Know What You Need
Measure the square footage of concrete, so you can buy the right amount of stain. To do this, measure the length by the width (don't forget any small areas to the side!). Buy enough stain to cover, keeping in mind that if you're using a multi-layer, accented approach as we did, you won't need full coverage for accent coats.
Clean Up Your Act
Clean the concrete surface with a degreasing cleaning product (you can buy a specific degreasing concrete solution from any hardware store or make your own using Dawn(TM)) and ensure it is clear of any debris. Do your best to remove oil stains with the degreaser, then use the power washer to thoroughly clean the entire surface. Let it completely dry and then sweep off any remaining debris or dirt.
Jane Tip: If you've just poured the concrete, make sure the concrete has been cured for at least 28 days before beginning any additional treatment to it.
Prep Everything Else
Cover anything surrounding the driveway with masking paper or plastic sheeting. One of the things we liked about the Americrete products was that they are nontoxic and biodegradable, meaning we weren't likely to damage the lawn or nearby plants, which cut down on masking. Don your protective gear—this is always important, but especially so if you happen to be using acid-based stains.
SAFETY TIP!: If you choose an acid-based stain, make sure you ventilate, ventilate, ventilate! Wear protective clothing at all times. Use rubber gloves, goggles, thick socks and anything else to keep the stain away from your skin.
Protect your Stain before you Start
Because Lana's driveway was fairly new and had evidence of efflorescence (a leaching of salts from soils under the driveway up through the concrete, leaving a white, powdery stain), we applied an efflorescence blocker with a plastic garden sprayer. We worked in a simple back and forth motion, applying the blocker evenly, and then brushed it out further with a push broom. Avoid walking on the wet surface until the blocker dries--for us it took about an hour.
Spray on that stain, layer by layer
Starting in a corner, begin spraying a smooth coat of stain, using the high-pressure, low-volume sprayer at a distance of about two feet. Lana wanted a textured, stone-like look, which required a multiple coat approach. We sprayed on an even base coat layer and then let it dry for about an hour, per the manufacturer's instructions.
Jane Tip: With different types of stains, you may need to allow up to 24 hours' drying time—and you'll want to keep critters, kids, and adults off the surface while it dries. Footprints in wet stain can stay forever.
We continued to spray on successive coats in basically the same way, though each coat was more selectively applied--i.e. we spayed some areas more than others. This mottled, "air-brushed" technique is what gave us the rich, textured look of stone. It's important to let the stain dry, then consider whether the texture and color are coming out to your liking. You can continue adding accents and layers until you get it just right. The technique is similar to faux-painting, in that you are trying to create an unpatterned, natural look.
Seal in the Goodness
After you're happy with the look of your staining, let it dry for a full 24 hours (again, keep feet off the surface). When it's completely dry, roll on the sealant using a low nap roller. We opted for a satin finish, which further darkened our stain and gave it a slight sheen. Let it dry and give yourself a high five.
Jane Tip: As with the stains, there are different forms of sealants. Many sealants will result in a slick concrete surface when wet. Look into non-skid or slip-resistant sealers or additives if you have a steep driveway or are concerned about the slick surface.
Congratulations! You've just taken your driveway from gray to gorgeous. After a few weeks, you will wonder how you were ever able to park on such a drab surface in the first place. Concrete staining is a bit complicated and requires a few tools you may need to rent, but the end effect will give your driveway—and most likely the whole front of your house—a whole new attitude.
Jane Tip: We've given you the basics on how to stain your driveway, but there are many ways to take it a step further and truly make your concrete surface into a work of art. Check out stamping, etching and engraving techniques for adding even more creativity to your new designer driveway.