How to Pour Self Leveling Cement.

Even for those of us who consider ourselves to be pretty handy within the whole home improvement world, the thought of pouring self leveling cement IN OUR HOUSE is moderately terrifying. O.K., completely terrifying. Don’t worry. You can do it.

The floor I laid, on top of the cement I poured, over the heated floors I put down.

photo by donna griffith

First things first. I ate a whole can of Pringles today. They were Salt & Vinegar and now my tongue feels like I ate a ball of sandpaper. That might not seem pertinent to the task at hand – and it isn’t.

Second things second. I mean what kind of lunatic would add this to their repertoire of things to do? Me. And possibly you. Why would you ever want to pour self leveling concrete? 

To level an uneven concrete floor.

If you have a wonky basement floor that’s uneven you can use self leveling concrete to smooth everything out and get it nice and flat. It’s even handy if your concrete floors are just filthy. A thin layer of this will give you nice, clean concrete floors.

To prep a floor for laying down tile or to encase radiant floor heating.

The reason I poured it in my kitchen, bathroom and mudroom was so I could put down radiant floor heating. There’s no basement or crawlspace at the back of my house which makes the floors pretty darn cold in the middle of a Canadian winter.  


If you’re also interested in radiant floor heating you can learn exactly how easy it is to install in this post.

The self leveler not only encased the radiant floor heating it also created a super-smooth surface to lay my commercial VCT tile onto.

Whatever the reason, you don’t need to be afraid. I say that because I was afraid. Really afraid. Letter from the tax department afraid.

I was probably right to be afraid because it made me very thorough in my research, but having done it myself now there are a few things I discovered that weren’t mentioned on the Internet at all.

I’ll mention those things in this tutorial because I am nice. I am a nice girl who pours concrete products sometimes.

 

DIY self leveling cement

PREP WORK

Scraping up vinyl tile from plywood with putty knife.

  1. Scrape up any loose debris from the floor. 

 

Horrible fake brick vinyl sheet flooring being prepped for a layer of concrete.

2. Fill any cracks or holes and create a dam to prevent the liquidy solution from seeping anywhere you don’t want it to go.

I just attached it with duct tape which worked fine.  Once the cement has hardened just give a tug upwards and the cardboard or wood will come loose.  Behind the dam I’ve built you can see I’ve also repaired holes. I used Durabond 90 for this (a drywall type compound that is very hard and fast drying).

The reason you need to fill holes and cracks in the floor is because the mixutre is so thin it will just run down those small cracks and you’ll never get your work done.  You’ll have to keep adding more and more cement and you might even go crazy.  

 

Ugly Brick look vinyl sheet flooring being vacuumed with central vac.

3. Vacuum so you have a clean surface.

 

Get your materials ready.

MATERIALS

All the materials you need for DIYing self leveling cement laid on the floor including a bucket, self leveling concrete, a drill with cement bit and trowel.

 

Self leveling cement may also be called self leveling concrete, self leveling floor resurfacer or self leveling underlayment.  They’re all the same thing and I’ll use the terms interchangeably.

You need to pay special attention to the product you buy.  Home Depot, Rona, Lowes etc. all of carry different brands of cement.

The brand doesn’t matter so much as the type of self leveling concrete.

There are 2 types.  Quick drying and regular. You want regular.

Quick drying self leveling cement

is great when the room you’re doing NEEDS to be dry enough to walk on within 5 or 6 hours. BUT, this advantage comes with disadvantages.  You only have a small amount of time to work with the product before it starts to set up.  Like 5 minutes or so.  This means if you’re new to the process or are working by yourself you run the risk of screwing things up royally.

Even though I was working on our only bathroom and kitchen I did not use the Quick Drying.  Firstly it was much more expensive than the regular drying stuff AND I knew I needed as much working time with it as possible.  If you’re an amateur, you do too.

Regular drying self leveling cement

gives you much more time in between pouring buckets of it.  It starts to set up fairly quickly, within 15 minutes or so but not nearly as quickly as the quick drying stuff.  Those extra 10 minutes make a huge difference when you don’t know what the hell you’re doing.

Primer 

All of the self leveling cements require that you buy bottles of primer as well to coat your floor with prior to pouring the concrete.  It is a rule but it’s only applicable if you’re pouring cement onto cement. If you have a non porous surface as your base primer isn’t crucial. 

