Last Updated: May 16, 2023, by: Rob Parsell
Floor leveling compound is a versatile product that has many applications for leveling and finishing concrete floors. There are two types of products given this name, and while they are very similar and the names are often used interchangeably, there is a minor difference:
- Floor-leveling compound must be finished using tools
- Self-leveling floor compound is a type of floor-leveling compound that requires no tooling
There’s more detail below in the discussion of the Types of Floor Leveling Compound.
In this comprehensive guide, you’ll discover what these materials are, how to use them and the best floor-leveling compound to buy from your local home improvement stores.
FLOOR-LEVELING COMPOUND & ITS USES
This material combines strength for permanency with the level of liquidity necessary to be finished with minimal tooling or none at all.
While each floor-leveling compound Home Depot and other sellers offer has a unique mix, there are two ingredients they share, Portland cement and polymers/plasticizers. The combination gives concrete the compressive strength of thicker traditional concrete and the ability to hold together even when poured in a thin layer of material and used in the following situations:
- The most common use is too create a consistent, level subfloor for wood, tile, vinyl and other floorings
- Bring a low area of a concrete floor up to the level of the surrounding flooring
- Cover tubing for in-floor radiant heat systems
- Form a smooth, level topping over existing concrete or plywood that is in poor condition
PREPARING, POURING AND FINISHING
Any bag of leveling concrete you purchase will include clear instructions. To prepare you to gather or purchase what you’ll need, here is a list of tools and supplies:
- A shop vacuum and mop
- A 15-gallon mixing barrel is best for DIY floor-leveling compound application, but you can get by with a 5-gallon pail if you are willing to mix more loads
- Measuring pitcher to add mix to your barrel prior to adding water
- Mixing paddle with a shaft of 20” or more and an oval mixing head
- Standard drill to drive the paddle for small batches and a mixing drill for 10-gallon or larger batches
- Spreader or squeegee for pushing the floor-leveling compound into position and smoothing it
- Finishing trowel to create a smooth, finished surface
- Spiked shoes, which are strapped to shoes or boots, are used to walk onto already-poured leveling compound during the final troweling of the surface
- Concrete surface primer should be applied to concrete surfaces to ensure a good bond between the existing floor and the leveling material, and depending on the size of the area, a brush, roller or broom can be used (and cleaned immediately)
You can find a floor leveling kit at most home improvement stores or online. The 7-piece Kraft Tool self-leveling tool kit with 15-gallon barrel is just one popular kit. It is currently available at Home Depot for $149. It does not include the drill.
The amount of floor-leveling compound you will need depends on the size and depth of the dips you’ll be filling or the thickness of the topping you plan to install. This is a rough guide based on leveling 100 square feet to various depths:
- 1/8” – 100 to 120lbs of mix
- 1/4″ – 200 to 240lbs of mix
- 1/2″ – 400 to 480lbs of mix
- 1” – 800 to 960lbs of mix
This calculator features TEC brands only, but brands of leveling compound are very similar in their coverages.
Always buy more bags of mix than you need, so that you can finish the job while the compound is still wet. Most DIY installers are surprised at how thin the material seems to be when mixed in proper ratio to water. This is common. You’ll be equally surprised at how tough and durable it is as it thickens and cures.
There are many good video tutorials online for pouring, spreading and finishing floor-leveling compound.
Read the directions from start to finish and follow them carefully. Most include these basic steps for how to use floor-leveling compound that requires the use of tools:
- Sweep and mop the area to remove dirt and debris
- Tape craft paper or plastic to any wall adjoining the floor you’re leveling
- Caulk or tape over seams in plywood or OSB subfloor
- Install a cardboard collar around vents and drains to keep the liquid out of them
- Add wood or rubber strip dams at doorways when pouring floor leveling concrete in an entire room
- Prep dry mix bags for large jobs by cutting an opening for fast pouring into your mixing barrel
- Add the prescribed amount of water for your batch
- Use the drill and paddle to fully blend the material
- In small areas, pour the compound in lateral, 12”-24” strips starting at the spot furthest from the end/exit point; In large areas, pouring an entire barrel into the low area
- Use the spreader or squeegee to push the compound into place and give it an initial smoothing
- Finishing the surface with a concrete finishing tool
- Staying off the new surface for as long as recommended on the packaging, usually at least 6 hours
- Clean all tools immediately after use to prevent the compound from hardening on them
- Use a level in large areas to check if the surface is level, mark areas that are still low, and mix and apply enough additional material to make them level
If you’re using self leveling compound on your floor, then your biggest concern should be to not pour out more compound than is required to fill the space. If you do, excess can be scooped up with a flat shovel or dust pan and deposited in a pail.
TYPES OF COMPOUND AND PROS & CONS
As noted above, we’re discussing two products, one a subset of the other:
Floor-leveling compound is any mix used to fill low areas and imperfections or add as a topcoat to existing flooring. Unless the product is labeled as self-leveling, it will need to be worked with tools as outlined above. Consider these pros and cons of a leveling compound that must be finished with tools:
- Pro: It is superior to self leveling compound for use as a smooth, acid-stained or stamped finish layer, and can be used as underlayment too
- Con: Having to finish the concrete requires more skill and tools, so is less attractive as a DIY material
Self leveling floor compound is much easier to use because it does not require tooling when installed as underlayment and only minor tooling when it is the finished floor. This material is also commonly called self leveling concrete and self leveling underlayment.
- Pros: Ease of use as a DIY underlayment, and it is a better product for covering radiant heat tubing
- Cons: The surface won’t be as smooth and crisp as a finished concrete surface if not finished with tools
Related Reading: Check out the Home Flooring Pros complete guide to Underlayment
BEST FLOOR LEVELING PRODUCTS, COST AND WHERE THEY’RE SOLD
Here are some of the best-selling floor leveling products, their cost and common places you can find them:
LevelQuik RS Self-Leveling Underlayment is another water-based product. It is used under tile, stone, hardwood, vinyl and carpet. The cost is about $32 per 50lb bag, and LevelQuik RS is sold at the Home Depot, ACE Hardware and online at Amazon.
MAPEI Self-Leveler Plus is water-based self leveling floor compound used strictly as underlayment. It is ready for tile in 24 hours and wood in 48 hours. The cost is about $30 per 50lb bag, and this MAPEI product is sold at Lowes and some local, independent flooring stores.
TEC Gray and Silver Indoor Leveler is not self leveling. It can be poured in thicknesses up to 1.5”, and can be covered in 16 hours. This water-based TEC product can be used as finished flooring, and it costs about $37 per 50lb bag at Lowes.
Henry 555 Level Pro is a water-based self-leveling underlayment that can be used over wood, tile and concrete. The cost is about $37 per 40lb bag at the Home Depot.
Akona Self-Leveling Floor Underlayment Cement is another water-based powder mix for use over plywood and concrete. It doesn’t require primer. This Akona floor-leveling compound is available at Mennards for about $35 per 50lb bag.
Rutland Floor Level is a floor-leveling compound in a premixed tub. The cost is about $11 for 3.5lbs at Amazon and about $57 for a 25lb tub at Wal-Mart.
About the Author: Rob Parsell
Rob joined the Home Flooring Pros team in 2014 and is a freelance writer, specializing in flooring, remodeling and HVAC systems (read more).
“I’m the son of an interior designer and picked up an eye for design as a result. I started hanging wallpaper and painting at 14 and learned enough on the job to be the general contractor on two homes we built for our family and did much of the finish plumbing, electrical, painting, and trim work myself.”