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Whitewashing Brick

DEAR TIM: I have a brick cape cod home built about 50 years ago that is a little worse for wear. Some time ago, a previous owner added a room that is covered with wood siding. I think painting the brick would give a more uniform look. Is this a good idea? What is the best product to use? Is a primer necessary? Terri W., Decatur, GA

DEAR TERRI: Brick can absolutely be painted. High quality paints are formulated to grab tenaciously to masonry surfaces. But be aware that once you apply paint or any other film to brick, you begin a vicious cycle of periodic maintenance and cost. Your desire to make the home look better and do it with little future maintenance is possible if you consider a coating that has almost been forgotten. Whitewash!

This is one side of the addition I built and whitewashed. The faded look and exposed brick were on purpose to match the 70 year old look on the remainder of the house. I would bet you dinner at the finest restaurant in Cincinnati, OH that you could not tell a difference between my whitewash and the 70 year old stuff. We nailed it!

This is one side of the addition I built and whitewashed. The faded look and exposed brick were on purpose to match the 70 year old look on the remainder of the house. I would bet you dinner at the finest restaurant in Cincinnati, OH that you could not tell a difference between my whitewash and the 70 year old stuff. We nailed it!

I had the joy of applying whitewash to a large brick room addition I built nearly ten years ago. This inexpensive but durable coating looks as good today as the day it was applied. A little known fact about whitewash is that it can actually be tinted a light color if you don't like the brilliant traditional white color. In many instances, the actual finish can last 20 or 30 years with no maintenance.

There are many different recipes for whitewash but the basic ingredients are the same. The most basic formula is simply a combination of Ivory hydrated lime and regular table salt. The whitewash I used was made by mixing a 50 pound bag of lime with 10 pounds of table salt. Water was added until it achieved a consistency of pancake batter.

Whitewash is applied with a brush or a roller but brushes seem to work best. One of the interesting qualities of this material is that you can make your home look like a gracious English cottage. This is achieved by varying the thickness of the whitewash. The areas where the whitewash is applied lightly will allow some of the brick color to show through. If you desire an authentic old look, you actually wash off some of the whitewash several hours after application or the next day to expose brick or parts of brick in random areas.

The lime in the whitewash is the actual glue that bonds to the brick and the wood on your addition. If you want extra holding power you can actually mix white Portland cement to the whitewash. Do this and the whitewash will last for several generations.

If you want to colorize the whitewash, it is possible. Simply purchase powdered pigments that are mixed with the whitewash. Be aware that the color of the whitewash while it is mixed is totally different when it dries. I suggest you mix a test batch, apply it to a piece of cement board underlayment and allow it to dry for a week to make sure you like the color. Carefully keep track of the ratios of pigment, lime and salt to get consistent color results with each batch.

The whitewash materials can be purchased at specialty businesses. You will find the lime and dry pigments at traditional building supply houses that sell materials to plasterers and concrete contractors. The large bags of salt can be purchased at wholesale businesses that sell supplies to bakeries. You can use grocery store salt if you desire.

If my whitewash technique does not interest you, then visit a paint store. Virtually every paint manufacturer makes exterior paint formulated for brick and wood. Look for ones that have a blend of urethane and acrylic resin. These are very sticky and will bond well to the brick and wood. At the very least purchase a 100 percent acrylic resin paint. Read the label and use the specific primer suggested for unpainted brick or wood.

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45 Responses to Whitewashing Brick

  1. Hello,
    I am wanting to white wash the exterior of my 2500 sq ft brick home. I have been seeing many whitewash recipes that simply mix latex paint and water. What are your thoughts on this?

  2. Hi,
    I followed your technique for the brick foundation of my home and I love the way it turned out, thanks! I did one section first and then we had a heavy rain and already it washed quite a bit of the whitewash away.I was wondering if there is a sealant I can apply to maintain the look i have achieved?

  3. Hey Tim,

    Was your whitewash project the addition in Clifton on the little side street between Ludlow and LaFayette? If so, I hate to tell you but that was in the early '90's. I know time flies but it's now closing in on 25 yrs if that was the job. I remember that job because I supplied custom columns and had welded the caps on out of square. You graciously fixed it to keep the job moving forward but let me know about my mis-cue in a constructive manner. I took your advise to heart and never had another out of square complaint. Thanks, many years later.

