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Painting Brick: Limewash vs. Whitewash vs. German Schmear

Do you have a brick fireplace or brick home that you are looking to update yourself? Brick shades can be harsh against today’s more traditional styles. There are various products you can use to bring out the natural colors of brick while muting the brighter colors. 

hand holding paint brush adding white to brick.

*Disclosure: I only recommend products I would use myself and all opinions expressed here are our own. This post may contain affiliate links that at no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission. Read our full privacy policy.

What is Lime Wash Paint?

Limewash paint is a natural product that basically comes from crushed limestone combined with high heat and water, which is why it gives you a chalky texture. It contains no Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) so it is essentially odorless. 

If you choose to use it on an exterior, it has a high pH level which means it is mold- and bacteria-resistant.  On the interior, it’s comforting to know that it is non-toxic, eco-friendly and breathable, especially if you have small children in your home. 

Not Just For Bricks

Did you know limewash paint is not just for bricks? You can add so much personality to a small area of your home by choosing an accent wall with your favorite color to give new life to the room. Today limewash paint comes in many different shades but will always result in a matte finish. 

Tips For Using Lime Wash Paint

The key is to use a mineral-based primer so it can bond with the wall surface. It lightens as it dries.

Also, due to its ingredients, it’s not recommended that you try to wash down walls that have been limewashed because it will break down the texture. Just touch up the wall by adding another thin layer of paint. 

Ways To Apply Limewash

There are a few different ways to apply limewash paint to your interior walls: horizontal strokes, vertical strokes, or cloud-like motions. The texture comes from the brush strokes, unlike Venetian plaster. 

If you want texture on an interior flat wall, a great way to achieve that would be to use thin layers with vertical strokes to give a clean, textured look.  It may require several thin coats to get the desired effect. 

However, when most people think of limewash paint, they think of painting a brick fireplace and especially painting your exterior brick.

Before deciding if you are going to limewash brick,  let’s take a look at another great option.  Whitewash paint is an excellent alternative to change the look of the surface of the brick. 

What is Whitewash Paint?

Whitewashing is just a technique of watering down paint to cover brick with a more translucent color. When you paint your bricks with pure latex paint, which is a water-based paint, you will get an opaque color.

When you water down the paint, you allow the porous surfaces of the brick to soak up the paint while allowing the texture of the natural brick to show through.

brick fireplace being whitewashed white.

Limewash paint can also be diluted to achieve a different style of whitewash, but remember it does have additional texture within the paint. 

Finding the right translucency is a matter of personal preference, so for the best results, I recommend you test out different combinations of paint and water before tackling your job.

Factors To Consider

Are you looking to cover a brighter red brick wall or do you want some of the natural pigments of the brick to show through? It’s always a good idea to start with a more diluted paint solution in a spray bottle and a wet rag.

You can gradually add more white paint to your water mixture to get the coverage you are looking for. Brick colors vary so it’s important to take your time and go slowly with the process to achieve the white color you are looking for. 

part of whitewash brick fireplace with wooden mantel and shiplap on the sides.

Exterior Whitewashing

The biggest downside of using water-based paint on your brick home’s exterior is that it is prone to chip and peel over time. Nobody wants to go through this process to end up with peeling paint, and while limewash paint is less maintenance and is less invasive to the brick, it will also fade over time. This brings up one more option, and that is the German Smear.  

German Schmear

If you have a brick house and want full and lasting coverage, this may be the best option to give your home new life. German smear or schmear is like a mortar wash.

It is achieved by applying wet mortar to the brick exterior, then partially wiped off before drying completely. You are able to get a more textured and chippy look on your brick fireplace. We are just amazed that this DIY project only cost Kathy from Up To Date Interiors less than $10.

chippy diy German Schmear technique on a brick fireplace with mantel.

This can only be applied to bare brick. It won’t adhere to painted brick and once it is applied, it is very difficult to remove. However, one of the advantages is that you can still change or wipe away material until it completely dries for about 5 days.

It is great that one technique can get several different results. Our friends over at Heathered Nest really did a great job adding a mortar wash to the brick in their bedroom. Here you can see how she did a DIY German Schmear and worked quickly to wipe away some of the brick.

woman wiping away DIY german schmear on brick fireplace.

Read More>>Real-Life DIY Examples Of German Schmear & Other Fireplace Makeovers

Preparing Your Bricks Before Any Process

Now that you have done your research and you are ready to paint your brick surface, it is important to prep the area you want to paint.

Bricks need to be clean and completely dry. I would start by using a dry brush and vacuum to remove the visible dust on your interior brick wall accent or fireplace.  

hand using small wire brush to clean brick fireplace.

Next, use a wire brush and soapy water to remove any deposits or dirt on the mortar or embedded in the fireplace brick.

Allow for drying time and inspect for any cracks. If there are cracks in the masonry, it will need to be repaired before applying any type of whitewash, limewash or white latex paint. 

What would we choose?

It really depends on the look and reason you are considering doing a brick makeover. Whitewashing a brick fireplace is probably the easiest DIY try. However, if we were doing exterior brick we would consider other options.

Whatever you chose, remember it is your home and you can do what you like. Everyone has an opinion when it comes to painting brick or woodwork, but ultimately the homeowner’s opinion matters the most.

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