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How to Stain a Concrete Retaining Wall

By Robert Howard
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A concrete retaining wall is an important, functional element in your backyard. Left unfinished, however, a concrete retaining wall can be a plain and boring eyesore. Fortunately, there are a variety of acrylic concrete stains that can be used to transform gray concrete into a thing of beauty. By following a few steps, you can turn functional concrete into a striking feature of your yard.

Preparing the Concrete

Clean the concrete. Use a concrete cleaning product or a pressure washer if you have access to one. You want to remove any dirt or gunk that could interfere with the stain penetrating into the concrete.

After you've cleaned the surface, make sure it has some texture and is absorbent. Concrete to be stained should be rough, like a piece of 120 grit sandpaper, and it should readily absorb water. If the concrete is too smooth and is not absorbing water, you will need to etch it before you can stain.

Etch the smooth concrete if necessary. Use a concrete etching product. These products usually incorporate mild acids or organic salts. They work by eating away the limestone in the concrete and opening up the pores. Apply your etching solution and let it stay on the concrete for 30 to 45 minutes. Rinse it off thoroughly. Test to make sure you've achieved the proper profile and that the concrete is absorbing water.

Neutralize the etched concrete by washing it down with a concrete cleaner. The cleaner will stop the etching reaction, and will also clean away any concrete powder generated during the etching process. Rinse thoroughly and then allow the concrete to dry for at least 24 hours before you stain it.

Applying Stain to Concrete

Use your pump-up sprayer to apply the stain. Adjust the sprayer's nozzle so that it creates as wide a spray pattern as possible. Start in one corner and work your way out.

Spray in a circular, sweeping motion. Transparent stain will reveal lap lines. If you work in straight rows, you will see those rows in the finished product. Use an organic, circular spraying motion in order to achieve a natural looking finish.

Work quickly. You want to apply stain until the concrete starts to wet up and then move along. On a vertical surface, avoid applying too much stain and allowing it to streak down the concrete surface. These streaks will show up in your finished product.

After the stain has dried for 24 hours, you can apply a concrete sealer over it. This will give your concrete further protection and can enhance the appearance of the stained finish.


Things You Will Need

  • Concrete cleaner or pressure washer
  • Concrete etching solution
  • Concrete stain
  • Pump-up sprayer


  • Concrete stain goes down milky clear. You will not see the color emerge until the product begins to dry.
  • When working on a wall, it is best to apply multiple light coats of stain.

About the Author


Robert Howard has been writing professionally since 2004 and writes a weekly column for the "Synthesis," a Chico, Calif.-based newspaper. He maintains a blog and has published articles and works of fiction in a variety of different print and online magazines. Howard holds a Bachelor of Arts in visual arts from the University of California, San Diego.