I didn’t use it.

My house did not fall into the abyss but I could feel Mike Holmes scowling from somewhere.

I got away with spending $200 on product. If I had bought it at a big box store and used the primer it would have cost me $500.

How else can you save money?  Ask to buy the open bags.  Most stores have opened, ripped, unattractive bags for sale for half the price or even less. I bought a lot of open bags and saved about $120.

The  concrete mixing paddle is NOT the same as a paint mixing paddle so if you have one of those, leave it in the basement and buy the right kind.  They’re between $10 and $15.

 

Pouring water into a standard white 5 gallon bucket.

STEPS

4. Add the required amount of water to the bucket FIRST. (the bag will tell you how much water to compound mix to use) 

5. Add 1/4 – 1/3 of the powdered compound. Mix with the drill.  Continue mixing in the remainder of the bag bit by bit until it’s all incorporated.  Mix for prescribed amount of time as detailed on the bag.

 

Dumping dry leveling compound into 5 gallon bucket of water to mix it.


For one bucket of concrete a strong cordless drill will do the job, but if you have any more than 1 bucket to do you’re in trouble.  The battery will die after 1 or 2 buckets.  Then you’ll go for your corded drill, which will burn out and will get thrown in the garbage.


Mixing self leveling concrete in a bucket.

Save your anger, save your sanity, save your relationship and RENT AN INDUSTRIAL DRILL.  I used a regular drill (and a cordless one) for one day before giving up and renting a strong drill for $20 for half a day. 

It sped things up by about 10 fold.

YOUR MIXTURE WILL BE QUITE THIN.  Like runny pudding.  Self leveling is a bit of a misconception.  It will find its own “level”, but it needs some help getting there.

Pouring out mixed self leveling concrete from a bucket onto a vinyl flooring.

6. Pour it where you want it!

 

Leveling compound being trowelled into place in a small mudroom.

7. Trowel it. Using a trowel push and pull the mixture where it needs to go.  Push it into corners and pull it towards you.  Excuse my hair.  It appears I was having a Paul Weller moment.

How much does a 50 lb bag of self leveler cover?

How much the cement will cover depends on how thick you will need it to be.  This mudroom is around 30 square feet and one 50 pound bag of cement just barely covered it at about 1/4″ thickness.

Karen Bertelsen trowels self leveling cement in a mudroom.

8. Clean up your drips.

You’re gonna drip.  Drip and spray and splash.  Just wipe up what you can and then don’t worry about it.  It’ll wash off easily later.

Wiping up drips from cement compound.

9. Wait 24 hours to walk on it.

 

Wet leveling compound as it cures in a mudroom.

10. Wait 3 days to place furniture back.

The mudroom went perfectly well. It couldn’t have gone better.


The kitchen and bathroom were a bit of a different story.  The mudroom was the test room. It went perfectly.  The kitchen and bathroom were bigger … badder.

A bigger room means you have to pour the buckets of concrete, run back to the mixer and mix up another batch (which needs to be mixed a longgg time), run through the house with a 50 pound bucket of cement and pour it where you left off.  And repeat.

I thought I bought plenty of product but it turns out I didn’t.  By 10 o’clock at night I realized between the cordless drills, the diminishing bags and the crankiness it was time to stop.

After the first go round the Warmly Yours pads were still showing and it obviously wasn’t looking very good.

Here’s how I installed my heated floors.

A 1940's kitchen with green cupboards in mid renovation with newly poured self leveling concrete flooring.

 

So the next day I rented a drill, bought more cement and got to it. 

Notice I have no shoes on. That’s because whatever shoes you have will obviously get ruined. 

 You can walk right through the cement, no problem, and as you walk away the cement just fills in your footprints. Magic.

NOTE: Wet concrete is caustic and can burn.

YOU HAVE TO WASH YOUR FEET IMMEDIATELY AFTER YOU WALK THROUGH IT. Do so after every time you walk through it. Also don’t walk through wet cement if you have open cuts. 

DIYer Karen Bertelsen pouring self leveling concrete over newly installed heated floors in her kitchen.

For these bigger rooms I bought a squeegee on a long handle to push and pull the cement.  It worked great but it was a bit difficult to manipulate in the small bathroom.

