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Understanding Efflorescence

Efflorescence is a by-product of moisture infiltration. It is a sign that your basement has water issues that need urgent attention.

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You have probably come across white or grayish crystalline substances on the surface of your basement walls and wondered what it was. That’s efflorescence, a common substance in damp homes. If after thoroughly cleaning it up, you may still see traces of efflorescence on your basement walls or floors, that’s a sure sign you have a basement moisture problem. Let’s take a closer look at efflorescence, what causes it, and how to eliminate it from your home. 

efflorescence on brick wall

What Is Efflorescence? 

Efflorescence is a naturally occurring, white powdery deposit that appears on cement-based building materials. It is a crystallized mineral salt that forms when water is present on concrete, bricks, stucco, stone, and other building surfaces.  

Efflorescence occurs when moisture evaporates through the porous concrete walls of your basement, leaving behind salt deposits that look like a white, powdery substance.  

While efflorescence is a cosmetic issue that won’t make you sick, it is a sign that something is going on with your moisture management. Leave it to linger a little longer and moisture will start manifesting in other ways. The water vapor that seeps through can damage your wooden structures and foster mold growth, which can be harmful to your health. You can prevent costly basement repairs and other undesirable effects by resolving the moisture issues promptly.  

What’s Behind Efflorescence? 

These three conditions must be present for efflorescence to occur: 

  • Salt: Your walls must contain water-soluble salts like sodium sulfates or potassium sulfates.   
  • Water: Moisture has to penetrate and infiltrate your brick or concrete walls to dissolve the salt.  
  • Entryway: Lastly, water or moisture must have a path to the surface where it evaporates before crystallization occurs. These can be foundation cracks, wall cracks, pores in the concrete, or the floor-wall joint in your basement.  

The masonry used to build basement walls and floors like concrete, clay, and limestone contains natural minerals. Since these materials are naturally porous, moisture quickly moves through them at all times. When water infiltrates these blocks or your concrete walls, it dissolves the minerals within.  

As the water evaporates from the unit’s surface into your home, it leaves behind mineral deposits that crystallize into efflorescence. Other than efflorescence, this moisture can cause the wall of your basement to flake, pop out, or become very brittle.   

Removing Efflorescence in the Basement 

The best way to resolve your efflorescence issues, once and for all, is to find water entry points in your basement and seal them. Failing to do this exposes you to more problems. Water leaks can quickly turn your basement into a waterpark, and this might lead to serious structural damage.  

The following are a few solutions for removing efflorescence: 

Scrub it away with a brush and detergent: This solution is recommended for minor cases. Scrub away at the salts with a household detergent to remove them. 

Use a pressure washer: Homeowners can use pressure washing on stubborn efflorescence that won’t go away with a good scrubbing. Make sure to dry off the walls after using a pressure washer. Otherwise, efflorescence may reappear, this time from the water you tried to wash it away with. 

Try chemical treatment: If you have a serious or persistent efflorescence problem, you can use commercial cleaners to get rid of it. Often, this process requires a professional with experience using chemical treatments to freshen up concrete surfaces. 

If, after cleaning your walls, efflorescence still grows back, this is a clear sign that you have an underlying moisture problem in or around your house. At this point, your best option is to hire a professional basement waterproofing company to take care of the leak.  

Invest in Professional Waterproofing 

Once your basement is free of efflorescence, the next step is to waterproof it.  

Hydrophobic Sealant 

Protecting your walls with a hydrophobic sealant will prevent water from infiltrating the wall and dissolving minerals. If you do not remove all efflorescence before applying the sealant, it will not adhere properly. Sealants and paints, however, are only temporary solutions. 

Install Capillary Breaks  

Adding a vapor barrier between your basement walls and soil can help stop minerals from diffusing into your building materials.  

Proper Landscaping 

Landscaping can help you redirect water from melting snow or rain away from the foundation. This way, it won’t percolate through the soil and infiltrate your foundation.  

Foundation Recovery Systems can help you resolve water issues that are giving rise to efflorescence around your basement. We will identify the cause of the efflorescence and recommend waterproofing solutions like interior drainage, a sump pump, and a dehumidifier so water or moisture won’t trouble you again. It all starts with scheduling a free inspection and repair quote.