NOTE: I’m NOT an expert, this is simply my personal experience.
Alright friends, the wait is over. I’m finally sharing my experience Installing Ardex Concrete Countertops in our new kitchen! (Note: when I went to write this post I realized a lot of my pictures didn’t turn out so well, so be sure to read through all the details because I’m sharing a lot of insights in between the pics)
Now before we dive in, let’s discuss a few hot topics. The total cost for my entire kitchen (plus bathroom) countertops was just $200! It’s messy. Like really messy. Would I do it again? YES. How hard is it? ANYONE CAN DO THIS. Is it a lot of work? YES. Ok now that we got that out of the way, I’m going to share some tips and tricks I learned along the way.
I first discovered this technique when I stumbled up this post from Kara Paslay Designs a few years ago. I’ll admit, I was super intimidated when I first read it, I hadn’t seen it done anywhere else and I just tucked the idea away. And then a friend of mine actually did her kitchen using it and after seeing her countertops and talking through the process it motivated me to do my own.
I did a trial run on my bathroom back in October and I definitely learned from my experience (we’ll chat more about that later) and decided to do my kitchen with a few changes. And I’m SO SO happy I Did.
Ardex Feather Finish (I could only find this locally at Home Depot, but Amazon also carries it. I used 3 1/2 boxes and they cost me $16 a piece at HD) : Scorer ( I used a Utility Knife) : Bucket : Something To Mix With : Flat Trowel : Rags : Painter’s Tape : Mouse Sander : 50 Grit Sand Paper : 220 Grit Sand Paper : Vacuum : Water-Based Acrylic Concrete Sealer : Paint Brush : Food Safe Concrete Wax : Buffer : Masks
Like any project, prep work is involved. Clean off your counters, remove the sink and REMOVE THE STOVE. I didn’t remove the stove and attempted to work around it. FAIL. When we removed our old appliances, part of the countertop chipped off and I had to repair it. Thankfully these countertops are SO easy to fix so it wasn’t a huge issue but I would remove the stove to prevent any problems.
Taping. Ok. Here is the deal. Definitely tape under the countertops to protect the cabinets but I have mixed feelings about taking around the edges. It did help but once the concrete dried it was hard to remove the tape and again, parts chipped off. If I were to do this again, I may try just being really careful with the trowel and wiping the walls down as I go. On the bright side, the concrete actually washes off the walls really easily even after it dries.
I would also suggest covering your floors, especially if you have nice ones because this stuff is messy. Really messy.
To prep your surface you need to score it. I used a standard utility knife to rough it up so the concrete had something to adhere to. But man this is that moment when you get this sudden rush of ‘Ok, there is no turning back now because I just destroyed my countertops’
Using a 2:1 ratio of powder to water, mix your first batch. I found that a batch of 4 cups concrete to 2 cups of water was the perfect amount to work with at a time. Mixing the concrete is very similar to mixing thin set or grout when tiling. You just want a good peanut butter consistency.
TIP: If you wait more than 20 minutes to mix a new batch, throughly clean out your bucket or get a new one. I ended up getting a bunch of plastic bins at the Dollar Tree because I had limited chunks of time to work on these and if I left my container for too long and then mixed another batch in the same container, huge chunks of concrete will break off and get in your batch. So I generally just tossed the container once I was done working for that time period.
Using a flat trowel, apply the concert to the laminate countertop. My first coat was always pretty rough and uneven. The left shows the concrete right after I applied it. And the right is about an hour after. You can see how it’s starting to lighten and harden.
TIP: Applying concrete to the edges can be tricky. I found that waiting until the concrete hardened a bit helped and I ended up using my hands instead of the trowel. I decided to apply thick layers with my hands knowing I could sand them down later.
TIP: Be sure to periodically clean your trowel. If the concrete dries on the trowel, you’ll start to notice marks in the concrete as you apply it.
As you can see, as I applied each layer it got smoother and smoother.
TIP: I waited until the first few layers of concrete started to dry before doing the backsplash piece. If you do it when it’s wet, the trowel with remove what you just applied on the counter.
