nice home with concrete driveway in need of maintenance

Maintenance, Care and Repair Tips for Long Lasting Concrete Driveways

The two big reasons to maintain a concrete driveway are the same reasons it was installed in the first place – for excellent durability and for curb appeal that enhances your home.

Within a few years of installation, concrete gets stained by oil or water puddles that collect debris. Algae and moss grow in damp, shady areas. Minor cracks develop and can quickly worsen. Soil beneath cracks can erode, and the slab can sink. If winter freeze and thaw cycles occur, they can create spalling on unsealed concrete driveway surfaces.

The solution for minimizing the impact of these common problems is regular maintenance as part of an annual maintenance checklist and as needed. This page expands on reasons to maintain a concrete driveway, gives best practices for cleaning and repair and discusses when to hire a pro.

Five Reasons to Make Concrete Driveway Maintenance a Seasonal Task

Protecting your Investment

The cost of a concrete driveway is a major investment no homeowner wants to repeat sooner than they have to. Keeping a good seal on the concrete and promptly addressing cracks are essential to its durability.

Improving Curb Appeal for Guests or Buyers

A bright, stain-free concrete driveway that doesn’t need repairs is attractive to potential buyers. Removing stains, accumulated dirt and algae or moss produces a driveway that looks great as guests arrive to an open house or BBQ and increases pride of ownership.

Tip: Quick removal of oil, gas and other causes of stain is essential. See why – and how to do it below.

Prep for Fresh Sealer

Keeping concrete properly sealed protects it against stains, road salt or deicer and the penetration of moisture that can freeze and break down the surface. While not an annual necessity, new sealer should be applied every 2-4 years. And for the best protection of the concrete, it has to adhere and penetrate into the surface. Dirt prevents that. A thorough pressure wash is an essential first step in the resealing process.

Keeping it a Safe, Non-slip Surface

Shady driveways and low spots where water puddles are places where mold, algae and moss get a foothold. And when wet, those areas can be slimy and really slippery. Keep family, guests and pets safe by cleaning those trouble spots as needed!

Stopping Cracks in their Tracks

Concrete cracks are almost unavoidable with time. But cracks getting wider and longer is something you can prevent with cleaning dirt out of them and filling significant cracks in a timely manner. See the section below How to Fix Small Cracks in a Concrete Driveway.

Importance of Removing Oil and Other Stains from the Concrete Quickly

The longer engine oil, gasoline and other stains stay on the concrete driveway and garage floor, the deeper they penetrate and the harder they are to remove. So, instead of an annual task, this is an ASAP job.

Check your driveway regularly for these problem substances as you get the mail, do yardwork and after friends leave in their “old beater” of a car.

These tips for removing oil from concrete will make your efforts more effective.

Soak up heavy spills with an absorbent rag or kitty litter. If you do a lot of DIY engine work, having a bag of oil absorbent on hand is a good investment for $10-$15. You can get this at any of the big box hardware stores, Amazon and many other places.

New Stains: Scrub to loosen the stain with a thick paste of water and baking powder or water and powdered clothes detergent. If the stain is quite fresh, dish soap and a scrub brush can work to dissolve and lift the oil out of the concrete.

Old Stains: Start with the paste and scrub technique. If a stain remains, use a concrete degreaser on it. Follow the directions on the container.

The Concrete Network also recommends enzymatic oil cleaners like Oil Eater and poultices like Stone Pro Wet Poultice to remove tough oil, grease and gasoline stains. You can make your own poultice using kitty litter or sawdust saturated with a solvent like acetone or lacquer thinner. Soak the dry material in a bucket with the solvent and spread it onto the stain. Allow it to sit for 30-60 minutes, and then broom it away.

Don’t use concrete etching solution! You’ll see DIY videos recommending etching solution for removing deep oil stains. This is a bad idea. The fluid might take care of the stain, but it will also remove the concrete sealer and make your driveway susceptible to deeper stains the next time or the potential threats from road salt and deicer that break down the surface of bare concrete.

Finally, using a pressure washer to rinse the area is a good idea. If you can use hot water, all the better, since it does a better job of dissolving and lifting away the last of the oil and any cleaners used in the process.

Who Do You Hire to Clean and Seal a Concrete Driveway?

If you’ve tried DIY without good results or you’d simply rather hire a pro from the get-go, here are your best options.

Pro Cleaning Companies

While you probably won’t find a service that specializes in concrete cleaning, any company that advertises exterior cleaning should have experience cleaning concrete. Ask about their methods. They might have “before and after” pictures on their website or be able to text you a few.

What do customers say in online reviews on Google or Facebook? Those are worth checking out. As with any home project, you’ll get what you pay for when you hire a reputable contractor with experience.

Pressure Washing Companies

Again, look for a company that advertises concrete cleaning, and ask about their approach to getting the job done. Do they offer a guarantee? You can ask, but the likely answer is “no,” since they simply can’t be sure the stain is completely removable to your satisfaction.

Handyman Service

If you’ve used a handyman and like their work, they might be a good first call. But chances are, most services will have less experience with concrete stain removal than a pro cleaning or pressure washing service.

Cost saving tip: What else needs cleaning? You’ll get a better total cost if you roll several jobs into one visit – cleaning concrete tile roofing or asphalt shingle roof, pressure washing the entire driveway and walkways, cleaning the deck for the season or to prepare to stain the deck, or pressure washing and staining a wood fence.

How to Fix Small Cracks in a Concrete Driveway

This is something you can DIY with the right tools, techniques and crack repair material. Why is it so vital? Because cracks let in water and, as one concrete pro says, “Stopping water from flowing under your concrete is probably the most important thing you can do to keep your driveway from sinking and becoming out of level.”

