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5 Swoon-Worthy Ways to Finish Your Brick

I’m Zoe.
My mission is to teach you to  confidently build magazine-worthy DIYs. I used to be terrified of power tools, which is why I'm a firm believer that ANYONE can DIY.
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Let’s talk about brick. I know a lot of people think it’s a crime to cover brick, but finishing brick can add character and give your space a different feel. Painting brick black or white can give you a more modern vibe, while mortar washing brick will help give your space a sense of history and old charm.

Today we’ll cover 5 types of finishes. First up is a mortar wash. There are two main types of mortar wash: slurry and German schmear (or smear). Next, we’ll talk about limewash, whitewash, and paint.

Mortar Wash

cottage style home with white slurry brick finish
home exterior with german schmear brick finish

Mortar wash is a technique meant to mimic the beauty and character of an Old World building. The technique consists of spreading wet mortar over the brick and removing some of the mortar while it’s still wet.

In a German smear, you control the amount of coverage and texture that you want. In this technique, some of the bricks are still exposed while others are completely covered with mortar, creating a lot of texture.

In a slurry, you cover all of the bricks with mortar, resulting in a texture that is similar to a smooth stucco with hints of the brick texture showing through.

In the photos above, you can clearly see the differences between German schmear and slurry. In the German schmear, some of the bricks remain red, while in a slurry, the brick is all covered in mortar. The color comes from the mortar. No painting or whitewashing needs to be done to complete these looks.

Both of these techniques create a different texture than the original brick and are permanent. Since you are using mortar, both German schmear and slurry have strong adhesion and are very difficult to remove.

This means that if you want to commit, this is a great style with little maintenance in the long run. If you’re looking for a German schmear look without the commitment (interior walls only), check out our DIY German schmear tutorial.

Limewash

large brick home with limewash brick finish

Limewashing might not be a commonly discussed technique, but it should be! First, let’s talk about what limewashing is. Limewash paint is created from lime putty. No, this putty isn’t made from limes that you eat!

The putty is made by crushing and burning limestone and then adding a small amount of water to make a putty. After letting the putty mature for a few days to a few months, the putty is thinned with water to create the limewash paint. The process sounds complex, but the finished product is readily available at Home Depot. Side note: it’s also safe for the environment!

Now for the benefits. Limewashing protects and seals your brick, discouraging mold and mildew.

Can I get an amen for all us living in humid and wet places?!

The limewash soaks into porous surfaces, like your brick, maintaining the original texture. Since it soaks in, limewash is a durable solution. Unlike paint, it doesn’t chip and there is no need to remove prior limewash before adding a new layer when you need to re-coat it.

Check out Justine Hand’s DIY limewashed walls. I never said brick was the only surface you can limewash 😉 

If you love a whitewashed look but want the benefits of limewash, you don’t have to choose! Limewash can be used to achieve a whitewashed look and comes in several other colors as well.

You might have to go online to order a color other than white or gray, but other colors are out there. The one downside of limewash is that is does cost more than paint. But, invest up front to avoid paying more later, right?

Whitewash

light whitewash brick exterior with lots of red brick showing through

Whitewashing is a technique of covering brick with a mixture of water and white paint. As the name implies, white is the only color that true whitewash comes in, though you could mix water with any color paint.

Whitewashing maintains the texture of the brick and you have some control over how much of the original color comes through. If you want a very light finish where most of the brick comes through, you can add more water to the paint.

On the flip side, you can add less water if you want more of a solid finish. If you’re interested in whitewashing your brick, Young House Love has a great whitewashing tutorial.

Paint

dark gray painted brick house exterior

We’ll keep this section short. You’ve read the benefits of limewash and I would highly recommend that technique if you are covering real brick. The benefit of paint is that you can choose any possible color, but other than that, limewash is the way to go for durability and mildew resistance.

Which is your favorite technique to finish brick? Do you have a favorite technique that we didn’t talk about today? Let us know in the comments below!

5 swoon-worthy ways to finish brick

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  1. Danielle Houston says:

    What type of mortar is used to do a slury technique?

  2. Catherine says:

    I like the slurry look. I’m wondering if down the road it could be painted, and if so, how you think it would look.

    • Zoe Hunt says:

      Hi Catherine! The slurry look really is beautiful! You could definitely paint it down the road. In fact, I have a hunch that the example photo from the blog post was likely painted white after the mortar was applied. I can’t be sure since it isn’t my house, but the perfectly solid color makes me think that it was finished with paint as well.

  3. Madison, MS says:

    We purchased a painted clay green, two-story brick house. We have lived in it for seven years and it now needs painting. We really miss the maintenance free brick look and frequent repainting is costly. Removing the exterior paint is way, too expensive! Could German Schmear be an option, versus repainting? Scraping the painted brick, allowing the natural brick and the clay green painted brick show through the schmear might be attractive, but I can’t find any photos of other homeowners who were brave enough to try it?

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