What is Concrete Cancer?
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What is Concrete Cancer?

Concrete is one of the most fundamental building materials in the construction of every type of structure or application. 

With this in mind, it’s essential that every concrete mix has the appropriate properties to help produce a durable material that is long-lasting and resistant to wear.

At Concrete Supply UK, we’re trusted by hundreds of contractors across the country regularly supplying them with bespoke concrete mixes that help them achieve their goals.

In addition to helping people find the perfect mix for their project, we can also ensure the product can stand the test of time and will not be impacted by concrete cancer. 

An insidious sounding term, concrete cancer can be hugely detrimental to concrete structures and can cause devastating damage. 

In this article, we’ll explain what is concrete cancer and how does it occur. 

Read on to find out more. 



What is concrete cancer?

Essentially, concrete cancer is an informal term that refers to concrete spalling or degradation.  

Concrete spalling can occur if metal, such as steel, reinforcements in concrete buildings are exposed to air and water. These elements can cause the metal to corrode. This corrosion then leads to the metal expanding and then cracking – this process is known as spalling or colloquially as concrete cancer.  

If concrete cancer has set in, a vicious cycle will begin where cracks continue to expose more and more of the steel to the elements. This can then increase the spalling process and, if left unaddressed, cause extremely severe issues.

In the most extreme cases, concrete cancer can cause a building or structure to collapse or crumble, so it’s clear to see why it’s important to avoid this issue at all costs. 

All of this considered, understanding the signs of concrete cancer is vitally important. 


What causes concrete cancer?

There a number of reasons why concrete cancer occurs. 

The most common causes of the issue include:

Insufficient waterproofing: It’s essential that you avoid water or moisture coming into contact with your concrete mix as this is one of the main ways that concrete cancer occurs. If the waterproofing process has not occurred or has not been sufficient, then the chances of concrete cancer will be increased. This is because water will be able to penetrate through cracks or porous surfaces and once inside the steel reinforcements can be impacted leading to corrosion and later spalling.   

Salt water chlorides: If your structure or property is in an area that is exposed to salt water (such as by the sea) then salt water chlorides can increase the risk of corrosion, and concrete cancer, occurring. These chlorides can penetrate the concrete and cause concrete cancer to happen. This is because chloride ions are great at breaking down the passive layer of metal, accelerating the process. 

Building defects: If your structure has not been built correctly or has any obvious defects, then this will also increase the risk of concrete cancer. For example, cracks in the building exterior provide a vulnerable place where air and moisture can enter. This is further reinforced if the concrete used has been mixed inadequately, not cured properly or not applied correctly to the reinforcement areas. All of these things can make corrosion more likely. 

Adverse weather conditions: If a structure is exposed to constant bad weather, then the chances of concrete cancer are increased. This is most likely to occur in areas that are regularly exposed to heavy rainfall. As well as this, areas with high humidity or significant industrial pollution can accelerate the degradation process of concrete and corrosion of steel and other metals. 

Poor quality concrete: While we’ve already outlined how building defects can increase the likelihood of concrete cancer, using poor quality concrete can do the same. Not all concrete is produced to the same quality so it’s vital you only ever use high-quality mixes. Quality concrete will be more resistant to moisture and air so cracking will be less likely to occur. At Concrete Supply UK, we only provide our clients with the highest quality concrete mixes so all our customers can rest assured that the chances of developing concrete cancer are reduced.   

Movement of ground underneath buildings: If a structure is built upon land that has been known to move or if a small earthquake has occurred, then the chance of air or moisture entering and corroding metal reinforcements is increased.           


Signs of concrete cancer

There are several signs that your structure might be suffering from concrete cancer. This includes the following:

  • Cracking concrete 
  • Crumbling concrete 
  • Flaking concrete 
  • Rust stains from concrete renders 
  • Bubbling concrete renders 
  • A leaking roof
  • Leaks in the internal walls
  • Expanding concrete 

If you notice any of the issues outlined above, it is cause for concern. However, it does not guarantee that concrete cancer is the cause. To be sure, you should always seek professional help from a qualified concrete expert, such as the team at Concrete Supply UK, who will be able to formally identify the problem and advise on the next steps. 


How to prevent concrete cancer 

If concrete cancer has set in, there are a number of possible solutions that can be attempted including:

  • Polymer-modified repair systems 
  • Electrochemical treatments 
  • Replacing damaged areas

However, prevention is always better than cure and there are several measures you can take to stop concrete cancer from occurring. 

The most important and pertinent thing you can do is to waterproof the concrete. Install a waterproofing membrane that will seal the concrete and stop water from corroding steel beams and prevent harsh chemicals from damaging the concrete. 

As well as this, when carrying out the initial work, you should always choose the highest quality concrete available. Quality mixes are less prone to water damage, deterioration and corrosion so always seek concrete from a reliable and trustworthy supplier. 

This includes the team here at Concrete Supply UK that has spent many years providing custom mixes to domestic and commercial clients across the country. We have access to a wide range of mixes that can be formulated to the specifics of your project. 

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