Going Horizontal "Painting that is...."
by Tod Kawer

When it comes to paint complaints, horizontal surfaces (floors, decks, steps etc.) win hands down!

"Every time I paint that basement floor, it peels!" "That paint job on the garage floor never lasts, no matter what I use!" Sound familiar? I can't tell you how many times I've heard that. Some people just give up and repaint every 6 months or a year, others keep trying different types of floor and deck paints, looking for that magic coating that will last forever. While some paints work better than others, There is no holy grail of floor paints. There is no one easy answer either.

Let's start with the basics. No matter what surface you are painting, it must be


2. DULL and in ...

3. SOUND condition. Paint won't stick to dirt, grease, oil or other sticky gooey liquid residue commonly found on garage, basement or other floor surfaces. Most paints also have a hard time adhering to hard shiny-glossy surfaces as well. Crumbly, sandy concrete or rotting wood also make extremely poor choices for painting, yet people use paint to hide these imperfections everyday.

For the purpose of this article, we will paint three different horizontal surfaces starting with the garage floor. After all, spring is here!

Garage Floor

Condition - Fair

There is peeling in about 20% of the floor revealing several coats (and colors) of floor paints. Several stains indicate oil and/or transmission fluid has been slowly leaking there for many years. Much of the peeling paint seems to be where the tires track the surface. Most of the paint is dull.

Preparation: The first thing we must do before we paint is (you guessed it) wash the floor. We will use a degreaser commonly used to clean up oily residue. as we mop we notice along with the grease, many paint chips also get washed in with the mix. This is good. It will help us in the next step which is to get up all the loose paint. This is very important. Most of the time it is not necessary to remove all the paint, but getting the loose stuff off, is necessary.

Since the original paint is not shiny, dulling will not be required and we can now focus on choosing a floor paint suitable for a garage.

Product: My first choice for a garage floor is a high quality alkyd (oil) based polyurethane floor enamel. If you are using your garage as a storage room, (you don't park your car in it) most latex floor paints will do just fine but, latex paints just don't hold up under hot car tires. Hot rubber tires leach creosote which will dissolve even latex modified epoxy on contact.

(For people wanting the absolute best product for this surface, 2 part polyamid epoxy is the best answer, followed by pure urethane enamels, but these are expensive difficult to use coatings and may not be very easy to find.)

 What about primer? NEVER PRIME A FLOOR.. Period. If the surface is slightly un-sound, reduce the paint by a third and use the thinned floor paint as a primer. Primers are almost always softer than floor paints, making them unsuitable as an undercoat for floor enamels.

Remember, two light coats are much better than one heavy coat when it comes to painting your floor. The Polyurethane enamel will leave a very shiny finish that is also slippery when wet. To counter this you may want to add some anti-slip compound in the areas that are commonly walked upon. Keep in mind that the anti-slip compounds degrade the coating considerably.

If for whatever reason, Alkyd (oil based) coatings are out of the question, use tire pads commonly available at auto parts stores to protect the floor where the tires normally ride. This will also help any coating you decide to use last years longer.

Basement Floor

Condition - Poor

Most of the floor surface is bare concrete. This basement has had numerous leaks over the years, but that has been remedied. When it was last painted two years ago with a Latex modified epoxy floor paint it peeled severely. When an Alkyd paint was used a few months later, the same thing occurred and the owners gave up.

Preparation: The mystery here is, why did both the oil and latex floor paints fail so quickly? In order to understand this, we must first understand what can happen to concrete surfaces over time. Concrete floors, (and walls) leach surfactants (a type of salts) creating a "hot" (alkaline) surface that paint will not stick to. This is especially prevalent when the concrete is in contact with water for long periods of time.

As with the garage floor we must sweep and wash the floor. After the floor is well swept, we will neutralize the floor with a white vinegar or muriatic acid solution. Remember, the "hot" (alkaline) surface must be neutralized with some kind of acid solution. Muriatic acid works best, but can be dangerous and odorous (like rotten eggs) and 2 cups of white vinegar in a gallon of water work almost as well without the hazard.

Product: While a quality alkyd (oil) based polyurethane floor enamel would work fine, I would go with the latex modified epoxy enamel. Again (as in this case) if the surface is not completely sound, reduce the paint by a third and use the thinned floor paint as a primer and use another coat full strength for the finish. Most modified Epoxy Latex enamels will leave a nice low lustre/satin finish that will last for years under light traffic conditions.

Back Porch Stairs

Condition - Poor

While the wood stairs are not completely rotten, there are areas of "soft wood" that needs immediate attention. Most of the stair area is devoid of any paint, but there are small areas of red paint that seems to match the shutters. It had been 22 years since they were painted.

Preparation: First we must remove as much as the loose paint as possible. This is easily achieved using a inexpensive pull scraper. Then, we must treat the "soft wood" using a wood hardener product and allow it to dry overnight. We use one of the popular deck cleaners as a cleaning agent and hose it off thoroughly.

Product: Again, a high quality alkyd (oil) based polyurethane floor enamel is my first choice, as I don't feel the Latex Modified Epoxy will penetrate and grab sufficiently. I will however use an anti-slip compound mixed in as the Polyurethane enamel will become very slippery when wet.

I hope I have been helpful in aiding you in any future floor painting projects you have planned. If you have any questions, please call me at (914) 961-4880 or E-mail me at tod@kawer.com . I'll be happy to help! Or visit TPG on the web at http://www.kawer.com

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