Cement Hydration And Concrete Curing Information

Concrete curing is not simply a matter of the concrete hardening as it dries out. In fact, it is just the opposite. Portland cement is a hydraulic material. That is, it requires water for curing and can, in fact, fully cure to a hardened state even if it is completely submerged in water.

Portland cement is anhydrous—it contains no water or moisture at all. The moment it comes in contact with water, a chemical reaction takes place in which new compounds are formed. This reaction is called cement hydration.

The rate of hydration varies with the composition of the cement, the fineness of the cement particles, the amount of water present, the air temperature, and the presence of admixtures. If the mixing water dries out too rapidly before the cement has fully hydrated, the curing process will stop and the concrete will not harden to its intended strength.

Curing will resume if more water is introduced, but at a slower rate. Hydration occurs more rapidly at higher air temperatures. Cement hydration itself generates heat, too. This heat of hydration can be helpful during cold-weather construction, and potentially harmful during hot-weather construction.

The chemical reaction between water and cement first forms a paste which must completely coat each aggregate particle during mixing. After a time, the paste begins to stiffen or set, and after a few hours has lost is plasticity entirely.

The rate of this setting, however, is not the same as the rate of hardening. A Type-III high-early-strength cement may set in about the same time as a Type-I general-purpose cement, but the Type III hardens and develops compressive strength more rapidly after it has set.

Concrete normally cures to its full design strength in 28 days. Curing is slower in cold weather, and at temperatures below 40°F, the concrete can be easily and permanently damaged if it is not properly protected.

Concrete must be kept moist for several days after it is placed to allow the portland cement in the mix to cure and harden properly. Concrete that is not kept moist reaches only about 50% of its design strength. Figure 2-19 shows the differences in concrete strength for various periods of moist curing.

If it is kept moist for at least three days, it will reach about 80% of its design strength, and for seven days, 100% of its design strength. If the concrete is kept moist for the full 28- day curing period, it will reach more than 125% of its design strength.

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