In chemistry, efflorescence (which means "to flower out" in French) is the migration of a salt to the surface of a porous material, where it forms a coating. The essential process comprises the dissolving of an internally held salt in water, or occasionally in another solvent. The water, with the salt now held in solution, migrates to the surface, then evaporates, leaving a coating of the salt.
In what has been described as "primary efflorescence," the water is the invader and the salt was already present internally. Some people describe a reverse process, where the salt is originally present externally and is then carried inside in solution, as "secondary efflorescence." However, others would give this latter phenomenon another name entirely.
Efflorescences can occur in natural and built environments. On porous construction materials it may present a cosmetic outer problem only (primary efflorescence causing staining), but can sometimes indicate internal structural weakness (migration/degradation of component materials).
Primary efflorescence is named such, as it typically occurs during the initial cure of a cementitious product. It often occurs on masonry construction, particularly brick, as well as some firestop mortars, when water moving through a wall or other structure, or water being driven out as a result of the heat of hydration as cement stone is being formed, brings salts to the surface that are not commonly bound as part of the cement stone. As the water evaporates, it leaves the salt behind, which forms a white, fluffy deposit, that can normally be brushed off. The resulting white deposits are referred to as "efflorescence" in this instance. In this context efflorescence is sometimes referred to as "saltpetering." Since primary efflorescence brings out salts that are not ordinarily part of the cement stone, it is not a structural, but, rather, an aesthetic concern.
For controlling primary efflorescence, formulations containing liquid fatty acid mixtures (e.g., oleic acid and linoleic acid) have been commonly used. The oily liquid admixture is introduced into the batch mix at an early stage by coating onto the sand particles prior to the introduction of any mix water, so that the oily admixture is distributed uniformly throughout the concrete batch mix.