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How do I stop moisture from coming through the concrete floor?

One of the most common problems affecting concrete floors is moisture. The moisture will often come up through the concrete floor, resulting in a damp and musty smell in the basement or garage area. This problem can occur when there are cracks or holes in the concrete where air, moisture, and water can get in.


Grade the area to drain away from the foundation

Moisture can come from many places, but if you’re dealing with water problems around your house, the source is usually the ground. Water drains into the soil can saturate it and degrade its composition; this erosion then uses up the available space in the ground, which causes more water to enter it.

When you have a concrete slab foundation (as opposed to a basement with wooden floors), the floor of your house is a single solid piece of concrete. This is great for durability but also means there’s no place for water to drain away from your foundation. When moisture seeps through cracks in your foundation wall and into your home, it has nowhere to go but up—which means that l get wet floors.

If this sounds like a problem you’re facing, don’t panic! You can do many things with moisture, like allowing it to enter your home through the walls of your foundation. The first thing you should do is ensure that any grading around your foundation allows water to drain away from the house. If you have an area of grass or soil around your foundation, ensure there aren’t any dips or high spots in the ground that would cause water to sit against the wall.


Install a vapor barrier over the concrete slab

Installing a vapor barrier over the concrete slab is a great idea. It will help protect the slab from moisture, which can cause damage to the concrete and create an unpleasant odor. You will need to get some polyethylene plastic sheeting at least six mils thick. Make sure to allow a few inches of overlap between sheets, and use plenty of tapes to seal the seams. Consider using a sealant to create an airtight barrier. Once the plastic is in place, you can cover it with a layer of sand or gravel for additional protection. I hope this helps.

You’ve probably noticed that the concrete floor in your basement tends to feel damp. You might even have a few potted plants down there with some mold growing on them. The moisture is coming through the concrete, and it’s not just because of the potted plants—it’s also because of humidity in your air, which is then drawn down into the basement by gravity.

A vapor barrier is a layer of plastic or other material installed over a concrete slab. It has tiny holes that allow water vapor to escape from the surface of the concrete but prevent it from getting back in, thereby eliminating condensation on the floor.

To install a vapor barrier, first clean your slab as thoroughly as possible—you want it to be free of dirt and dust so moisture won’t find any particles to attach to once it gets through the slab. Then lay down some plastic sheeting and secure it with tape or staples.


Seal the concrete slab with a concrete sealer

When you seal the concrete, you’re filling in any cracks and crevices with a hard material that blocks moisture from coming through. It’s a good idea to do this before you even think about laying a floor on top of the slab. You can use something as simple as a penetrating sealer (like this one) for small jobs that only take a few hours to dry, or you can go with something more expensive like a concrete stain (like this one). If either of those works for you, it’s a good choice. If you want something more permanent, consider applying epoxy (like this one) over the concrete. It’s more expensive, but it can also last for decades. It might seem like an odd choice for floors, but it’s prevalent for garage floors, so if you’re trying to keep moisture away from your cars and other things in your garage, then it makes sense to do the same underneath your house.


Use a dehumidifier in the basement

When you’re constructing a new home, the concrete slab that serves as the foundation of your house provides you with a sturdy, flat surface for your interior walls to stand on. But because it’s a giant slab of concrete, it absorbs and holds water. When that water sits on the concrete for too long, it has nowhere to go but up—and into your basement through the cracks between the floor and walls. To prevent moisture from seeping into your basement (and giving you mold and mildew), installing a dehumidifier when you first move in is best. A dehumidifier will help trap some of the water vapor in the air in your basement so it can’t find its way through cracks or openings. You can also leave an area of your basement bare and use it as a mud room or laundry room—since these areas are used frequently, they’ll naturally create some extra humidity daily. By letting this excess moisture be absorbed by the ground rather than collecting on the concrete floor, you’ll keep the relative humidity levels lower in the rest of your home.


Insulate the concrete slab with rigid foam insulation or extruded polystyrene foam

When you’re building a home and pouring a slab for the foundation, you can fill the bare concrete with insulation. One of the cheapest options is rigid foam insulation (or R-5 fiberglass batting), which comes in sheets that are held together with plastic or metal fasteners. You can attach them to the underside of the concrete floor with nails, staples, or adhesive. It’s not as cheap as fiberglass batting, but it works as a moisture barrier and is easy to install.

Extruded polystyrene foam (or XPS) is another moisture barrier option for concrete floors. XPS has more R-value (R-5 to R-7 per inch) than rigid foam, and it’s often used on top of insulating concrete forms (ICFs). You could also use it on top of wood subflooring as an extra layer of insulation before installing tile or hardwood floors. The main benefit of XPS is that it’s available in sheets .25 inches thick and will fit between your floor joists without having to cut them down—it can be installed on top of any existing flooring and still provide a sound vapor barrier.


How to dry out a concrete floor

The best way to get rid of moisture in concrete is to use desiccants. Desiccants draw moisture out of the air (or, in this case, from under your concrete) by absorbing water molecules and allowing them to evaporate. Because they don’t get rid of all the water at once, desiccants help remove moisture over time.

Desiccants work best in a closed environment—like a duffel bag or a large container with a lid—to absorb as much water as possible from the air around them. The process usually takes days or weeks, depending on how much moisture is trapped underneath your concrete, but it’ll pay off in the end. Once the concrete is arid, you can lay down new flooring without worrying about mold or mildew taking root.


What is causing moisture in concrete floors?

The moisture you’re seeing in your concrete floor may be coming from either of two sources. The first is the slab itself. Concrete itself can’t absorb much water, but it can be “hydrated” by the presence of moisture in its environment—in other words, if it’s sitting on top of a damp crawlspace or basement, that moisture will seep into your floor and cause it to expand. This is known as efflorescence, and you can quickly fix it by keeping the floors clean and allowing them to dry out before sealing them with a concrete sealer (which will also help prevent further moisture from getting through).

The second source of moisture could be an issue with your plumbing. If there’s a problem with your drain pipes or water supply line, it could be causing small leaks in your foundation that are seeping through the floor and dissolving small amounts of concrete. If you suspect this is happening, you’ll need to hire a plumber to determine the problem’s origin.

Moisture in concrete floors is generally caused by a combination of factors: 1) having an unvented crawl space, 2) pouring the concrete floor on top of the dirt, and 3) building the floor without vapor barriers. The moisture from the ground, whether rain or soil, is trapped underneath your house and can’t escape through the flooring because there isn’t a vent pipe (or at least not one that’s open). This trapped moisture has no choice but to continue to rise into your home.


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