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How to Seal a Concrete Driveway: Beginners Walkthrough

  • October 12, 2019
  • / By Dale Keese
Rustic House with Driveway

The driveway can be a bit inconspicuous at times, but it provides the much needed finishing touch to a house. Since you do not want to redo the driveway every few years, it makes sense to use a durable material such as concrete to pave your driveway. In terms of cost, concrete driveways fall somewhere in between asphalt and gravel on one side and brick and cobblestone on the other. So, concrete driveways will set you back more than what driveways made of asphalt or gravel would, but not as much as driveways made of brick or cobblestone. Plus, the maintenance cost of concrete driveways is extremely low.

House with Driveway During Daytime

Having said that, there is no harm in providing extra protection to a concrete driveway to ensure it lasts even longer. However, in this regard, there is an ongoing debate: Is there a real need to apply a sealant for concrete driveways? If yes, then does it need to be applied every year? The push for replacing the sealant for concrete driveways every year seems unnecessary to say the least and driven by the manufacturers themselves; but at the same time, sealing a concrete driveway is not a prudent choice either. The concrete sealer does prolong the life of a concrete driveway or a concrete slab in general by a few extra years and also helps in maintaining its clean and simple look.

Film-Forming Sealers

Acrylic Resin Sealers

Concrete sealers that contain acrylic resin come out on top in terms of value for money. These type of sealers are also quite versatile as they can be mixed with sealants made out of polyurethane, epoxy, silicone, etc. in order to improve the durability of driveway sealers. It is worth noting that there are various types of acrylic resin sealers, so you need to select them carefully.

Car Parked in Front of House

For example, sealing a concrete driveway with styrene acrylic resin is not the best option if the driveway is likely to be exposed to sunlight for long periods of the day because it has a tendency to turn yellow on prolonged exposure to sunlight. Whereas pure or virgin acrylic resin does not change color with time and lasts longer as well.

Make sure that the acrylic resin you select is solvent-based and not water-based. Water-based ones do not have the same level of gloss and shine that solvent-based ones have and they do not last as long as the solvent-based ones either. However, they have a much lower count of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and unpleasant odors in them. In the case of sealing concrete driveways, these factors do not have a major effect.

Polyurethane or Epoxy Sealers

The first thing to note about these type of concrete driveway sealers is that it costs a lot more than the other sealant varieties mentioned earlier. However, the higher cost does not necessarily translate into superior performance or quality. One major issue with polyurethane or epoxy concrete sealers is that they can be quite slippery because the layer is thicker than other types of concrete sealers. While this is not a significant detractor in the case of driveway sealing, unlike in the case of concrete patios and walkways, it is something you might want to take into consideration.

The other issue with these type of driveway sealers is that it prevents the passage of moisture from the concrete or does not allow the concrete to breathe. This can lead to a white color layer appearing in between the concrete and the layer of the sealer, which looks ugly.

Rustic House with Driveway

Penetrating Sealers

Unlike the film-forming type of sealers, these penetrate the concrete itself and protects it from severe weather conditions such as rain, snow, and harsh sunlight. In addition to that, it also protects the concrete from chemicals that are used in the de-icing process, stains, and possible damage during the thawing of snow or ice that is collected over the driveway. At the same time, it ensures that the appearance of the concrete is not altered because of exposure to any of these contaminants. Sealing a concrete driveway reduces the chances of the driveway being slippery after it has rained or snowed.

Among the various types of penetrating sealers, siloxane sealers have a lower degree of volatility and provides excellent protection from moisture at a comparatively low cost. It creates a barrier around the concrete to prevent moisture of any kind from damaging it. At the same time, the driveway sealing gives a clear and natural finish does not alter the appearance of the concrete in any way.

How to Select the Gloss Level?

Protection is the primary objective of a concrete sealer, but beautification or enhancement of the driveway is also important when it comes to sealing a concrete. After all, the driveway is the first space connected to your house that visitors see. It does not mean that you need to make the driveway look good just for guests; first and foremost, it should look good for you and be in accordance with your taste. This is where the gloss levels (how shiny or dull) of the sealers come into the equation.

House with Driveway At Twilight

Sealers are typically available in gloss-less or no-gloss, matte, semi-gloss, satin, gloss, and high-gloss formats, which are denoted on a scale of 1 to 100, with 100 being the highest and 1 being the least. Zero gloss sealers are available as well.

  • Solvent-based sealers are more glossy than all other types of sealers. The gloss level of solvent-based sealers vary between 80 and 100. If you want a glossy to very glossy surface, then solvent-based sealers are for you. Note that solvent-based sealers have a tendency of making the concrete surface (in this case the driveway) appear darker than its original shade. This is often referred to as the ‘wet look’ and some sealers are marketed with this moniker. It is completely up to your choice and preference.
  • The water-based solvents come in next. These provide mid-level gloss between 50 and 80. The end result are surfaces with a matte or semi-gloss finish. A matte finish for a driveway is not a bad option, but just be mindful that a matte surface might attract more dust than usual. 
  • Finally, the penetrating sealers used for sealing a concrete driveway provide the zero gloss or no-gloss look.  

