Masonry Cleaning

Words: Dan Kamys

Some drink from the fountain of knowledge, others seem to only gargle.

By Robert Port

Indiana Limestone Cleaning - you can’t clean this surface by using Tide as your cleaning agent rather than a limestone cleaner.
Indiana Limestone Cleaning. The dirt and staining are serious. The specified Tide detergent doesn’t have the ability to do the required cleaning. You can’t clean this surface by using Tide as your cleaning agent rather than a limestone cleaner. What does the pressure washing guy do if the specified cleaners don’t work? Would you have specified Tide detergent to clean this building? Have you ever cleaned a building this dirty? You can’t answer yes to both questions.
Always clean the building before you re-point. In this case, the contractor didn’t clean first, and the owner didn’t get what he paid for.
Would you have applied what was specified? Always clean the building before you re-point. In this case, the contractor didn’t clean first, and the owner didn’t get what he paid for. But he did get permanent damage – there’s no fix for this re-point problem.

Who accepts responsibility when your employees don’t know what they’re doing? You’re smart, you work hard, and you’ve already realized that employee training takes both time and money. You’ve identified your problem; your issue becomes, what to do about it!

You don’t need more standards; you don’t need more licensing hassles. Unfortunately, you can’t create an apprentice program. Who would teach? Creating an industry task force to study the issues to death is a criminal thought. Governmental agencies think and ponder…we solve problems.

The companies profiting the most from our industry’s purchases have chosen to ignore our critical training problems. Why? Because it is hard work; the rewards are difficult to measure, and they never quickly show up on the company’s bottom line. If your employees do better work, your company will make more profit. Your workers’ skill level translates into both profit and pride of workmanship. No employee wants to do poor quality work.

We must recruit the AIA, CETA, MCAA, and the chemical manufacturers to be at the center of any improvement effort. You can best measure your company’s success by making your next project’s “Punch List” a short list of small items that somehow fell through the cracks. Say goodbye to major issues.

GOAL: To ensure that the lowest bidder can safely be awarded the contract with confidence. The contractor’s job is to make sure his team understands what they are doing so the building owner always gets what he paid his architect and general contractor to deliver. Ask yourself: “Do I care enough to champion the need for skill improvement,” and “Will I commit to training my people while pushing my suppliers to take action?” How you use your resources, employees, time, and material costs are serious issues. For my part of the solution, I’ll personally offer to address any serious issues and make the process as painless as possible. We all must support an industry-wide corrective action.

Contractors who have been in the masonry cleaning, repair, re-pointing, and waterproofing business for 30 years often ask me where they can find a few good employees. These people don’t exist. Why? This business isn’t something you can easily learn on the job, at a good technical school, or by attending a number of three-hour training seminars. Any skills developed by contractors become carefully guarded secrets. For instance, I once had a customer put grey masking tape over the name and phone number on the new sprayer he purchased. His defense was “Let my competitor find you the hard way just like I did.”

This business is far too complex to learn by calling the technical support hotlines, or by reading the chemical companies’ product application sheets. These pages are written by people who have cleaned few if any buildings; they are clueless about all of the terrible things that can happen and cost you money.

Everyone’s product application sheets need to be updated with “before and after” pictures. You need to see pictures of your expected results with cleaning instructions that are clear and simple to understand. My suggested improvement would be to include a full page of pictures showing what can go wrong and explaining exactly how to avoid these fatal errors. Additionally, architects should insist that the sub-contractors have this data available at the jobsite. Everyone wants to eliminate costly surprises. You just can’t afford to have your tech support guy say, “Yes, the stuff etches glass,” after you’ve made the same painful discovery. Mistakes are costly and must be avoided whenever possible.

he architect specified the wrong waterproofing. Siloxane PD Bricks can’t tell you “I’m extremely porous.”
Did you already know this? The architect specified the wrong waterproofing. Siloxane PD Bricks can’t tell you “I’m extremely porous.” The masonry superintendent said, “The bricks were sucking the moisture out of his mortar.” These utility bricks only looked solid and dense. Test patches are always good business!

