Preparing and Protecting Your Garage From Winter Salt Damage
If you’re from a state or region that experiences harsh winters, you know snow, ice and everything else that comes along with winter is no joke. You’re probably used to driving on icy roads, shoveling multiple feet of snow out of your driveway and feeling like you need to still wear your coat and gloves even when you’re inside.
But there’s much more to winter than waiting it out. There’s also all the preparation that goes into the winter season. You need to trim bushes and other plants, bring wood inside for the fireplace and put snow tires on your cars. And what about your garage? Certainly, you might do some rearranging for the winter, such as packing the lawnmower away and bringing the snowblower out. But did you know you can do more to get your garage ready for the winter?
Salt can cause a tremendous amount of damage to your garage. If you park your car in the garage, you’ll constantly be bringing salt in on your tires. Even if you merely walk in and out of your garage and don’t bring your car inside, you’ll still be tracking in plenty of road salt on the soles of your boots and shoes. Salt can create stains on the garage floor, causing cosmetic and structural damage to your otherwise pristine garage.
Today, we’re going to talk about some ways you can prepare your garage for winter and prevent some of this garage floor winter damage, as well as how to get salt off floors if the damage has already been done. By arming yourself with this knowledge, you’ll be more than ready to take on all the snow and ice winter can throw at you, and your garage floor will be, too.
The Basics: How Does Salt Damage Your Garage Floor?
When the snow piles up and the roads grow slick with ice, road crews sprinkle the roads and highways with a substance called road salt. While your local workers might be using several different forms of road salt, it’s usually some form of calcium chloride and liquid magnesium. This chemical combination is extremely effective at melting the ice and preventing it from refreezing.
However, due to the granular nature of road salt, it also tends to stick to things such as boot soles and tires. Everywhere you drive and walk, you’re tracking road salt with you. Eventually, this salt gets deposited somewhere, usually in the entryway or mudroom of your home and on your garage floor.
Left on the concrete surface of your garage floor, the road salt forms a sort of liquid brine that drains slowly into the pores of the concrete instead of freezing on top. As it drains into the floor, however, the brine becomes diluted and ineffective. Once this has occurred and the temperature falls enough, the brine re-freezes inside the concrete. The brine expands as it freezes, damaging the concrete and causing what’s known as spalling.
Another type of damage that can occur from road salt is subflorescence. This phenomenon happens when all the moisture on the garage floor evaporates, leaving nothing but the grainy road salt behind. The salt then recrystallizes in the pores of the concrete floor, causing the top of the concrete to flake off and leaving patches of nasty white stains.
How to Clean Winter Salt Stains on Your Garage Floor
Once spring returns and you’re assessing the damage that happened over the winter, it can be discouraging to see the large salt stains on your garage floor. But there’s no need to despair. With a little elbow grease and the right tools and know-how, you can get your floors clean again in no time.
Here are some tips to help you clean your garage floor in winter, broken down into simple steps.
- Give a Quick, Initial Clean
It’s going to be hard to see the extent of the damage if the floor is still covered in a layer of winter grime, snow and dirt. So get out your hose or a bucket of water and get to work cleaning away this superficial layer of dirt. There’s no need to scrub too hard or be too concerned with any stains or stubborn patches at this point. The purpose of this cleaning is to wipe away anything that comes up easily, so you can get a better look at the real problems you’re going to have to deal with.
- Mix a Cleaning Solution
After you finish the initial cleaning, it’s time to get down to the real business at hand. Plain water isn’t going to be enough to get the salt stains out of the concrete, so you’re going to need something stronger.
We recommend mixing one gallon of warm water, one cup of vinegar and a dash of dish soap. Feel free to double or even triple this recipe as you need.
- Start Scrubbing
Once you’ve got this mixed together, pour the cleaning solution onto the stains and start scrubbing away at them with a stiff deck brush. As the salt stain starts to come off, clean up the residue with either a mop or a wet vac. This step prevents the salt residue from dispersing back into the concrete and creating a new stain.
If one application and scrubbing treatment seem to be helping, but didn’t quite get the job done, that’s fine. Rinse off the soap and any remaining salt residue and start over. It might take two or three treatments, but the stains should be completely gone by the time you’re finished.
