How To Remove Efflorescence

Efflorescence Tech Report Furnished by Claudia Ramirez of Stone Tech Professional (1-22-05)

Efflorescence and How It Affects Ceramic Tile and Other Installations

Today, Tomorrow But Not Forever

Efflorescence has been in existence since the beginning of time. Its existence is noticeable throughout various structures, statues, monuments and building projects worldwide. It is not limited to any specific geographic area.

Efflorescence is a white crystalline deposit that is composed of salts, lime and/or other minerals. These deposits may become visible on many types of building surfaces such as concrete, stucco, grout, masonry, brick, natural stone, clay, ceramic tile and even wood. These salts and minerals are water-soluble and generally come from the ground or where cementitious or alkali substances exist. These salts and minerals travel to the surface, using moisture as their carrier, and when the moisture evaporates what is left behind are salts and minerals on the surface.

These salts and minerals are generally carried by water as it travels through concrete substrates. This process is called capillarity. Capillarity is best explained as the movement or transmission of water or moisture in masonry and natural stone. By definition, it is the action by which the surface of a liquid, where it comes in contact with a solid, rises or falls. This attraction or repulsion is caused by capillary action. Because of this behavior, moisture may travel to lower or higher levels within a material and can move multi-directionally.

Efflorescence can be found on the oldest of installations but will frequently be created after a new tile or natural stone installation. This is likely due to capillarity. If the stone or tile is installed on a concrete substrate, or if there is moisture originating from the setting material (e.g., thin set, mortar), or if any component is mixed with water, then moisture will travel through the stone and/or grout to the surface. Sometimes alkali surfaces, like limestone, marble, concrete or grout, may be the source of salts and minerals. Just the water used in installation can be enough to trigger migration of these salts and alkalis to the surface resulting in efflorescence without the usual migration from the setting materials below. In all cases, the salts and minerals need water or moisture as the carrier to bring them to the exposed surface level. In situations where a fat mud setting mixture is used (when additional lime is added to the mortar) there may be a heightened probability of efflorescence occurring.

Moisture migration follows the path of least resistance. Therefore, with dense surfaces such as ceramic tile, it is often found that the grout lines are more vulnerable to show efflorescence due to the higher concentrations of these deposits in those areas. On the other hand, a Saltillo tile or terra cotta paver is porous enough that moisture transmission and salt or mineral deposits can be seen throughout the entire surface.

It is almost on a daily basis that we hear the cry for help regarding efflorescence. The usual comment sounds like, “I have a white powdery haze on my surface and I have used every cleaner under the sun to no avail. These cleaners appear to be working when my surface is wet, but when the surface becomes dry it comes right back, leaving frustrated. What can I do?”

Some solutions that you can consider for a new tile installation would be to use a waterproof membrane beneath the installed surface. This helps minimize or eliminate efflorescence-causing salts and minerals from migrating from below. This is especially important in wet areas such as fountains, spas, steam showers, etc. This is not a foolproof solution as you are still vulnerable to exterior elements such as rainwater, sprinklers and moisture from the air penetrating your surface moving down to the cementitious adhesives subsurface. In this last scenario, the moisture transmission begins again which may lead to efflorescence occurring on your surface. This can be minimized or eliminated by applying a good, breathable penetrating water repellent to your surface. Actually many good water repellents can help efflorescence from occurring when the original source of moisture is coming from the exterior elements or from below.

Sealers that are topical coatings and are not vapor permeable (breathable), can also contribute to or aggravate an efflorescence problem. If moisture gets trapped underneath the coating, it has a longer time to saturate the material and collect minerals. This is combined with hydrostatic pressure created as the moisture is rising to the material surface for the purpose of evaporation. At this point, the moisture will escape buy traveling to an opening in the topical coating or will delaminate the topical coating due to hydrostatic pressure. This moisture is now fully loaded with minerals, and as it is slowly evaporating through compromised coating, efflorescence occurs. Efflorescence can not easily be cleaned when it is developed beneath a topical coating without first removing the coating.

If efflorescence exists on an installed surface, the best method of cleaning or removing it would be to use an acidic cleaner. These salts and minerals are reactive to most acidic cleaners and will usually dissolve upon contact. This remedy has some problems because with acidic cleaners you often have to use acids which are not so user-friendly and even can be dangerous for human use. The less dangerous acid products are often not strong enough to solve the tough efflorescence problems. The good news is that new science has allowed for the development of safer alternatives without compromising the product effectiveness such as in StoneTech Professional’s Restore™.

