Cleaning is one of the most essential aspects of caring for any type of masonry structure as it can help restore the beauty of the masonry units. Beyond the cosmetic fix, however, its most important function is to slow down, if not prevent, the process of the structure’s deterioration.
Know that the presence of heavy layers of dirt, dust and other pollutants not only causes the masonry structure to look older than its actual age. They can also obscure damages or deterioration, which if left unattended could affect the performance of the masonry. However, with the close range view and complete removal of dirt and pollutant crusts that the cleaning process affords, the true condition of the masonry will be revealed and evaluated. Thus, potential problems can be detected and the right corrective measures can be put in place.
If you own a masonry structure, be it a brick chimney, natural stone cladding or a retaining wall made of concrete blocks, or perhaps you are planning to have one built, then you should include regular cleaning as a part of its maintenance. Doing so will protect it against the elements and will also help lengthen its service life.
The hazards of masonry cleaning
While you might view masonry cleaning as a simple process that involves washing and wiping, it can be more complex than just a simple scrub down, especially if the masonry has not been cleaned for years. When not properly planned and carried out, the process could lead to a number of serious problems. The most common of which is damage to the masonry structure as a result of using inappropriate cleaning tools, products and methods. Damage to the surrounding property can also happen and injury to you or the cleaning personnel could also take place.
With such risks associated to masonry cleaning, great care and attention should be given toward the process. So before you or the person you have hired embark on cleaning your masonry structure, below are some things you can do to minimize the hazards.
Protecting the masonry structure
Do note that not all cleaning methods and products are suitable for all types of masonry. So to ensure the best possible cleaning job and prevent the hazard of damaging the masonry units, the first and most important step to take is to identify the masonry. Identifying the type of substance to be removed should also be done to better understand its composition and probable source.
These steps will help you determine a cleaning method or product that is suited for the kind of masonry you will be cleaning.
Once the masonry and type of substance have been identified and a cleaning product has been chosen, take the time to test the solution to an inconspicuous area of the structure before attempting large-scale cleaning. Equally important is to select appropriate water pressure. Failure to do so could lead to expensive consequences.
Necessary repairs to the masonry should also be carried out prior to the scheduled cleaning. Mortars, in particular, are among the parts of masonry that are most vulnerable against damage. When loose or crumbling, they may allow water to penetrate, which could result to the eventual deterioration of the masonry itself. As such, repointing should be carried out for deteriorated mortars. Replacement of missing masonry units should also be done before work gets underway.
Protecting the surroundings
Some cleaning materials, products and methods could be damaging to shrubs, trees and ground vegetation in the immediate vicinity of the masonry being cleaned. To avoid this, plants and the surrounding property should be covered before any cleaning job is done. Site drainage should also be taken into account, especially when aqueous cleaning method will be used. At the most, it should be free of clogs to prevent runoffs. Disposal of chemicals that might be present on the masonry should also be done accordance to environmental regulations. In the case of excess cleaning solutions, be sure to find a safe storage location to prevent problems later on.
Protecting yourself or the cleaning personnel
Regardless if you or another person would be carrying out the cleaning procedure, keep in mind that cleaning compounds may pose health hazards, including skin burns and eye irritation among others. As such, protective clothing, gloves, vapour masks and adequate eye protection should be worn when cleaning. If you or the personnel has to work at height (i.e. on the roof for chimney cleaning), be sure that the ladder or scaffold is properly set and there is a fall arrest system in place.