Are you scouring the internet and searching for inexpensive, bargain, cheap, discount, low cost, or wholesale garage floor coatings? Trying your best to find the best deal for your money and not be taken advantage of when purchasing a seamless, resinous based floor coating or paint for your garage or other decorative concrete coating project? Or perhaps you're asking yourself which of these coatings is the best garage floor coating?
The old adage, that you get what you pay for, is very true when examining your options for the type and quality of garage floor coatings for your garage, office, or retail showroom, or other space you are seeking a reasonable cost coating or concrete paint solutions for. There are many different types of chemicals or resins on the market, which offer vastly different price, performance, and durability parameters to the consumer. There are also vastly different floor preparation methods, and the old saying that the paint is only as good as the surface it is painted onto, was true yesterday and remains very true today. With decades of garage flooring experience we hope our expert opinion on these coatings will help you understand the different types of resinous coatings on the market today, basic cost differences, differing installation considerations, and expected performance and lifespan of each.
Acrylic coatings have been around for a long, long time and are very well known. They are nearly bullet proof and difficult to formulate incorrectly. Acrylic coatings are likely the least expensive of all the coatings on the market today. The advantage of acrylic paint, in addition to its low cost, is that it has excellent adhesion characteristics and will stick to nearly any non-siliconized/non-rubberized surface that is “clean and dry”. This means surface preparation for rolling out an acrylic coating floor is among the simplest and least costly also. Surface preparation can be as simple as a good sweeping with a bristle broom, and/or a leaf blower, and/or for older and more dirty floors, perhaps a power sprayer with water and a degreaser. The major disadvantage of acrylics are that they have one of the lower abrasion resistance and chemical resistance ratings of all the concrete coatings on the market. They, therefore, will have much lower life spans than other coating technologies. Taking this in mind, we think that the best application for acrylics are in low wear areas, such as a back concrete porch, low use sidewalks, or paver stones.
Acrylics can be clear, high gloss, matte finish, and pigment can also be added to colorize to the customer’s desire. Acrylics typically go down “thin”, because they are typically sold at around 20% to 30% solids, and for this reason, they are not well suited for broadcasting decorative color flake, or “chips” into the resin, which has become very popular as a decorative concrete coating adder in recent years. The reason acrylics go down “thin” is because many acrylics require a large solvent load in order for the acrylics to reach a 100% emulsion. Solvents are typically alcohol based for waterborne (water based acrylics) or ketone solvents (for solvent based acrylics). Other materials that make up the percent solids can include plasticizers and film modifying additives. The percent solids percentage typically refers to the amount of dried coating left on the surface after all of the solvents have evaporated out of the coating during the drying process. Since solvents are typically used to create a liquid emulsion of solid acrylic beads that means a dried surface with the acrylic can also be worn down with solvents giving it low chemical resistance.
With all of this in mind you should remember that acrylics are low cost, easy to apply and have poor abrasion and chemical resistance. While offering one of the shortest life spans of the resins yet to be discussed, re-coating an acrylic painted surface is relatively easy and again low cost. The surface simply needs to be “clean and dry”, for a recoat, making easy re-coating another advantage of an acrylic floor.
Epoxies have also been around for a very long time. Epoxies are about twice as expensive as acrylics. Epoxies go down “thick” in comparison to acrylics and many applicators and installers will use a “gauged” rake, or a rake with notches to judge depth, or perhaps a squeegee, to spread out the epoxy on the floor surface to be coated. Epoxies can also be and often are rolled out like a traditional paint. Epoxies come in many different formulations to fit many different needs from decoration to corrosion protection.
Most epoxy hardener, catalysts or curing agents are aliphatic based chemistries meaning they are ultra-violet (UV) stable. However, the problem with most epoxies not being UV stable stems from the resinous side's aromatic groups (Bisphenol A) and will “famously” yellow or amber over time when exposed to sunlight. There are however some epoxy formulas on the market where the resin side is an aliphatic, for higher cost, better resist UV induced ambering or yellowing over time. These "aliphatic" resins are generally called DGEBF (Diglycidyl ether of bisphenol-F epoxy)(Bisphenol F), a similar epoxy molecule that has been saturated with hydrogen to form a cycloaliphatic ring like structure that is not a benzene ring. These Bisphenol F formulations typically cost so much money that you're better off moving up the ladder to another chemistry like polyaspartic (the Cadillac of coatings). The majority of epoxy systems are made up of an aliphatic hardener and a Bis-A resin, so one side is UV-stable and the other is not, thus the majority of epoxy systems will yellow if exposed to sunlight.
Also, most epoxy formulations have modest chemical resistance to commonly found chemicals in the home and garage, such as gasoline, acetone, battery acid and brake fluid that can leak out of a car, truck or other motorized vehicle. Again, having said this, there are epoxy formulations on the market which are specifically designed for harsh chemical environments, such as the novolac (Bis-F) type epoxies, but these come at a significantly higher price. If chemical resistance is a desired performance criteria, there may be other resin technologies that offer the same performance at lesser cost. The one exception may be where skydrol hydraulic fluids are present, which are very caustic, such as in airplane hangars.
