What Is Spalling Of Concrete – Its Causes and Repair

What Is Spalling Concrete?

Spalling of concrete or concrete spalling is a phenomenon where a few parts of the concrete break themselves free from the structure and expose the reinforcement or the insides of the concrete to the atmosphere.

Spalling of concrete

Spalling is caused by certain chemical reactions inside the concrete, leading to the formation of high-volume foreign products. Due to the lack of space inside the concrete, these new products will increase the internal pressure.

As a result, cracks are formed to release this pressure outside. These cracks, in turn will pave way for the atmosphere to further react with the internal environment of the concrete and potentially increase the danger of failure.

The cracks will further propagate and cause the concrete to fall off. It can be understood that the formation of new products mainly causes this problem.

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These problems causing new products are formed due to the following conditions:

  • Corrosion,
  • Alkali aggregate reaction,
  • Chemical attack,
  • Sulphate attack,
  • Pollution.
  • Spalling may also be caused by exposure to high temperatures, mostly in case of fire.

Effects Of Spalling Of Concrete

1. The concrete debris may injure the people or damage the objects below, thus increasing the risk of people’s life.

2. The reinforcement in the concrete is exposed to the environment thus increasing its vulnerability to corrode. Corrosion will eventually lead up to the failure of steel and may even trigger the collapse of the whole structure.

3. Due to spalling concrete, the area of the concrete resisting the load is reduced. This reduces the moment, load, and shear carrying capacity of the structure.

4. The corrosion of the reinforcement will keep on spreading if not treated properly. This will increase the maintenance costs associated with the repair.

spalling of concrete

5. The spalling of concrete will spoil the aesthetic appearance of the building, decreasing its value.

Spalling Concrete Causes And How Can It Be Prevented?

1. Inadequate Cover

Inadequate cover will increase the vulnerability of the reinforcement to the environment. Even the slightest crack on the surface will expose the reinforcement.

When steel comes in contact with water and air, it corrodes. The corrosion products have a higher volume than steel, causing high internal pressure and thereby causing spalling.

  • Solution: Proper structural design, proper supervision, or cautious handling of the materials.

2. Freeze-thaw Cycles

In cold-weather regions, the seeped water will turn to ice which is higher in volume than that of water.

  • Solution: This increased volume can be managed by creating artificial air pockets inside the concrete with the help of air-entraining agents.

3. Alkali Aggregate Reactions

When the alkali in the cement reacts with the silica in the aggregates in the presence of water, it will form the Alkali-Silica Gel (ASG), which is higher in volume than the conventional products of hydration.

Solution: Alkali aggregate reaction will not take place if any of the three elements – water, alkali or silica are not present. Therefore, the reaction can be incapacitated by reducing the alkali content in the cement or using silica-free synthetic aggregates.

4. High Temperature

Explosive spalling may occur during a fire or when concrete is exposed to high temperatures, which cause high pore pressure developed by oversaturation. High-strength concrete is more vulnerable to failure under high temperatures than that normal strength concrete due to the increased brittleness.

  • Solution: Increasing the fire safety of the building will reduce the risk of explosive spalling.

5. Improper Compaction

Improper compaction may leave the reinforcements exposed to the environment, initiating corrosion and thereby spalling.

  • Solution: Proper supervision and using vibrators to ensure proper compaction will rectify the problem.

6. Improper Water Content

Low water content will reduce the workability and make it hard for compaction. This may lead to the formation of unintended air pockets which may later pave a way for crack formation.

High water-cement ratio will reduce the strength of the concrete thus making it more vulnerable to micro cracks and thereby spalling.

  • Solution: Correct mix design ratio, proper supervision has to be followed to avoid any mishaps during the mixing process.

7. Sulphate Attack

It is caused by sulphate rich cement or the sulphates present in the atmosphere. The decomposition of the products of the hydration reaction leads to reduction in the strength of the concrete and in doing so causes spalling.

8. Chloride Attack

This occurs in the structures exposed to sea water. Chloride attack will directly cause corrosion to the steel reinforcements inducing the spalling concrete.

  • Solution: Increasing the concrete cover, coating the reinforcements with anti-rusting paints.

9. Rough Finishes

A rough surface finished structure tends to accumulate more water on the surface than a smooth surface finished structure. The rough finished structure will increase the seepage of water and may encourage spalling.

  • Solution: Provide smooth finishes.

10. Polluted Environment

The pollution in the environment will also cause chemical attack on the concrete. The pollutants with sulphide elements will combine with water and ingress into the structure and cause spalling.

  • Solution: This can be avoided by applying water repellent paints on the surfaces.

