DIY Concrete Error: Neutralize Burnt Exposed Skin with Vinegar

DIY Concrete Error: Neutralize Burnt Exposed Skin with Vinegar

Taking on DIY projects to maximize storage space or improve your home is a great way to save money while creating something practical and beautiful. As you gain more experience, you may be tempted to take on more challenging projects, such as building a DIY concrete patio in your backyard. However, before you start working with concrete on your own, you should be aware of the potential hazards associated with this material.

One particular issue with concrete that has been receiving a lot of attention online is the risk of skin burns. A TikTok video from a user named demonstrates that concrete burns can happen to almost anyone, including professional contractors. Other videos show the painful consequences of sustaining such injuries.

Concrete can cause burns when it comes into contact with water because it is a highly alkaline substance with a pH of 12 (on a scale of 0 to 14, with 7 being neutral). Alkali burns can be especially dangerous due to liquefactive necrosis, which occurs when alkalis continue to penetrate the skin after contact, causing deep-tissue injuries, according to an article published in the Annals of Burns and Fire Disasters. These effects can be minimized, however, by immediately rinsing the affected area with cool water, according to the National Capital Poison Center (NCPC). Regardless of the type of concrete-based product you are using, such as mortar and grout, there are ways to use it safely.

How to avoid skin burns from concrete

Construction worker pouring wet concrete

Simonkr / Getty Images

The dangers of wet concrete occur when it makes contact and reacts with your skin. The best preventative measure, then, is to cover up when working around this material. This should include waterproof boots, full-length coveralls, long-sleeved shirts, and waterproof gloves made specifically for use around chemicals. Don’t forget to wear either a face shield or safety goggles, just in case the wet concrete splashes. Concrete can also cause damage to other tissues, such as the mouth, eyes, and throat (via NCPC), so use maximum protection.

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Worth noting is that concrete burns can take a few hours or longer to manifest. You may not even realize that you’ve been exposed right away, as this wet material can penetrate some clothing. For example, if you’re wearing short boots when working around concrete, some of the material could fall inside and eventually penetrate the skin around your feet and ankles. It can also penetrate some gloves. Since you may not realize contact has occurred for a few hours, this may lead to further harm from the burns.

You also should wear protective clothing when dumping bags of concrete into a bucket or wheelbarrow for mixing. If the dust makes contact with wet skin, it can cause a similar reaction, depending on the amount of moisture it encounters.

How to treat a potential concrete burn

Person smoothing concrete with tool

Tatiana Migunova / Shutterstock

The best way to treat a concrete burn is to immediately wash the exposed area for at least 15 minutes with cool or room-temperature water (via NCPC). You should also remove any protective clothing or safety gear that was exposed. Put on different gear if you need to continue working.

If you do suffer one of these burns, the best solution is to rinse the area with diluted vinegar, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Because vinegar is a weak acid, its pH level sits between 2 and 3, allowing it to balance out the alkali that is wet concrete. A TikTok video from user @eddiesoto827 demonstrates that this rinsing process can still be painful, but it’s necessary for balancing the pH level of the exposed skin. If you don’t have vinegar on hand, you can use another acidic liquid, such as citrus juice.

WebMD recommends calling for emergency medical care if the burn is more than 3 inches across. You should also inform any nurses or doctors assisting you that the burn is from concrete to ensure proper treatment. MCR Safety warns against covering the burn with lotion or petroleum jelly, as these can seal the alkali underneath, leading to more damage.

Dr Heidi Parkes

By Dr Heidi Parkes

Senior Information Extension Officer QLD Dept of Agriculture & Fisheries.