Updating your home doesn't always mean making it look more modern. When it comes to brick, aging or distressing can change the look or help newer brick fit in with the older style of your home or camouflage replacement bricks in an older structure with a decorative technique over the whole thing. You have several options for getting the old brick look. The methods use different materials and techniques, and they achieve slightly different results. One thing all methods have in common is the need for a clean, dry brick surface before you start.
German smear isn't a new type of bagel topping at your local deli. It's a brick-aging method that uses a mortar wash to give the brick an Old World look. Because you're smearing mortar on the bricks, you end up with a rough surface that gives the brick more texture than normal. It looks rustic and makes the bricks appear irregular.
Before you reach for your mortar and trowel, it's important to note that the German smear technique is permanent but sticks only on unpainted brick. There is no easy way to remove it, because you're putting mortar on the brick. Make sure you like the look and can commit to it forever if you use this method. German smear is something you can do yourself, but you may want to practice first. The way you apply the mortar, including the thickness of the mortar, affects the results. Testing it out first helps you find a look you love before you commit to it on a full wall, fireplace or exterior surface.
You want your mortar to have a consistency similar to peanut butter. Add water to premixed mortar powder until you get the right consistency. If you want more of the brick to show, add a little extra water to make the mixture thinner. Wet the brick before applying the mixture.
You can apply the mortar using a trowel, grout sponge or your gloved hand. Spread the mortar on the brick, with the thickness of the layer based on how thick you want the final coat to be. Wipe off some of the mortar using a trowel or wire brush to get the look you want. The goal is to let some of the brick show through. After the mortar hardens, it's difficult to remove from the bricks, so make sure you like the look before it sets.
Whitewashing brick is similar to the German smear technique except it uses thinned paint instead of mortar. It lightens the existing look, but it doesn't add rough texture like German smear.
To start, mix latex paint with an equal amount of water to thin the paint. If you prefer a whiter look, don't add quite as much water. If you want more of the brick color to show, add more water. It's better to start with a thinner mixture. If you want more of whitewash look, you can go over it again with another coat that has less water. Test your mix on a hidden area to see if you like the look it creates.
Moisten the brick before you start the whitewashing technique. You can apply the whitewash with a paintbrush or a cotton cloth. If you use a paintbrush, wipe excess paint off the bristles before applying it to the brick in a small area. Dab or blot the paint using paper towels to remove some of the paint, so it has a washed look instead of solid paint.
For the cloth method, wad up a cotton cloth, dip it in the thinned paint, and apply it to the brick. You can wipe or dab it on, depending on how you want it to look. Play around with your technique to get a look you love. If you decide a certain area has too much paint, you can spritz some water on the area and use a cloth to remove some of the paint.
Because brick is porous, it soaks up the whitewash. That means as it dries, more of the brick might show through than does when it's still wet. Let the paint dry before deciding if you like the results.
Limewashing uses a mixture of hydrated lime and water to create a wash that partially covers the brick very much like the whitewash technique. It works only on brick that hasn't been painted. Before working with the lime, suit up with a dust mask, goggles and gloves, because it's a caustic material. You want to keep the lime off of your skin and out of your lungs.
Pick an overcast day for limewashing, as a slow drying process is best to increase the durability of the finish. Wetting the brick also helps slow the limewash drying process. Mix the lime with water to get a consistency similar to whole milk. A good ratio to use is about 80 percent water to 20 percent lime. It's best to mix a large batch of the limewash to get consistent results. Mixing smaller batches can cause noticeable discrepancies in the look of the limewash.
You can use a paint roller or paintbrush to apply the limewash. You may need to stir the limewash occasionally, because the lime sometimes settles. The wash gets whiter as it dries. If you want a more opaque look, you can apply additional coats, but wait two to four days between applications.
Limewash doesn't last as long as other aging methods. You may need to do additional coats after five to seven years to keep up the look. If you decide you no longer want the limewashed look, remove it using a pressure washer or by scrubbing with a stiff nylon brush.
Shelley Frost combines her love of DIY and writing in her freelance career. She has first-hand experience with tiling, painting, refinishing hardwood floors, installing lighting, roofing and many other home improvement projects. She keeps her DIY skills fresh with regular projects around the house and extensive writing work on the topic.