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Why burnished concrete is a great alternative finish

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Flooring finishes
Policrete Team
Policrete Team
August 5, 2019
minute read

It’s easy to understand why burnished concrete is becoming more and more popular with developers, builders, architects and homeowners. The versatile material is extremely durable, lasts for decades and is one of the easiest surfaces to maintain. It also looks a treat.

But as demand grows, the industry is evolving to adapt to the different needs of customers. It seems that concrete doesn't just mean the same thing anymore. There are now a huge number of different types of ‘concrete’: mechanical polish, salt and pepper polish, burnished concrete, grind and seal concrete, honed concrete, epoxy flooring. No wonder customers get confused!   

Burnished concrete and other finishes often get mixed up. After all, to the untrained eye, the process of polishing and burnishing looks the same. But they’re actually completely different techniques, and you don’t want to mistakenly ask for a burnished finish when you really mean polished, lest you be brutally disappointed in the result. So, let our trained eyes explain the difference between the two techniques for you.

burnished concrete
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So, what exactly is a concrete finish?

Mechanically polishing concrete involves altering a concrete surface through grinding, honing and polishing. This is done using diamond-bonded abrasives. Diamonds don’t just look great on your finger - the material was once thought to be the toughest material on the planet, and while that’s since been debunked, it’s still really great at grinding down hard surfaces like concrete. It reduces any bumps and dips in the concrete slab, and also grinds away any stains or marks in the surface.

Mechanically polishing concrete also involves applying a chemical hardener to the surface to densify the naturally porous concrete before grinding it down to the desired gloss and smoothness. This is why the polishing process actually increases the durability of concrete surfaces. It also achieves a few other things: it’s easy to clean, hard to damage and reflects light like no other surface (which means it’s great to use when you need it bright or want to cut down on your electricity bills: supermarket owners take note!).

You can achieve different exposure levels (how much stone is showing under the surface) and different levels of shine (matte, semi-gloss and gloss) based on how coarse or fine the diamond-bonded adhesive is, meaning that the finish is customisable.

concrete finish
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What is a burnished concrete floor?

A lot of customers get confused between burnished concrete and other popular finishes. After all, the process looks very similar. Concrete burnishers, also called power trowels or helicopters (so named for their rotating blades) are mechanical, and they spin in a similar fashion to a concrete grinder. But the similarities end there.

Burnishers aren’t powerful enough to grind down a concrete surface. Instead, they’re used to heat, melt and buff a coating that’s applied to a surface. The chemical coating, which is typically a wax-based product, melts into the small pores in the concrete surface.

A densifier can be used when burnishing concrete, which gives the surface some of the same properties as mechanical finishes, including shine, durability and toughness. But it’s easy to get it wrong, and if you muck up the installation, it won’t look nearly as good as you were expecting.

burnished concrete floor
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How do you install a good-looking burnished concrete floor?

Burnishing has been popular for commercial floors for years. It’s durable, easy to maintain and a cheaper alternative to other floors. However, aesthetics was never a consideration for these commercial floors. Now, more people are looking to burnishing for its decorative appeal. You can achieve a similar level of shine to polishing and many customers like the unique variation of colour you can achieve.

But burnished finishes are easy to get wrong. The concrete slab must be perfectly poured, finished and cleaned before burnishing, and cutting corners at this stage will result in ugly floors.

Before burnishing, a concrete installer will use a power trowel to create a finish with a sheen similar to other types of concrete. This removes footprints and other marks before the concrete sets. It’s important to use an experienced concrete installer for burnishing because uneven trowelling will result in an uneven floor. Even the smallest dips or bumps in the surface will be highly visible on the finished floor.

The other thing to think about is that cement slabs tend to have darker centres and lighter edges when poured. If you’re burnishing a large area, you may end up with a patchy-looking floor: light in some areas and dark in others. Many a failed burnishing by inexperienced installers has resulted in ugly floors and unhappy homeowners.

A sealer is also usually applied to protect a burnished floor. If the floors haven’t been protected during the construction phase, stains from spilt liquids or sawdust can be absorbed into the concrete before the protecting sealer is applied. Because there’s no grinding involved, these stains will still be visible in the finished floor. At Policrete, we use Ram Board, a heavy-duty temporary floor protection that rolls out flat to protect surfaces from damage during construction.  

The key takeaway here is that an experienced concreter will have the best chance of achieving an even finish with the right level of sheen. To achieve a great-looking burnished floor, the concrete slab must be poured impeccably. Then it’s a matter of thoroughly cleaning, buffing and coating the floor with a sealer. That’s why it pays to only work with an experienced concrete installer. Better yet, use one that both pours the slab and burnishes the surface. This way, you know they won’t cut corners at either stage.

install burnished concrete floor
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How to achieve a great-looking burnished concrete floor

If you’ve got your mind set on burnished concrete, we can help you get the look without risking uneven or unsightly floors. Using an expert concrete installer is key. Policrete is highly trained in both pouring and finishing concrete, meaning you can trust that we’ll lay the slab perfectly, clean it impeccably and burnish it to your exact specifications.

Get in touch with one of Policrete’s concrete specialists to discuss how we can install a high-quality burnished concrete floor in your home or commercial space.

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