Occasionally, on very porous surfaces, the efflorescence cleaning and removal process can become more difficult if latex or chemical transmission occurs at the same time as the salts and minerals have migrated to the surface. These latex components, or comparable chemicals, are often found in the more modern and advanced cementitious adhesives and grouts being used. The latex acts as a protective barrier around the efflorescence and defends the deposits from direct contact with acidic cleaning products. To help solve this problem; it is best to select an acidic product that has cleaning agents in it (acid and cleaner in one single product). Another recommendation would be to use strong neutral cleaner to break down the latex, rinse well and then proceed with the acidic cleaning.

A word of caution – Some natural stone products and other surfaces may adversely react to acidic products and using an acidic cleaner may cause problems. These problems may include the etching of a stone’s polish, opening the face of some surfaces creating a more porous surface, potentially causing other problems such as dirt attraction and dry soiling issues. On acid-sensitive surfaces where efflorescence is present, and using an acid cleaner would damage the surface, you may use abrasion to remove the salts and minerals. They will break loose form the surface using a rotary machine attached with a nylon pad or by using abrasives such as StoneTech Professional’s Euro Hone™ or Euro Polish™. Please consult with an expert or contact StoneTech Professional Technical Service at 1-888-STONEHELP prior to using acidic products or abrasion on any natural stone surfaces.

Written by: Kevin Barry Dever, Vice President of Sales, StoneTech Professional, Inc.

Test in an inconspicuous area to determine if the desired results are achieved. Follow all label instructions as well as the instructions detailed below.
For efflorescence removal on non acid-sensitive surface such as most granite, slate, clay pavers, clay brick, and sandstone, etc.:

Efflorescence, as mentioned in the technical article, is acid-sensitive. Lime, salts and mineral deposits will usually dissolve when in contact with acidic liquids. Since efflorescence is sensitive to acid, StoneTech Professional™ Restore™, a strong but safe acidic cleaner, works well in dissolving and removing the substance in most instances. Follow the application instructions below:
1) Mask off and protect any surrounding areas that will not be treated
2) Apply mixed solution at the light duty dilution level as listed on the product label, mix stronger if needed.
3) Apply to the surface using clean mop, towel, sponge, or sprayer.
4) Agitate with a stiff white nylon scrub brush, white nylon pad, or appropriate floor machine.
5) Rinse area with a lightly dampened clean mop, sponge, towel or wet vacuum. Do not over apply rinse water. Moisture is one of the key factors in the development of efflorescence. Rinse well enough to remove any cleaner residues only. DO NOT OVERWET.
6) Allow the surface to completely dry to determine the desired results.
7) Sealing the surface using a StoneTech Professional™ impregnating sealer will greatly minimize or eliminate efflorescence from recurring.
8) If there is a continuous moisture problem beneath the surface, the efflorescence will probably still occur.

Efflorescence removal on acid sensitive surfaces such as most marble, limestone, travertine, masonry brick, concrete and stucco, etc.:
Restore™ is an acid based product which when applied to acid-sensitive surfaces will react with the surface and may alter its appearance. If an acid-sensitive surface is already textured, this may not cause a problem that is noticeable. If this is the case, you may follow the efflorescence removal process detailed above.

To remove efflorescence from acid-sensitive surfaces follow these application instructions:
On flat surfaces you can sometimes remove the efflorescence using agitation by using a white nylon pad, dry. Agitate using a hand applicator or rotary sander with the white nylon pad attached. Often the lime, salts and minerals will come off with just this process. If this process does not completely remove the efflorescence, and on textured surfaces where the above step is not possible, additional treatment is required. Use StoneTech Professional™ Euro Polish™ for polished surfaces or StoneTech Professional™ Euro Hone™ for unpolished surfaces. These are strong/coarse abrasives so test before using to see the effect on the surface’s finish.

Mask off and protect any surrounding areas that will not be treated
Apply the abrasive powder to the contaminated surface.
Add water until you achieve a milk-like consistency. Agitate with a stiff white nylon scrub brush, white nylon pad, or appropriate floor machine.
Rinse area with a lightly dampened clean mop, sponge, towel or wet vacuum. Do not over apply rinse water. Moisture is one of the key factors in the development of efflorescence. Rinse well enough to remove any cleaner residues only. DO NOT OVERWET. Allow the surface to dry completely to determine the effectiveness of the process. Repeat if necessary.

Sealing the surface using a StoneTech Professional™ impregnating sealer will greatly minimize or eliminate efflorescence from recurring.
If there is a continuous moisture problem beneath the surface, the efflorescence will probably still occur.

If the situation persists, contact our technical services department at 1-888-STONEHELP (toll-free)

[Added by John Bridge] Or repair to the John Bridge Tile Forums and ask the experts there. :)

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