Polished concrete: qualities and differences with other coatings

There is currently a lot of confusion, due to a lack of knowledge, about polished concrete. In fact, most people associate it with the typical industrial style flooring with a strong grey tone and mirror effect that is used in the interiors and exteriors of large surfaces such as offices, shops, factories, warehouses and car parks. Even, although to a much lesser extent, in some private homes.

However, in most cases, what is assumed to be polished concrete is actually microcement. The decorative coating that is currently a trend in interior design and decoration, both in houses and in shops and premises. A coating that has also spread like wildfire on outdoor terraces, facades and swimming pools.

In this article you will find everything you need to know and didn't know about polished concrete: what it is, its main qualities, the different finishes it allows, the application process, the price per square metre and, above all, the main differences with microcement or smoothed microcement.

Image of the ground floor of an industrial company with polished concrete floor.

What is polished concrete

Polished concrete, also called screed concrete, is actually a decorative finish, not a pure cladding. This product is mainly used in outdoor areas of car parks, shopping centres or sports fields and, to a much lesser extent, in some indoor rooms.

Polished concrete is a finish resulting from sprinkling a cementitious mortar with aggregates and then polishing the floor to a shine with a rotary polisher. This technique of polishing the floor is called trowelling.

Properties and advantages of polished concrete

Polished concrete is designed to cover surfaces where the functionality of the flooring is more important than its aesthetics. Why? Because polished concrete is characterised by its great durability and resistance, two elements that make it ideal for covering industrial surfaces that are exposed to heavy traffic and weight. In fact, they are widely used for loading and unloading areas, as polished concrete flooring does not crack or chip.

In addition, polished concrete floors are very resistant to tyre rolling. This is why we see this type of finish so often in car parks and car parks.

Another quality of polished concrete floors is that their smooth and shiny surface prevents the accumulation of dust and dirt. A finish that also enhances the feeling of spaciousness.

 operator polishing polished concrete pavement with a rotary polisher.
Operator polishing and shining polished concrete pavement with a rotary polisher.

Inconveniences or disadvantages of polished concrete

    However, it is also important to know that polished concrete has a series of inconveniences and disadvantages to be taken into account. The following are the main ones:
  • Polished concrete can lose its shine over time due to very abrasive liquids such as industrial solvents. It will therefore have to be polished again.
  • Polished concrete can end up cracking if the expansion joints are not properly made.
  • This finish should be avoided in places with cold or very hot temperatures, as polished concrete is not a good thermal insulator.
  • The application process is time-consuming, as it requires building work and the use of machinery. In addition, it has joints.
  • Poor sound insulation.
  • Low porosity.

Polished concrete finishes

Although polished concrete is mainly associated with grey finishes due to the locations where it is usually applied, there is the possibility of choosing colours that are a priori more daring, such as black, red, green... Polished concrete is used in airports, car parks and garages, shopping centres and factories.

Polished concrete bathrooms

Polished concrete bathrooms do not exist. This type of finish is often confused with the use of other decorative coatings such as burnished concrete or a microcement washbasin. In fact, microcement is one of the most commonly used coatings to renovate this room due to the great possibilities of use it offers.

Microcement in bathrooms is perfect for lining shower trays or bathtubs, thanks to its waterproof and anti-slip properties thanks to the appropriate use of sealants. But also to create shelves, bathroom furniture with microcement, walls and floors.

industrial building with polished concrete floor.
Imposing industrial building with polished concrete floor

Differences between polished concrete and microcement

We are going to discuss the main differences between polished concrete and microcement.

1. Polished concrete is thicker than microcement

The most noticeable difference between the two finishes is their thickness. Microcement is barely between 2 and 3 millimetres thick, which means that it can be applied on horizontal surfaces (floors, stairs, ceilings...) as well as on vertical surfaces such as walls. It is a thin building material so light that it can be applied anywhere without fear that the structure will be affected.

This is not the case with polished concrete, which is therefore reserved only for floors and pavements.

2. Polished concrete generates debris, microcement does not

Another disparity between microcement and polished concrete relates to debris. Smoothed microcement is laid on the existing material, whether floor or wall. An excellent adherence that avoids building work and the debris that this entails.

This is the complete opposite of polished concrete, a finish that requires building work to completely lift the existing floor or paving and the use of machinery to do so.

3. The installation of polished concrete is much more time consuming

This point is closely related to the previous one. As microcement does not require any building work, the application process is very fast. A procedure that in the case of polished concrete takes much longer.

Bright industrial building with polished floor.
One of the rooms of a large industrial building where polished concrete floor has been installed.

4. Compatibility vs. incompatibility with underfloor heating

Underfloor heating is a great alternative to radiators and central heating because of its benefits. However, this system is not compatible with any coating.

Microcement, which has a high thermal conductivity, is perfectly compatible with underfloor heating. In fact, it is one of the most recommended construction materials. Here you will find everything you need to know. A quality that polished concrete cannot boast.

5. Only polished concrete needs expansion joints

Polished concrete requires expansion joints, approximately every 4 to 5 metres. Microcement, on the other hand, is a continuous covering and, therefore, no expansion joints need to be made. This is why the use of smoothed microcement has increased in interiors to the detriment of polished concrete.

6. Microcement is more versatile than polished concrete

Microcement is not only a continuous coating that does not require building work or expansion joints, but it is also quicker and easier to apply.

But not only for this reason, but because smoothed microcement also provides the security of being a coating with excellent durability and resistance not only to traffic like polished concrete, but also to knocks, chemical products and scratches.

And, above all, because microcement offers more decorative solutions than polished concrete as it can be applied on any surface (horizontal or vertical) and material (concrete, tiles, tiles, ceramic...). A wider range that makes it easier for microcement to be used in interiors and exteriors, both in private homes and in premises, businesses and other companies.

Definitely, for all these reasons and more, microcement is much more versatile than polished cement.

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