- Try a Premixed Solution
If you prefer less of a DIY solution and more of a premixed cleaner, try buying Salt-Away. The product has an excellent track record of removing salt stains from brick, masonry and concrete. Simply apply it and scrub at it in exactly the same way you would with the vinegar solution.
- If You Need It, Try a Stronger Cleaner
If you’ve tried multiple applications of the vinegar mix or a premixed cleaner and nothing seems to be working, you might be dealing with a really stubborn stain. If that’s the case, your situation calls for something a little stronger.
Try a very mild hydrochloric acid solution. To make one, mix together one part acid and 20 parts water. See if this solution does the trick.
- Avoid Pressure Washers
When dealing with an exceptionally stubborn stain, it can be tempting to blast it with a pressure washer. Resist this urge, however, as doing so will often do more harm than good. The force of the water coming out of the pressure washer may drive the salt deeper into the concrete, making it harder to remove in the long run.
How to Fix Spalling on Your Concrete Garage Floor
Now that the stains are cleared up and your garage floor is looking much less tired and worn-out, it’s time to address any spalling that may have occurred over the winter. Remember, this process is when salt and water make their way into the pores of the concrete, then refreeze, expand and damage your floor.
To fix this type of damage, we recommend using polymer-modified cement, which will bond with your original cement and result in a smoother overall finish once the job is complete.
- Remove Any Loose Concrete
You’ll want any loose or chipped concrete out of the way before you start working. Use a hammer and chisel to clear all this loose material away. This way, you have a clean slate to start working with.
Make sure to check surrounding areas that haven’t broken yet, but seem suspect. Check the strength of these areas by tapping them with your hammer and listening for a hollow sound. If any areas sound hollow, hit them hard with the hammer to expose the true extent of the damage. It’s best to fix it all now and avoid having to do more repairs in the future.
- Prepare Your Polymer-Modified Cement
Polymer-modified cement is the best choice to fix a damaged garage floor. Not only is it a long-lasting solution, but it’s also an easy one. It’s a mixture of Portland cement, polymers and sand aggregate, and the only thing you need to add is water.
Mix up your polymer-modified cement according to the exact specifications that come with the materials. Once this step is complete, you’re ready to begin applying it.
- Spread the Cement
You can pour the cement mixture directly on the damaged area of the floor. Using a hand trowel or a metal-edged squeegee, spread the mixture smoothly and evenly over all affected areas. If there are any pits or divots deeper than a quarter-inch, it’s best to mix up a smaller and thicker batch first and give these areas an initial patch.
Once your cement has spread, let it sit for about four to six hours, or until it has finished setting. After this amount of time, rough up your new cement coating so it matches the rest of your garage floor. To do this, you can use 60-grit sandpaper, a mason’s stone, grinder or anything else you have on hand that will get the job done.
- Apply a Second Coat If Needed
Once the cement has settled, it should be obvious if any spots have settled into a low divot, creating a dip in the new concrete. If you notice any spots like this, add a quick second coat, repeating this entire process over again.
- Finish the Edges
Once you have coated the floor to your satisfaction, with no obvious pockmarks or lumps, you may need to finish the edges a bit. If there are any raised edges, grind these down. Your goal is to create a seamless transition between the old and the new concrete.
How to Prevent Concrete Garage Floor Salt Damage
While there are plenty of reliable methods for cleaning your garage floor after it’s been damaged by salt, the simplest solution is to keep it from needing cleaning in the first place. By taking a few precautions before the winter and a few extra cautions during the winter, you can save yourself the headache of cleaning and repairing your floors in the spring.
- Give Your Garage Floor a Good Pre-Cleaning
While this won’t exactly prevent damage from occurring, it’s still a good step to take because it can lessen the amount of damage you have to deal with in the spring. Stains and damage multiply more quickly than you think, and a small amount of damage only breeds more damage.
The best way to put a stop to this cycle is to give your garage floor a thorough cleaning before winter even arrives. Scrub away last winter’s stains, patch any holes and pits and get your floor looking spick and span. Once you’ve finished all these steps, you can start worrying about ways to actively prevent damage. But the first step is removing the old damage.
- Keep Snow out of Your Garage
This might seem obvious, but it’s worth mentioning. While it might be impossible to keep all snow out of the garage, it’s worth it to try limiting the amount of snow that comes in. Brainstorm some ways you can limit the amount of snow and salt you and your family track through your garage.
