Construction and Renovation

Caring for your Masonry Surfaces

Whether your surface has recently been installed or it's well seasoned you're sure to find something you didn't know in this brief intro to masonry care. 

Masonry is a term used to describe stonework and in this post we're referring to outdoor stonework. Paver or stone surfaces, stone walls and structures with or without mortar or masonry cement.

New Masonry

Whether it's concrete pavers, clay pavers, natural stone or cement, it will look the cleanest the day its installed. Stone materials are porous and take on elements of their environment. New installations have "clean pores" while more seasoned stones have "dirty pores." Also, the harder the stone, the tighter the pores.

New installations require cleaning by the mason or installer to remove excess mortar or material runoff. The day you pay your mason, should be the day it looks the best and he or she should work hard to make it so. In the days to follow if a stain should appear it's likely to have an environmental cause. 

  • If you catch the stain early enough it may be simply rinsed with water
  • Stains can be caused by fertilizers and pesticides, be mindful of masonry surfaces when applying these treatments
  • Most stains can be removed with a detergent as simple as dish soap and water 
  • Pressure washing can be a successful method however it will shorten the life of the work, unless sealed immediately 

Seasoned Masonry

ATTN** If the masonry you're hoping to clean was done prior to the 1950s seek professional assistance, as the materials used prior can vary greatly. 

Cleaning seasoned masonry can be as easy or difficult as you make it. Most stonework retains water as it ages and in turn grows mildew. Again, there is rarely a need to pressure wash if you have a regular maintenance routine. 

No moisture = No mildew. 

  • Fill a pump sprayer or spray bottle with a 50:50 bleach and water solution. Spray liberally on damp masonry, then rinse with clean water before it dries. Stubborn mildew may need a scrub brush or light water pressure. Once you've killed the organic matter in the masonry it may be a good idea to seal it with a clear sealer. The sealer won't last forever but it will keep the moisture out until the next time you clean it. 

Petroleum Based Stains

  • Paint, grease, gasoline, oil and other petroleum based materials will stain your masonry but if tended to immediately can be removed with a degreaser like simple green or even dish soap. 

Solvents can Stain

  • Bear in mind that damage can be done with a solvent making your situation worse. Most of my clients are afraid to clean their masonry because they're afraid to damage it further. If you're tackling the process yourself, start slow. Read the labels and test small areas fully to see how they react to the surface. Stay away from acids and other harsh chemicals. The most delicate materials are the man made ones, like concrete pavers. They're made by man and can be destroyed by man. If your solvent says it won't harm concrete pavers than chances are the natural stone that spent millions of years underground won't be harmed either. 

If it's dated and it's deteriorated, it may need to be replaced

  • Bluestone needs maintenance or it will separate and crumble
  • Granite is timeless if it's pure and installed well
  • Clay brick weathers well but has it's weak points depending on how it's made
  • Fieldstone embraces aging and will likely fail from construction before make up
  • Manufactured materials have a life span, PERIOD.
    • Sorry to say it but no matter how much time and money goes into a concrete paver it will always be a quickly made, mass produced man-made product. Man made products have life spans. Pavers made today can be expected to last thirty to forty years with the proper care. Pavers made ten years ago are already showing signs of failure. Pavers made in the 90's should be replaced if they haven't already. 

Routine cleaning of your masonry surfaces should be done yearly as a spring cleaning chore. If your stone is porous it's a good idea to seal it annually as well. Regular cleaning will eliminate the need to use harsh solvents or high pressure. The materials are cheap and if diluted correctly should last multiple seasons. Remember that man made surfaces have their weaknesses and while they are improving in their quality, can be degraded to the point of no return without warning. 

If you have your concerns about your surface, call a professional for a consultation. They should provide a reasonable quote to restore your surface and provide instructions for regular maintenance that you can do yourself. You might catch a set of deteriorated front steps with enough time to seal before winter...

Masonry Step Failure and Preventative Maintenance


Patrick MerrillComment