Mechanism for salt scaling

John J. Valenza, George W. Scherer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

147 Scopus citations


Over the past 60 years, concrete infrastructure in cold climates has deteriorated by "salt scaling," which is superficial damage that occurs during freezing in the presence of saline water. It reduces mechanical integrity and necessitates expensive repair or replacement. The phenomenon can be demonstrated by pooling a solution on a block of concrete and subjecting it to freeze/thaw cycles. The most remarkable feature of salt scaling is that the damage is absent if the pool contains pure water, it becomes serious at concentrations of a few weight percent, and then stops at concentrations above about 6 wt%. In spite of a wealth of research, the mechanism responsible for this damage has only recently been identified. In this article, we show that salt scaling is a consequence of the fracture behavior of ice. The stress arises from thermal expansion mismatch between ice and concrete, which puts the ice in tension as the temperature drops. Considering the mechanical and viscoelastic properties of ice, it is shown that this mismatch will not cause pure ice to crack, but moderately concentrated solutions are expected to crack. Cracks in the brine ice penetrate into the substrate, resulting in superficial damage. At high concentrations, the ice does not form a rigid enough structure to result in significant stress, so no damage occurs. The morphology of cracking is predicted by fracture mechanics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1161-1179
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of the American Ceramic Society
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2006

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ceramics and Composites
  • Materials Chemistry


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