Concrete floor got paint? Remove it with this in-depth how-to guide

(This post recently updated to include parts/materials and tools lists, and detailed steps to take you from start to finish with your own concrete paint removal project. I hope these changes are useful to you!)

Our sunroom, with its three walls of large windows, has always been a well-used space. The big steam radiator in this area keeps things toasty even on the coldest Chicago winter night. We think the room was once an external balcony that was turned into an interior room, hence the concrete floor – the only room in the apartment that has such a flooring finish. That might explain why the floor slopes here and there. (Have I mentioned my apartment has sloping floors?). However it came to be, we’ve always loved this room. Taking it to the next level by dealing with the floor was never a question for us, it was just a matter of time.

Concrete floor covered in many layers of old, ugly paint.

I won’t lie: I hate stripping paint. HATE IT. But the paint on our sunroom floor was badly chipped and putting down a new coat of paint over it, which I considered, would never have turned out great. Paint removal was the only way forward for this project. Plus I had a hunch (which was sorely tested throughout this project) that the floor under the paint would be at least interesting if not spectacular. Definitely unique.

Here’s how I removed layers of paint from our stamped concrete floor and revealed a beautiful floor we didn’t know we had!

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How much time will this DIY project take?

Every DIY project is unique and timelines will vary. My project, which required stripping a lot of paint off of a 9’x9′ floor, took me about a month to complete but could have gone much quicker if I wanted or needed. I slow-danced my way through this one for a few reasons. As I’ve mentioned, I hate stripping paint and so I devised a plan to split the project into smaller chunks — tackling a quarter of the floor space a week — that made a dreaded task feel manageable and let me have a life while conquering it. We love this room, but it’s not a room that has to be open for business like a kitchen or a bathroom, so taking my time was fine. Also, I had work travel pop up at about the mid-point of this project that took me out of DIY mode for several days.

Stamped concrete floor with portion stripped of paint
A quarter of the concrete floor after removing layers of paint with Citistrip.

If I had to get this done in a hurry, I think I could have done it in about a week using my paint stripper of choice, Citristrip Paint and Varnish Stripping Gel. If you are attempting something similar your variables — room size, number of layers of paint, type of stripper — will be different. You could certainly do a floor of the same size in a lot less time than four weeks! Especially if you use products that are meant for fast paint removal. 

Parts, materials, and tools

 

To remove paint

 

To prep for sealer

 

To seal

 

To be safe while you work

Tools you’ll need

  • Drill (Recommending this Bosch power drill which I’ve had for years and adore.)
  • Floor scrubber
  • Shop vac (I have a Porter Cable that gets the job done.)

 


7 steps to remove paint from stamped concrete

 

Step #1: Clear the room and clean the floor

This project can get a bit messy. And you will need room to move around without stepping in stripper or piles of gunky loose paint. As you scrape up paint, it will splatter a bit and you will fling stripper and stripper-covered paint chips around as you work. Think: stubborn, frustrating paint that won’t release from the concrete and so you reeeeeally go at it with your scraper and – zing! – it goes flying 3 feet and sticks to your beautifully Waterloxed wood bench. Nooooo! All to say, clear out the room or clear out enough space so that you can move freely – on your knees and backwards at times. Also, give your floor a thorough sweep or vacuum so that your stripper can get to work asap on loosening paint (not whatever that is that’s stuck to the floor under the sofa you just removed….).

Step #2: Plan your work, work your plan

For my project, I decided to not just go for it and try to strip the entire floor at once. Maybe for a small room – a closet or tiny laundry room? – that would work. But remember, just like putting paint down on your floor, stripping paint from your floor will require you to at some point exit the room and let the stripper work its magic. If you’re using something like a gel stripper and covering it with plastic as I did, you don’t want to be walking over it which could push stripper around, thinning it out under your feet and making it too thin to really work. Also, walking on plastic with stripper under it is slippery. If, like me, you are no longer exactly a spring chicken…, don’t risk a fall that could put you out of the DIY game for days or weeks. I did my 9’x9′ floor in quarters starting at the back of the room and working my way to the entry way. This let me take my time and do this project – which isn’t exactly a breeze – on my own timeline.

Step #3: Slather, scrape, repeat

Ok Passionate Chumps it’s time to strip it – strip it good!

I had some Citristrip paint remover on hand, left-over from another project so I used it. I like Citristrip because it doesn’t have a “this will probably cause cancer if you use it – good luck!” notice on the label like a lot of strippers do. I’ve used strippers that use heavy duty chemicals to break down paint and, even with a respirator on, I couldn’t help but freak out frequently about exposing myself to something carcinogenic. I wasn’t sure that Citristrip would get many layers of very old paint off of concrete but since I had some around, I thought I’d try it before moving on to something harsher. Turned out, for my slow-and-steady approach, Citristrip worked perfectly.