How To Repair Spalling Concrete

Step 1: The loosely attached concrete blocks may be gently removed. Generally, an extra two inches of concrete surrounding the affected area is also removed for added safety.

spalling of concrete

Step 2: To further increase the safety, sounding devices may be used to find any unevenness in the vicinity of the affected area due to the spalling. Any area of concern can also be treated to avoid problems in the future.

Step 3: The reinforcement may be cleaned with a wire brush to remove any rust in the steel.

Step 4: The exposed area shall be cleaned with compressed air and the reinforcements shall be coated with Anti-rusting polymer or paint.

Step 5: The old concrete surface may be made rough for providing enough teeth for proper bonding, or bonding agents may be used to ensure adhesion.

Step 6: The affected area will be filled with normal or polymer-based concrete. It is important to ensure that the thermal expansion coefficient of the old concrete and the new filler material are the same. This will avoid any discrepancies due to uneven heating and cooling.

Step 7: The surface shall be finished smoothly to reduce the water accumulation on the surface.

Step 8: The surface shall be coated with water repellent paints to prevent the seepage of water.

Spalling concrete is very common in cold-weather regions. It can be significantly reduced by proper supervision, introducing air-entraining agents, and finishing the surface with a water-repellent coat.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the meaning of spalling concrete?

Spalling can be defined as the flaking or breaking off of the concrete particles from the concrete surface and exposing the reinforcement to the atmosphere.

2. Is concrete spalling dangerous?

Ans: Yes, The damage resulting from concrete spalling could be dangerous. It can harm the aesthetic appearance, structural performance, and longevity of a building. If ignored, It may lead to larger damage which requires more costly repairs. Therefore concrete spalling is a serious problem that should be fixed as soon as spotted.

3. What causes concrete spalling?

Following are the causes of concrete spalling:

Inadequate cover to reinforcement, freeze-thaw cycles, alkali-aggregate reactions, improper compaction, improper water content, sulphate attack, chloride attack, rough finishes, high temperature, and polluted environment.

4. What does concrete spalling look like?

Spalled concrete may look like round or oval depressions along surfaces or joints.

5. How to prevent concrete spalling?

Following are the steps to be followed to prevent concrete spalling:

  • Maintain adequate cover to reinforcement.
  • Use air-entraining admixtures in the concrete mix to fight the freeze-thaw cycle.
  • Use silica-free aggregates.
  • Increase fire safety of the building to reduce the spalling damage by fire.
  • Adopt the correct mix design ratio of concrete.
  • Use vibrators for proper compaction.
  • Use sulfate resisting cement in the mix.
  • To avoid corrosion in reinforcement, you can use anti-rusting paints.
  • Provide smooth finishes to the concrete surface.
  • Ensure proper curing of concrete.
  • Provide smooth finishes and use water repellent paints on the concrete surface.

6. How to fix concrete spalling?

Clean the affected area, including reinforcement, use anti-rusting paint on the corroded steel, then patch the spalled area with a concrete mixture. Provide proper smooth finishing and use water repellent paint on the surface.

7. What is the lifespan of concrete?

  • 30 to 100 years.

8. What is the best concrete resurfacer?

Quikrete Concrete Resurfacer (No 1131) is one of the best resurfacer materials available in the market.  It is a special blend of Portland cement, sand, polymer modifiers, and other additives.

9. What is a concrete overlay?

concrete overlay is a thin color concrete cement-based product applied over existing concrete for repair or decorative reasons. The concrete overlay can be stamped, dyed, and stained to get the desired result.

10. How to repair spalling concrete ceiling or wall?

Following are the steps to be followed to repair spalling concrete wall or ceiling:

  • 1. Remove the loosely attached concrete particles.
  • 2. Clean the reinforcement bars using a wire brush to remove rust on the steel.
  • 3. Clean the exposed surface area using compressed air.
  • 4. Use anti-rusting paints or polymers to the reinforcement bars.
  • 5. Fill the affected area with normal concrete or polymer-based concrete.
  • 6. Finish the repaired surface smoothly.
  • 7. Finally, use water repellent paint coat over the surface.

11. Difference between concrete spalling and scaling:

Scaling is the flaking or peeling away of the near-surface portion of the mortar or hardened concrete. It is caused when water freezes in the pores and capillaries of the concrete.

When the hydraulic pressure of the expanding ice exceeds the tensile strength of concrete, scales of concrete loosen, exposing the aggregates.

Also Read

Concrete Vs Asphalt Roads – Which Is Better?
Cantilever Beams – Advantages & Disadvantages

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7 thoughts on “What Is Spalling Of Concrete – Its Causes and Repair”

  1. Clear and direct. I have used Quik-rete cements in the past for post holes. This was a ‘needed’ introduction for a line of products I am unfamiliar with and expect to get over that very soon. I am handy enough to mix powder and water and spread evenly. This DIY will save me a pretty good chunk of change.


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