Water–cement ratio

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The water–cement ratio is the ratio of the weight of water to the weight of cement used in a concrete mix. A lower ratio leads to higher strength and durability, but may make the mix difficult to work with and form. Workability can be resolved with the use of plasticizers or super-plasticizers.

Cement Hydraulic binder used in the composition of mortar and concrete

A cement is a binder, a substance used for construction that sets, hardens, and adheres to other materials to bind them together. Cement is seldom used on its own, but rather to bind sand and gravel (aggregate) together. Cement mixed with fine aggregate produces mortar for masonry, or with sand and gravel, produces concrete. Cement is the most widely used material in existence and is only behind water as the planet's most-consumed resource.

Concrete Composite construction material

Concrete, usually Portland cement concrete, is a composite material composed of fine and coarse aggregate bonded together with a fluid cement that hardens over time—most frequently a lime-based cement binder, such as Portland cement, but sometimes with other hydraulic cements, such as a calcium aluminate cement. It is distinguished from other, non-cementitious types of concrete all binding some form of aggregate together, including asphalt concrete with a bitumen binder, which is frequently used for road surfaces, and polymer concretes that use polymers as a binder.

Plasticizers or dispersants are additives that increase the plasticity or decrease the viscosity of a material. These are the substances which are added in order to alter their physical properties. These are either liquids with low volatility or solids. They decrease the attraction between polymer chains to make them more flexible. Over the last 60 years more than 30,000 different substances have been evaluated for their plasticizing properties. Of these, only a small number – approximately 50 – are today in commercial use. The dominant applications are for plastics, especially polyvinyl chloride (PVC). The properties of other materials may also be modified when blended with plasticizers including concrete, clays, and related products. According to 2014 data, the total global market for plasticizers was 8.4 million metric tonnes including 1.3 million metric tonnes in Europe.

Often, the ratio refers to the ratio of water to cementitious materials, w/cm. Cementitious materials include cement and supplementary cementitious materials such as fly ash, ground granulated blast-furnace slag, silica fume, rice husk ash and natural pozzolans. Supplementary cementitious materials are added to strengthen concrete.

Fly ash Residue of coal combustion

Fly ash or flue ash, also known as pulverised fuel ash in the United Kingdom, is a coal combustion product that is composed of the particulates (fine particles of burned fuel) that are driven out of coal-fired boilers together with the flue gases. Ash that falls to the bottom of the boiler is called bottom ash. In modern coal-fired power plants, fly ash is generally captured by electrostatic precipitators or other particle filtration equipment before the flue gases reach the chimneys. Together with bottom ash removed from the bottom of the boiler, it is known as coal ash. Depending upon the source and composition of the coal being burned, the components of fly ash vary considerably, but all fly ash includes substantial amounts of silicon dioxide (SiO2) (both amorphous and crystalline), aluminium oxide (Al2O3) and calcium oxide (CaO), the main mineral compounds in coal-bearing rock strata.

Ground-granulated blast-furnace slag is obtained by quenching molten iron slag from a blast furnace in water or steam, to produce a glassy, granular product that is then dried and ground into a fine powder.

Silica fume

Silica fume, also known as microsilica, is an amorphous (non-crystalline) polymorph of silicon dioxide, silica. It is an ultrafine powder collected as a by-product of the silicon and ferrosilicon alloy production and consists of spherical particles with an average particle diameter of 150 nm. The main field of application is as pozzolanic material for high performance concrete.

The notion of water–cement ratio was first developed by Duff A. Abrams and published in 1918. Refer to concrete slump test. The 1997 Uniform Building Code specifies a maximum of 0.5 ratio when concrete is exposed to freezing and thawing in a moist condition or to de-icing chemicals, and a maximum of 0.45 ratio for concrete in a severe or very severe sulfate condition.

Duff A. Abrams was an American researcher in the field of composition and properties of concrete. He developed the basic methods for testing concrete characteristics still in use today. A professor with the Lewis Institute, he studied the component materials of concrete in the early 20th century.

