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What is Efflorescence?

efflorescence on brick wall

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Often found on brick, concrete, stone, and other masonry, efflorescence is the powdery white substance you may find caked on some surfaces. While not hazardous on its own, efflorescence is an indicator of moisture issues that can eventually cause structural damage if left unaddressed. But what exactly is efflorescence, where does it come from, and how do you get rid of it? We’ll tackle all of that in this quick guide.

How Does Efflorescence Form?

When water gets into the pores of masonry or its mortar, it will pull salt and other minerals out of the stonework and bring them to the surface. Once this happens, the water will evaporate and leave a white or gray chalky substance behind that can range from powdery to even fuzzy-looking. This substance is called efflorescence — not to be confused with effervescence, which is used to describe fizzy liquids.

Efflorescence forms from mortar, bricks, or other stonework that was either initially mixed with too much water or had water seep into the material after its construction. The more porous the surface and the higher its exposure to moisture, the greater the chance for efflorescence to start cropping up.

How Does Efflorescence Affect Surfaces?

While efflorescence is unsightly, it can cause more problems than just being an eyesore. Efflorescence on its own seems harmless. After all, it’s just a little salt left over from water evaporating, right? Well, it wouldn’t be too bad if that salt wasn’t necessary to keep the masonry together. In other words, efflorescence is a kind of rot as water erodes stonework from the inside out, pulling minerals and salts out of the material and forming larger and larger pores.

In turn, these pores and the high salt concentration can make the material brittle and weak. The masonry may split, flake, or completely crumble with enough pressure. It can also be likened to rust and how it degrades metal surfaces if left untreated.

Worse, efflorescence can indicate a water leak that’s letting moisture leach into the masonry. Efflorescence occurs more naturally outside, especially if you’re in a climate that gets a lot of rain. However, efflorescence in concrete or brickwork in basements and cellars shouldn’t be ignored since that could mean a pipe is leaking or your foundation isn’t properly sealed.

How to Remove Efflorescence

There are a few ways to clean efflorescence off your home, inside or out. While some might try using just water to dissolve the salt, you will need something a bit more robust when most people notice it. Otherwise, it’ll just keep coming back, especially if you haven’t addressed the underlying cause of the efflorescence in the first place. Assuming that cause is addressed, a diluted vinegar solution can be used to scrub efflorescence away.

While diluted vinegar and some elbow grease work well, the most effective solution involves cleaners made specifically for efflorescence. Another option is — you guessed it — soft washing alongside those specialty cleaners, but this can’t be done indoors. If you’re dealing with efflorescence inside a basement, cellar, or underground parking area, using a spray bottle will help break up the substance and a quick rinse. Then, apply the cleaner, using multiple coatings if needed. Let it soak, rinse again, and then dry the surface completely.

No matter where you are cleaning, removing efflorescence in warm, dry weather helps achieve the best results. Too much moisture in the air prevents you from completely drying any surface and can cause the efflorescence to reappear. 

Salty Materials and the Problems They Cause 

While it may seem harmless, efflorescence is a good indication of problems to come. Whenever you see white powdery salt on the surface of your stonework, it is important to identify the cause and clean it as soon as possible. 

Efflorescence can spell disaster for a structure’s integrity if given enough time. You can use anything from water and a brush to a pressure washer and efflorescence cleaner to rid any surface of the crystallized substance. Don’t forget to keep the surface dry afterward. Keeping moisture out of and off masonry will prevent efflorescence in the future.

However, if you need help or want to ensure efflorescence is removed properly, reach out to us and we’d be happy to help.

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