The best way to work with Citristrip is to keep it wet. It loses its effectiveness when it dries out. It’s also hard to clean up if it dries. You’ll basically have to strip it off with more Citristrip. I found it most effective to slather a section of the floor with a nice thick layer of stripper and then cover it with thin, inexpensive painter’s plastic. Then I’d leave it covered for a few days to allow the stripper to work its magic.

Paint removal in progress. The bottom half of this photo shows concrete just after scraping off paint.

As you can see in this photo, I had to strip at least four layers of paint — dark green, light green, beige, and that awful top layer of orangey tan. No telling how many layers of paint each color had or how long they had been there. This was slow going work. My process was 1) slather, 2) cover, 3) wait a few days (with check-ins here and there), 4) let magic happen, 5) remove cover, 6) scrape, 7) repeat. I found that I had to do at least two rounds of this process on each quarter of the floor, plus I did some spot treatments on stubborn areas.  

Tools of the trade: good quality scrapers are super useful for this DIY project.

The scrapers I used are circled in the photo above. Two are 9-in-1 Painter’s Tools are super stiff with a sharp pointed end that is great for tasks like getting paint out of the lines in stamped concrete. If you don’t have one of these tools, they are so all around useful. The other scraper is a flexible and wide drywall joint/scraper knife, and picks up a lot of whatever your scraping in one go. I’ve had these tools for many years. They are tried and true. If you’re in the market for scrapers, I suggest you spend a little extra on ’em. Good ones last a long time and you’ll use them over and over – if they are good quality. 

Step #4: Sanding Scrubbing is everything

Once the entire floor was stripped I wasn’t sure what to do next. There was a lot of paint residue and the floor looked…underwhelming. I thought about starting the stripping process all over again to try to get every bit of the paint up. But after testing this idea on a few squares I realized that wasn’t going to work. I needed a new plan. My gut said, “you gotta sand this down!” Enter: the floor scrubber.

The concrete floor after two rounds of stripper application and scraping.

My hero! My floor scrubber!

After a little research I found a rental place in my area that rented something called a floor scrubber. I rented a “13 one for about $35/day. All I needed was a one-day rental to tackle my floor. The one pictured here is not the exact one I rented and the one you rent will probably not look like this one or the one I rented. I offer this pic simply to show you what these look like. Cute – right?

The left side of this photo shows the floor after one pass with the scrubber: YES!

One thing I learned doing this project: I love using a floor scrubber. Also, these sucker’s are heavy. I had to drag this bad boy up three flights of stairs and I’m not old but – again – I’m no spring chicken. Anyway, whatever. It worked!

I went over the floor a few times with the scrubber set up with blue, medium-duty scrubber pads which was the rental guy’s recommendation. Used two total and they worked great.

Step #5: Clean lines please

The scrubber was really effective where cleaning the top of the cement was concerned, but it couldn’t get in between the stamped 4” squares. 

I grabbed my cordless Bosch drill, attached a coarse wire wheel brush drill bit and cleared out paint in a hurry along the lines. After a couple of passes with the drill I was ready to move on from prep. I know you Passionate Chumps know how exciting that moment is. Yahoo!

The first coat of sealant shows here on the top squares. Untreated squares appear in the bottom half. (I hope that’s obvious!)

Step #6: Finish line’s in sight – final prep!

Ahem…I was almost ready to move on from prep. (Don’t you hate when you get all “yahoo!” and then realize – doh, gotta prep more….) First I vacuumed all the dust up, and then I washed the floor on my hands and knees folks, using a little dish soap in a lot of luke warm water. Then I used clean rags and big bucket of clean water to rinse everything. Then I turned a fan on and let it dry. Now: yahooo! Time to finish this up!

Step #7: Seal the deal

I coated the floor with Kilz Low-Lustre Sealer. This stuff is great — easy to work with, good coverage, dries fast, hardly any odor. It’s sort of milky when you start working with it. I just painted it onto the floor with a polyester brush — Kilz recommends using either a nylon or polyester brush. I laid it on pretty thick but not so thick that it pooled on top of the floor or in the lines. The finish doesn’t dry super fast so you can work it with your brush as you go which I did, moving the liquid along the lines when it pooled there, and just moving the stuff around to get a uniform coat.

The photo below shows the first coat dry in the bottom half of the picture, and the second coat wet in the top half. You know I was losing it when the floor started to show itself.

The bottom half of this photo shows the firsts coat dry; the top half shows the second coat wet.

In the end I applied two coats which gave us a really nice satin finish. Here is the room today:

Paint removed and concrete floor sealed. This DIY project is DONE.

This DIY project really changed not only this sunroom but, since the sunroom opens out into our living room, the whole living area went through a major upgrade with this project. The floor looks great, feels great on our bare feet, is easy to keep clean, and is a conversation piece to boot. Totally worth it.

Have you tackled a stamped concrete floor stripping project? Would love to hear about your experience. If you have questions or want to share your experience with a similar project, please post a comment!

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