The concrete slump test measures the consistency of fresh concrete before it sets. It is performed to check the workability of freshly made concrete, and therefore the ease with which concrete flows. It can also be used as an indicator of an improperly mixed batch. The test is popular due to the simplicity of apparatus used and simple procedure. The slump test is used to ensure uniformity for different loads of concrete under field conditions.

The Uniform Building Code (UBC) was a building code used primarily in the western United States.

Concrete hardens as a result of the chemical reaction between cement and water (known as hydration, this produces heat and is called the heat of hydration). For every pound (or kilogram or any unit of weight) of cement, about 0.35 pounds (or 0.35 kg or corresponding unit) of water is needed to fully complete hydration reactions. [1]

In chemistry, a hydration reaction is a chemical reaction in which a substance combines with water. In organic chemistry, water is added to an unsaturated substrate, which is usually an alkene or an alkyne. This type of reaction is employed industrially to produce ethanol, isopropanol, and 2-butanol.

However, a mix with a ratio of 0.35 may not mix thoroughly, and may not flow well enough to be placed. More water is therefore used than is technically necessary to react with cement. Water–cement ratios of 0.45 to 0.60 are more typically used. For higher-strength concrete, lower ratios are used, along with a plasticizer to increase flowability.

Too much water will result in segregation of the sand and aggregate components from the cement paste. Also, water that is not consumed by the hydration reaction may leave concrete as it hardens, resulting in microscopic pores (bleeding) that will reduce final strength of concrete. A mix with too much water will experience more shrinkage as excess water leaves, resulting in internal cracks and visible fractures (particularly around inside corners), which again will reduce the final strength.

Segregation in concrete

Segregation in concrete is a case of particle segregation in concrete applications, in which particulate solids tend to segregate by virtue of differences in the size, density, shape and other properties of particles of which they are composed.

Related Research Articles

Portland cement binder used as basic ingredient of concrete

Portland cement is the most common type of cement in general use around the world as a basic ingredient of concrete, mortar, stucco, and non-specialty grout. It was developed from other types of hydraulic lime in England in the mid 19th century, and usually originates from limestone. It is a fine powder, produced by heating limestone and clay minerals in a kiln to form clinker, grinding the clinker, and adding 2 to 3 percent of gypsum. Several types of Portland cement are available. The most common, called ordinary Portland cement (OPC), is grey, but white Portland cement is also available. Its name is derived from its similarity to Portland stone which was quarried on the Isle of Portland in Dorset, England. It was named by Joseph Aspdin who obtained a patent for it in 1824. However, his son William Aspdin is regarded as the inventor of "modern" Portland cement due to his developments in the 1840s.

Pozzolana, also known as pozzolanic ash, is a natural siliceous or siliceous and aluminous material which reacts with calcium hydroxide in the presence of water at room temperature. In this reaction insoluble calcium silicate hydrate and calcium aluminate hydrate compounds are formed possessing cementitious properties. The designation pozzolana is derived from one of the primary deposits of volcanic ash used by the Romans in Italy, at Pozzuoli. Nowadays the definition of pozzolana encompasses any volcanic material, predominantly composed of fine volcanic glass, that is used as a pozzolan. Note the difference with the term pozzolan, which exerts no bearing on the specific origin of the material, as opposed to pozzolana, which can only be used for pozzolans of volcanic origin, primarily composed of volcanic glass.

Controlled low strength material, abbreviated CLSM, also known as flowable fill, is a type of weak, runny concrete mix used in construction for non-structural purposes such as backfill or road bases.

Efflorescence migration of a salt to the surface of a porous material

In chemistry, efflorescence is the migration of a salt to the surface of a porous material, where it forms a coating. The essential process involves the dissolving of an internally held salt in water, or occasionally in another solvent. The water, with the salt now held in solution, migrates to the surface, then evaporates, leaving a coating of the salt.