    Mike

  4. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I've been putting off doing something to my brick fireplace because I didn't think I wanted to "just paint It". This sounds like exactly the solution I was wanting.

  5. Hi - we live in a 1986 Tudor that has the red brick & the areas that are not brick is wood. I was told by a painter Not to paint brick as it will erode the morter between the bricks in time. Is this true? Our home is 4k SF & I don't want to have an exterior maintenance issue down the road. Also... Tips on Stucco repair/painting? Many thanks
    Liz (MA)

    • Liz, that painter is completely WRONG. Paint will not cause erosion of mortar. If anything, it helps protect it from the damaging water that over time WILL erode it. But painting brick, in my opinion, takes a maintenance-free material and transforms it into one requiring periodic maintenance. This means you'll be PAINTING it again and again and again. My website here is LOADED with tips on stucco repair, the best exterior paints, etc. Just use the Search Bar at the side or bottom of any page.

  6. Thank you very much for the information on how to Whitewash Brick! We are purchasing a red brick ranch style house and we were looking for a technique we could use to lighten it up and make it look more cottage style. I was wondering how you "wash off some of the whitewash several hours after application or the next day to expose brick or parts of brick in random areas." If the whitewash is permanent how do you wash it off after it dries? Do you have to use a certain chemical?
    Thank you for your help!

    • You don't use a chemical. You use water and a stiff scrub brush. I HIGHLY recommend you build a small brick test wall that's similar in brick to what you have on your home. TEST applying the whitewash to this wall.

  7. Hi. I'm really excited about whitewashing our somewhat boring post-war brick rambler, which I think is about 2700 SF. How handy does one need to be to whitewash a house using your technique? I've painted a few rooms in an apartment years ago, but I had anticipated finding a professional to do this. It would be nice to save the money if I could do it myself, though! I'd appreciate your thoughts. Many thanks, Kari

    • Kari, if you can fog a mirror, you can whitewash..... You need to PRACTICE first. Just practice on the most unseen part of your home and then expand out from there. The BEST way to practice is to purchase some of the THIN glue-on brick and attach them to a piece of cement board. Practice on that. Realize you need to let the whitewash DRY for two days to see the final look. It doesn't take much!

  8. Hello,
    our fireplace needs an update. Do I need to clean the bricks first? It looks like there was a leak years ago and there is a whitish residue on some of the bricks. I tried cleaning it with just lightly soapy water and it's better, but still visible.
    Is the white wash going to hide it? Can you recommend a technique or product to clean it?
    Thank you!

  9. Tim how can I reach you one on one to speak about consulting on a whitewashing job we are doing in a large home in Kansas City?

  10. Hi, will whitewash adhere to a plaster wall that has been painted previously with white, flat finish latex paint? Thanks, Nancy

  11. Thanks for the info, I will be experimenting with my first whitewash project this weekend. Can you give a little insight as to how I would add tint to the lime and salt mixture? Thanks, Anthony

  12. We have a wood fence that we would like to paint. We figured it would be easier to whitewash it since it is a whole lot of fence. Do you have any advice? I know your recipe is hydrated lime and salt. Does that usually cover a lot? Thanks!!! Also I remember when I was little seeing my dad white wash around the bottom of our trees. Does this protect them?

  13. Hi Tim! Thanks for the great tutorial, it is very useful. Question: How long would you recommend waiting to whitewash an interior chimney that has had several brick replaced and has been freshly tuck pointed?

  14. Hi Tim: Can brick floors be whitewashed with your technique? If so, can they be sealed or will the whitewash act as a sealant? I have an old townhouse with red brick pavers in a galley kitchen with no windows (there is some light coming from the dining room windows that are just off of the kitchen) and would like to lighten up the floors. Any advice would be much appreciated! Patty in Marietta GA

    • Great Question. I have never considered a brick floor. Tim , I look forward to your question as well. Thank you for posting this site. It is very informative about a beautiful look!

