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What Is Efflorescence?: The White Sediment on Your Basement Walls

efflorescence on basement walls

Efflorescence is a white or greyish crystalline salt deposit that appears on basement walls and masonry materials. It forms when water dissolves the salts within the porous construction materials and then evaporates, leaving the salts behind as a residue. While often cosmetic, efflorescence can signal moisture problems that may cause structural weaknesses.

Learn more about efflorescence below.

What Causes Efflorescence?

Efflorescence occurs when the soluble salts in concrete, brickwork, mortar, and other masonry materials dissolve in moisture and migrate to the surface. The causes of efflorescence include:

efflorescence on basement walls
  • Salt Sources: Soluble salts in construction materials like concrete, brickwork, mortar, and masonry cause efflorescence.
  • Water Movement: Salt dissolves in moisture and travels through tiny channels within the material to the surface.
  • Evaporation: As moisture carrying the salts reaches the surface and evaporates, it leaves behind a white or grayish crystalline salt deposit.
  • Seasonal Influence: Efflorescence becomes visible more quickly after periods of heavy rain or consistent moisture compared to dry summer months.

What Are the Two Types of Efflorescence?

There are two main types of efflorescence based on the timing and moisture source: primary and secondary.

crew member concrete bag wheelbarrow

1. Primary Efflorescence

Primary efflorescence occurs within the first few days or weeks after concrete or masonry installation, as excess water used during mixing and curing dissolves the soluble salts already present in the construction materials and brings them to the surface.

basement water leak effloresence

2. Secondary Efflorescence

Secondary efflorescence develops months or years after the material has cured. External water sources like rain, leaking pipes, or groundwater seep through the material, re-mobilizing the soluble salts already present.

How to Remove Efflorescence

Natural weathering eventually removes some efflorescence, but this is a slow process. Here are several options to address the problem proactively:

efflorescence on basement walls
  • Simple Cleaning: This method is most effective for fresh efflorescence. Scrub with a mild detergent and stiff brush, and rinse thoroughly.
  • Power Washing (use with caution): This method quickly removes efflorescence but can damage surfaces. Use a wide-angle, low-pressure tip. Power washing is not suitable for all materials.
  • Chemical Cleaning (last resort): Wear safety gear. Soak the area with water, then apply a diluted solution (e.g., 1:10 vinegar/water) or proprietary cleaner to stubborn efflorescence. Neutralize with baking soda, and rinse thoroughly.

General Rule: Always try gentler methods before using more aggressive chemical solutions.

How to Prevent Efflorescence

The best way to address efflorescence is through prevention measures, often requiring a basement waterproofing professional. However, there are a few solutions you can try on your own, including:

crew member shoveling dirt in flowerbed
  • Architectural Adjustments: Overhangs, eaves, and gutter systems prevent water from entering the foundation and walls. 
  • Landscaping Updates: Grading the yard away from the foundation, moving water-loving plants, and directing sprinklers away from the house reduce moisture near the foundation.
  • Surface Sealer: Applying a hydrophobic sealer helps prevent moisture ingress.
  • Foundation Drainage: Installing a drainage system around the foundation can help prevent rising dampness and reduce the risk of efflorescence.
  • Construction Waterproofing: Professional grout admixtures can improve water resistance and prevent efflorescence from the start.

Though efflorescence is a normal by-product of masonry construction, it may also indicate water intrusion. If you notice flaky white deposits on basement walls or floors, contact a foundation repair expert to address the problem with professional basement waterproofing or crawlspace encapsulation solutions.

JES Foundation Repair offers free inspections to address water and moisture issues at their core. Contact us today for more information.

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    Efflorescence FAQs

    Fixing efflorescence isn’t an easy task, but it’s one that you can do. It’s important that you talk to a JES basement waterproofing specialist and schedule an inspection instead of trying to do this job on your own. That way, you can be confident that you’ve discovered and handled the actual root of the problem.

    You can remove the chalky buildup with a stiff brush, but the only way to get rid of efflorescence for good is to remove the source of the water. To do that, you need to talk to a basement waterproofing expert from JES, who will address your concerns at the root.

    Efflorescence in and of itself isn’t always a problem in the basement; you can simply brush it off with a stiff brush. The real problem is that this efflorescence may be indicative of a much deeper problem — if you have a water leak in your basement, it can cause serious issues that go much deeper than the surface.

    Shaye Glisson

    Shaye Glisson

    Shaye is an SEO Content Writer for Groundworks with over twelve years of experience creating helpful content across various industries, including home services and retail. She is a Gulf Coast native and writes from her firsthand knowledge of the area's hurricane and flood impacts on the local community. In her free time, Shaye enjoys exploring the local food and music scenes.

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