Efflorescence and Concrete Masonry Walls

Efflorescence is "a deposit of soluble salts and bases, usually white in color, that sometimes appear on the surfaces of masonry or concrete construction."1 The presence of such soluble compounds is common and naturally occurring in all cementitious products and earthen materials, and no manufacturing process or control can eliminate them. Only water and a driving force (evaporation or hydrostatic pressure) are needed to dissolve the compounds and move them to the surface.

Typically, efflorescence is noticeable during or soon after construction. During damp weather periods of rain or heavy fog, ample amounts of water will be absorbed into unprotected walls and efflorescence should be expected. Even during dry periods, the water in masonry grout alone may be sufficient to dissolve and move compounds to the surface.

Such "new building bloom" on structures is typically easily removed during final cleaning prior to the application of masonry water repellents, and should no longer be an issue. If efflorescence reappears or persists, it is evidence of water entering the wall by some means, and not necessarily through the face of the masonry.

Site walls, however, are exposed at top and both sides, and do not typically receive a water repellent treatment. When exposed to damp weather, compounds within the cmu, mortar, grout, and concrete will likely dissolve and migrate to the surface as evaporation occurs. Water from irrigation can contribute by not only wetting the wall, but may also contain salts of its own, resulting in a persistent, heavy build-up of efflorescence.

Concrete or masonry materials contain a finite amount of soluble compounds. Left untreated, efflorescence from these materials will diminish and end. In and of themselves, the efflorescence is usually light enough to be washed off by rain over time, with subsequent wet/dry periods leaving diminishing amounts of efflorescence. You'll notice the great majority of site walls, while exhibiting normal weathering, remain attractive, durable fences.

An installation with persistent efflorescence is indicative of either a continuing intrusion of water, as already mentioned, or a continued supply of soluble compounds. Irrigation has been noted as a source. However, the very soil upon which the masonry wall is built may also be the source. "Through capillary action, salts present in the soil may rise several feet above the ground, producing an accumulation of salts in the masonry."1

For the rare instances of stubborn deposits, commercially available efflorescence removers can be utilized. Optional additions of integral water repellents can mitigate but not entirely prevent all instances of efflorescence.

While efflorescence is common in the components of concrete and masonry and the result of naturally occurring salts and typical exposure to moisture, its remediation is a common, successful process of cleaning and control for buildings, or simply a matter of time for site walls. Sources of the efflorescence are not limited to the masonry wall materials, but may also, or instead, originate from other sources: potable water, soil, or adjacent structures.

1Control and Removal of Efflorescence, TEK 8-3A, National Concrete Masonry Association, 2003

Angelus Block Co., Inc. supplies this information as an educational aid in understanding the benefits of concrete masonry construction and our products. It is the responsibility of the user to obtain engineering or other advisory services from licensed professionals as the basis for incorporating into any project any information, detail, or product offered herein.

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