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Spring has arrived and along with it come the ugly results of the salt stains and winter damage that have occurred to the concrete of your garage floor. These stains and damage are typically caused by the deicing fluids and road salts that have been deposited on the concrete floor. You may have tried multiple times to clean and rinse the concrete, but the salt just keeps coming back.
We’ll discuss the best ways to clean and remove salt stains from your garage floor. In addition, we will include how to make repairs to the concrete that may have been caused as a result.
Lastly, we will discuss how to seal and protect your garage floor to prevent salt intrusion, salt stains, and damage in the future. But first, it’s important to understand why the salt stains return, the damage it can cause, and why you need to stop it from progressing.
WHY DEICING FLUIDS AND ROAD SALTS DAMAGE CONCRETE
When it snows, road crews typically use various forms of liquid magnesium and calcium chloride (road salt) to de-ice the roads. The application of these products essentially melts the ice and snow with the intention of keeping it from refreezing.
The problem with this is that it tends to attach itself to the bottom of your vehicle where it eventually gets deposited onto your garage floor.
These deicers create a liquid brine that seeps into the pores of your bare concrete instead of freezing on top.
Once this brine is diluted enough to become ineffective or when the temperatures drop low enough, it refreezes. When the water freezes, it expands and creates small fractures within the concrete.
This cycle can happen over and over again during the winter. The result of this fractured and broken concrete is what’s known as spalling.
Another nasty side effect is the process of subfluorescence. This is an accumulation of water-soluble salts just beneath the surface of the concrete. When the moisture in your garage floor evaporates, the salts left behind recrystallize in the pores of the concrete.
This harmful accumulation of salts (calcium chloride), will react with calcium hydroxide that is naturally occurring in concrete. This reaction creates calcium oxychloride (CAOXY) within the salt. The COAXY crystals within the concrete expand and cause it to fracture and break. It also leaves behind those ugly white stains on the floor.
Even if road deicers are not used in your town, water that works its way into a bare concrete garage floor can still freeze overnight and slowly cause similar damage. It’s just not accelerated with the addition of salt.
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HOW TO CLEAN SALT STAINS FROM YOUR GARAGE FLOOR
The first thing you need to do is clean the entire garage floor to reveal any salt stains that you may have. As tempting as it may be, do not use a pressure washer. The high pressure of the water will drive the salt crystals deeper into the concrete and make them harder to remove.
Once the floor is clean, removing the salt stains from the concrete usually isn’t too difficult. You need to use some elbow grease and the proper salt cleaning solution. Rinsing over and over with water is not very effective.
6 STEP SALT CLEANING SOLUTION
- Mix 1 cup of vinegar to 1 gallon of warm water and then add a squirt of dish soap.
- Apply the vinegar solution to the salt stains and let it sit for 5 minutes to penetrate.
- After 5 minutes, add a little more solution and scrub the stain with a deck brush.
- Use a wet vac to pull the salty solution out of the concrete. If not, use a mop.
- Rinse with clean water
- Repeat if necessary
The reason for using the wet vac (preferred method) is to prevent the salty solution from being dispersed back into the pores of the concrete when you rinse it. This is one reason why just rinsing with warm water to remove salt is not effective.
For more stubborn salt stains, you can try using a commercial cleaner. Salt-Away is a cleaner that has been known to work well. It’s very popular for use with marine products and is also used to remove salt from concrete, brick, and masonry as well.
It needs to be applied and the residue removed in the same manner as the vinegar solution. You can find it here at Amazon.
For the most stubborn salt stains, you may need to use a mild solution of hydrochloric (muriatic) acid. Mix 10 parts water to 1 part acid. This is actually a very mild concrete etch.
We only recommend this step if the salt deposits are heavy and all other methods discussed were not sufficient. We have instructions on how to mix and neutralize acid solutions here.
Important: Etching concrete opens the pores at the surface. This will allow for easier absorption of salts and deicing fluids. It’s imperative that the concrete be properly sealed, treated with a coating, or covered with a garage floor mat afterward.
This will prevent future contamination of salts and other deicing fluids that will stain and potentially damage the concrete.
REPAIR THE WINTER DAMAGE TO YOUR GARAGE FLOOR
Once the garage floor is clean and salt residue removed, now is the time to repair any pitting or spalling that may have occurred. Polymer-modified cement patches and epoxy slurry repairs work extremely well for this.
They bond much better than regular cement and provide for a much stronger repair. Regular cement patches will not adhere well to concrete. They commonly delaminate, chip, and break away from the garage floor surface.
We have a detailed article where you can learn more about repairing spalling and pitting here.
PROTECT YOUR GARAGE FLOOR FROM SALTS AND WINTER
Once you are satisfied with the outcome of cleaning and repairing your garage floor, the next step is to protect it from winter damage in the future.
The least expensive and easiest method is to apply a quality sealer that blocks road salts and deicing fluids from penetrating into the concrete. We highly recommend a concrete densifier that has siliconate sealer added.
Our top recommendation is PS104 by Concrete Sealers USA.
The densifier helps to strengthen the surface of the concrete and the sealer provides high resistance to liquids and salt penetration.
It does not change the look of the concrete and will retain the same slip resistance as before treatment.
You can price PS104 here.
If you are undecided about using a simple sealer or applying a floor coating, we have an excellent article about garage floor sealers that discusses the differences.
If you want to prevent any fluids or road salts from coming in contact with the concrete of your garage, then we recommend the use of a winter containment mat.
These mats will keep the garage floor dry and collect all liquids, salt, snow, and other winter debris that drip off your vehicle.
Try to be diligent about cleaning the floor after the latest storm has passed. This helps to remove any corrosive fluids and minerals. The longer they sit on the concrete, the more potential damage they can do.
In addition, take the proper steps to prevent road salts and deicing fluids from damaging your concrete in the future.
For more information, you can read about recommended steps to winterize your garage floor here.
Restore your garage floor from winter damage and protect the concrete to prevent it from recurring in the future. Once you do, you will no longer have to fret over the anticipation of what damage spring reveals with your concrete floor.