finer grades of diamond-impregnated polishing pads, usually finishing with grits between 1500 and 3500, depending on the level of gloss desired. Nothing about the process is beyond the skill level of a dedicated DIYer, but equipment costs are high. Check to see if the necessary equipment can be rented in your area. 

Join Free Join our community to easily find more garage and Workshop articles.
Comments
LarryNH (Forum Supporter)
LarryNH (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand Reader
12/13/20 5:52 a.m.

In reply to RichardSIA :

Check out garagejournal dot com forums for floor builds.  A lot of current threads with different systems.  Some list costs.  Some DIY, some pro installation.

turtl631
turtl631 HalfDork
1/29/21 2:07 p.m.

Interesting topic.  Porcelain tile is a compelling option too.  Sounds like you need a top notch installation and a careful selection of tiles to avoid cracks and slipping.  I anticipate doing some significant wrenching, welding etc in my garage but also parking a daily driver in there with salt and snow drippage. Skeptical that epoxy will hold up long term.  

iansane
iansane GRM+ Memberand Dork
2/28/22 3:13 p.m.

My GRMsearch-fu is weak so I figured I'd ask my question in here.

Does anyone know of a good "filler" for a shop floor? I have an expansion joint that runs horizontally across my shop. I don't care that it's there but they put it at such a point that I'm ALWAYS rolling over it with my roller seat. It's right at the front of the lift about where the front bumper is on most cars and the wheels always get caught in it. I don't care if the seam is visible or not, or even if the filler cracks which I figured it would. I'm just looking to soften the blow everytime I roll over it.

Ideas?

paddygarcia
paddygarcia GRM+ Memberand Reader
2/28/22 4:38 p.m.

In reply to iansane :

The joints in my house are filled with Sikaflex over enough sand to mostly fill the opening. Someday I'll do it in the garage, too.

iansane
iansane GRM+ Memberand Dork
2/28/22 4:59 p.m.

In reply to paddygarcia :

Ooh, I have cases of that stuff at my work. Noice.

AnthonyGS (Forum Supporter)
AnthonyGS (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand SuperDork
3/1/22 9:42 a.m.

Garage flooring LLC of Colorado.  The owner is super helpful and has you covered in all types of coatings.  I used Rust Bullet (now called trualloy) for my current garage.  I may use it again or go polyurea on the new garage.  It's about a $1k difference for a 3 car garage.  Check out his website or contact Justin the owner.

miataracer26
miataracer26
9/10/23 1:50 p.m.

I've had plastic mats covering my 2 car garage for about 22 years. They served their purpose. Made my floor easy to clean, provided some insulation. Allowed me to perform routine maintenance on my cars. Fluid changes, brake changes, tire rotation etc. After 2 decades they were over due for replacement. I researched most of the options mentioned in this article. After months of reviewing all the choices out there I went with polyaspartic (not sure if I spelled it correctly).  It's similar to epoxy but supposedly superior. I chose it over epoxy for 1 primary reason. Curing Time. Hours vs epoxy which is days. This way I had to leave all my stuff out on my driveway for only a few hours not days. The new floor completely  transformed my garage. It made it a space I enjoyed working in. Even my wife who was a bit skeptical about spending the money to have it professionally done was impressed & very happy with end result. 

But, now after 6 months there are tire stains on the floor. My cars were not driven at high speeds in hot weather and immediately parked hot rubber on the floor. Just normal driving. I tried every cleaning product I had with no improvement. I contacted the company that put the floor down and they suggested denatured alcohol. It helped but did not completely remove the stains. I had some fairly heavy rubber floor mats lying around doing nothing. I cut them into 18" by 24" rectangles and now park my tires onto these mats. I guess what I'm getting at is there is no perfect garage flooring surface. Bottom line is you just gott-a find what works for you.

I apologize for any misspellings or grammatical errors. Typing on my tiny phone screen.

BimmerMaven
BimmerMaven Reader
9/11/23 12:57 a.m.

i put U-COAT-IT on cured but new floor with my new shop 19 years ago.

1-2 d/wk for 8 yrs; 5 d/wk since.  has held up very well.  no peeling .  no damage from any spills.  welding spatter will hurt it.

i don't park cars after driving, but I'd guess there'd be no issue with sticky tires.

I am a stickler for details, and follow directions closely...re prep and cure times and temps.  

very happy with result.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
9/11/23 9:26 a.m.

Hey, check out those green wheels. :) 

StuntmanMike
StuntmanMike New Reader
10/13/23 1:35 p.m.

I used Rust Bullet concrete coating (aluminum color) after having such a good experience with their vehicle undercoating on my off roader. This stuff hardens like plastic and looks good. I mixed in sand to create a nice nonslip coating. Dont remember the ratio but easy to find on google. It does get shadows from moisture that wicks up in the slab but a year and a half in hasnt lifted. Best part is nothing can touch it, brake fluid, oil and various fluids pretty much wipe up. 

You'll need to log in to post.

Our Preferred Partners
oMxR7Q8eK750bSuNVXNh5Gx1IXmNiOFCp9H2k9MntTgAowpd8seRR4kVlMmuIRHr