For example, you might consider parking your car outdoors, or enter your home through the back door. Whatever methods you choose to employ, one thing is certain: The less salt you track into your garage, the less cleanup work you’ll have to do in the spring.
- Stay on Top of Your Cleaning
One of the best ways you can keep your garage looking its best is to clean it regularly. After a storm blows through and pushes snow and salt into your garage, get out there with some warm soapy water and a wet vac. Clean up salt as soon as it gets laid down, and you can prevent it from causing stains in the first place.
Anytime you notice a large amount of salt or icy water sitting on your garage floor, it’s on you to take the initiative and clean it up. It might not sound like fun, especially when it’s cold out. But a little extra work now can save you a lot of work in the spring.
- Lay Down a Containment Mat
A mat is the best way to keep excess salt and water off your concrete floor. You can use these mats in the winter, and roll them up and pack them away during the rest of the year. They also do an excellent job of protecting your floor. They’re available in a variety of sizes, meaning you can get one just large enough to park your car on, or one large enough to cover the entirety of your garage floor.
These mats collect all the ice, slush and salt that come in on the tires of your car. It all drips down onto the mat, keeping your floor largely unscathed. Then, when spring comes, these mats are fairly easy to remove, clean and store until next winter.
- Add a Doormat
Since there’s always a heavy focus on the amount of salt we track in on our car tires, sometimes we forget just how much salt comes in on our shoes. A doormat is one good way to prevent salt from entering your home. Especially if you choose a smaller containment mat, such as one that is just big enough for your car to park on, it’s a good idea to also include a smaller mat in front of the door.
Use this smaller doormat to carefully wipe your shoes after entering the garage. This way, you can wipe off most of the salt and snow that collected on your boots while you were outside, and you can avoid tracking it into the garage.
- Apply a Sealant
A different precaution you can take is to apply a sealant. A good penetrating sealer will block fluids and salt from ever sinking into the concrete in the first place.
This type of sealant works by penetrating the concrete floor and creating a protective layer just beneath the surface. This layer then blocks any fluids from passing through it, thus preventing much of the typical damage that occurs in the winter. Other types of sealers are more topical in nature, sitting on top of the concrete to form a protective coating that performs the same purpose as the penetrating sealer.
- Add an Epoxy Coating
Another popular method of winterizing your garage floor is an epoxy coating. As one of the toughest garage floor sealers for snow, this sealant will effectively keep out all types of winter weather, keeping your garage floor clean and damage-free. Epoxy coatings are also an attractive option because of how easy they are to clean.
It’s important to note, however, that you can’t apply these types of coatings in temperatures lower than 50 degrees Fahrenheit. If the weather is colder than this during the installation process, the coating won’t cure properly. If you want this type of coating, you’ll have to plan ahead and install it well before winter sets in.
If the temperatures have already dropped, however, and you still have your heart set on this kind of coating, there are other options. Instead of the epoxy coating, you can use a polyaspartic coating or polyurea. These are just as durable as the epoxy, if not more so, and can be installed even at temperatures below freezing.
To apply these types of sealants, use a large roller brush or a broom. The goal is to get the coating to soak through the concrete pores, so make sure to apply the coating liberally. If you don’t apply enough, you might end up with some odd puddles. Finally, it’s important to leave the garage door open for ventilation during the application process, since the fumes are toxic.
American Overhead Door: Your Colorado Springs Garage Door Dealer
Have the snow and ice caused considerable damage to your garage door? Is your garage door in need of some immediate care and repair? If you live in Colorado, you know snow and ice can wreak havoc on your garage, and you may be wondering, “How can I protect my garage floor?” Sometimes, repairs can’t wait until spring. The damage is too great, and you need to take action now.
If you’re in a situation like this, American Overhead Door is just a phone call away. We’re a local business, not a franchise, and that means we treat you like a valued member of our family. We’ll never sell you something you don’t need, and we’re passionate about providing the very best in customer service.
Not sure what’s wrong with your garage door? That’s not a problem. We offer free estimates, so you know what the problem is, what we’ll do to fix it and how much it’ll cost you before you agree to work with us.
Contact us today to get started, or call our 24-hour emergency overhead door service at 719-888-3313.
To reach our Colorado Springs phone number, please call us at 719-538-9900. For our Salida location, please call us at 719-530-3000.