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Water- or Solvent-Based? Choosing the Best Concrete Sealer for Your Project

Decorative concrete and stonework are one of the best ways to create a beautiful effect for your patio or outdoor kitchen.

One question we hear a lot is what kind of sealer you should use. There are two broad categories of sealers for concrete with tons of sub categories and types.

Today we’ll explore the differences between solvent-based and water-based sealers to help you pick out the best one for your needs.

Solvent-Based Sealers

Solvent-based acrylic sealers have been the gold standard of concrete sealers for decades. They’re highly durable, provide a number of beneficial enhancements to concrete, and greatly increase its surface strength.

Pros

Acrylic sealers provide some of the best protection you can get for your concrete surface. Not only do they help prevent physical damage and scrapes, but they also act as a barrier to water or chemical penetration.

When you go with top quality non styrenated acrylics you get a protective coating that will last as long as your concrete. They can be applied to any type of concrete surface, including:

  • Driveways
  • Walkways
  • Pool Surrounds
  • Stone Surfaces
  • Stamped pavement

This makes them highly effective at protecting your new ground and preventing stains or damage.

Cons

Solvent-based sealers have a pretty high volatile organic compound (VOC) level. These chemicals have a high vapor pressure at ordinary room temperature. What this means for you is that potentially harmful chemicals will linger in space and be absorbed by the environment.

Recent EPA regulations have begun limiting the amount of VOCs a concrete sealer can have. This has had the effect of raising prices and making water-based sealers more attractive.

Other downsides are the high gloss appearance of acrylic sealers. Some people like this look but if you don’t you’ll need to mix in a matte compound.

The same strong surface that provides so many of the benefits of solvent-based sealers can also lead to a very slick effect. You’ll need to mix in something like Tru Grip to prevent a slip and fall hazard.

Water-Based Sealers


Until recently there was a significant performance gap in the water-based and solvent-based concrete sealer. Water-based sealers were only recommended for indoor use where their low VOC levels made them more attractive.

They couldn’t stand up to the same kinds of abuse as solvent sealed concrete and weren’t suitable for outdoor use. Thankfully those days are coming to an end.

New water- and silicone-based sealers are getting very close to the performance standards of the top solvent-based sealers.

Pros

Probably the biggest benefit of water-based sealers is their low VOC content. Instead of a solvent like xylol or acetone the acrylic sealer is suspended in a water solution.

This makes them perfect for use on indoor stonework or concrete flooring. With advances in manufacturing techniques they’re also reaching quality levels previously only attainable with solvent-based sealers.

New laws are being passed on the state and federal level limiting the VOC content of products like a concrete sealer. It’s quickly becoming apparent that solvent-sealers won’t make the cut if laws get much more restrictive.

Cons

Until recently you would have noticed a visible difference between solvent-based and water-based sealers. The solvent based would be glossier, smoother, and generally more durable. Now though those downsides are rapidly disappearing.

Within the next decade or so it’s likely that solvent-based sealers will go the way of so many other bygone products. Water-based sealers will become the de facto concrete seal material.

Choosing for Your Project


If you’re deciding between water- or solvent-based sealer it really comes down to your end goal and where you intend to use it. Anything indoors or with limited ventilation should be water-based.

Solvent-based sealers produce significantly more fumes. What kind of appearance you want is also a major factor. Most people feel that solvent-based sealers are glossier and more vibrant than water-based ones. Take a look at a few examples of sealed concrete or stone and find the look you like.

Always Plan for the Long-Term

When you’re picking out the sealer for your concrete flooring or decorative stonework make sure you’re thinking ahead. A high-quality sealer will maintain lamination with the concrete for years and allow you to freshen up its appearance quickly and easily.