Polished concrete is concrete that has been processed through a series of mechanically ground "polishing/grinding" steps similar to the production of terrazzo. This process also includes the use of a penetrant chemical known as a hardener. The concrete densifier/hardener penetrates into the concrete and creates a chemical reaction to help harden and dust proof the surface. During concrete polishing the surface is processed through a series of steps (in general a minimum of 6 grinding steps of processing is considered polished concrete) utilizing progressively finer grinding tools. The grinding tools are progressive grits of industrial diamonds in a bonded material such as metal/hybrid/resin often referred to as diamond polishing pads. Polished Concrete is a "Green" flooring system and LEED approved. Concrete is not considered polished before 800 grit, and it is normally finished to either the 800, 1500, or 3000 grit level. Dyes designed for concrete polishing are often applied to add color to polished concrete as well as other options such as scoring, creating radial lines, grids, bands, borders, and other designs.
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Polished concrete floors are considered low-maintenance, as they are more durable and easier to clean than many flooring options. Its high coefficient of friction can make it non-slippery. Polished concrete reduces dust mite and allergen problems, and does not support mold growth. Anecdotal evidence suggests highly reflective polished concrete reduces lighting needs and can improve natural lighting. Polished concrete flooring is hard wearing and will not chip or dent like softer surfaces such as timber and tiles. Polished concrete is easily maintained with the use of clean water or a neutral balance PH cleaner. There are also many cleaners designed for the proper maintenance of polished concrete available. There is never a need for wax to be added as it will only dull the finish. A concrete floor that has been hardened and polished will have an extremely long life expectancy compared to other flooring. For example, Epoxy has a short life span of 1 to 5 years and easily peels,some tile floors may only last 10–20 years, but a polished concrete floor that has been properly maintained may give 100+ years of service.
LEED 2009 standards contain guidelines for using polished concrete flooring to qualify for LEED credits.
New or retrofit
In simple terms, the process of polishing concrete is similar to sanding wood. Heavy-duty polishing machines, for example concrete grinder, are used to gradually grind down surfaces to the desired degree of shine and smoothness. The closest equivalent example would be polished granite or marble.
Polished concrete floor installation is categorized into two types: new floors, and retrofit floors.
New floors require less work resulting in lower costs, but there are a few things to be aware of before a new concrete floor can be polished. Firstly the mix design of the concrete should be 3,500 psi or higher. The concrete should always be poured full depth to take advantage of the concretes full structural strength and to also help in preventing cracks. The concrete should always be professionally finished with power trowels and properly cured with water for 7 days. Polishing should not begin until the concrete is fully cured (generally 28 days). The concrete slab can contain decorative aggregates to create many different aesthetically beautiful appearances. The concrete aggregate is typically the normal aggregates used in the region, but almost anything can be used. The finished surface of the concrete will need to be finished to a high standard to facilitate the polishing process. According to the Global Concrete Polishing Institute, a FF (floor flatness level) of 50 or greater is desired. During the finishing phase any decorative aggregates such as seashells, glass chips or even metal car parts can be dropped into the surface of the concrete. Builder needs to be aware as early as possible if the concrete is to be polished so that the final finish is of the best quality.
Retrofit floors can be done in different ways depending on the conditions of the concrete. If the existing concrete is in good condition the surface can be polished to just about any standard. If the existing floor slab is in poor condition it can be cut or grinded and the natural aggregate can be featured as the "exposure level". If the existing surface is in very poor condition a topping slab with a minimum thickness of 50 mm (2 inches) can be added on top of the existing slab.
Diamond-polished concrete process
A diamond polished concrete floor is very time-consuming if done correctly, this is due to the fact that there are at least 6 to 12 steps of actual grinding involved. The general rule is to start the initial grinding with a coarse 30/60-grit diamond and finish with an 800, 1500- or 3000-grit diamond, depending on the exposure level of aggregate and gloss level required. These diamonds are impregnated inside a metal- or resin-bonded segment. Typically the diamonds' grit size will double once the first grind has been carried out. The use of 30-grit size diamonds, then use 60/80-grit diamonds followed by the 120-grit metal bond segments. The polishing process begins with a 50-grit diamond resin pad instead of a metal segment. When using the resin pads the steps may be 100, then 200, 400, 800, 1500 and finally 3000 grit. Throughout the process a densifier is used to harden the concrete surface, which allows the concrete to be polished. A number of densifiers can be used; these consist of a lithium, potassium or sodium silicates. In some cases A grouting chemical is also used to fill in any holes, cracks or imperfections that were exposed from the initial coarse grinding step. The concrete can be also finished with a natural-look impregnating Polish-Guard; this "Guard" penetrates 2–5 mm inside the pores of the concrete preventing any deep staining from oils and spills. But, is also breathable and not a sealer (as a sealer actually seals the concrete 100% and does not allow vapor transmission).
"Hybrid" Concrete Polish
This system is not considered to be real polished concrete as there is little physical refinement of the concrete slab. However, it does provide a similar look to polished concrete and may be appropriate in some areas. Typically this system is referred to as a "half polish" as generally the surface is only processed through 3 steps of grinding (half the steps of what a real polished concrete floor is processed). The surface is densified so the advantages of the densifer are inherited, then a concrete sealer or a high buildup of a concrete guard is used to create a shine. the "shine" is topical and generally wears easily requiring high maintenance and reapplication of the material. While there is some level of refinement to the surface, the topical (chemical spray or rolled on) solution and will wear off and need to be replaced depending on floor traffic. Grouting and patching may be required to fill any voids, holes, cracks or imperfections.
Grind-and-seal polished concrete process
This system is not considered to be polished concrete as there is very little physical refinement of the concrete slab. However, it does provide a similar look to polished concrete and may be appropriate in small spaces with little expected foot traffic or wear on the slab. While there may be some level of surface preparation this is a topical (chemical spray or rolled on) solution and will wear off and need to be replaced depending on floor traffic. Grouting and patching may be required to fill any voids, holes, cracks or imperfections. The surface is then cleaned and prepared for the application of either a gloss or matte surface coating, or an impregnating enhancing sealer.
Process involved in polishing concrete:
- The concrete floor is cut with a variety of diamond abrasives of the concrete slab. Polishing can be done wet or dry. However, new OSHA regulations on crystalline silica and protecting skilled trades in the concrete, masonry and brick industries are encouraging the development of wet refinement systems or the use of industrial vacuums.
- A densifier can be applied once the concrete is opened up and in a condition to readily accept the chemical. The step at which the densifier is applied is determined by hydration of the slab. There are many types of densifiers including, sodium, potassium, lithium, magnesium fluorosilicate and colloidal.
- The densifier is allowed to dry and cure until proper hardness has been achieved, followed by one or more abrasive cuts, which will refine the floor to the desired level of reflectivity.