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Basement Waterproofing - What is the White Powder on My Basement Walls?

Saturday, February 4th, 2023 by Aaron Stull

What is the White Powder on My Basement Walls? - Image 1Efflorescence is a white, powdery substance that can form on the surface of residential basement foundation walls and is a common issue in many homes around the Pittsburgh area. It is caused by the movement of water through the concrete and the deposition of salt and minerals on the surface of your basement wall. While efflorescence may not pose any immediate structural threat to the foundation, it can be unsightly and can also indicate deeper issues with the foundation's water management. In this article, we will explore the reasons why efflorescence forms on residential foundation walls and what can be done to prevent it.

The formation of efflorescence is a result of the movement of water through the concrete substrate and the deposit of salt and minerals on the surface. Concrete is a porous material and, over time, water can penetrate the surface and dissolve the salts and minerals within the concrete. When the water evaporates, the salts and minerals are left behind, forming the powdery substance known as efflorescence.  We see efflorescence very often in our inspections of western, Pennsylvania homes. It is one of the most common reasons we receive phone calls from our customerss.

One of the main reasons why efflorescence forms on residential foundation walls is due to the presence of high levels of salt in the soil surrounding the foundation. When the soil is saturated with water, the salt can dissolve and be carried into the concrete, where it can cause efflorescence to form. This is particularly common in areas with high water tables or areas that are frequently exposed to water, such as coastal regions.

Another reason why efflorescence can form on residential foundation walls is due to the use of improper concrete mix ratios. Concrete is a mixture of cement, sand, gravel, and water. If the mix ratio is not correct, it can result in a weak concrete that is more susceptible to water penetration and the formation of efflorescence. In addition, if the concrete is not cured properly, it can also be more prone to efflorescence formation.

Efflorescence can also form on residential foundation walls if there is a lack of proper water management around the foundation. For example, if water is not properly drained away from the foundation, it can penetrate the surface and dissolve the salts and minerals within the concrete. Over time, this can lead to the formation of efflorescence.

Efflorescence can also be a sign of deeper issues with the foundation's water management, such as a leaky foundation or basement. If water is entering the foundation and dissolving the salts and minerals, it can cause the concrete to weaken and crack, leading to structural damage over time.

Very often efflorescence is confused with mold, and the initial call received is about a mold issue.  After inspection and educating our clients, they soon understand what is actually going on with their foundation wall.  Although they are relieved that they do not have mold, the reality is that the problem is likely more serious, as their foundation is breaking down.  

To prevent the formation of efflorescence on residential foundation walls, it is important to implement proper water management strategies around the foundation. This can include installing a proper drainage system to ensure that water is properly drained away from the foundation, and ensuring that the soil surrounding the foundation is well-drained. It is also important to use the correct mix ratios when pouring concrete and to ensure that the concrete is cured properly.

In addition, it is important to regularly inspect the foundation and address any issues with water management as soon as they are discovered. For example, if there is a leaky foundation or basement, it is important to repair it as soon as possible to prevent water from penetrating the surface and causing the formation of efflorescence.

If efflorescence has already formed on the residential foundation walls, there are steps that can be taken to remove it. This can include using a solution of muriatic acid to dissolve the salts and minerals on the surface, or using a specialized efflorescence remover. However, it is important to be cautious when using chemicals to remove efflorescence, as they can be harsh and can cause damage to the concrete if not used properly.

About the author
Aaron Stull is a second generation foundation repair specialist from the greater Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area.

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