The basics are to clean dirt out of the crack, remove loose concrete and then fill the crack with flexible caulk. Here’s what you’ll need:

Caulk – Choose a caulk formulated for concrete repair. It has to be flexible, so it will hold together without shrinking in cold weather. Urethane elastomeric (elastic) caulk is a good choice.

Caulk Gun – If you have significant cracking, you’ll want to buy large tubes of caulk for the best value, and they require a caulk gun for application.

Backer Rod or Clean Sand – Deep cracks should be filled up to about ½” to ¾” below the surface prior to adding the caulk. Sand and backer rod are cheaper than filling the crack “all the way down” with caulk. Backer rod is actually a coil of foam cord. Choose one that is slightly wider than the crack, so it can be compressed into the crack, decompress and fit tightly. It’s cheap, so pick up packs of several different sizes to have the right diameter for each crack repair.

1” Putty Knife – Used to tool/smooth the caulk after application.

Spray Bottle with Soapy Water (Optional) – Once the caulk is in the crack, you can spray it with soapy water to prevent it from sticking to the putty knife and pulling out of the crack. It smooths easier and will look better too.

  1. Clean dirt out the crack thoroughly. You’ll want to dig dirt, vegetation and other debris out of it, if its wide enough, using a knife, putty knife or screwdriver.
  2. Wire brush the crack to remove loose concrete – you need solid concrete for the caulk to adhere to.
  3. If the crack still looks dirty, use concrete cleaner and high pressure from a hose or pressure washer to clean it. Allow the crack to fully dry.
  4. Add clean sand or backer rod/foam to deeper cracks. The top of the foam or sand should be ½” to ¾” below the surface. Tip: If you use sand, tap the concrete on either side of the crack with a 2×4 to settle the sand. Add more as needed until it stops settling and is at the right level.
  5. Cut the end of the caulk tub where shown, and install it in the caulk gun. Ratchet the handle until the tip is filled with caulk.
  6. Apply a bead of caulk to the crack, so that it is flush with or just below the surface of the concrete. If it needs to be pressed into the crevices of a jagged crack, spray it with soapy water, and use the putty knife to work it into every “nook and cranny” of the crack.
  7. Optional – Sprinkle some of the sand onto the caulk to give it texture and to make it look a bit more like the surrounding concrete. Otherwise, some crack filler tends to visually stick out unattractively.
  8. Stay off the caulk until it sets up. The tube should list the time required for this. Walking or driving on tacky caulk can pull it out of the crack.

Pro tip: Caulk the expansion joints too, as most pros recommend. Why? Because they are not waterproof. Water penetrates through them to cause erosion below. And if water puddles beneath the concrete and freezes, heaving can occur with enough force to crack concrete.

DIY Concrete Driveway Cleaning

This is one of those outdoor projects homeowners tackle themselves, often in the spring in cold climates where salty buildup from the winter needs to be removed. Where freezing isn’t common, this can be done during any warm weather.

You’ll need:

  • Stain Remover – See the section above Importance of Removing Oil and Other Stains for good options.
  • Concrete Cleaner/Degreaser – There are lots of good options, usually in a jug of concentrate with directions for mixing.
  • Garden Hose and Sprayer (most affordable) or a Pressure Washer (best results) – Our recommendation is this: If you’re a DIY enthusiast, buy a pressure washer. You will find many ways to put it to use in your home maintenance and cleaning. The washer will pay for itself pretty quickly compared to hiring a pro for each task.

OK, let’s do this.

  1. Clean stains – See how it is done in the section above.
  2. Wet the driveway with a hose. Tip: Start at the “top” of the driveway and work towards the road, since most driveways slope at least slightly away from the house.
      1. Pressure washer option: Attach the hose to the pressure washer, if using one, and pour cleaner/degreaser into the reservoir on the washer. If it doesn’t have one, it might have a siphon tube that goes into the jug of cleaner.
      2. Garden hose option: Mix the cleaner in a spray bottle following directions on the label.
        Using the washer or spray bottle, spray a full-width section of the driveway that is 10-20 feet long. If using a pressure washer, keep the nozzle 12” to 18” above the concrete.
  3. Soaking Time – Allow the cleaner to sit for 5-10 minutes (see the label), but don’t allow it to dry.
  4. Final Rinse – Hose off or pressure wash the section with the cleaner on it. If you’re using a siphon, run the pressure washer onto the next section to be cleaned until the detergent is out of the system and the water runs clear. Tip: Push the dirty water onto the lawn, not onto the next section of driveway to be cleaned.

Weather tip: You don’t want the solution on the driveway to dry. On hot days, especially with sunshine, clean smaller sections at a time to prevent the concrete from drying.

You’re done – and ready for neighbors and guest to admire your refreshed concrete or to seal it, if that’s on your to-do list this year.

Cost to Hire a Pro for Cleaning

What is the cost of driveway cleaning when a pro is hired? What about driveway sealing?

Most contractors charge between $0.30 and $0.35 (30 to 35 cents) per square foot for driveway pressure washing, usually with a minimum fee of about $150 for driveways up to 450 square feet (14’ x 32’, 15’ x 30’, 16’ x 28’ or similar). The average cost is around $300 for most suburban driveways – with 16’ x 60’ a common size. Cost for any driveway is 25% to 50% higher when a lot of stain cleaning is required.

If the driveway hasn’t been sealed or it has been a while, we recommend having it done after washing it when it is clean, and the sealer will adhere best. The average price to seal a concrete driveway is $.60 to $.70, or 60 to 70 cents, per square foot based on the size of the driveway and site factors. This cost normally includes power washing the driveway first, which should be done, of course. Expect your cost of concrete driveway sealing to be $575 to $700 for an average-size driveway.

We believe these costs are accurate based on actual projects completed. But you can confirm our information or help us stay on top of changing costs by sharing your project cost with us and other readers.