Epoxies have a temperature and installation limitation worthy of consideration. Most epoxies will not harden if mixed and put down when the temperature is below 55 degrees Fahrenheit. If put down when it is too cold, epoxy will stay gooey and sticky and may never fully harden up, even when the temperature eventually climbs back to acceptable levels. This means epoxy based systems are not likely to be a year-round coating solution in geographies where temperatures drop in the winter.
Yet another limitation to epoxy is its elasticity. Epoxies are a fairly inelastic resin technology and the disadvantage here is that when the substrate it is painted onto has a much higher thermo expansion coefficient, such as concrete expanding and contracting with heat or cold, the epoxy will be much less able to expand and contract with the changing substrate, producing what is famously seen as the epoxy delaminating in “sheets” or appearing to come off the floor in “rolls”, literally like a snake losing its skin. This inelasticity means epoxies are generally hard, which is a good property if abrasion resistance is a key consideration, but a much harder surface leaves it prone to cracking when a hard, heavy object is dropped on it from a decent height, such a ball pein hammer or wrench, which may cause the cured, dried hard epoxy finish to crack or chip. Hardness and brittleness go hand in hand. Actually, when considering performance criteria of coatings, many performance factors are “trade-offs”. You give up elasticity to get a harder cured resin for instance. This means abrasion resistance is also traded-off to gain other performance factors. When formulating a resin, the target application should be considered, so all factors can be considered and the right trade-offs made in the final formulation to produce the best overall floor for the target application, whether it be a garage floor, a retail showroom floor, or some other concrete surface, such as a concrete counter-top in the kitchen.
With all of this in mind you should know that epoxies are probably one of the most used chemicals for coating concrete over the last 50 years. Even though the last two paragraphs make it seem like hardness and elasticity are drawbacks to epoxy they have to be mentioned. Epoxy, for many concrete applications, has a good ratio of hardness, elasticity, and chemical resistance that you can't beat for the price. Which is why so many people still hold onto this older coating technology--it's relatively easy to use, good cost performance ratio and it's tried and true. Durability and longevity of this floor will vary based on use but most people should expect to see several years of use before noticing considerable wear and might want to recoat 5-10 years down the road.
Urethanes and Polyurethanes (poly meaning "many" as it refers to the molecule) are often used interchangeably in the floor coating industry. The fact of the matter is that these coatings for concrete are actually polyurethanes which are far better suited to the job given their superior hardness and chemical resistance compared to urethanes. Because of their excellent durability, scratch-resistance, chemical resistance, and flexibility this coating makes an excellent choice for warehouses and other industrial areas such as showrooms and aircraft hangers. These chemistries have been around for many decades and are also commonly found on commercial and large public floors such as gymnasiums and lunch room cafeterias. These are relatively inexpensive chemistries compared to some others. The main downside to this family of resins is that these typically need the most ongoing maintenance to keep the floor looking good over time. Most school gyms and school lunch room floors, for example, that use these chemistries as the top coat, typically get refinished each year, in the summer, after school is out. This ongoing maintenance makes these types of chemistries less desirable for property owners who do not have on staff maintenance personnel or yearly maintenance budgets.
Polyaspartic aliphatic polyureas have been around for several decades. Polyaspartics found their first uses in coating steel and concrete structures, especially bridge structures, to limit and slow down the destructive forces of rust and freezing water on the steel / iron structures as well as the concrete foundation structures. Polyaspartics are best known for their fast drying times. When sprayed thru a 2 component spraying system, they set up / gel almost instantly. When rolled out onto the surface being painted, drying times to become tack free can be anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes to 2 hours, depending on formulation and ambient temperature and humidity. This quick cure time means polyaspartics offer a true one day return to service time for most garage floor sized projects. Polyaspartics also offer tremendously increased elasticity over epoxies. This is very advantageous when the substrate being painted undergoes considerable expansion and contraction due to thermo changes over time, allowing the polyaspartic resin to better adhere and “not pop” off the substrate from differences in elasticity with the substrate, something epoxies are known to do. Polyaspartics also generally offer much better abrasion and chemical resistance than most epoxies. And where epoxies fall short with UV stability, polyaspartics do not yellow or amber like epoxies. Lastly, polyaspartics do not suffer from the installation temperature constraints that epoxies are subject to, and can easily be installed when the temperatures are well below 0 (zero) degrees Fahrenheit, whereas epoxies generally can only be used when temperatures are above 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
These resins were originally developed by Bayer Material Sciences, now known as Covestro, as a corrosion control coating and saw its primary use in its early days in bridge structures, both concrete and steel. Bayer did have patents on the basic polyaspartic esters, but these patents have now lapsed, meaning there are now competitors that offer the resins at a discount of 20-40% of the pre-patent price. This will bode well for polyaspartics and its prevalence in the market over time. Currently polyaspartics are referred to as the Cadillac of the garage floor coating market. These are among the more costly to use but provide the most advantages that consumers are willing to pay for. Abrasion and chemical resistance, and elasticity being greater than that of epoxy, with extremely fast dry/gel/cure times make polyaspartic one of the best coatings for applicators and homeowners.
