Choosing the best sealer for your garage’s floor is something like choosing the best car to go in it. Most of us want a bit more than simple transportation: value, reliability, performance, efficiency, and appearance enter into the mix, too. With garage-floor sealers, budget, usage, downtime, appearance, and even your own DIY chops are all factors that can help you choose the product that best matches your needs and budget.
That’s a tall order for most homeowners given the huge range of options available these days. We’ll take a look at the garage-floor sealers available to homeowners, describing the pros and cons of each.
The Cream of the Crop
Conventional wisdom has it that polyurethane sealers and multi-coat epoxy treatments are the best solutions for long-lasting, versatile garage-floor protection. In this case, at least, conventional wisdom has it right: polyureas (including polyurethane) and epoxy are the best approaches for homeowners who view their garage floors as investments and want the best, most attractive protection for them.
Polyurea and epoxy sealers offer similar protection, durability, and appearance. Compared to other approaches, they offer superior resistance to chemicals, gasoline, oil, road salt, staining agents of all kinds, and the universal solvent, water. Both types of sealer can easily last 20 years or more, which makes them popular in industrial, warehouse, and commercial applications. If it’s tough enough for a busy manufacturing floor and looks good enough for a showroom, it’s probably good enough for your garage.
The main difference lies in their application. Polyurea sealers should be installed by professional contractors and are ready for use in a day or so; epoxy sealers can be installed by professionals or by homeowners, but the long curing times involved for two-coat resinous sealers like epoxy mean that treated garage floors will be out of commission for four to five days.
Polyurea tends to be much more forgiving of slight flaws in garage floors than epoxy, which may require patching or other prep-work that polyurea does not. And polyurea is just easier to work with: it is not limited by epoxy’s short working life (sometimes as little as 15 minutes), and unlike epoxy can be applied at virtually any temperature.
These benefits, of course, come at a price. Professionally installed polyurea sealers can cost $5 or more per square foot, and the same contractor might charge $4 to $5 per square foot for a multi-coat epoxy application. Especially handy homeowners can apply their own multi-coat epoxy treatments for less: around $600 is enough in most areas to cover a two-car garage.
The Second Tier
Another kind of epoxy treatment represents the next tier down: DIY epoxy paint kits. These are widely available at home-improvement stores, and offer some flexibility when it comes to a floor’s appearance along with significant savings against multi-coat epoxy or polyurea sealers.
Their single-coat application makes epoxy paints considerably less durable than high-end multi-coat sealers, but they also cost less and can return the garage to service in just one day. With light use, epoxy paint may hold up for a few years before showing signs of wear; over the course of two decades, the cost of maintaining an epoxy-painted floor can really add up.
Acrylic sealers don’t offer the color options of the other treatments we’ve discussed, but they do create a nicely glossy surface that resists stains, water and oil decently well, and provides moderate protection against chemicals. These aren’t ideal for heavily used garages, but for concrete floors that require a lot of sweeping—garages that double as wood shops, for example—acrylic floor coatings can make common cleanup tasks much easier.
Partly because acrylic sealers offer a limited range of benefits, application is relatively easy: most homeowners use a pump sprayer or a roller with an extension bar. Acrylic sealers are dry enough to walk on 12 hours or so after application, and well cured enough to drive on the next day. A two-car garage typically requires less than $100 of acrylic sealer for a complete finish, though this type of treatment generally lasts for two years at most.
Homeowners who are focused exclusively on protection and function (and who don’t need their garage floors to look like auto showrooms) might get what they need from a good penetrating garage-floor sealer. These treatments penetrate just beneath the concrete’s surface, where they provide a strong barrier against pitting and spalling, and against threats to the concrete’s integrity from concrete dust and road salts.
Because they do not form a film at the surface, penetrating sealers offer the same slip resistance as bare concrete. They also last longer than some other economy floor treatments. Like acrylic sealers, penetrating sealers can cover a two-car garage for less than $100.
An even quicker and easier option has started to gain popularity: concrete densifiers are not sealers, but chemical treatments to the concrete’s surface layer that fill its natural porosity, making liquids and other materials easier to clean up. Less prep work is needed to make the garage floor ready for densifiers, and they can be applied with a mop. Densifiers tend to last about as long as penetrating sealers, and to cost a bit less.
For those of us whose ears perked up when we first heard a grandparent mutter “I’m not rich enough to buy a cheap car battery,” a polyurea sealer can make the most long-term sense while incurring the biggest up-front cost. For those who don’t need a showroom-quality finish, but want to protect their garage floor’s integrity and make it easier to clean, the other approaches described here might be just the thing. Homeowners have more options than ever when it comes to protecting and enhancing our investments, and we hope that this article has helped you choose the right garage-floor sealer for your needs and goals.