How to Stain Brick

Staining brick can give your floor, wall, or fireplace a new look

Staining Brick With a Brush

Guido Mieth / Getty Images

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 2 - 4 hrs
  • Total Time: 1 - 2 days
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $50 to $100

Brick is an incredibly durable building product for interiors and exteriors and needs only minimal maintenance. But eventually, the brick may become tired and need an update. Stain is versatile; it can be thick, thin, opaque, or add a hue, like staining brick white, giving it a whitewash effect. Other popular brick stain colors are classic red, rich charcoal, vibrant terracotta, and sky blue.

As long as the brick is structurally sound and the surface isn't painted, one of the best ways to give it a design refresh is to stain it. One of the best stains for brick is water-based brick stain since it's easy to apply and allows the brick to breathe. The stain that can be used on brick should be formulated for brick, concrete, or masonry.

Staining brick is considered better than painting because of its breathability, longevity, and nice look. Stain doesn't damage brick unless you use a type with a sealant that traps water vapor in the brick, which might eventually cause brick cracks.

Learn how to give your fireplace, exterior wall, interior brickwork, walkway, brick flooring, or other masonry surfaces vitality and a new life with brick stain.

What Brick Staining Is

Brick stain is a permanent surface finish that changes the appearance of the brick. Unlike paint, which remains on the surface, brick stain is a mineral product that soaks into the brick and becomes a part of the brick. It can never chip, bubble, or pull away from the brick.

Brick stain works best when applied to unsealed, clean, fully porous brick. It cannot be applied to painted brick. Stain will bead on top of the paint. For best results, use a paint sprayer to apply the stain. Since brick is so porous, it often needs several coats of stain. It will be faster and more efficient using a few passes of a paint sprayer vs. a brush or roller.

Brick stain does not protect the brick, though it is possible to purchase brick stain with protective additives. The best place to buy brick stain is from a home improvement store, paint retailer, or an e-commerce site. It's sometimes better to go into a store for paint swatches, but since the stain is dependent on the brick it's being applied to, you can save yourself the trip and get it online.

Brick and mortar stain at different rates and to different degrees. So, it sometimes is necessary to stain the mortar with a modified stain solution or to leave it unstained.

Painting Brick vs. Staining Brick

Painting Brick
  • Opaque

  • Thick layer

  • Seals up pores

  • Covers up masonry patches

  • Removable, though with difficulty

Staining Brick
  • Transparent

  • Thin layer

  • Leaves pores open

  • Masonry patches still visible

  • Cannot be removed

Brick staining and brick painting are related because both are ways of freshening up brick and giving it a new look. Beyond that, the two methods work differently and have outcomes that can appeal to different goals.

Brick Painting

Brick painting covers the entire surface of the brick, including the mortar, with a relatively thick layer of paint. This method gives the brick a uniform, opaque appearance. Though there are no gradations of color with painted brick, painted brick can emphasize the texture of the brick surface. It also can give the brick a clean, modern feeling.

One advantage of painting brick is that the paint covers all of the surface flaws. Patched areas are covered up, as well. A disadvantage is that the paint seals up the porous brick and does not allow the brick to breathe.

Painted brick can be removed later on, although with much difficulty. Exterior painted brickwork can be sandblasted or power washed with water.

Brick Staining

Brick stain covers the surface of the brick with a thin color. This color can either be solid and opaque, much like paint, or light and thin to preserve the brick’s basic color scheme. 

Brick stain soaks into the pores of the brick and allows it to breathe. Unlike painted brick, stained brick does not allow water to become trapped below the surface.

One disadvantage of brick stain is that it will not refurbish heavily damaged brick. Not only will masonry patches not be covered with brick stain but they can become even more glaringly obvious because they become darker than the surrounding brickwork.

Brick stain is nearly impossible to remove. The stain is thin enough to embed itself deeply into the pores of the brick. Stain can be removed by sandblasting, but thin layer of brick will be removed in the process.

Tip

Unlike paint, stain penetrates the brick. Staining lasts longer and looks much better over time than painting.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Clean buckets
  • Paint brush
  • Wood stirring stick
  • Nylon bristle scrub brush
  • Waterproof gloves
  • Drop cloth
  • Eye protection

Materials

  • Brick stain
  • Mild detergent or TSP

Instructions

  1. Test the Brick Stain

    Locate a section of brick that is less noticeable and test the brick stain on this area. In some cases, you may even be able to locate an extra brick in a shed or basement to use for testing. If you cannot find spare bricks, pick a section on the side of the fireplace apron, walkway, interior brickwork, or exterior siding.

  2. Test the Brick For Sealant

    Dip your fingers in clean water and flick a few drops onto the brick. If the water immediately soaks in, this means that there is no sealant. You can begin staining the brick after cleaning it, as described in the next step. If the water beads up on the brick, it is likely coated in a clear sealant. Any sealant present will not allow the stain to penetrate the brick.

    For removing sealant from exterior brick, power wash the brick on a wide spray to avoid damaging the brick. Problem areas can be gently scrubbed with a metal brush. Test for sealant again to ensure it has been removed. Generally, interior brick will not be sealed since it is not subjected to damaging exterior elements like rain, snow, and sun. Do not power wash indoor brick.

  3. Clean the Brick

    Mix mild detergent or TSP in a bucket with warm water. Starting from the top and working downward, clean the brick by scrubbing it with the nylon-bristle brush. Finish by rinsing the brick with clean water. 

    For interior brick, use only small amounts of water and be sure to cover the floor with plastic. For exterior brick, cover plants and garden beds with plastic. 

    Let the brick dry for a full day before staining. If you clean the brick in the morning and the weather is warm and dry, the brick may be dry enough by the end of the day for staining.

  4. Protect Your Home and Yourself

    Switch out the previous drop cloths for new, dry ones. Tape up to the edge of the brick. Wear waterproof gloves, work clothing, and shoes, plus eye protection.

    Tip

    Practice staining brick by using a brush and clear water, since water and stain have the same consistency. This helps you gauge the rate of stain delivery, plus you can get a sense of how fast the brick will soak up the stain.

  5. Mix the Stain

    Mix the stain pigment with water, as directed by the product instructions. Mix thoroughly until all of the pigment is dissolved. Clumps of undissolved stain pigment will stain the brick and will be difficult to lighten.

  6. Apply the Stain

    Dip the brush in the stain mix and run the brush across the brick in smooth, overlapping coats, making sure that no area receives more stain than another area.

  7. After Staining the Brick

    Curing time depends on the temperature, humidity level, and airflow. Stained brick in warm, dry, lightly breezy conditions will be dry to the touch almost immediately upon application. Areas where the stain may have pooled up, instead of soaking into the brick, may take a day or two to be dry to the touch. For particularly thick, pooled areas, dab with a clean cotton rag to remove the excess.

    Interior stained brick does not need to be sealed.

Tips For Staining Brick

  • Add more water to the mix to produce a lighter, thinner stain coat.
  • Start with a lighter coat, as it can always be darkened. It is far more difficult to back out of a dark brick coat.
  • Because pigment can quickly settle, frequently stir the stain mix. 
  • Mortar will absorb more of the stain and at a faster rate than the brick will. It might even be necessary to leave the mortar unstained.
  • If rows are developing when applying the stain, switch to a scattered pattern to achieve consistency.
  • Applying stain with a paint sprayer is faster.
  • When staining brick flooring, a walkway, or a patio, remove all items from the area and avoid walking on it or placing any objects on top until they are fully cured.
  • When staining any flooring, plan where you will start and end. Usually, start in a far corner and back your way out to an exit. Avoid walking over a newly stained area.