You can generally expect to pay a little more for a polyaspartic system over an epoxy system. This increased cost brings extreme time savings (1 day polyaspartic floor vs 3 day epoxy floor install), excellent chemical and abrasion resistance and longer lifespans than an epoxy floor seeing the same abuse. Return to service of polyaspartic is also 1 day meaning you can drive back on the next day, beating out epoxy that requires 7 days before driving back onto the floor. If you're looking to tick all the boxes then a polyaspartic garage floor is what you're looking for. They look amazing, and have the best flooring properties such as a great hardness/elasticity ratio and excellent chemical and abrasion resistance. We don't want to cut the article short here but this is the overall best garage floor coating if you're looking at all of characteristics that today's coatings offer.
MMA's (Methyl Methacrylate) Floor Coatings
These resins can be installed in low temperatures and will cure in 1 to 2 hours and are best suited when the absolute quickest return to service times are needed. A significant downside to these resins are their toxicity. The major manufactures that sell the key ingredients used in these systems recommend benchmark blood, kidney and liver function baseline testing and annual follow-ups on installers as the chemistry of these resins are known to present health risks. MMAs can also be highly flammable and should never be used where flames, pilot lights are other ignition sources may be present. We elect not to use MMAs in our business because of the associated health risks they present.
Hybrid Polymer Floor Coatings
There are several companies offering or marketing so called ‘hybrid’ polymers. What these actually are, are not clear, as these companies do not seem to want to tell their installers or customers what the actual chemistry of their resin is based upon. Our recommendation is that if someone will not tell you what the chemistry is actually based on, you’re better off not using it. We view this category of products as mainly a marketing gimmick.
Waterborne vs. Solventborne Coatings
Coatings also come in two distinct families, one being waterborne and the other being solventborne systems. For example, there are water based epoxy systems, as well as solvent based epoxy systems. We believe that, generally, solvent based systems are superior, with some exceptions. There are certain applications, such as hospital floors, where there can exist very valid reasons for not wanting any solvents present, and the associated vapors that are generated as the solvents evaporate as the resins cure out.
For the most part, we think many applicators who “prefer” water based resins for decorative concrete work do so from reasons driven by surface prep equipment than reasons related to any tangible benefits the cured water based systems present. For example, applicators lacking diamond grinding concrete surface preparation equipment, which is very expensive equipment and does the best job in preparing a surface for coating, tend to use acid and ammonia surface prep methods which in comparison is very inexpensive. These lesser costly surface prep methods leave the floor wet, or at the very least, damp for long periods of time afterwards, and the applicators in these cases tend to lean towards water based resins so they can paint the surface while it is still wet. These surface prep methods can be acceptable when carefully done, but when not carefully done, non-neutralized acid or ammonia that is left on the floor, will present long term adhesion issues and lead to a shortened life-span for the finished floor. So as a general matter, to avoid these issues, we usually recommend diamond grinding and use of solvent based resin systems.
This is a very narrow representation of the difference between waterborne and solventborne coatings. Both have their advantages and disadvantages that vary based on the requirements of the project. We personally recommend the use of solventborne coatings as it pertains to the garage floor coating industry. For instance, waterborne acrylic sealers / coatings (think of an acrylic primer) typically achieve the best adhesion to concrete and are often used solely as primers for this very reason. In contrast, polyaspartic and epoxy can both achieve great adhesion as primers, mid and top coats. In most scenarios based on our adhesions tests show that polyaspartic and epoxy adhere beyond the capability of the concrete-Per ISO 4624 & ASTM D4541 the concrete is the failure point. The adhesion of the dolly to the coating was superior so that the concrete failed and cracked below the coating before the force was great enough to pull the dolly directly off the coating.
So, what is the best garage floor coating?
As you can tell there are many options for coating your concrete garage floor. This may sound like a "lawyer's" answer here but really the answer is "it depends" on your project requirements. If you're looking for the lowest cost with an amazing head turning look and don't require chemical resistance then we recommend an acrylic garage floor coating. If you can afford to spend a little more, have 2-4 days to spare and seek a harder more chemical resistant coating then an epoxy or a polyurethane garage floor coating could meet your needs. On the other hand, if you seek the fastest product (1 day install), best chemical and abrasion resistance and overall "Cadillac" of coatings then you really should go with a polyaspartic garage floor coating. The "best" option is different for all of us, but our pick for the overall best coating is hands down polyaspartic.
If you are still unsure of which type of coating or chemistry will best suit your needs then please give us a call or email: Contact Us.
About The Author
Samuel Strayer is a trained chemist with a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry from Arizona State University with an emphasis on material and polymer science. Samuel has been involved in developing and testing coating systems for over 10 years.
Keywords: best, garage, floor, coating, flooring, epoxy, polyaspartic, acrylic, polyurethane
© Copyright, 2018, Slide-Lok (DBA), Mirabel Coatings Inc.
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