Topical sealers, or surface coatings, are designed to sit on the top of material and not penetrate into the material’s pores. The molecules in the sealer bond directly to the surface of the material, providing a protective barrier. Because the molecules have a difficult time bonding to smooth surfaces, topical sealers should not be used on polished surfaces.
Generally, these sealers are economical without a high price point. They can be solvent-based or water-based and are often made from acrylic or polyurethane polymers. Some can be easily removed with a compatible stripper, while others, like those made from polyurethane or epoxy polymers, are considered permanent and can be very difficult to remove.
Protecting the Material
Topical sealers will help to protect your stone or other material from water stains, oil stains, and other physical damage, such as caused by foot traffic. Since the sealer only sits on the exterior surface, it will not protect the inside of material. Topical sealers will protect from foot traffic damage, but because the sealer is softer than the material, it has a tendency to show scuff marks, scratches, and other abrasions. This is especially true in high traffic areas.
Lower grade topical sealers can sometimes result in a yellow discoloring. This particularly happens in exterior applications that are exposed to UV light. In addition, topical sealers are not always breathable, resulting in moisture becoming trapped within the material. This can lead to damage of the material, such as spalling, a peeling or flaking of the surface, and efflorescence.
Enriching Colors, Adding Sheen, and Changing Floor Slippage
Typically, topical sealers will alter the appearance of the material. This can include changing the finish of the surface by adding a glossy shine or by darkening and enhancing the colors of the material, giving a “wet look.” They can also change the slippage of the surface.
Some topical sealers are designed to make the surface harder and less slippery. Other sealers, however, are subject to becoming extremely slippery when wet and may require a non-slip additive if being used in areas subject to becoming wet, like bathrooms or kitchens.
Expected Wear and Maintenance
Topical sealers are usually easy to apply, but because they experience more wear and tear as they sit on the surface of the material, they require more maintenance and reapplication than penetrating sealers. Some topical sealers will need to be reapplied as much as every 6 months.
To prevent a build up of sealer on the surface, which will more easily show scuff marks and scratches, the sealer should be stripped before each new application or at least enough as not to cause a superfluous build up of sealer. Overtime, this repeated stripping action can begin to damage stone or other materials.
Build up of sealer can also start to give a waxy or plastic look to the surface. Dirt also has a tendency to build up more easily, requiring more regular cleanings while scratches and scuffs will require being buffed out.