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How to Whitewash Brick to Make It Last

Painting home office with whitewash birck next to yellow wall
united photo studio / Shutterstock

Taking on a whitewash brick project is an easy and affordable way to upgrade an outdated color palette. Whitewashing can be done both on your home’s exterior or interior, allowing you to tackle both brick siding outside or a brick fireplace inside. By following just five simple steps, you’ll be able to totally transform any brick space.

How to whitewash brick in 5 steps

  • Step 1: Clean the brick with a gentle cleaning solution
  • Step 2: Scrape away existing paint
  • Step 3: Prepare surrounding areas
  • Step 4: Formulate your whitewash solution
  • Step 5: Whitewash your brick

A step-by-step guide to whitewashing brick

1. Clean the brick with a gentle cleaning solution.

Whether you’re whitewashing exterior brick or planning to whitewash a brick fireplace, start by cleaning the surface you’re about to update. Make sure to scrub both the brick and the mortar for a clean, consistent look. While you can choose a number of cleaning solutions, dish soap is the most accessible. Alternatively, if you’re going to whitewash exterior brick, pressure washing is the best option.

2. Scrape off existing paint.

Skip this step if your area is unpainted brick. For brick that has been painted in the past, however, use a wire brush or paint scraper to strip old layers. Just like cleaning, this step helps you achieve a consistent look that will be less prone to chipping and flaking in the future.

3. Prepare surrounding areas.

Whitewashing brick can be a messy project, so take extra care to protect the area around your work space. For exterior projects, remove shutters and tape plastic covers over your windows and light fixtures. Before you whitewash a brick fireplace, apply the same precautionary measures to the mantel and floor.

4. Formulate your whitewash solution.

The exact ratio for mixing your whitewash solution depends on the final look you wish to achieve for your home exterior or fireplace. Start with half water and half white latex paint and test a small, hidden area so you can make adjustments if necessary. You can also use masonry-specific paint, which is mineral-based and designed to let the brick breathe, rather than sealing in moisture.

5. Whitewash your brick.

When learning how to whitewash brick, there are different methods to choose from depending on your desired look. The most straightforward choice is to brush or paint roll the brick. For a more customized look, work in sections and spray the brick with water, then directly dab on paint with a dry cloth.

The products and tools you’ll need for your project

  • Latex or masonry paint. For a traditional whitewash, simply get latex paint for your project. Because painted brick has increased in popularity, you can also find many brick-specific paints in big box home improvement stores.
  • Water. Achieve your desired aesthetic by diluting your paint to get that perfect whitewashed look.
  • 5 gallon bucket. A large, clean bucket makes mixing your whitewash solution fast, easy, and and mess-free.
  • Paint brush supplies. Have all of your paint brush supplies on hand before getting started. An angled brush is ideal for corners, while a roller can cover a large space in a shorter amount of time.
  • Drop cloths. Whether you’re painting inside or out, protect the space beneath the brick with some heavy drop cloths.
  • Painter’s tape. painter’s tape also help protect adjoining surfaces while you whitewash your brick.

How to German Smear brick

If you love the look of distressed stone in a historic Eastern European village, consider using the German Smear technique for your brick. It gives a much more custom effect, resulting in an aged and weathered surface regardless of your home’s actual age. Rather than using a traditional whitewash solution, German Smear instead uses a thin layer of mortar over the brick. It’s an impactful way to tone down red brick while still letting those warm hues peek through. On the downside, it can be extremely time intensive since all of the mortar must be applied by hand.

Things to keep in mind while whitewashing brick

There are a few extra considerations to make before you jump into a whitewash brick project. If you have an older home with existing paint on the brick, make sure it’s not lead-based. You’ll need to take extra precautions to remove this toxic material if it’s present.

Also, when tackling an exterior DIY whitewash project, think about how you’ll get to those hard-to-reach places, especially for a two-story home. In fact, a lift rental might be in your cards if you have a particularly tall house. Make sure that extra expense is within your budget — and your comfort zone.

The bottom line on whitewashing brick

Whitewashing brick is a relatively easy project, but it’s also an extremely personal one. Take the time to create a whitewash ratio that achieves the appearance you’re looking for  and don’t be afraid to let your test area dry so you know exactly what the finished product will look like. It’s also smart to give yourself ample time to clean the brick before you paint and to take protective measures to keep the surrounding areas clean.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you whitewash exterior brick?

Yes, you can certainly whitewash exterior brick. One particular advantage is that a whitewashed look ages well as the elements weather the paint.

Can you whitewash sealed brick?

Sealed brick provides a smooth surface for applying whitewash. However, you may want to scuff it up with a wire brush before applying the whitewash.

How do you wash whitewash brick?

Use a mild cleaning solution to clean your whitewash brick, whether it’s located inside or outside. A simple spray hose removes dust from exterior bricks, while a simple bucket of water and a cloth refreshes a painted brick fireplace.

Can whitewash be removed from brick?

What happens if you get sick of the whitewash brick look? Depending on how thickly it was originally painted, you could try scrubbing it for a more low-key effect. Otherwise, you’ll need to scrape off the whitewash.

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