What Is Whitewashing Brick?

Whitewashing has become a popular decorating technique as it allows you to update an exposed brick wall with a modern twist.

Whitewashing isn’t the same as painting a wall white, as the results from the former are not opaque. Whitewashing uses watered-down paint to coat the brick with a translucent white coat that allows the natural texture of the brick to show through, while also covering the majority of the red brick color.

You can adjust your water-to-paint ratio to show less or more of the original brickwork, depending on the end result you are hoping for.


There’s also a technique known as ‘lime washing’. Limewash is made from limestone that’s been crushed, burned, and mixed with water to create a kind of lime putty. This is then aged and thinned with water before being colored with natural pigments.

Limewash is a type of paint that achieves a similar ‘whitewash’ effect as it sinks into porous materials such as brick to create a chalky texture which adds depth and luminosity to flat walls.

Limewash is also popular as it’s made from natural ingredients and pigments, so it’s considered more environmentally friendly than other paint types.

Is whitewashing brick a good idea?

Whitewashing is a great middleground between painting brick or keeping it exposed. It also provides a permanent effect without requiring regular maintenance and reapplication like regular paint will.

Above all, whitewashing allows you to maintain the natural integrity of the brick, so you keep that textured look and feel. Painting the brick will instead cover this up, and will give a less natural finish that will require a lot of upkeep.

Whitewashing brick also allows you to have greater flexibility in terms of how much brick you leave exposed, as how opaque your white wash is will depend on your water-to-paint ratio.

When you first start whitewashing brick, it’s best to do a small area first, or apply just one coat, as this way you’ll get a better idea of how it dries, and will know whether or not you want to add more coats, or stick to just one.

Do you need to clean brick before whitewashing?

Yes. This is really important, otherwise, you’re going to be trapping all of that dirt and grime underneath the paint. Whether you’re painting a brick wall or a piece of furniture, you always want to begin with a clean canvas.

Thoroughly clean the brick before you paint it. You can use a wire brush and soapy water to scrub the brick and remove any efflorescence or dirt. If there’s a lot of dirt in the brick, you might want to try applying a mixture of trisodium phosphate (TSP) and water – though be sure to wear protective goggles and gloves when using this.

You also want to allow the area to dry out completely before you start whitewashing your brick.

What kind of paint is best for whitewashing brick?

When whitewashing brick, it’s best to use a latex (or water based) paint. Generally, a whitewash mixture will consist of equal parts paint and water, though you can experiment with different ratios to see which achieves your desired effect.

Can you whitewash brick with any color?

While it is possible to whitewash brick in other colors, you’re best sticking to shades of white or gray. These lighter shades allow you to conceal the original brick color, while also allowing flashes of it to show through, which adds character and warmth to your home.

For the most professional whitewashed result, buy a shade of white that looks good layered over the original brick and ensure that it closely matches the color of the mortar between the bricks.

You can go for warmer shades of white or cream, or cooler ones that have more gray undertones. It depends on the overall look you’re going for, the original mortar, and the rest of the decor in the room. Don’t be fooled into thinking ‘white’ equals boring – there are literally thousands of shades to choose from.

Can you undo whitewash brick?

It’s not easy to undo whitewash brick, which is why it’s important to do a good job if you are whitewashing a brick wall or fireplace.

If you’re trying to remove whitewash from a feature such as a fireplace, a gel paint stripper such as SoyGel or CitriStrip may work, though you should test a small area before moving onto the rest of the fireplace. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and work in sections, taking breaks as and when needed.

Once you’ve removed the majority of the paint, you can use a drill’s wire brush attachment to break up and remove the remaining paint, then follow up with a wet wire-bristle brush and wipe the area clean with super-fine steel wool and/or a damp rag.

Repeat the process as needed until the brick is clear. If at any point you feel like you’re damaging the underlying masonry or mortar, it’s best to halt the process and seek guidance from a professional.

How do you gray wash bricks?

Graywash is even more subtle than whitewash, and looks great on a brick fireplace.

  1. As with any kind of painting and whitewashing, before you start you’ll want to lay out drop cloths on the surrounding furniture and surfaces, as things will get messy. Then you’ll want to clean the brick down and remove any dirt or debris with soapy water.
  2. Mix your gray wash solution according to how much brick you want to show through the paint. A 1:1 ratio of paint to water usually works well, so 1/2 a cup of paint and a 1/2 cup of water in a plastic container, or increase the paint amount if you want less exposed brick. Shake the mixture so it’s well mixed, ensuring the container is properly closed before doing so.
  3. Use a stiff, short-bristled brush to apply the paint in small sections. For a more natural application which will also add variation in the brick color, dab over the bricks with a rag to allow the original color to show through slightly.

How do you whitewash a red brick house?

  1. As we mentioned above, cleaning the brick before you whitewash is super important, especially on the exterior of your home where the brick is exposed to the elements. If not cleaned properly the paint or primer will struggle to seal.
  2. Once the brick has dried, you can then apply a primer, but don’t mix any water with it for this step.
  3. Typical whitewash is created by mixing an even amount of white latex paint and water and then applying this in a thin layer to clean, red brick. For an even more rustic look you can try the German Smear technique, which uses a mortar and water mixture that is spread onto the bricks and then removed partly before it begins to set.

Final Verdict

Whitewashing brick is a great way to achieve a rustic, European look, whether you’re updating your fireplace or hoping to revive your home’s red brick exterior.

Whitewashing is surprisingly easy, and there are a whole load of blog posts and videos online with DIY enthusiasts sharing their top tips on how to achieve the perfect whitewash technique.

Whitewashing is a highly effective way to update your home, while still retaining the original character of brick walls and features.

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