 

1940's kitchen mid renovation with floor being redone.

 

You’ll find bits of unmixed lumps of cement.  Just mush them with your fingertips.

 

Pushing down solid bits of compound into watery solution.

 

As it’s drying the floor will look discoloured and uneven. It’s all an optical illusion.

 

First coat of self leveling concrete with bits of heated floor elements showing through, ready for second.

 

Once it’s dry you’ll be able to feel that those bits that look like ridges are actually smooth.

 

Kitchen in a disaster mid renovation with newly poured flooring.

 

Even after re-leveling the floor I had issues with dips and bumps.  It was easy to correct them with a bit of Durabond 90.

 

Cement floors touched up with Durabond 90.

Just fill the dips then sand them.

DSC 0200

The Self Leveling Cement *Quick Guide*

Yield: Level concrete floor
Prep Time: 1 day
Active Time: 6 hours
Additional Time: 3 days
Total Time: 4 days 6 hours

A quick guide to pouring self leveling cement. Refer to post for in depth instructions.

Materials

  • Regular Self leveling cement*
  • Leveling Primer**
  • a cement mixing paddle
  • a 5 gallon bucket
  • a trowel
  • filler (Durabond 90).

Tools

  • Strong drill (I rented an industrial one)

Instructions

Scrape up any loose debris or tiles from the floor.

Build dams to stop the cement from going anywhere you don't want it to go.*

Fill any holes and/or cracks in the floor that the liquid cement could run down. I use Durabond 90.

Vacuum to get the surface perfectly clean.

Add water to your bucket (amount will be stated on your bag of cement)

Add 1/3 of the bag of cement into the water.

Mix with the drill and cement paddle, continually adding the rest of the bag of cement until everything is incorporated and then mix for the length of time given on the bag.

Here we go. Pour the self leveling cement into the desired area. Push and pull it into place with a trowel. It does self level but needs some help getting around.

And now you wait for it to cure. You can walk on it within 24 hours and place heavy objects back in 3 days.

Notes

*It may also be called self leveling concrete, self leveling floor resurfacer or self leveling underlayment. Either way make sure you get REGULAR self levelling cement. Quick Dry lets you walk on it within 6 hours, but you have a much shorter working time, and for an amateur it's better to have as much working time with the product as possible.

**Primer is needed when you're pouring concrete onto a porous surface like another concrete floor. It isn't needed when pouring onto old tile.

**It's very liquidy so make sure you don't skip this step or you'll have cement running under your dishwasher or down your stairs or into other rooms! I used thin wood, heavy cardboard and duct tape to make dams.

Self levellers can be poured to an inch deep.

If for some reason your cement isn't level, didn't turn out right or wasn't poured quite deep enough, you can re-pour more cement as long as you do it before the initial cement cures. Don't exceed the total recommended depth of 1".

OTHER TUTORIALS REFERENCED IN THIS POST

  1. How to lay heated flooring.
  2. How to lay VCT tiles.

 

p.s.  I’m out of chips.

(update:  The floor has been laid so you can read the post on how to lay VCT tiles here, or you can watch a quick video of me doing it!)

 
 

→Follow me on Instagram where I often make a fool of myself←

 

How to Pour Self Leveling Cement.

311 Comments

  1. Kirk says:

    Wow. Smashing job and so well written too. You’ve given me the confidence to take on this job myself! Thank you. I apologize in advance as I will probably curse you a few times for making it look so easy before the job is done but all will be forgiven in the end. :-)

  2. Lynda says:

    Hi Karen,
    Great site. Which I had stumbled on it BEFORE I attempted to pour my self leveling stuff. Because it was my first attempt at this, I decided to do only half a bag at a time. The first half seemed ok to me but as it started to set water rose to the surface – I obviously used too much water. What should I do about this? Will it just take longer to dry? Second half seemed to work better. Your advice would be greatly appreciated.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Lynda – I seem to remember something similar happening to me. It’s has to do with the mixing, I think. If I remember correctly, I dried the wet spots by putting a cloth or paper towel on top for a second to let the water soak in. Then I let it dry normally. I did another thin layer of cement over top to smooth it out. (you have to do the second coat while the first coat is still a bit wet otherwise it won’t adhere properly). Good luck! ~ karen

      • Kenneth Laubscher says:

        Hi Karen I am just about to do the same thing but on a mutch larger scale I have a car garage that I want to get the floor really smooth so that when I paint the floor pure white and then coat it whit a acrylic clear coat it will be easy to keep it clean and be able to mop it I am doing nearly 200m2 so I am going to build quite a few little dams to do this but your vidio defo gave me the insight into what can be done thanks so much

      • David P Gormley says:

        Ken – and others..