The pictures I’ve selected for this article were intended to make you a bit uncomfortable. Remember, many calls I receive are from panicking contractors who have made egregious errors.

Last and most critical: I’m in favor of safer and green products. But, I feel it is criminal if they don’t work as claimed, forcing the contractor to clean from a much closer distance to get the desired results. Unfortunately, you can beat dirt off the building, but you should never “punish” the building. Before using any new or unfamiliar products, stop and ask for a review by the general contractor, and the architect if appropriate..

Once, I was horrified by a painting contractor using a paint remover that wasn’t working, but he was happily getting results with a Turbo-Tip in his pressure washer wand. The result was a $25,000 fatal error and a two-week setback on their project schedule. The lesson here: If it doesn’t work as expected, stop using it and ask for help immediately!

My observation on pressure washing skills when we do hands-on training is that most employees do not understand how to wash a building. CETA should support training programs for contractor employees so that they can learn to use properly the awesome equipment currently available.

Cleaning chemicals usually are biodegradable. They’re often on the masonry surface 10 minutes or less, and then are washed off completely with a pressure washer. The proper chemical specified for the job quickly breaks down the staining, et cetera. The key is that your pressure-washing guy shouldn’t have to help a specified “weak sister” product do its job. Green and safe chemicals are good if you make sure they also properly deliver on the manufacturer’s claims. Maybe we should adopt a “Consumer Reports” mindset and actually test products for performance versus manufacturer claims. A “Doesn’t Work Rating” could protect many buildings as well the reputations of countless contractors.

My goal for this article was to make you aware of multiple issues regarding masonry cleaning. If you agree with me, forward this article to your architect, chemical manufacturer, or your most trusted general contractor and ask how we can collectively address our employee training issues. Success in our profession comes from understanding problems and solving them with the right products and training. If our work seems difficult, you likely could be doing something wrong.

Robert “Bob” Port is the owner of Restoration Direct in Harrisburg, Pa. For more information, visit

Product Spotlight
Synpro Masonry Cleaner and Efflorescence Remover

Synpro Masonry Cleaner and Efflorescence RemoverThe masonry industry – and the construction industry, in general – must continue moving toward the use of more environmentally friendly cleaning solutions and products that are safer, cleaner and more environmentally friendly, yet effective. As homeowners and project owners continue to demand more of contractors, they, in turn, demand more of cleaning product manufacturers.

Synpro offers a full line of synthetic cleaners that replace the need to use harsh and dangerous chemicals. Synpro says its Masonry Cleaner and Efflorescence Remover is not only the strongest masonry cleaner on the market, but also the safest. It out-performs the commonly used muriatic (hydrochloric) and phosphoric acids in removing calcium oxide and efflorescence, according to independent testing.

Synpro Masonry Cleaner, despite its potency, carries a triple zero HMIS score. It is non-fuming, non-DOT regulated and exceeds OSHA and EPA compliance standards. In addition, the cleaner carries a USDA Authorization Code A1, rendering it safe to use in and around food processing areas and equipment.

The cleaner is safe to use on pavers, bricks, blocks, river rock, retaining walls, and architectural concrete, Synpro claims. It will clean and remove excess mortar, concrete splash, efflorescence, dirt and grime from most surfaces. It is color safe, will not harm people, animals or plants. It’s biodegradable and 100-percent acid free.

“Synpro products are very easy to apply; simply dilute, apply, agitate and rinse,” says Anthony Jones, VP of business development for Synpro Products. “The sound environmental composition of this product line provides us the platform to present our products with a high degree of confidence, knowing that our customers will not only have a safe and effective product, but additional built-in benefits such as reduced labor cost and regulatory compliance.”

RBI Wholesale is the largest distributor of Synpro Products. “With the stringent regulations in California, Synpro Products was a natural addition for us,” says RBI’s president, Mike Goyne. “We like the combination of potency and effectiveness, along with the safety factor that is the norm with all of their products, whether Safe Etch, Concrete Cleaner or Concrete Dissolver.”

For more information, visit




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