That white flaky stuff you see is called “efflorescence.” It’s mineral salt residue that gets left behind when water evaporates. Sometimes it looks like white dust at first, but then you realize it’s in the middle of the wall or in another odd spot where dust normally doesn’t collect.
So what is efflorescence? How does it get there? What does it mean and what should you do? That is what we will discuss in this post!
Efflorescence: What Is It & Where Does It Come From?
At its most fundamental, water is a molecule made up of atoms. The water molecule contains precisely three atoms: two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom (or H2O, as you probably know). But water can also have lots of other things in it, too!
Water is what chemists call a solvent—a substance that has the power to dissolve other substances. In fact, water is a universal solvent, which means it can dissolve more different types of substances than any other solvent on the planet.
As well, the way water is constructed, with two positively charged hydrogen atoms and one negatively charged oxygen atom, lots of substances that need dissolving are naturally attracted to it. Salts, minerals, chemicals and other substances are drawn to water, so water picks these substances up as it flows toward wherever it’s going.
Then it gets to your basement—from a recent storm or a rising water table, or from sprinkler system runoff or some other route—and it is carrying all these other substances with it. What happens next?
How Efflorescence Gets Into Your Basement
“Efflorescence” comes from a French word that means “to flower out.” This is exactly what efflorescence does! That dusty white matter you see is composed of the mineral salts “flowering out” as the water that carried them inside your basement evaporates, leaving them high and dry (so to speak) and in plain sight.
What is interesting about the building blocks of the typical basement structure—concrete blocks, poured concrete, masonry bricking—is that this material is naturally somewhat porous. Basically, this means that water can and does regularly penetrate the material.
In past centuries, when basements were installed directly over cellars as a point of access to food supplies stored beneath, no one much cared if the basement area took on a bit of water or became seasonally humid. But today, people live, work and play in basements, which are viewed as an extension of the home’s useful space.
So today, when a new basement is being constructed, some type of initial damp-proofing protection is typically applied. But this initial application has a shelf life, which can be shortened further by shifting soil, changing water table levels, ground settling and other factors.
As the initial damp-proofing wears off, porous concrete begins to take on moisture in a number of ways. This moisture makes its way through tiny capillaries and pores in the concrete and seeps into your basement, where it slowly evaporates and leaves behind its calling card—dried mineral salts, or efflorescence.
What Efflorescence Is Trying to Tell You
As you may have figured out by now, efflorescence is carrying a message from your basement to you to let you know moisture is getting inside somehow.
Its primary routes may be micro-fissures or capillaries—tiny channels so small they can be nearly impossible to perceive with the unaided eye. Water can also enter through larger fissures or cracks that are visible.
Another way water routinely gets in is through windows when window well drains get backed up or simply degrade and stop working. Water can also seep up from the ground through your foundation and cause dampness on the basement floor.
If this seepage is quite slow, efflorescence may be the only warning sign to alert you that your basement has a leak.
Here, it can help to do an initial walk-through and note the areas where you see efflorescence. Next, clean the white powder away from those areas and wait a few days and do another walk-through. Notice if you see efflorescence everywhere or just in one specific area. This will give you information about where and how moisture may be entering.
What to Do About Efflorescence in Your Basement
Learning how to control damp, moisture and water leaks inside basements is an ongoing science. As homes get older, new problems are discovered and new solutions are created to solve those problems.
The best step after discovering basement efflorescence and doing your basement walk-through to find as many affected areas as you can is to contact a professional to inspect and evaluate your basement’s risk level for water damage.
In some cases, the risk may be low and a dehumidifier can handle the moisture removal to buy you some time to budget and plan. In other cases, the moisture may point to a bigger structural issue that needs resolution before it worsens and turns into a major repair.
Affordable basement waterproofing options exist to prevent moisture damage in your basement, provide peace of mind and improve the future resale value of your home. Best of all, waterproofing basement walls from inside will not impact the usability of your basement space.
Get in Touch
Are you concerned by the presence of efflorescence inside your basement? We can help!
Contact us online or give us a call at 1-866-875-6664.