Project Guide

How to Whitewash Brick

1
Clean the Brick
A person uses a mop to clean dirt off a brick surface.

Whitewash will have better results applied to clean interior brick instead of dirty brick. Despite its rough exterior, brick can be damaged if washed too vigorously, so use a light touch.

 

  • Apply a cleaning solution of dish soap or all-purpose cleaner and water with a clean cloth or rag. Gently work it into the brick and grout surface with a scrub brush. Let sit for 10 minutes and rinse using a fresh rag dipped in warm water. 
  • If dirty spots remain, try cleaning them with a solution of one tablespoon of boric acid and a gallon of water. Apply to the trouble spots with a scrub brush. Wear protective gloves.
  • If you’re whitewashing on or around a chimney, be sure to remove any traces of soot with a cleaning foam if warm soapy water is insufficient.


Tip: If the brick includes traces of old paint, be sure to remove it with a putty knife or paint scraper

2
Protect the Work Space
Drop cloths cover the floor around a brick wall for protection before whitewashing.

Protect the area around the brick surface you’re planning to whitewash.

 

  • Move any furniture that’s in the way. 
  • Put down a drop cloth on the floor and over any furniture too heavy to move. 
  • Use painter’s tape to keep whitewash off of protected surfaces. 
  • If whitewashing a chimney, make sure to cover the mantel. 
3
Mix the Whitewash
A person stirs a whitewash mixture of water and white paint.
  • Originally whitewash was made from lime, but the most popular current method is very easily made by mixing a 50/50 solution of water and white latex paint and stirring until the mix is even. (Oil-based paint does not mix as effectively with water.) 
  • Do a patch test by applying a sample of whitewash to brick in a remote place to see if it’s to your liking. Adjust the brightness of the solution by adding more water or paint. 
  • Keep in mind that brick is porous, so the whitewash may fade a little as it soaks into the surface. Consider applying a bright white mixture and expect it to fade to your target tint. 
4
Apply Whitewash to the Brick and Mortar
A person uses a brush to apply whitewash to a brick wall.

Whitewash a small area at a time.


  • First, lightly mist the brick with water from a spray bottle
  • Apply the whitewash with a wide paint brush, then lightly dab with a cotton cloth as you go. Be sure to whitewash any drips you may leave.
  • An alternate method is to use a cotton cloth to wipe the whitewash onto the brick. 
  • Leave as much or as little whitewash in place as you prefer. Some people like a more uneven, "shabby chic" look.
  • If necessary, use a narrower paint brush to whitewash the mortar, the edges of the brick and any other nook and cranny that's hard to reach.
  • Let dry overnight. 


Tip: A modern method called “German smear” creates a whitewash effect by mixing 70 percent mortar and 30 percent water. Apply the thicker mixture with a trowel or grout sponge and then remove enough to leave a thin coating. Wear protective mask and glasses. 

Learning how to whitewash a brick fireplace or wall can give a dated look a more contemporary makeover. Like the term “whitewash” suggests, consider applying it as if you’re washing the brick, not painting it.