Installing a garage floor coating can be a stylish and practical addition to any garage. Providing a visual pop that will set your garage apart. But what are the realities of installing floor coating on your own? With all the hours of preparation and hard work in completing this task, what should you need to know before you decide to take it on yourself?

If you want the smart answer to garage floor epoxies, our recommendation is to leave it to the professionals or spend some extra money and purchase a premium-grade multi-layer kit. The consumer grade products do have their advantages: affordable price, easy application, product accessibility. But when you read some of the horror stories that both novice and expert installers share, you may think twice.

Why all the bad press?

If you’ve had a look at what’s available for purchase, you probably came across one of two competitively-priced products of garage floor epoxy that can be found in both the big box stores and online shops like Amazon and Jet.

These products are Rust-Oleum EpoxyShield and the Quikrete brand garage floor epoxy paint kits. To give you some information about what the product is and what they purportedly provide to your garage, here are the properties and claims the 2-gallon kits share as a floor coating:

  • Ideal for garages, basements, workshops and more
  • Covers up to 500 sq. ft.
  • Showroom quality floor, high gloss finish
  • Long lasting results, no hot tire pick up, resists chemicals and cracking
  • Applies like paint
  • Water-based for low odor

Water-based epoxy floor coating

Now the last couple points are actually cause for a lot of the issues that owners experience both in application and usage down the road. It’s marketed as a feature that makes it easier to apply, yields a low VOC (volatile organic compound), and has a higher pot life.

Pot life is simply the time the product can sit—mixed—inside a bucket for application. Longer pot life is better for novice users since they can take their time and allow for delays they may encounter.

By having a water base, that’s essentially cutting the strengthening quality of floor coatings seemingly in half. When you look at professional grade products, you’ll find that some advertise a minimum thickness of 10 millimeters (~3/8ths of an inch). With the Rust-Oleum and Quikrete products you’ll only get, at most, 6 mils if you add a second coat of clear epoxy. With what’s included in the box, it will yield a single coat of about 3 millimeters (~1/8th of an inch) over a 250 square foot (2.5 garage) space.

The color options are either gray or tan, which should match most garage decor. They also come packaged with color chips for some added visual appeal. When purchasing color chips separately, you have the option of tossing down (broadcasting) much more than is pictured. This can result in not only a unique look, but more importantly an added level of skid resistance and texture. But what you get in the Rust-Oleum and Quikrete kits is purely for aesthetics.

As for chemical and solvent resistance, they both claim to have complete resistance. From reading through some buyer reviews you’ll find that they do in fact have a strong resistance to most corrosive materials, however, it’s not impenetrable. Clean up spills immediately and don’t let them sit overnight if it can be helped.

If you decide to proceed with applying the water-based product, be sure to get the “professional” level kits and not the standard. While the professional grade products have their issues, they’re mostly unique experiences due to the age of the applied-to surface or unique environmental factors. Some owners report more than a decade of satisfied performance from their properly installed water-based floor coating.

High-solids garage floor coating

The next level up is commercial grade floor coating products. Rustoleum offers a commercial grade product but you can’t find this product online. You’ll have to contact them direct and request a brochure or order over the phone.

If you’d like to go this route, make sure you’re buying a product that is aimed toward commercial and industrial applications and is 70-100% solids epoxy. The higher the solids, the lower the water additive. Since you’re working with a much denser solution, it won’t be like rolling on paint and you must follow strict backrolling for the proper look. The pot life will also be shorter, so keep that in mind.

When you choose a floor coating with a color base, you’ll be looking to spend about twice as much as you would for the consumer brand. The benefit of high-solids garage floor coatings is that the durability of just one application is better than a couple coats of the watered down stuff.

If you’re not frightened by having to apply this material in about 30 minutes and don’t mind backrolling or some elbow grease, this may be the option for you.

Should I add a topcoat?

Rust-Oleum EpoxyShield and Quikrete garage floor coating options don’t come with a clear topcoat. They do come packaged with the necessary tools and solutions for prep and to apply the coating, just no final coat.

The top coat is a separate addition and can be applied to any level of floor coating, consumer grade or otherwise. The epoxy (or polyurethane) top coat not only adds to the durability of the floor coating, but gives it a very impressive, glossy appearance.

You can add a single coat or second coat. Before recoating, however, check the coating to insure no epoxy blushes have developed (a whitish, greasy film or deglossing). If a blush is present, it must be removed prior to topcoating or recoating.

The best garage floor coating

The best garage floor coating is going to be a combination of a primer coat, premium-grade 100% solids epoxy, and a couple layers of epoxy top coat. With proper preparation of the adhering surface, you’ll have a beautiful garage floor that will last for decades.

Concrete bonding primer is used as a buffer between the prepped garage floor and your first coat of epoxy. It has a thinner consistency so that it will sink deep into the substrate and yield a nice, smooth surface for your first coat of epoxy to adhere to.

Premium-grade epoxy coating kits can run up to about $400 on their own. If you include the primer coat and top coat, you’re looking to spend upwards of $800 for this project. Granted, it’s the longest lasting solution and will definitely pay for itself in the long run.

Things to consider

You can be satisfied with any of the solutions that we’ve provided here today. As with most big projects, the time you spend before the project learning about how to do it right and preparing your substrate properly will yield better results during the application process.

You can get away with using the consumer-grade epoxy floor coatings. Heck, there are hundreds of glowing reviews from owners who have used the Rust-Oleum kit 10 years ago and haven’t encountered a single issue. There’s just less room for error with the cheaper product.

Older, more porous garage floors or substrates with varying densities increase the probability for problems either applying the coating or with adhesion in the future. Hot tire pickup is a common problem with these kits, even with users taking twice the amount of precautions. If your garage is very old and the quality is concerning, you should consider a diamond grind instead of the included acid etching.

An extra couple of hundred dollars in prep can save thousands later on. Once you apply any type of epoxy garage floor coating, consumer- or premium-grade, there is no easy way to start over or fix a mistake. It’s not as easy as chipping away or scraping off the hardened epoxy. The concrete may give before the epoxy does.

Regardless of your budget, do your due diligence and make sure that the DIY option is the right option for you. Make sure you have taken all the necessary preparation measures and have all of the requisite tools on hand. Check them twice. You may not have the luxury of heading to the hardware store for a missing tool when your pot life is 30 minutes.

If you’re not feeling confident, reach out to your local flooring experts for some insight or hired work. Their price per square foot may surprise you. With whatever option you decide to go with, be sure it’s done right the first time. Epoxy floor coating can give your garage or personal space that professional touch that takes it to the next level.