Project Difficulty: Moderately difficult – only in the amount of steps and time required, can be time consuming, but OH SO WORTH IT if you’re determined to get it done.
Wine Intake: Have several bottles on hand. Preferably Merlot.
Okay – so my very first doityourselfHER post is a doozy… get ready.
Late last year, my husband and I bought a great 1920′s home that had recently been flipped. The aforementioned flipper attempted several projects to make this home more appealing to a certain type of buyer. He did several things well, several things marginally acceptable, and several things were total flops. One of his flops was his sorry attempt at “staining” the concrete countertops that he built. In his defense, the countertops seemed to be formed and built well. Unfortunately though, no one could even tell that we had the very popular concrete countertops, because Flipper “stained” them with a product widely sold at Home Depot that’s homonyms with the word “Bear.” Hang with me, fellow English nerds.
Anyway – the problem was that this product does not actually stain the concrete. What it does do, at least in this case, is coat the concrete with a flat OPAQUE surface that resembles paint. And what color did Flipper choose???
ROYAL FREAKIN’ BLUE!! Who does that?
We had royal blue countertops as far as the eye could see – and I mean that literally. Our small (1300 sf house) has a ginormous amount of countertop space, much of it readily seen as soon as you walk in the front door, thanks to an open design plan. (The above picture is the view from the living room.) We had countertops in the kitchen, in the living room, and in a small room that we use as a bar.
I wanted to stain the countertops so that they would have that unique and trendy concrete look. If you don’t know what stained concrete countertops or floors look like, do a Google search and find some images. They are stunning and so popular now. And we all want to be popular, right?
So, not only were the countertops slathered in royal blue, the “stain” was chipping, lifting, and peeling everywhere! This picture shows what happened when a sticky bottomed Coke can (no, I wasn’t responsible for that!) was left sitting there. When I tried to lift the can, the stain came right up with it. Same thing happened when a piece of tape fell on the counter. Same thing happened when you looked it funny. You get my drift.
*Note* real stain doesn’t act in such a manner. Real stain saturates the surface it is applied to so that this kind of lifting doesn’t occur.
Now, go get yourself a glass of wine and sit back because we’re getting ready to talk about stripping. No. Not that kind.
Before I get too far here, I do need to specify that Flipper didn’t seem to use any sort of sealer on these countertops. And I don’t know if one was necessary. So the problem may not be 100% attributable to the product. But what I can fault the product for is that it clearly didn’t stain the concrete. It just covered it.
So, imagine my scenario. Hubby had just left on a hunting trip and I decided to go ahead and strip. NO!! Not that kind. Get your minds out of the gutter.
I decided to strip the countertops. And I thought that I could finish it by the time he came back home on Monday. Ha to the freakin’ ha.
- Citrus Stripper (because I was working indoors and didn’t want to live out the rest of my years in an iron lung)
- Protective gloves (latex and heavy duty chemical resistant gloves)
- Steel Wool (grades 2 and 3)
- 4 inch razor blade scraper
- Blue easy-to-remove painting tape (so you don’t peel away your good stuff.) I prefer 3M. It’s more expensive but worth it.
- Plastic Sheeting to protect the things you don’t want stripped, like cabinets and floors
- TSP ( a heavy duty detergent in powder form)
- Old or cheap paint brush that you’re okay with throwing away
The very first thing (and probably one of the smartest) was to break the project into portions. I think that many people can become seriously overwhelmed by projects of this size because it can be, well, overwhelming when you look at it as one BIG project. I knew that this would be more easily tackled in chunks that were manageable, so I envisioned sections of my kitchen. More on the importance of this in a bit…
Cover your surfaces when using stripper. Use plastic sheeting and tape. I taped where the counters met the walls, and used the sheeting to protect underneath.
I took a deep breath, put on my gloves, and liberally applied a coat of stripper. Then I brushed it so it would thickly coat my surface.
Almost immediately, the blue topmost layer started to crack and deteriorate. See below, how it’s starting to change?
Then I took the scraper and pressed down, starting in the corners, pulling up layers of paint that I lovingly refereed to as atomic sludge.
I gathered this sludge as best I could and discarded it into an old plastic bag.