    • I'm looking to do the same to an exterior sun room that has red brick which was recently enclosed and is now an interior room.
      I'm trying to figure out a solution that will be safe, and look nice on the floor with kids, dogs and people coming in and outside

  15. My desire look for my fireplace brick wall. Is to have that white wash cottage feel. My question is would you use the whitewash over my black mortar? I'm looking to achieve a much lighter color.

  16. Very interested in white washing a brick wall, but my bricks have black mortar. Not sure how that will work. I definitely want white bricks with black mortar.

  17. Giday Tim : I am going to try and whitewash my house roof, which is zinc coated. Decided to try on my shed roof first. The roller didn't work as the whitewash wouldn't stick so finished up doing it by brush. No probs.
    Normally when it's 30c outside, the temperature in the shed is 45c. After my whitewash painting it was cooler in the shed than outside. Unreal.
    But to do the house roof, which I intend to spray, is whitewash corrosive on metal, will I need a primer and maybe some additive which would make it more flexible. Any idea's on that?
    What do you reckon, will it work? I have asked around but no one has ever heard of it being done on metal before. I'm calling from Townsville Australia

  18. Gday again Tim. I just come across 14" tank spreader with profile roller attached. Check it out on Youtube. That would make putting on whitewash a breeze. I don't know if you can get these in Australia, but I'll soon make one

  19. Very interested in knowing whether or not you can whitewash brick floors as well. Mine have a poly sealant on them also and want to know if I can still do it?

  20. I have a 60's house built out of burnt adobe bricks in Sedona, AZ where the weather ranges from below freezing to over 90 degrees. It is not the strongest brick and I would like to protect the East side from the elements (other sides have more roof overhang). Since you said whitewashing doesn't require much maintenance and lasts a long time, I was thinking that whitewashing might be a good solution. I don't want to accidentally trap moisture in this brick by using a sealant. Do you think whitewashing with lime and salt would be a good solution? Thank you for your input.

    • Shelley,

      Yes! Whitewash will help protect the soft brick. It's breathable! Be SURE to experiment and realize you can add pigment to it to get unlimited colors. Please take BEFORE and AFTER photos and send to me to put up here.

  21. Dear Tim,

    I have purchased a 50's brick cottage with the ugliest textured red brick. There is no variation in color and the brick is very uniform and slimline. While I love Chicago brick and St Joe, this does not compare.

    My question, would the wash technique help to smooth out the texture? I love the washed look, but wonder if it would work with my econo textured brick.

    We haven't started the reno yet and we are over budget. I am contemplating painting the house on my own. So, any tips or additional tutorials will be greatly appreciated.
    Many thx.

  22. Hi Tim, we just recently lime washed out brick and LOVE it I was just wondering if there is a seal that would protect the line from changing colors as when it is raining on some places that get more wet look like just the original brick until it dries again. Do you know what would work to fix that problem?

    Thank you

  23. Hi Tim!
    You mention adding mortar to the 50 lb. Lime/10 lb. Salt mixture, but you didn't give an amount. I am planning to try this, but need an approximate amount to stir in. Do I just apply as stated and then wash next day any bricks I want to expose as with the Non mortar formula?

  24. Dear Tim, I was looking into having my outdated pink brick home mortar washed but this technique of white washing sounds much easier,. Can you white wash then spray with a power washer to take off what you don't want or would mortar washing be best for a diy project? Thank you for your time

  25. Hi Tim I have a Dutch colonial home which the bottom part of has red brick that has vertical grooves in it. Will this method work with that given its far more porous?

  26. So here's my scenario: we purchased a home with a bricked corner wood stove surround. The brick was originally red with black mortar and the mantel was originally a beautiful slab of slate. The previous owners painted (badly) the bricks with white paint - definitely didn't use a whitewashing technique! The black mortar still shows through, but no brick color. They then added a border of black square tiles up the ends of bricks on each side and a row of white square tiles along the top. If this wasn't bad enough, they (gulp!) painted the slate a bright turquoise! I'm planning to strip the paint of the slate and would love to achieve a whitewash look on the brick, but the paint on the bricks is really thick. Should I faux paint instead? Seriously what some people do with brick should be outlawed!

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