Masonry Restoration: 3 Things You Can Do To Determine Whether Mortar Joints Need To Be Repointed

Water can easily enter through mortar joints in the bricks and cause water damage to the walls. Depending on the quality of the original workmanship, most repointing jobs can last anywhere from 50 to 100 years; however, if you've noticed water stains on your walls and are curious as to whether the mortar joints need to be repointed, here are 3 things you can do.

Inspect the Mortar Joints for Hairline Cracks

Even the most minor cracks can allow water to penetrate into the bricks. As mortar joints tend to be most vulnerable, you'll want to spend some time inspecting all of the joints to determine whether there are any areas that need to be repointed. Hairline cracks can be difficult to notice, so consider using a magnifying glass to go over the surface of the mortar. While this may take some time, there's a lesser likelihood that you'll miss out on any crucial imperfections.

In particular, you'll want to focus your attention where the mortar meets the brick. Hairline cracks in these areas are often overlooked, as they can be concealed by the uneven surface levels and by shadows.

Scrape the Surface Lightly with a Metal Tool

Although the mortar at the joints may look stable and sound, they may actually be falling apart structurally. The mortar may no longer be an effective sealant and may allow water to penetrate into the brick via pores. To determine the condition of the mortar and whether it's crumbly or not, lightly scrape the surface of the mortar joints with a metal tool. If you find that the mortar crumbles easily or upon impact, the joints will need to be repointed.

You should also take a look as to whether any dust or white speckles come off of the mortar when you lightly scrape at the surface. While the mortar may not seem crumbly or structurally compromised, it is no longer as effective as it was originally. In these situations, water may still be able to slowly enter the inner wall structure via the pores. You should consider contacting a masonry restoration contractor to further inspect the mortar and to get a more definitive answer as to whether the joints need to be repointed.

Discover Erosions by Cleaning the Mortar

If the outer surface of the masonry is a bit dirty, giving it a good cleaning may also uncover imperfections. At times, dirt and dust particles settle and accumulate at the mortar joints and conceal the fact that the mortar has already begun to erode. It's difficult to determine whether there is any erosion without cleaning the masonry first, as the dirt and dust particles may extend much deeper into the mortar than expected.

You can easily clean the mortar with a pressure water wash. Set the pressure on low, as high pressure may end up damaging the mortar. Once the surface is cleaned, you'll need to inspect for depressions and look for uneven surface levels. Next, you'll have to determine whether the depressions and uneven surface levels are caused by improper craftsmanship from before or are a result of erosion.


Determining whether there are any structural issues with the condition of mortar joints can help you determine whether repointing is necessary. It can also help you identify possible problem areas that need to be repointed – especially if you have begun to notice water leaks and stains in the inner walls. If you don't repoint the mortar joints as soon as possible, the water damage may become irreversible and irreparable with time, and it may negatively impact the structural integrity of the entire brick wall. 

Contact a company like Mara Restoration, Inc. for more information.