Q&A / 

Whitewashing Brick

Whitewashing Bricks TIPS

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, but I've been told I can whitewash the house. What is the best product to use? Some websites I see say that whitewash is diluted paint.

Is that true? Is a primer necessary if I decide to paint? Does anyone even whitewash before or is that just something that Tom Sawyer did in the classic book Huckleberry Finn? Terri W., Decatur, GA

DEAR TERRI: Those websites plying paint as whitewash are bogus in my opinion. They're hijacking a time-tested coating process that's far superior to paint.

You can paint your brick if you desire following the suspect advice at the other websites. 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.

You'd NEVER catch me painting any brick I own. I'm going to do what painters did hundreds of years ago. I'm going to put on traditional time-tested whitewash!

CLICK HERE to get FREE & FAST BIDS from local painters who can apply whitewash for you.

Paint Peels & Chips

The biggest problem I have with paint is that when it dries, it creates a film on whatever it's covering. This film can, and will, peel off eventually. It also chips and flakes.

High-quality house paint that does stand up longer than cheap paint can be very expensive. Even a small house might take hundreds and hundreds of dollars of paint.

Your desire to make your home look better and do it with little future maintenance is possible if you consider a coating that has almost been forgotten. Whitewash!

Whitewash is Wonderful

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! © 2017 Tim Carter

I had the joy of applying whitewash to a large brick room addition I built years ago for a client. 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. You can tint the whitewash any color you desire. I had to tint the slurry I applied different shades of gray to match the dirty whitewash on the existing home. We did such a good job that no one knew the giant room addition was new!

Whitewash, since it doesn't produce a thick film like paint, can last 20 or 30 years with no maintenance.

Whitewash Recipe

There are many different recipes for whitewash but the basic ingredients are the same. The most basic formula is simply a combination of hydrated masonry 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.

This is excellent hydrated lime. It's a fine white powder and it's going to look great on your home. CLICK THE BAG OF LIME NOW TO ORDER SOME RIGHT NOW.

Here's a giant bag of salt. You may need two or three depending on how much whitewash you mix up. CLICK THE BAG OF SALT NOW TO ORDER IT.

Tinting the Whitewash

If you don't tint the whitewash, when it dries it's a brilliant white. It's as white as the freshest snow you've seen or as white as puffy gorgeous clouds on a summer day.

The best tints to use are the pigments used to tint brick mortar. These pigments are a fine powder that blend easily with the hydrated lime. They're available in just about any color you might imagine.


Here are just a few of the many many pigments available. You can blend different pigments to get different shades that you don't see here! CLICK THE IMAGE TO BUY ANY WHITEWASH PIGMENT YOU WANT.

If you want to tint, or colorize the whitewash, it's easy. Simply purchase powdered pigments that are mixed with the whitewash.

BLENDING TIP: Always mix the hydrated lime, salt and any pigments together DRY until the powder is a uniform color. Don't cut corners.

Mix it in a wide wheelbarrow or some other container where material doesn't get stuck in a corner. A five-gallon bucket is the WORST thing to use to mix the materials.

Adding the Water

Add water to the blended mix a little at a time. I'd NEVER mix a 50-pound bag of lime at one time. Start with a small test batch and keep very close track of how much water you add. Mix until it's the consistency of creamy latex paint or a nice batch of pancake batter.

Only mix as much whitewash as you can apply in one hour! Try to work in the shade, not in direct sun on a blazing hot day.

A sunny day with a breeze is the WORST time to apply the whitewash. An overcast day with no wind would be my choice if I was allowed to wave a magic wand!

Be aware that the color of the whitewash while it is mixed is totally different when it dries. It usually dries darker than what you see it look like wet. Always do a test to see what it dries like.

IMPORTANT TIP: 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.

CLICK HERE to get FREE & FAST BIDS from local painters who can apply whitewash for you.

Applying the Whitewash

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.

Secret Super-Strong Whitewash

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. Yes, Portland cement comes in a pure white color. You can find it readily doing an online search.  

If you decide to use white Portland cement, you substitute only ten percent of the lime quantity you're using. Sounds confusing, right?

Say you're mixing up a batch using my recipe above. It calls for 50 pounds of hydrated lime. You'd get five pounds of white cement and blend it with 45 pounds of the hydrated lime to get to the 50 pounds total.

Five pounds is ten percent of fifty pounds. You should have paid attention in your grade school math class. 😉

Build a Test Wall

I've done quite a few phone consult calls over the years for people just like you who really want this gorgeous whitewash on their new homes. CLICK HERE if you want to schedule a phone consult.

My advice in all past calls is simple. You need to build a small brick wall, say 4-feet tall and perhaps 12 feet long. It would take a good bricklayer about a half day to do this. Be sure the wall is braced so it will not blow over or tip as you apply pressure to it.

This wall becomes your palette and playground. You'll mix up small batches of whitewash and test them on this wall. Be sure to use the exact same brick on this test wall with the same mortar that will be used on your home.

You don't want to experiment with your technique on your real home. You use the test wall to PERFECT your technique or that of the painter you hire.

If you do a test and the next day you know you HATE the result, use a pressure washer to remove what you did. This gives you more wall to use for future testing. But only remove the whitewash if you truly hate the look.

Keep exact records of each batch and consider videotaping the application process of how each test was done. This may seem extreme, but it's not.

You'll soon discover the whitewash does not have to be thick to get an amazing result. Try applying it with a roller. Try different brushes. The look will be different with both. Just play around and see what you like!

