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Exterior Brick Makeover: Mortar Wash vs. Limewash vs. Whitewash

Considering doing an exterior brick makeover but not sure which method to choose? We’re here to help. With 8+ years experience in renovation design, we’ve used a variety of methods to update both interior and exterior brick.

There are so many looks you can achieve when updating your brick. Take these exterior brick renovations we’ve done, for example.

Exterior makeover
Painted brick
German schmear look
Exterior brick renovation
Exterior renovation

Over the years, we’ve noticed that a lot of people have interest in updating their exterior brick, but they’re not exactly sure what they want – and they’re not sure where to start.

In part one, we addressed why it is essential to do a lot of research before tackling an exterior brick project. Now, we want to walk you through a question we get asked a lot. What’s the difference between mortar washing (German Schmear), painting, whitewashing and limewashing? We’re glad you asked. Let’s walk through the different methods for exterior brick renovations and their different pros and cons. 

Mortar Wash/German Schmear on Exterior Brick

+ PRO: More texture

Using a mortar wash, also known as a German Schmear, is a great option if you want to give your brick some extra texture and an Old World feel. In this technique, you get to control the level of coverage you want – you can spread the wet mortar over the brick and remove as much or as little mortar as you want to expose the brick.

+ PRO: Less maintenance

If you know what look you’re going for and you’re ready to commit – and you don’t want to have to maintain it down the road – mortar washing your brick is a great option. This method will hold up, even with your home’s exposure to the elements.

CON: More permanent

The mortar clings to the exterior brick with a pretty strong adhesion – which is great in that you don’t have to maintain it. On the other hand, if you don’t like how it turns out or you change your mind, this is nearly impossible to remove.

Painting and Whitewashing Exterior Brick

+ PRO: Somewhat less permanent

Using regular paint to cover your brick (or combining paint with water to make a whitewash) is a bit less permanent than some other methods. If you change your mind, you may be able to power wash or sandblast it off – or remove it with stripping agents. If you do choose to remove it, you should consult the right professionals to ensure you don’t damage the brick in the process. 

+ PRO: Smoother finish

If you don’t want to add a lot of texture and simply want to lighten your brick, painting and whitewashing would be a good option for you.

+ PRO: Variety of colors

Choosing paint, rather than mortar and limewash, gives you more flexibility – there are so many color choices available!

– CON: More maintenance 

Unlike the other methods, painting and whitewashing will require some maintenance down the road. This is the price you pay for a less permanent option!

– CON: Some paints can trap in moisture

Masonry experts sometimes warn against painting exterior brick because it can potentially prevent it from “breathing” and trap in moisture. The important thing here is to consult professionals to choose the right paint for your brick.

Limewashing Exterior Brick

+ PRO: Gives as much texture as you’d like 

Limewashing is very similar to mortar washing in that it gives your brick some texture and that Old World feel. Limewash uses crushed limestone rather than mortar – but you can use it with the same German Schmear technique. To do this, combine the lime putty (“mortar”) with water to make a milkshake-like consistency – and then spread it over the brick. Then, you can control the look by scraping off as much of the mixture as you want to expose the brick in places. You can check out how we used this technique in our brick fireplace makeover tutorial using Romabio Classico Limewash.

If you prefer the whitewashed look over a German Schmear look, you can use limewash to achieve this as well. Depending on how much brick you’d like to show though, you can make the lime putty and water mixture thinner or thicker. This will add less texture to the brick, but still give it some character.

+ PRO: Low-commitment (initially) and less maintenance

Romabio’s Classico Limewash (our go-to) can be removed for up to two days after the initial application. So if you don’t love it on the first try, you don’t have to commit! But if you do, it’ll last, requiring significantly less maintenance than painted brick.

+ PRO: Good for your brick – and the environment!

Limewash allows your exterior brick to “breathe” while also keeping the mold and mildew at bay! It’s also a very green choice – unlike many paints.

– CON: More permanent

After a few days, limewash will soak into the pores of your brick – and it is pretty permanent. You’ve got to remove it quickly if you don’t love it.

Next Steps

All of these techniques are great for giving your brick home a makeover – it all depends on what level of commitment you want to make and what look you’re going for! We recommend finding one to three pictures of the exact look you want and comparing to each method – and then deciding which method makes most sense for you.

Then, come back for part three! We’ll explain how you can successfully pull off your exterior brick renovation and end up with a look you love. 

Still have questions? We’d love to help. Reach out to us at design@chchomesnc.com! We can answer your questions and even do a mock-up of your home’s exterior. 

If you enjoyed this post, check out our DIY fireplace tutorial as well.

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