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Salt Efflorescence Can Be Fun!

August 10, 2011

Alright…it’s time to deviate a bit from the typical “this-is-how-much-fun-I’m-having-don’t-you-wish-you-were-here” post. Besides, it’s getting harder to match posts with episode titles from Northern Exposure…

One of the “white stuff” issues that we see occasionally in conservation is salt efflorescence. Actually, salt efflorescence is fairly common and can be seen all around us. Have you ever seen a brick wall with a whitish haze on it? Those are salts that have solubilized, migrated through to the surface of the brick, and crystallized.

Salt Efflorescence on a Brick Wall, Image from "Brick Stain Removal" on ehow.com: http://www.ehow.com/how_8788751_ brick-stain-removal.html

They can also be found on stone, concrete, and stucco surfaces.

Salt Efflorescence on Stone, Skaters Cabin, Juneau, Alaska

In museums, we see salt efflorescence in ceramics and other items that might have been dug out of the ground.

Ceramic Piece with Salt Efflorescence

But the best way to see salt efflorescence, in my honest opinion, is to grow your own with a Magic Garden!

Magic Garden

So, in the name of science, Ellen and I grew our very own Magic Garden to see salt efflorescence in action. They are super cheap (you can order them online – I think I got this one at Amazon.com…and paid more for shipping than the kit even cost.) What you get is a little plastic tray, a bunch of dye-impregnated cutouts in the shapes of mountains, trees and hedges, and a bunch of packets of “magic” liquid. It doesn’t actually tell you what the liquid is, but a quick search online reveals that it is most likely a solution of salt, water, bluing, and ammonia (http://www.mrsstewart.com/pages/explanation.htm).

Once you’ve assembled your little garden and added the magic, you literally see results in less than an hour:

Salt crystals forming on trees - before the mountain has even absorbed all of the solution

The final product takes all of 8-10 hours to produce:

Magic!!!

And you are left with beautiful crystal creations to impress all your friends with!

So much magic!!

Salt efflorescence is just one of the things I’ve been studying this summer to create with Ellen an informative website on identifying “white stuff” on artifacts. We’ve got a lot of it up and running now, so be sure to check it out at

alaskawhitestuffid.wordpress.com

And if the spirit moves you to grow your own magic garden – please send me photos! I’ll post them on here and create a magic gallery!

**Disclaimer** I, the author of this post, am in no way trying to endorse salt efflorescence or suggesting you should want to grow salt efflorescence on artifacts. It can do severe damage to the aforementioned brick, concrete, ceramic, and stucco surfaces. Play with your salt efflorescence responsibly and don’t attempt to grow it on anything you consider important. It’s best to limit the magic to dye-impregnated pieces of cardboard.**

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