Lime (material) calcium-containing inorganic mineral

Lime is a calcium-containing inorganic mineral composed primarily of oxides, and hydroxide, usually calcium oxide and/ or calcium hydroxide. It is also the name for calcium oxide which occurs as a product of coal seam fires and in altered limestone xenoliths in volcanic ejecta. The word lime originates with its earliest use as building mortar and has the sense of sticking or adhering.

Air entrainment is the intentional creation of tiny air bubbles in concrete. A concrete maker introduces the bubbles by adding to the mix an air entraining agent, a surfactant. The air bubbles are created during mixing of the plastic concrete, and most of them survive to be part of the hardened concrete. The primary purpose of air entrainment is to increase the durability of the hardened concrete, especially in climates subject to freeze-thaw; the secondary purpose is to increase workability of the concrete while in a plastic state.

Engineered Cementitious Composite (ECC), also called Strain Hardening Cement-based Composites (SHCC) or more popularly as bendable concrete, is an easily molded mortar-based composite reinforced with specially selected short random fibers, usually polymer fibers. Unlike regular concrete, ECC has a strain capacity in the range of 3–7%, compared to 0.01% for ordinary portland cement (OPC) paste, mortar or concrete. ECC therefore acts more like a ductile metal like material rather than a brittle glass like material, leading to a wide variety of applications.

Metakaolin is the anhydrous calcined form of the clay mineral kaolinite. Minerals that are rich in kaolinite are known as china clay or kaolin, traditionally used in the manufacture of porcelain. The particle size of metakaolin is smaller than cement particles, but not as fine as silica fume.


Pozzolans are a broad class of siliceous or siliceous and aluminous materials which, in themselves, possess little or no cementitious value but which will, in finely divided form and in the presence of water, react chemically with calcium hydroxide at ordinary temperature to form compounds possessing cementitious properties. The quantification of the capacity of a pozzolan to react with calcium hydroxide and water is given by measuring its pozzolanic activity. Pozzolana are naturally occurring pozzolans of volcanic origin.

Types of concrete

Concrete is produced in a variety of compositions, finishes and performance characteristics to meet a wide range of needs.

Concrete has relatively high compressive strength, but significantly lower tensile strength. As a result, without compensating, concrete would almost always fail from tensile stresses – even when loaded in compression. The practical implication of this is that concrete elements subjected to tensile stresses must be reinforced with materials that are strong in tension. The elasticity of concrete is relatively constant at low stress levels but starts decreasing at higher stress levels as matrix cracking develops. Concrete has a very low coefficient of thermal expansion, and as it matures concrete shrinks. All concrete structures will crack to some extent, due to shrinkage and tension. Concrete which is subjected to long-duration forces is prone to creep. The density of concrete varies, but is around 2,400 kilograms per cubic metre (150 lb/cu ft).

Geopolymer cement

Geopolymer cement is a binding system that hardens at room temperature, similar to the more widely-known Portland cement.

Self-drying concrete technology is found in certain cementitious patching and leveling materials and tile-setting mortars used in the flooring industry. Self-drying technology allows the cement mix to consume all of its mix water while curing, eliminating the need for excess water to evaporate prior to installing flooring. Traditional floor coverings, such as VCT, sheet vinyl, carpet and ceramic tile, can be installed before the material is completely dry and as soon as it hardens, which typically happens in the first two hours after placement.

The pozzolanic activity is a measure for the degree of reaction over time or the reaction rate between a pozzolan and Ca2+ or calcium hydroxide (Ca(OH)2) in the presence of water. The rate of the pozzolanic reaction is dependent on the intrinsic characteristics of the pozzolan such as the specific surface area, the chemical composition and the active phase content.

Energetically modified cements (EMC) are a class of cementitious materials made from pozzolans, silica sand, blast furnace slag, or Portland cement.


  1. Somayaji, Shan (2001). Civil Engineering Materials. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall. p. 129. ISBN   0-13-083906-X. The water-to-cement ratio is the ratio between the weights of water and cement in a concrete mix. For proper hydration, this ratio (commonly called the w/c ratio) should be about 0.30, assuming no contribution to hydration from external water sources.