How to Whitewash your Brick Walls and Fireplace with an organic Limewash
Whitewashing brick has been a European tradition for centuries, creating a great way to organically blend new architecture with the old and very old. Finally, it is becoming more widely known here in the states.
It is a common malpractice to paint brick with acrylic or latex paints. There are three major reasons why this is not recommended:
Acrylic/latex paint can cause cracking. Acrylic paint essentially is a layer of liquid plastic that, when dry, seals any surface you paint onto. Therefore, painting brick with acrylic paint will seal the brick off from air flow, creating cracks in the structure due to over-drying, which can ruin the integrity of the structure the brick is supporting or protecting.
- Acrylic/latex paint and brick can cause molding. For the same reason the brick can over-dry, due to no air flow, it can also over-wet. Trapping moisture in brick can lead to molding, and when mixed with fire soot and debris, you can potentially have a dangerous mold problem. It is highly recommended to avoid this hazard by not painting your bricks with acrylic paints.
- VOCs, off-gassing, and other health hazards. Using "standard" acrylic paint is becoming more and more widely known as dangerous. The chemicals put into the paints and released are not only dangerous for you, but also leave an unpleasant smell lingering for weeks and weeks. Using mineral-based paints is an affordable, organic alternative to acrylics.
Whitewashing your fireplace is a great, fun way to spend your weekend. Provided here is a simple step-by-step process to whitewashing your fireplace or any indoor brickwork you have in your home, or like these pictures, in your restaurant.
Before we get started, make sure you have a complete set of Materials needed to complete the job. Time is a factor when "antiquing" the brick, so you don't want to get 3/4 of the way through and realize you forgot rags!
- Romabio Classico Limewash - 450 sf/gal. a standard fireplace would require 1 - 2 liters.
- Distilled Water - not necessary, but preferred. When using mineral paints, you want it to be in the purest form.
- Scrub brush - hard plastic bristles, for cleaning soot and dirt.
- Masonry brush - soft bristles and wide, you are going to be brushing the whole thing.
- 2 Spray bottles - have one just plain water and one water/distilled white vinegar blend, for cleaning purposes and editing the final look.
- Stir stick, silicon spatula, or a drill and stir paddle attachment.
- Painter's Tape - read the label and get the proper tape for adhesion to the proper surface.
- Drop Cloth - vital for catching paint splashes and splatters, an unavoidable consequence of painting! Note: Drop Cloths are preferred because they are reusable and sustainable, as opposed to plastic drop cloths that you will throw away.
- Mixing Bucket - at least a 2 gallon bucket will be needed to mix the lime-concentrate and water
- Painters brush - for later small details and touch ups.
- Plenty of Rags. Disclaimer: do not use red rags, traditionally used in garages and metal shops - the red dye does come out of those rags and onto freshly painted surfaces.
- Ladder - Fireplaces typically go up to the ceiling. Safely use a ladder. Read all warning labels and proper instructions. More than 90,000 people per year get treated for ladder related injuries (culture of safety article).
Step 1. Clean the masonry
- Before spray-cleaning, take a broom and broom out any deeper holes. Dust can build up and not be noticed easily. This will save time when scrubbing.
- Using the spray bottle with vinegar, your scrubbing brush and some "elbow grease".
- Be sure to get off all build up. This could take some time, depending on how much action your fireplace sees.
Step 2. Tape the floor and walls
- Using the appropriate painter's tape, tape around the fireplace, on the floor and the walls. This will protect the floors and walls from staining from the lime wash. Note: Be sure all dust and debris is removed from any surface you are applying tape to. This is vital in keeping paint from "bleeding through"
Step 3. Saturate the masonry
- First, let's define Saturate - to cause (something) to become thoroughly soaked with liquid so that no more can be absorbed. You will know when the brick is saturated when it starts to drip rapidly.
- Using the spray bottle, saturate the brick.
- Wait 10 minutes. Saturate the brick once more. This time will not take nearly as long.
Step 4. Dilute the paint with water
- For the standard whitewash application, use 100% dilution, or in ratio form 1:1. In other words, equal parts water to paint; 1 liter water + 1 liter paint. Note: Using distilled or de-ionized water is preferred. When using mineral based paints, you don't want to add more minerals to the equation that were not called for. This will secure the proper desired outcome, granted you have the time and skill needed to complete the task.
- Take your preferred method of stirring (spatula, wooden stir stick, drill with stir paddle attachment) and stir. You will notice when using this product, a pleasant, almost familiar smell to it. That is minerals. This is ancient alchemy, let your mind drift to a distant land before plastics and modern technology, when painting brick was considered an art form.
Step 5. Apply paint with masonry brush.
- Thoroughly cover the masonry with the paint. work from top to bottom; left to right, or however you feel comfortable. Just be sure to remember where you started.
- Apply even coats, getting into all of the "nooks and crannies" common in older masonry. This step will take the longest, up to 5 hours, depending on the size of your fireplace. An entire wall will take even longer. Now imagine painting an entire castle! Now imagine living in a castle. We are getting off topic, but that was fun!
- Once you have completely covered the masonry, take a step back and assess any large missed areas. If you have thoroughly covered the brick, good for you!
Step 6. Watch the paint dry
- This step is not to be overlooked! If you just go about your day, you could easily forget about your project and be left with an undesired finish.
- The less white brick look you want in the end, the less time you have to wait for the paint to dry.
- This could take 15 minutes to a few hours. Check where you started by lightly touching with your finger is a discrete spot. If it is tacky, then go ahead with the next step.
Step 7. Antiquing the brick
- Alright - time for the fun stuff!
- Using a spray bottle and distilled water, go ahead and spray, lightly at first, starting with the area you started to paint in.
- Spray an area of about arms length in a circular motion.
- Take a rag, dabbing away areas where you want to expose more of the brick. Get Artistic! Here's a couple of artistic ways you can antique your masonry:
- Depending on how the sun hits your fireplace, take awat more limewash in the areas where it gets direct sunlight, making it look more natural and antiqued as if it had been painted 200 years ago!
- Start at the fireplace, removing more limewash the closer to the top of the fire-pit you get, making it look like the fire had slowly burnt away the paint.
- Get creative! You are the artisan, and there are no rules to art.....right?
Congratulations! You are now an alchemist, artist and ancient Roman trades-person. Take a deep breath of the wonderful smelling minerals, take a step back, and look at the marvel you have created! Using your best judgment, (which means actually taking a step back and looking at the whole project) take time and make it look how you want. You can use vinegar/water mixture for places where the limewash has dried too much.
Once you are satisfied, carefully remove tape and properly clean your tools. See our articles and videos for tips.
After 7 - 10 days, the product will calcify and be bonded to the masonry, as if it were there all along!