        With such a smooth garage floor be careful if water spills on it or it’s wet from washing the floor…….. (and a painted surface can take a while to dry)……ref one broken hip (my aunt) when she slipped on the floor she’d just washed…..

  3. Chris says:

    Thanks very much Karen. A Google search for self-leveling cement brought me here. Great site BTW. After reading your post, I got 25% off an open bag AND when I pressed the guy at Home Depot a bit, he told me I didn’t need the primer. So thanks for saving me a few bucks. I’ll use it to pick up a couple extra sleeves of Pringles and email them to you!

  4. carpemark says:

    This article is fantastic! Bought a house that is 30 years old and the floor had low points and high points. I ended up destroying a sander (and my shoulders) taking down 2 high points but was researching on how to lay self leveling cement as a contractor gave a quote with him doing it or me. Guess which one was cheaper :)
    After examining your article, better by far than even the silly product web pages, I and a friend decided to do it ourselves. It was really easy, hard work but worth it.WARNING! Read the mixing instructions! You will find some manufacturers are more expensive as their bags cover less flooring, or square footage per bag! Or their instructions are based on Quarts of water and weight of the mortar…. right …… not buying the product then. either way all done and looking good!
    Thanks again!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Carpe Mark – I”m glad my post was able to help you. That’s the point of all this. To prove to every that it ain’t that hard. Except math as I’m mentioned numerous times. Math is really, really hard. :) ~ karen

  5. Tommy D says:

    Hi Karen, do you have a video link to the self leveling cement project?

  6. Linda says:

    Fabulous tutorial and worth a ton of money! Oh how I wish we would have seen this before we used that self leveling cement. I won’t go into our nightmare but let’s just say it wasn’t as neat and pretty as yours. We were in too big of a rush and a lot of other problems happened one being the cat got out of the house and she isn’t an outside cat! I want a do over, how do you get it up? Oh shoot I just remembered that I forgot to tell my husband that the there is water leakage under the new tile on top of the stupid self leveling cement!

  7. Sera says:

    Karen! Where have I been? This is amazing! I admit, I love reading about your adventures in things I will likely never try to accomplish myself. You’re amazing!
    Also, last week I got a letter from the IRS. As scary as it is, I’m pretty sure I’d be more scared to pour my own cement floor.

  8. wow, self-leveling cement. who knew? good for you!

  9. Annie says:

    Nice job but I must say, as a former commercial carpenter, NEVER go barefoot in any type of cement product. In fact, you should limit your skin’s exposure to it at any chance. If you have a small cut or scratch and it absorbs the cement you can be looking at some serious blood poisoning. I worked with a fellow carpenter many years ago that had to undergo several skin grafting surgeries to repair his hands after mixing grout with his bare hands. Really not a good idea to do this. Some people are also allergic to the portland and exposure can result in extreme dermatitis and infection.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Annie – Thanks! I actually looked up the MSDS for self levelling cement and the worst the MSDS states it can cause is skin irritation. I agree infections and blood poisoning can occur with a small cut or scratch. My sister was in the hospital for a week recently after washing her car with a small scratch on her finger. ~ karen

  10. Kamaila says:

    Nice job, I am very impressed. I cant wait to see the finished product.

  11. Patti says:

    You are such a bad-ass mofo! I don’t know many guys who would’ve tackled this project. Can’t wait to see it all done up pretty!

  12. Feral Turtle says:

    Good job Karen. I love that product. It can fix anything!!

  13. Susan says:

    I have actually tackled a few jobs like this one and have felt wonderful after having done so. There is nothing more rewarding than accomplishing something you feared, but also accomplishing something that no one thought you were capable of. The feeling is one of perfect fulfillment. Well, maybe not as good as…well you know what I am talking about. But it is a great feeling, nonetheless.
    Thanks for sharing your joy with us. Susan

  14. Rktrix says:

    Wow! Very impressive! This is going to be a kick arse warn floor!