Here’s the bad news… although the stripper removed the top layer of color, it did not remove a darker, more sinister layer that hung on for dear life underneath. I was perplexed… why wouldn’t it come off? After all, it was practically falling off on its own before I started the removal process.
I don’t know the answer to that… but I do know that often, when you strip various surfaces, like wood – which is porous – often, stripping isn’t as easy as you’d think. You sometimes have to rub rub rub until the stuff comes clean. Enter our friend, steel wool.
Tip: Once the stripper has removed what it can, by itself, I recommend applying another coat of it to see if it will remove anything else. Follow the product’s instructions. I applied another coat, gave it several hours to sit and do its thing, drank another glass of wine and then brought out the big guns.
Here’s when I knew that this project wouldn’t be completed in a couple of days. I could see that I would have days and days of stripping ahead of me. So, I sectioned off the countertops into real areas that I delineated with masking tape and a magic marker. They literally read, “Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday” and I taped them down in areas I could do every day. That way, I would have a specific amount that I needed to do every day and I would also have an idea of how long this would take. It seemed much more doable this way.
I then took the most abrasive steel wool I had and poured more stripper on the countertop. I rubbed and rubbed and rubbed until I could see the very beginnings of bare concrete underneath. I rubbed left to right, then up and down, and then in circles until I could see progress. I worked like this in approximately square foot portions. Essentially, I broke my sections into sections.
This picture below shows the color beginning to lift.
See that smile? That’s my “OHMYGOD is this ever going to get done????” look.
But the changes I had in store were drastic. And drastic changes require drastic measures. Unless you want to pay a professional. And then that can require drastic money.
I digress…. “Back on task,” as my seventh grade English teacher liked to say. After I completed the section, I mixed some TSP (per package instructions) in a small bucket and then dipped an unused (less abrasive) steel wool into the mix. I scrubbed and scrubbed some more until it all started to lift. What I learned after much trial and error is that the first round of scrubbing with the stripper only got me so far. It seemed like the job could only be accomplished with lots and lots of TSP water worked in. It seemed to break down what what the stripper couldn’t remove.
Hubby arrived home on Monday to a tired and frustrated wife who had been scrubbing for 3 days and had less than half the countertops stripped. The proverbial stripper jokes were made and then I put him to work in an effort to save time. Finally, after 5 days of hellish stripping and scrubbing, I ended up with countertops that were mostly bare concrete. Some flecks of color were left imbedded in deeper portions of the concrete, but I determined that they would have to stay – as I did not want to rub so hard that more aggregate would be exposed.
I felt like this was quite an accomplishment because from this point forward, everything I would be doing would the fun stuff. I know I’m going against the stripper’s (yes! that kind… finally) credo here, but putting on is so much more fun than taking off.
The last thing I needed to do before I got ready for the staining part of the program was rinse the TSP from the countertops. I used a scrub brush (like something you would clean a tub with) and a sponge. I first scrubbed the area with the brush and clean water and then I went over it with a sponge and clean water, until the water on the sponge was neither gray nor sudsy. This took several times before I felt that there was no TSP left. Rinsing well also removes the very fine particles of dust that you don’t want ending up in your final product.
- Wear gloves for every step!!! I got lazy on one TSP wash once and didn’t wear them. My hands got an unwanted chemical peel. Yuck.
- Keep using new steel wool pads. They get clogged up with residue and don’t seem to work as well after a while.
- Keep rubbing! That color will lift…. eventually.
- This project doesn’t require ridiculous strength, just ridiculous patience.
- Work in sections. Manage your project in a way that works for you. We all have busy lives, but you know best how much you can bite off every day.
- Ventilate, even if you’re using a citrus based stripper. I can’t imagine that anything used to remove paint would be good to inhale.
- Stripping sucks. Get used to that simple fact and keep thinking of the big picture. When I would start to feel like all this work wasn’t worth it, I stopped and remembered that I was doing all this so that I could eventually stain the countertops the right way, and by doing so, experience eternal do-it-yourself glory!!
After all the surfaces were stripped and rinsed thoroughly, I was ready to stain. This is the essence of the project, and indeed much more fun than stripping. In the next few posts, I will show you how to stain concrete and why I decided going green was the way to go.