Here is what my countertops looked like prior to sanding. They are not perfect and pretty rough in some areas. Getting around the outlets was tough. Again, it was hard to maneuver a trowel so I used my hands and sanded down later. Just be careful not to apply too much concrete over the outlet screws (I had to chip some away) because you’ll need to pull those out 1/4″ before putting the covers back on due to the increased thickness of the counters.
*SANDING AND SEALING ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT PARTS OF THE ENTIRE PROCESS*
In case you missed my bold statement above, sanding and sealing the countertops are THE most important part of the process. And just to give you a heads up, I sanded for easily 5-7 hours. I wanted my countertops to be as smooth as possible so I worked really hard at sanding. Of course there are still imperfections which adds to the beauty, but I wanted them really smooth to touch.
It gets really dusty, so I suggest taping off the area with a tarp and wearing a mask.
Start with 50 grit paper to sand down really rough spots, but don’t do much more than that. The 50 grit will remove more of your countertops than you want and may cause some of the edges to pop through. Quickly switch to a 220 grit because this will give you that really smooth finish. Now sand. Keep sanding and sanding and sanding.
If you start to see parts of the counter top pop through, don’t stress too much because you can always go back and touch them up with more concrete. That’s the beauty of working with this stuff. It’s pretty fool proof because you can reapply it.
Here is what mine looked like close up. You’ll want to vacuum periodically to remove the dust and see the countertops better.
Sealing the countertops is a huge deal. This is a make or break decision. Concrete countertops are really porous and stain really easily. I waited a few days to seal ours and we used our stove and the oil stained the countertops. Thankfully I could fix it by sanding and applying more concrete! But seriously, the right sealer is really important.
Ok. Anyway I did A LOT of research on this topic because I didn’t like how our bathroom turned out and I HIGHLY RECOMMEND going with a Water Based Acrylic Concrete Sealer. The Acrylic part is key. This leaves a hard finish and really protects the surface. Here is a chart I put together to help understand the difference between the two sealers I used in the bathroom and kitchen.
*Note. I’m not an expert, this is just my experience. Also note, neither of these sealers are certified food safe. The only concrete sealer I found that was certified food safe was not acrylic, had horrible reviews and was not the look I was going for. I never put my food directly on my counters and eat it, so this didn’t bother me. PLUS, the wax you end with IS food safe.
I’m going to be sanding down our bathroom vanity and resealing it.
So when is it safe to seal your countertops? A really knowledgable guy at the hardware store taught me a trick. He said that I didn’t necessarily have to wait the full 30 days to seal (like it says on the back of the can), I just needed to wait until all the moisture was out. SO. He suggested that I tape a square of plastic wrap down and wait 24 hours and if no moisture appeared I was good to go.
I used this Water-Based Acrylic Sealer in Satin and I loved how it turned out. I’d do it again in a heart beat.
The countertops are going to get really dark when you apply your first layer, but it doesn’t take long for them to lighten up a bit (they will still keep a wet look). You can see some of those darker areas in the picture above, those are areas that must have missed the first coat. I did 3 coats of sealer. On the third coat I didn’t see any of those dark spots which mean the entire countertop had been sealed!
Last step! I used Cheng Concrete Wax, which is food safe. I bought this little buffing kit that came with a drill bit attachment and did an entire coat.
Note: You’ll need to wax your counters every 6 months.
How much did they cost: About $200 (4 Boxes of Concrete at $17 each, Sealer $30, Wax $20, Sandpaper $20, Trowel $10, Misc. Supplies)
Are they durable longterm? I’m not an expert on this, BUT, I think these are a fabulous inexpensive fix but I don’t see them being a good longterm solution (thinking 10+ years). And my opinion is based primarily on the fact that they can stain easily. That’s just my opinion. I still love them though.
Can you place hot things on them? I actually don’t know and I haven’t tried.
Would I do them again if we moved? YES. In the right house I would.
If you have any additional questions please let me know! I’d be happy to help.