There are two ways to DIY concrete countertops: pouring your own slabs and completely replacing your existing countertops, or using a concrete overlay on top of your existing countertops. The huge drawback to pouring slabs is the amount of work involved. While I’ve never actually done it, I’ve heard that the process can be quite lengthy and expensive. So, for our kitchen we chose the concrete overlay route. With a little elbow grease, and not a lot of money, this project is totally doable for anyone! And as you can see, the result is terrific:
It should only take you about 3-7 days to complete depending on how much you can fit in each day. I will fully admit that this can feel like an eternity when you are in the middle of it – but I promise it’s not that bad! It’s just that it’s pretty time consuming during those days. A lot of this is because you have several hours between coats. Oh, and it’s pretty darn messy too. When you sand between each layer of concrete you’ll be left with a lovely coating of dust on all of your surfaces. Just being honest. When I did our kitchen counters it was the only project I worked on for about 5 days, including the sealing and everything. But, one thing that definitely motivated me to push through it and get it finished as fast as I could was the fact that we had no kitchen to use during that time, not to mention the fact that we were having a party the next weekend.
Our kitchen had laminate countertops that were pretty beat up with lots of scratches and nicks. While I would love to have some type of stone in the future, an entire kitchen’s worth of stone counters was just not in the budget. I have to say, now that the counters are done, they look amazing and I absolutely LOVE them! We’ve had them for about 3 months now and they are holding up really well! We use our kitchen a ton too, so they take a daily beating. I really think the main reason they are holding up so well and staying so nice (and what is potentially setting them apart from other peeps giving bad reviews about concrete counters online) is because of the combination of sealers I used at the end.
But first, here’s a nasty photo of our kitchen when we moved into this house 2.5 years ago:
And here’s a photo of how it was looking about a year or so in:
And this is what it looks like today:
Ok, now let’s talk concrete overlay.The product we used was called Ardex Feather Finish. There are a few tutorials online that give a pretty good step by step on how to apply this product, like the one here or here. But in my opinion, the absolute most important part of this project (since it was for a kitchen application) was the sealing application at the end.
Oh! I almost forgot to mention that this project is awesome for any budget! As for materials, you will need:
- the concrete (of course)
- putty knives
- a trowel (though I didn’t really use mine that much)
- a mud bin
- a box knife
- sand paper (200- & 400-grit for sanding the Ardex, 40-grit to 80-grit for roughing up the laminate)
- foam brushes (for the sealer application)
- an old t-shirt (for the sealer application)
I ordered my concrete from Amazon because I couldn’t find a local retailer, and I got my sealers from Home Depot. So, in total, this project rang in under $100!!! Which I don’t think I need to tell you is so so inexpensive when the result is a complete transformation!
Ok, let’s get into the nitty gritty. First thing to do is to really prep the laminate counters by roughing them up so that the concrete will have something to grab onto and stick really well. This will make for a very durable surface. We used some low grit sandpaper (we used 40-grit) and a box knife to just really rough up the surface. After that we cleaned off the surfaces really well. This is important because you don’t want little flecks of the laminate finish mixing in the concrete.
Now it’s time to mix a batch of concrete. I tried to do pretty conservative sized batches. I just eyeballed it and tried to make sure each batch would be enough for one coat. But if I had to mix more in the middle of an application it was no problem. This product is pretty user friendly. Just start with the dry concrete and add water until you get to a good consistency. I found that I liked it a little thicker than the tutorials I found. I think maybe the thickness of pudding is what I went with – when you pull a spoon out of it the mixture should fall off the spoon, but it shouldn’t be too fast to fall. Better to have a little more water than less in my experience though. After you mix it with water, you need to let the concrete do a quick set for about 5-10 minutes and then give it another mix. Then it’s ready to spread!
