Unless you (or someone you know) work closely within the coatings, adhesives, polymers, agricultural sprays, or a number of other select industries, it is unlikely you’ve come across the term ‘Xylene’ before.
It’s possible that you heard it in passing as a part of new bulletins or perhaps read as part of the chemical ingredients in a certain product, but it’s not exactly a term or substance that is a household name.
Regardless of this lack of popularity, xylene can be found in a multitude of products, has an interesting background, and is best known as a solvent for its paint-removing properties.
Here in this detailed guide, we will be looking at whether you can use xylene to remove the concrete sealer, if yes how to go about it?
What is Xylene?
Xylene is an interesting colorless liquid and vapor with a few properties that make it unique, at least regarding its name.
Xylene’s chemical formula is C8H10.
It has four main isomers: ethylbenzene, meta-xylene, paraxylene, and ortho-xylene.
The substance is heavier than air but is less dense than water.
It is toxic to inhale (though ironically intoxicatingly sweet to inhale) and is capable of reacting rapidly with oxidizers as well as strong acids.
Along with these dangerous properties, it is also not water-soluble, flammable at room temperature, and can even be detected in the air in concentrations as low as 1 part per million.
Meta-xylene is the primary component of commercial-grade xylene, meaning that nearly every concrete sealer removal will involve this isomer of xylene in one way or another.
Additionally, one other curious adage about xylene is that its name is a derivative of the Greek word for wood – xylong.
It has been named this way because this substance was originally found in crude wood spirit, otherwise known as crude methanol.
How to Remove Concrete Sealer Using Xylene?
Let’s face it…
Though there is a streamlined process that anyone can learn without much hassle, the process is incredibly tedious and even makes experts cringe at the thought of stripping concrete sealer with xylene.
The first step starts with determining whether it is water-based or solvent-based.
This can quickly be ascertained by pouring a bit of xylene over the concrete sealer, letting it work for 20 seconds, removing the excess, and then feeling the sealer.
If it is sticky and somewhat damp, it’s solvent-based; if not, it’s water-based.
From here, removing a solvent-based sealer is simple:
Apply xylene or another solvent-based stripper to remove the previous sealer.
Power wash until completely clean.
Be careful though as dyes around the area will be damaged by the xylene if touched.
In some cases, the old sealer won’t have to be removed and can instead be touched up with a solvent-based acrylic sealer.
This is left to the user, but it can help simplify the process.
Water-based concrete sealers
Water-based sealers are a bit different, although they are by no means difficult.
Instead of using xylene, products like Aqua Mix’s Sealer and Coating Remover can be used.
The concrete can be then etched by acid (like muriatic acid) and neutralized, or it can be mechanically scratched to remove the old sealer.
If you’re looking to replace the current sealer with the opposite base (replacing solvent-based with water-based for example or vice versa), the previous sealer will need to be removed no matter what.
The same goes for replacing an acrylic sealer with either water-/solvent- based as well.
Can You Use Acetone in Place of Xylene?
Acetone is not the same as xylene.
It’s basically an organic compound having the chemical formula C3H6O.
While both solvents are important and are used in the paint industry, the key difference between xylene and acetone is that the former is a cheaper and less toxic solvent than the latter.
So, if your job requires and you are OK with using a more expensive and more toxic solvent, acetone can be used in place of xylene.
If in doubt you can also use White Spirit-based products or Lacquer thinner as a substitute for xylene.
There are also more economical and eco-friendly products such as Olive oil, Pine oil, Rose oil, etc. that can be used as an alternative to xylene for projects that require less strong solvents.
Possible Risks of Using Xylene for Removing Concrete Sealer
Wearing goggles, gloves, and respirator masks, are essential when working with xylene.
Although technically not a carcinogen, xylene can still pose some health risks that you should be mindful of while working.
It is officially classified as a nervous system depressant and affects anything related to this system.
Nausea, fainting, headaches, dizziness, visual impairment, vomiting, and various eye/skin irritations are all possible side effects of coming into contact with or inhaling xylene.
This is thought to occur because xylene has high fat-solubility qualities, which means it could affect neuronal proteins, though this is still being researched.
Just in case you are concerned about the risks involved in using xylene, you can use hot water pressure washing to wash the old sealer off the surface.
Alternatively, you can use a gel coating stripper with a mop or squeegee to take off the worn sealers from the concrete surface.
Other Alternatives for Removing Concrete Sealers and Coatings
Besides xylene and acetone, there are a few other chemical-based concrete sealer removers you can try out.
These substitutes include caustic strippers and biochemical strippers
While caustic strippers are alkaline and come with a high PH, Biochemical strippers are derived from plants, are less smelly, and are more eco-friendly.
The only downside is its lower efficacy to react with coatings which will require much more time to remove the thicker coatings from surfaces like concrete.
When to use them?
Caustic strippers tend to work well if you need to remove latex, alkyds, or enamel paint coatings from concrete.
But they are not a very good choice if you need to remove acrylic, epoxy, or polyurethane coatings as these types of resins are resistant to caustic chemicals.
Biochemical strippers are more useful if you are working in environmentally sensitive areas like near the grass, young plants, and trees.
Safety tips and precautions
Regardless of what type of stripper you use, it’s recommended to give your concrete surface a good neutralizing wash once the stripper has done its job.
This will remove any remaining coatings from the surface and will prepare them for the next processes.
Also, make sure that you dispose of all the waste material and strippers properly as these can stay active for a long and can react with other chemicals to cause damages.
The Bottom Line
Xylene is a powerful chemical that can be used for a variety of different purposes.
Removing old paints, stains, and concrete sealers from the driveway, pathway, garage or basement is one such task that can be made super easy by using this product.
All you need is the right technique and strategies to use this product, failing which it can prove fatal.
Jack Luis is a semi-retired painter who loved painting his clients’ ideas on their walls.
He had worked as a painter for more than a decade to serve the customers in areas such as Charleston, Mount Pleasant, Beaufort, Georgetown, SC (South Carolina). Today in his free time, he likes to read and write about the newer techniques that are being implemented in his profession. You may read more about him here or get in touch with him here.
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