    Another factor is weather and humidity. Self leveling compounds are very wet and as it dries the moisture becomes vapor. If your windows aren’t open or your heavy duty fan going at high speed, and if the weather is very humid, it’s gonna be very unpleasant. Mold. Eww.

  15. Marti says:

    That self-leveling cement… you think I can make some planters, using a 5 gallon bucket and some old margarine tubs with that stuff? I love those cement planters… don’t want to pay the money and definitely want to be able to brag that I “made them myself.” Will that stuff work for that project?

    • Cussot says:

      Have you ever heard of hypertufa, Marti? It’s a mixture of cement, peat moss and perlite. The finished product looks like concrete when you use the kind of mold you describe, but the result doesn’t weigh as much.

      • Marti says:

        No, I actually haven’t heard of that, Cussot, so much thanks. Is it waterproof, as well? I’m sure I can do the research, now that you’ve steered me that direction. :)

  16. Jasmine says:

    Well thanks very much Karen. I was feeling pretty chuffed with myself making some slipcovers for my outdoor chairs. Now after reading this….I may need to go and overdose on S&V chips. Awesome job-very impressed!

  17. Ali says:

    I am so excited to see the vinyl flooring, I really wanted this in our new house.

    Also Karen could a person possible finish self leveling concrete to make a cool industrial modern floor? I asked my hubby about this option a while ago and he said it was prone to cracking easily.

    • Karen says:

      Ali – I’m not sure about cracking but it is difficult to get a nice finish on it. You have bubbles and speckles and tiny raised bumps to deal with if you don’t pour it perfectly. Depends on how industrial looking you want the floor to be. ;)~ karen!

  18. AnnW says:

    You rock, as usual. Someone should write a graphic novel about you! But then it would be non-fiction, because it’s true. Ann

  19. maude says:

    Thank you for posting this tutorian and sharing your experience with this cement. I’ve always been kind of spooked by the idea of putting down cement myself….it’s just so permanent..lol.
    Maude

  20. Susan says:

    Thank you, Karen, I’ve saved this page to my bathroom flooring notebook, along with the others in this series. Thank you, also, for the link to figure out how much it might cost for the electricity. For our bathroom, where we live, it would be about $50 a year to have the flooring on 20 hours a day through the months we’d need it, so it looks like this is a real possibility for redoing our bath floor!

  21. Julia says:

    My husband has just caught me reading this post and is now slightly perturbed that I may be thinking of self-levelling something.
    I suppose he is right to be worried – we didn’t have chickens until I discovered ‘The Art of Doing Stuff’!

  22. Susan says:

    Thank goodness the place I’m looking at doing this is small. It looks great so far, and the self-leveling stuff looks like something you managed well in large quantity and I could manage in small quantity. Do you need the self-leveling concrete only if you’re using “soft” tiles, or do you also need it if you are using ceramic tiles? I’m as certain that you’ve mentioned the answer to this already, as I am that I’ve forgotten it already. I can’t wait to see the finished project. You truly are an inspiration to us all.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Susan – The self levelling concrete is only needed if you’re laying heated floors and will be laying VCT tiles over top. If you’re laying heated floors with ceramic over top you would not use self levelling cement, but regular tile cement like you normally would with laying ceramic tile. ~ karen!

  23. Katie C says:

    Well, Karen. Awestruck. Just awestruck! In fact, we have a kitchen floor that is strangely not level–where the eating area meets the workspace, the linoleum sort of slopes sharply down, oh, 2 inches or so. Sort of a sunken kitchen. But not in a good way! Your stunning post is making me think that maybe, just maybe….this is a project that is fixable and not something that means we’ll have to live here for the rest of our lives because no one else in the world would ever buy a house with this odd affliction… (why did we??) You have made me realize we might be able to move somewhere else, sometime in this lifetime! I thank you for that, Karen.

    And btw, did you just leave the mudroom floor as cement, sans tile? Kind of cool, if so. Thanks for your awesomeness.

  24. Linda S says:

    I must say…I’m impressed with you, and impressed with the project. Great job, and I will be listing it in my notebook full of projects I never want to tackle!

  25. Nancy Blue Moon says:

    I never doubted you..not for one minute..In my next life..I want to come back as you..

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