For the first coat I used a trowel and putty knives to spread the concrete. However, I found that the trowel was really hard to work with and after that I just used two different sizes of putty knives to spread. I used the bigger one to get an initial spread of the concrete, and then the smaller one for more fine tuning and smaller areas. The concrete was surprisingly easy to spread if you get the right consistency. If you make it too thick it is a little harder to do a thin coat, and if it is too thin you may notice some bubbles in the concrete while spreading it. Even if you have one batch that wasn’t exactly the most desired consistency it is really not an issue because you can fix any imperfections with sanding. Also, you want some imperfections! That is what will give your new counters some character. After each coat of concrete was spread, I just let it dry out all the way before sanding. There will be some darker spots when it’s dry though, so as long as it’s dry to the touch, you are good to start sanding. I alternated between using 200-grit and 400-grit sandpaper between coats. I didn’t worry too much about making everything exactly level because I wanted it to look imperfect. I just made sure to give it a good once over with the sand paper to make sure that everything was smooth to the touch. With your initial coats of the concrete, don’t worry if while you are sanding the laminate show through in some spots – that’s OK. The layers you are doing are thin, so especially after the first coat I noticed that I still had quite a bit of the laminate showing through. That’s what the multiple coats are for. I think I ended up doing 3-4 coats total. This amounted to 3/4 of a bag. So it really does stretch a long way.
Another step that was a little more difficult was the edges. We had lots of edges in our kitchen (mostly because of the island). I found that for the first coat I just tried to get whatever I could to stick on, and then for the subsequent coats I did the edges last and waited until the concrete mixture had set up a little more so that it was thicker and stuck to the edges better. My method with them was to get as much as I could get to stick on them and then I sanded away all of the lumps and imperfections after it dried. I also used the putty knives to scrape away bumps on the counters as well as on the edges. It worked like a charm to make sure the overhang of the edges was level the whole way around rather than having visible bumps.
After your last layer of concrete is dry and sanded and looking how you want it to look, it’s time to begin the sealing process. I did a ton of research before sealing these counters. I wanted something that was going to be durable and easily wipe-able since these counters are in a kitchen. While there is no sealer that is perfect, I think the combination I chose is about as good as it gets!
For this process, I actually used two different sealers (one to penetrate the concrete and the other to act as a protective top coat). The penetrating sealer I used was 511 Impregnator Sealer
. I did 3-4 coats, one right after the other. I used an old t-shirt for this sealer application. This one puts off some fumes, so make sure to have some open windows/doors and fans going while applying. The top sealer was Behr Wet Look Sealer (this was actually found in the paint section). I did about 3 coats of that with the proper drying time between coats. Then we just waited the full cure time for the top sealer to use the kitchen again. This top sealer had some bad reviews online, but if you just apply nice thin, even coats with a foam brush there should be no problem (I know we don’t have any!). It’s very similar to polyacrylic. Just resist the urge to shorten the time between coats and make sure it cures fully before using the kitchen again! We have had no trouble with things sticking to it at all. I should also mention that I really went to town with this sealer around the kitchen sink so that water penetration would be very minimal. Then we caulked everything at the end. Any water that gets on the counters just sits there and will only soak in if left for several minutes (and even then it dries). And like I said earlier, nothing else besides water has penetrated this sealer (even the dreaded oil!).
The end result is a high gloss, sort of wet look which we decided was best for a kitchen to wipe up spills and such. If water is left too long, it will soak through but it dries quickly. I have cooked many times and oil splatters are easily wipe-able, and I have seen NO penetration or staining so far. I am very happy with the results overall. I’ll probably re-seal with the Behr sealer every 6 months or so just to make sure they are good and protected. Just a side note though: I am perfectly alright with some staining and wear on these counters, it’s concrete! If you want absolutely perfect and pristine looking counters, then these may not be for you.
Young House Love just did a great post on these counters with lots of the ‘during’ photos that I’m lacking here. However, mine are 3+ months old now and I can tell you that they are holding up amazingly (once again, I think it is all owed to my combo of sealers).
We did this concrete overlay to satisfy us until we can splurge on stone counters, but honestly, I love love love them so much that I am in no hurry whatsoever to get anything different.
So, to anyone on the fence out there about trying this, I say go for it! I give it two thumbs way up!