Painting Brick Fireplaces – How to “Whitewash” Brick the Right Way


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Okay, so maybe I shouldn’t say “whitewash.”  That was the first thing I tried when I decided one day that I wanted to paint my brick fireplace.  I took some white paint and mixed it with water to thin it out and then painted my brick.  I should have taken picture…Oh Nap!! (as my 3-year-old says…he’s trying to say “snap” like his siblings)  Anyway, it looked like I had taken my brick and put it in a photo editing software and turned the brightness setting way up.  It just looked washed out. Maybe if I had nicer brick it would have looked better…but of course that was why I was painting the brick because it didn’t look good.

Let me back up a little. I knew what I was looking for.  I wanted to look like those old walls that had been painted and then someone tried to take the paint off.  Like this:

Source

You can see in this picture, the original color of the brick is coming through.  There is not much paint on the face of the brick.  The paint is mostly in the grout lines and in any low spots on the brick.  This is what happens when you paint a wall and then try to take it off.  The paint remains in the low spots.

So I knew what I wasn’t looking for this:

In this picture you can see that the paint it more on the bricks and not in the grout lines.

or this:

Okay, so this doesn’t look too bad, mostly because the shape of the brick already has an old look to it (and the brick doesn’t look like it was laid perfectly straight which makes it look older).  My brick was perfect rectangles with sharp corners, it did not look chipped away and aged.   You can see the brick color isn’t coming through because it has a whitewash on it.

So how do you achieve the right look?  Well, it’s simple you have to put the paint on and then take it back off.

First I painted the brick making sure to get the paint in all the low spots.

Me Painting Brick Fireplace

This step wouldn’t have taken too long if I hadn’t been experimenting with the whitewash look.

After you paint, let it dry.  Then go back with a belt sander and sand the brick until you get the look you want.

I had some old sandpaper on my belt so I didn’t get too much paint off (I told you, I literally woke up one day and decided to do it so there was no preparation in going to the store and buying the right supplies).  Here is a closeup:

Not the best picture b/c I need more light, but you can see how it’s starting to achieve that look.

Anyway, so I had decided that I wanted to take more paint off so my husband went to the store to get more sandpaper for me and he came back with FINE sandpaper.  Which could have worked but I couldn’t bring myself to spend a lot of extra time sanding when I knew if I had COARSE sandpaper I’d be done if a few minutes.  Sigh…oh well….  So here’s how it stands right now.  I might take off more paint later:

Okay, so I haven’t really focused on the staging of the fireplace.  I just grabbed some stuff from around the house to make it look better…another time.

What do you think?  Leave a comment below!

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Want to know how to choose between white wash, limewash or mortar wash…see my post about it:  Limewash vs Whitewash vs Smeared Mortar

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18 thoughts on “Painting Brick Fireplaces – How to “Whitewash” Brick the Right Way

  1. Lori Schleier says:

    I had the same experience trying to tone down my red brick fireplace. The whitewash made it stand out even more than the red brick! I ended up faux painting the bricks back to a brick color. After reading your notes, I think I’d like to try sanding to get back to the real brick color under my couple layers of paint. How messy was it to sand? I’m afraid that brick dust will be everywhere in the house! Is there any way to vacuum/contain the dust as you are sanding?

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    • The dust wasn’t too bad, I only had to clean up the fireplace, mantel and the floor right around it. I’d wear a mask b/c I don’t know about breathing it but I don’t remember it being very dusty as far as in the air.

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      • brenda reardon says:

        what paint did you use on your bricks? and you used coarse sandpaper to remove paint ? look beautiful

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        • Honestly, I just took some leftover trim pain that we had, I think it was a satin water based paint. And yes, use coarse sandpaper or else you’ll be sanding forever! I had my husband go out and buy super coarse sandpaper b/c I was tired of sanding with the finer grit paper that we already had.

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    • LORI, YOU DIDN’T SAY WHAT KIND OF PAINT YOU USED.OR DO YOU THIN THE PAINT????

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      • When I was attempting to whitewash it I used some regular water based interior paint with a flat finish, that I thinned down with water. I tried to sort of dry brush it on by brushing over a paper towel before applying paint to the brick. It still came out too white for the affect I was aiming for. I also realized that part of what I didn’t like was the dark grout. So the next step I did was to use some white thin set to cover all the dark grout (we had very deep set grout lines, so there was plenty of room to add the white over the existing grey). Then to get it back to brick color I used several colors of acrylic paint (the kind you can get in little bottles at the craft store) and drybrushed again to reapply the terra cotta look. I used a typical rust/brick color, along with a couple shades of dark brown, and a deep grey/graphite color, to add enough variation so that it looks more like brick than just one flat color. That technique was really more hit or miss – just keep adding various colors till it looked right. So now I’m back to a brick colored brick fireplace, but the white grout has made a huge difference. One of these days I may try to sand it back to the real brick. Honestly what bothers me more is the brick mantel – but haven’t been able to find any DIY advice on how to chisel that off without damaging the rest of the fireplace!
        Good luck to you on your project!

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        • Yeah, sometimes it just takes a lot of experimenting. I didn’t like the color of our grout either so I just put more white paint along the grout lines and when you sand it to give it a distressed look, the paint in the grout lines doesn’t sand off b/c it’s recessed.
          I’ve seen some high-end, new homes that have brick fireplaces just painted a solid white. So that’s an option for some people too.
          I don’t think I’ve seen anyone chisel off brick mantels (unless it was to get a new mantel to fit over it) but you could build a wood mantel to cover it up, one that just slides over the existing mantel.
          I just used a semi gloss trim paint for mine that I watered down with water.

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  2. That is exactly the look I want also!!! I’ve been too afraid to get started though. Thanks so much for the inspiration.

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  3. Looks great! Is that an East Carolina University shirt!

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    • LOL! I didn’t even notice…it’s my husband’s, his t-shirts are the best for diy projects! He went to East Carolina.

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  4. I think this blog may have just saved my life. I started whitewashing my brick wall & fireplace last night and absolutely detested the results. I was trying to rub off paint with a towel once I got it on but that was futile. I had a fleeting thought about sanding but wasn’t sure it was a good idea. I sulked and pondered my next step while staring at my wall and eventually just went to bed. I just read this and can’t wait to get started again. THANK YOU!!!

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  5. Good info here – I read somewhere else to add LIME to the whitewash mixture??? EVER heard of this and if so … why is it necessary? (not lime like lime juice at the grocery, but LIME like what you’d use in your yard). lol

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  6. Whitewashed my brick fireplace and now it looks pink. I absolutely HATE it.

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    • That’s what happened to me when I just mixed the paint with water and dabbed it on. Red + White = Pink So I went back over it with the paint less transparent (so it’d stay solid white in places) and then sanded it off in places. I know someone also did theirs by smearing on grout instead of using paint, they did their fireplace and then ended up doing the entire outside of the house that way. There is always ways to fix it, so don’t worry, sometimes it just takes some experimenting to get it right.

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  7. Best whitewashed look I’ve seen. I’m going to do it differently. I’m going to use a heavier paint ratio for my black grout. Then actually wash the bricks with a much thinner water to paint solution and try to blend it. Your’s turned out beautiful. But, I don’t want to fool with the sanding.

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    • Thanks! I tried the thinner paint too to begin with but it didn’t work for me, probably b/c I had red brick and it looked kind of pink. Let us know how yours turns out. I’d love to see a picture!!

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