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Fire & Water - Cleanup & Restoration

Basement Efflorescence: What It Is, Causes & Prevention

11/11/2020 (Permalink)

white, chalky, efflorescence on basement wall Efflorescence on basement walls appears as a white, chalky substance that is easily wiped away.

What is Efflorescence?

If you've ever noticed a white, powdery, or chalky substance on the concrete walls of your basement, you were likely left wondering what it was. Many homeowners worry that this white powdery substance is some sort of mold, but in fact this is efflorescence.

Efflorescence is simply salt deposits on materials like concrete, brick, stucco, or natural stone surfaces. 

This substance does not cause any adverse health effects, and is not cause for major alarm.

What Causes Efflorescence?

When hydrostatic pressure forces water through your basement wall, it dissolves minerals in the building material, whether that's concrete, brick, or any other type of natural stone. After water moves through the wall, reaches the surface and evaporates, it leaves behind a mineral deposit, bringing natural salts to the surface.

Does efflorescence mean the basement leaks? 

Unfortunately, yes. For this mineral deposit to appear, it requires some source of water - whether that is coming from inside or outside of your basement.

Efflorescence is most commonly caused by groundwater seeping into your basement after periods of heavy rains or melting snow, but can also be caused by plumbing leaks. If there are any issues or cracks in the foundation of your home, they will also allow water to seep through the wall.

So long as water moves through a porous building material which contains salt - it will leave behind a chalky white deposit.

How To Clean Efflorescence in Basements

The good thing about this mineral deposit is that it is harmless to humans and is very easy to remove yourself. Try the following ways to remove efflorescence on basement walls:

Use a stiff brush

Since these mineral deposits are dry and powdery, many times you can sweep it away with a brush. Be sure to wear a mask so to not breath the powder in.

Rinse with water

If just a brush doesn't work, try to rinse with water as well.

Chemical cleaning

If efflorescence has been on a wall for quite some time, brushing or water may not be able to get it off. As salt deposits sit, they will grow larger if moisture problems are not addressed and possibly crystallize, making it a challenge to remove. At these points, you may want to call in a professional to properly clean the deposits without damaging your basement walls.

Remove Moisture

After you remove efflorescence from your basement walls, be sure to not leave any moisture behind from cleaning. Set up fans to completely dry the area after cleaning to prevent it from immediately reforming.

Preventing Efflorescence on Basement Walls

To prevent this problem, homeowners must make sure that moisture is not present and groundwater is not seeping into the basement. If you've had efflorescence form in your basement, cleaned it, but did not take steps to address any water issues - your problem will only come back again. While these deposits are not harmful, they are an indication that you have a moisture problem to solve in your home.

To prevent conditions that produce efflorescence, you should consider basement waterproofing. 

There are many different forms of waterproofing, but all help prevent groundwater from entering your basement when it rains. Exterior waterproofing or internal drainage systems are best to prevent water from entering outside of your home. While sump pumps are also handy - they will not prevent the water seepage that causes efflorescence to form.

There are some steps you can take yourself to try and help prevent groundwater seepage and in turn efflorescence before waterproofing your basement:

  • Clean gutters and downspouts to correctly navigate water away from your home.
  • Buy downspout extenders so that water is let off further away from the foundation.
  • Create slopes away from your foundation so water naturally flows away from your home.
  • Set up a dehumidifier in your basement to help lower moisture levels.
  • Set up a fan directed at wet walls when you notice water seeping in.

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