How To Whitewash A Brick Wall Or Fireplace

Yup, it happened. Whitewash in the hizzy!

After reading a bunch of whitewashing tutorials (like this one and this one) I decided to just dive right in. We’re not too crazy about the raw look of orangey-brown brick indoors, so we’ve straight up painted it in our last two houses (we LOVE the look of painted brick)… but after seeing a few whitewashed brick walls over on Pinterest we decided to give that a spin this time. We figured if we didn’t like it we could always just paint over it. We’ve even talked about adding white stacked stone or something else to the brick fireplace wall down the line, so it felt like one of those “nothing to lose” projects.

Happily, we really like it! The room is far from done, and it might not be a forever thing (we’re still in love with the idea of stacked stone like this down the line) but for a day of work and a total cost of zero bucks (we just used leftover paint and rags that we had around) we’re really pleased with the outcome.

 

So here’s how I knocked it out. First, I wiped down the brick to make sure there weren’t cobwebs and old soot all over it – just a good once over with an old rag did the trick.

Then I mixed up a mixture of one part water and one part paint (I used Simply White by Benjamin Moore in an eggshell finish since we used that in our half bathroom and had some leftover). The consistency was pretty drippy and watery. Imagine taking a gallon of paint and pouring out half of it and refilling that half with water. I used a brush to “wash” it on, brick by brick. I moved quickly and sort of smeared it onto each brick with the brush, and then dabbed over it with a rag – just to remove any excess and absorb any drips (since it was so runny those popped up from time to time).

The dabbing took more arm strength than the washing-with-the-brush step, and I tried to work as fast as I could – just because I had heard that it could go pretty quickly and I couldn’t wait to step back and survey a larger area to see how it looked.

 

Here’s a quick video of the process for ya:

The bricks soak up the wash pretty quickly. When you first run your brush over them it seems like you’ve straight up painted them white, and then you dab and then glance again a few seconds later a bunch has soaked up and a lot of the brick’s coloring comes oozing through.

I did the entire part above the hearth so I could stand on that while painting and then moved to the bottom of the fireplace wall. At this point I realized I was about to get drippy paint-water all over our wood floors so I took a second to tape off the floor with rosin paper from Home Depot (it’s waterproof, which is nice because I didn’t have to worry about any drips soaking through to the floor).

It probably took me about two hours to do the first wash, and then I stepped back and was faced with the question that I’d read about on a few other blogs: should I leave it or do another pass? I decided that in person too much dark red and brown was still showing through in a few areas (it’s harder to tell in these photos) so I mixed up an even waterier second wash (about a third paint and two thirds water) and then went over the wall again – just to add a bit more haze.

That coat was much faster (maybe an hour, tops). After that second pass I was really happy with it. The room no longer felt as dark and cavernous, but the brick still had a lot of texture and detail in person (this photo makes it a bit harder to see than in person, unfortunately). The nice thing is that, unlike a painted brick wall, there are still variations in color and a more matte/rough look. I love the weathered effect that it gives without feeling too “faux finished” or “Medieval Times” (not that I didn’t love that place as a kid).

From afar the wall looks sort of chalky and textured and varied – as opposed to glossy and super white (which would have been the result if we had just painted it instead of washing it). When you get closer you see more of the pretty details of each brick. Some are a bit lighter. Some are darker. Some are craggier. It’s a nice mix.

I have no idea why the camera can’t capture the details of those bricks in the same way when you step back (in person from the doorway to the room they look a lot less painted and a lot more whitewashed). Maybe if I had waited for a sunnier day and used my tripod it might have had more light to pick up those details. I’ll have to give that a try.

Either way, I’m glad the room is looking decidedly less salmon these days.

The room’s definitely still in that awkward “half-done” stage right now, but we’re slowly getting there. As you can guess, now I’m itching to paint the mantel, the slatted wood walls, and the dark wood trim bright white (since the room is a soft tan tone, we think that will look really crisp and bring a lightness to this room that gets less sun thanks to the sunroom veranda behind it). We’re even thinking about adding some color to the back of the built-ins on the other side of the room as well as some soft color on the ceiling once we hopefully turn those beams into a coffered ceiling down the line. So there should be more lightening and then some more color-layering down the line.

Some folks have asked if we’ve considered leaving the wood as-is, and the answer is that we definitely didn’t want to rush into anything. After living with it for months now we’re still leaning towards painting it because painted wainscoting and trim just seems to be the look that we prefer (many rooms that we pin/tear out of magazines have that detail). But I always say never to paint brick or wood unless you’re 100% sure you want to go with that since it’s so hard to undo! Basically wait until you can’t stand waiting another second to paint it and only then should you grab a brush.

 

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