How to Seal a Concrete Driveway?

You can not seal a newly constructed driveway. It needs to cure for at least a month and preferably 2 months before you get down to the business of sealing a concrete driveway. The period of curing essentially provides the concrete time to absorb moisture and heat, which helps the concrete gain strength and last longer. Once the curing period is over and it is time for concrete sealing, you also need to take into consideration the weather.

House with Sloping Driveway

While applying the sealer can be done in a day, it will need about 3 days for a sealer to dry completely. During this period the weather ideally needs to be warm and dry. If it rains then the driveway sealing will not set properly.

Preparation

The key to knowing how to seal a concrete driveway is to ensure that the surface of the concrete driveway is prepared perfectly. This primarily involves cleaning the surface.

Cleaning Equipment
  • 1
    Begin by thoroughly sweeping the surface to remove any and all dust, dirt, and debris. 
  • 2
    Once that is done, clean any grease, oil, mastic, paint, or any other similar substances that may be on the driveway surface. What you use to clean and wash the surface will depend on the type of substance. So, for grease and oil, you can use soap or a degreaser; for mastic, you can use a citrus-based cleaning solvent; and for paint, you can use a paint-removal solvent. For all of these stains, first use a putty knife or something similar to scrape off as much of it as possible and then clean the residual stain with the products mentioned above.
  • 3
    Use a mop and water mixed with a regular floor cleaner to thoroughly clean the surface.
  • 4
    Finally, let the surface dry completely before you apply the sealer. Ideally, let it dry for 24 hours. If the surface is not clean and dry, the sealer will not adhere correctly to the concrete surface.
  • 5
    Now that the surface is ready to move to the next stage, you need to prepare yourself as well.
  • 6
    A good-quality tactile gloves, eye protection, a long sleeves shirt or jumper and trousers are required. You do not want to expose your skin or eyes to the sealers. 
  • 7
    One other thing - if there are any cracks on the surface or any other form of repair work is required, fill the cracks first before you apply the sealer. You should get this done before you clean the surface because debris and dirt will be left behind after the repair job.  
Car Parked on Driveway

Applying the Sealer

  • If you are replacing an old sealer, then that needs to be carefully removed before you clean the surface. 
  • How porous the surface is will dictate the amount of sealer you require. Typically, one gallon of sealer is required for a 250 to 500 square feet surface. 
  • Ideally, you should apply the sealer with a roller and that improves the consistency, but a sprayer can be used as well. Usually, a sprayer is the preferred tool for solvent- or oil-based sealers, while the roller is the tool of choice for water-based sealers. 
Applying the Sealer
  • Begin by applying the first thin coat of sealer ensuring that you have covered the surface completely and evenly. Let it rest for at least 2 to, preferably, 3 hours. Note that if it is a particularly humid day, then the drying time will be longer. The thumb rule is to ensure that the entire surface is dry to the touch before applying the second coat.  
  • Instead of applying the sealer in narrow strips, concentrate on square blocks of the surface. Basically, divide the entire surface into 5 feet x 5 feet sections (25 square feet) and apply the first coat, then move to the next square block and so on. 
  • Apply the second thin coat of sealer at right angles to the first coat. This ensures that the coverage of the sealer is uniform and consistent. The exact drying time needed for the sealer will be mentioned on the package. Typically, you need to let the sealer dry for 2 to 3 days and during that period, you have to be strict about not stepping or driving over the surface. 

Maintenance

As with any means of protective coverage, regular maintenance is essential to ensure that the protection is doing its job correctly. So, every alternate month, clean the surface with a floor cleaner and water. In addition, if the sealer has worn off in certain areas, then apply a new coat. You will have to clean the surface before applying the new coat.

House with Driveway Near Sea

In regards to applying a fresh coat of sealer over the entire surface, you will have to factor in a few things. If the wear and tear is minimum, then a simple patch work is enough. However, if the wear and tear is significant and happened within a short period of time (less than a year), then you need to reconsider the quality and type of sealer you had used in the first place. Secondly, the weather conditions in the place you live has a bearing on the level of wear and tear as well. Typically, you should not have to reseal a concrete driveway for at least 2 years.

Conclusion

Concrete is a tough, durable material that can withstand a lot of wear and tear. This makes it ideal for driveways and various other surfaces in and around your house. But even the toughest materials need some protection and care.

Concrete sealers provide that much needed protection. It significantly prolongs the life of a concrete surface. Just like the way you take care of hardwood floors inside the house by vacuuming regularly and cleaning any stains or moisture on it, or put a carpet over it to protect it, you should apply a concrete sealer for the driveway.

Sealers help add an aesthetic touch to the drab driveway as well – your driveway does not need to be a drab and dull grey expanse with no personality. Driveway sealing can give it a whole new look. The wet-look sealers add a distinctive darker tinge to the surface and certain sealers enhance any etchings on the surface. So, select a sealer that fulfills all of your requirements, including the weather conditions in your place of residence, to improve the appearance of the surface and longevity.