Be sure you allow the whitewash to dry for a few days to see the final color.

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.

But remember, you will be scraping off some of this paint in years to come. You'll never scrape off whitewash!

CLICK HERE to get FREE & FAST BIDS from local painters who can apply whitewash for you.

Column 366


65 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.


  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!

  27. We are thinking of whitewashing our fireplace however the brick is incredibly porous. It isn't the typical smooth to slightly rough finish I've normally seen in houses but rather a very rough, deep grooved, porous finish on each brick. I am nervous that this may affect the whitewashing of the fireplace. Will it be too difficult to do and look odd? Or will it turn out awesome? Not sure if anyone else has had experience whitewashing this type of brick! Any advice is helpful, thanks!

  28. Hi Tim, I have a small ranch that I am painting a coastal sany beige. The bottom of the ranch is burnt orange brick that I would like to whitewash. Can you recommend a sheer win Williams creamy white to add to concrete stain to treat the bricks. That's how my Pinter recommends treating the brick. Will this look pink? Thanks for your help!

  29.  Hi Tim, i have a section of internal thirsty bricks i would like to put a lime wash over and then seal it.
    Can i confirm, that a primer is not required? That would influence the final colour too much?
    Will a whitewash requires on going maintenance  or is it regular primer/ paint that has the on going maintenance?

  30. Hi Tim, while I generally like your tips, I am disappointed you would recommend salt in the mix. We have a hotel on the beach and I see the effects of salt corrosion daily. Even if it did not directly damage the mortar, any wash off will contaminate any steel near by and set up a electrolytic reaction between any dissimilar metals such as steel and aluminum window and patio frames for instance. (steel is likely the corner reinforcement to the aluminum frame) And woe be if it gets into cracks that allow access to the rebar in the building.

    During building of the small hotel we used Sulphate resistant type 5 cement and hauled in water, not even trusting the well water so I would never ever suggest using salt. You do also mention using white cement and or color concrete powders, which would be entirely acceptable. I suspect acrylic latex mixed in would also be a good addition. Just look at the commercial products used over styrofoam on the outside of buildings that is used in some secret recipe and sold commercially by I think companies like Dow.

    Incidentally I am already signed up to your website. I don't know if you would benefit from a 2nd box stating that so you would know your not loosing prospects that don't use your sign up box.

    • Ken,

      These are time-tested recipes and they work. That said, I'm sure when the material was used hundreds of years ago they didn't put reinforcing steel in masonry construction. Ancient buildings in Mexico that were whitewashed were just solid masonry with no steel.

      I can tell you if I was building in a marine environment like you have, any piece of reinforcing steel would be epoxy coated so salt could never get to the steel. That's how road bridges in the USA are now being built.

      My guess would be, and I have NO DATA to back this up, is that the salt spray and salt fog you might get would be far worse than any minor amount of salt in the mix when you calculate the salt concentration per square foot.

      In other words, the recipes you see here on my site are for 60 pounds of total material and once mixed with water, how many square feet of surface does that cover?

      Thanks for your great comment and suggestions.

  31. Hi - I live in Malta - (island in the Med) my house is made with limestone blocks. Can i apply limewash direct? Some walls have had old plaster attached - nightmare to remove - can I remove anything loose then apply whitewash over everything that is left?

  32. Hello Tim,

    Thank you for all of this very helpful information about whitewashing brick. I have two questions for you. Should estimates from painters, that include the cost of materials, be significantly lower for whitewashing as compared to those that would use say Benjamin Moore paint? Also, can you recommend a reputable and experienced contractor to whitewash my red brick home, located just North of Chicago? It's been challenging to find contractors who use this method. Thank you!

  33. Tim -

    Thanks for the very helpful information. I have seen a lot of pictures of this whitewash technique, but most of what I've seen has been on otherwise pretty brick. Our house was built in 1950 with a heavily grooved brick that is in varying shades of red, beige and olive (subtle differences between the colors). Do you happen to have any experience with this type of grooved brick or, even better, any pictures?

    Best regards,

  34. Hi Tim,

    Looking to whitewash our 1940's 1,400 sq.ft. home in Ft Thomas Kentucky and was wondering if you contract in that area? I'm not sure we trust ourselves on this one. The pictures of yours look so good. Thanks!


    • Sarah,

      I live 1000 miles away in New Hampshire. All you have to do is go back up above and CLICK one of the text links I have in the column - there are at least three - where you can get FREE & FAST BIDS from local painters who can do whitewashing.

      It's a specialty and you NEED TO get them to PRACTICE first unless they can prove to you they know what they're doing. It's not really hard at all to do, unless you're trying to colorize it and need the color to match perfectly batch to batch.

      I do PHONE consulting if you need personalized help:


  35. Thanks for all the great info. I am wanting to lime wash our brick ranch in Florida, but cannot find Type S hydrated lime anywhere. I've tried building supply stores, masonry suppliers, etc. All I've found so far is Type N--- could I use this kind if I presoaked it? Any other suggestions on where to find it would be great! Thanks so much!

  36. Hello, thanks for the great info. I'm looking to lime wash our brick ranch in Florida. But I cannot find type S lime anywhere. Could I use type N and soak it, or do you know of a place it could be found? Thanks!!

  37. If I decide to use white Portland cement and substitute ten percent of the lime quantity as I desire an authentic old look, does one still 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 as one would with the lime only or will the cement harden quicker and require the mixture be removed sooner and does it require a different manner of removal?

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