How to Remove Paint From a Concrete Floor (and Have a Life Too)

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. A neighbor pondered whether 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 finish. Maybe. That might explain why the floor slopes here and there (have I mentioned my apartment has sloping floors?); if it was an outside space there wouldn’t have been a need for a fine finish. 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.

So, the floor… It was covered in glossy, chipped paint that was a shade of…brown? Tan? Orange? Awful. I wasn’t sure what I would find under that paint; I just knew it had to go. Here’s how I accomplished that and discovered a terrific old school stamped concrete floor I didn’t know I had!

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Gettin’ down to it

I won’t lie: I hate stripping paint. HATE IT. But the existing paint was chipped badly and putting down a new coat of paint over it would have never 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.

Our floor is about 6-feet by 6-feet so I tackled this project in quarters. That let me take breaks as needed from one of my most hated tasks, and have a life while I conquered this DIY project. The whole thing took about a month but I was on the slow train with this one. The only deadline in my mind was driven by a need to not bring a dreaded task — stripping paint — into the next season. I also headed out of town for work at about the mid-point, so that added time.

So yeah, I slow-danced through this one.  If you are attempting something similar your variables — room size, number of ayers of paint, type of stripper — will certainly be different. You could certainly do a floor this size in way less time than four weeks! Especially if you use products that are meant for fast paint removal. 

Strip it – strip it good (enough…)

I had some Citristrip paint remover on hand, left-over from a project I did stripping paint from old brass hooks I’d removed from closets and pantries in our building. I like Citristrip because it’s natural. I’ve used strippers that use heavy duty chemicals to break down paint and, even with a respirator on, I couldn’t help feeling that I was exposing myself to something carcinogenic. I decided to try the Citristrip first for this project before moving on to something harsher.

The best way to work with Citistrip 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 Citistrip. 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.

Slather, scrape, repeat

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, 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, plus I did some spot treatments on stubborn areas.  

The scrapers I used are circled in the photo above. Two are paint scrapers which are super stiff with a sharp pointed end that is great for tasks like getting paint out of a sunken line. 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. 


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.

Here’t the floor after two rounds of stripper application and scraping. Not great.

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 36 square-foot 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 scrubbed floor shows on the left in this photo. After just one pass with the scrubber I was all: YES! After two passes – nirvana.

One thing I learned doing this project: I love using a floor scrubber. Also, sucker’s heavy. I had to drag this bad boy up three flights of stairs and I’m not old but 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.

Final preparations

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!

A close up of the first coat on the top squares. Untreated squares appear in the bottom half. (I hope that’s obvious!)

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!

Finish line

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, pulling 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.

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

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 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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