How to Whitewash a Fireplace

Whitewashed Brick

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Project Overview
  • Working Time: 2 - 3 hrs
  • Total Time: 2 - 3 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $40 to $80

A whitewashed fireplace has a distinctive look. Whitewash certainly doesn't offer the look of fresh paint—that's a solid color—nor is it the look of chipped paint.

Whitewash has an appealing, hazy-white, translucent appearance that hovers somewhere between showing and not showing you the brick. It's also an appearance that you can achieve quite easily and inexpensively on your own fireplace.

What Whitewashed Brick Is

True whitewash is a traditional way of coating exterior surfaces quickly and cheaply. It's a mineral-based product that leaves a light chalky appearance, similar to that of dried salt.

In this project, you'll be whitewashing your brick with an easier method that uses water and interior latex paint. This affords you more control over the final look. It's also a method that lets you whitewash either unpainted or painted brick.

Whitewashing Unpainted Brick

Whitewashing unpainted brick with a natural finish gives you that close-to-transparent look that closely approximates true whitewash.

By thinning down white paint with water at either a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio, you allow the color and texture of the brick to show through.

Generally, all of the brick, including mortar, is whitewashed. But for more contrast, you can whitewash each brick, leaving the mortar uncoated.

Whitewashing Painted Brick

Whitewashing painted brick is a faux painting technique that creates the illusion of whitewash on top of a fireplace that has previously been painted white.

The paint is tinted. It is not thinned. A sponge exactly the size of the face of one brick is lightly dabbed on the brick.

The mortar is not sponged. By leaving the mortar free, you bring out the pattern of the brick once again—which, up to this point, has been hidden by paint.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Nylon-bristle scrub brush
  • Clean mixing cups
  • Sponges
  • Drop cloth and sheet plastic
  • Chip brushes
  • Cotton rags
  • Scissors
  • Wood stirring stick
  • Painter's tape
  • Paint tray and liner

Materials

  • 1 gallon white paint
  • 1 pint gray paint
  • TSP (tri-sodium phosphate) or alternative

Instructions

Whitewashing Unpainted Brick

  1. Tarp and Tape Off Areas

    With the painter's tape and plastic, tape off any areas that will not be whitewashed. Lay tarp on the flooring.

  2. Clean Brick

    Mix the TSP in a clean bucket with warm water. With the scrub brush, clean the brick. Thoroughly clean any areas with black soot. All colors and contrasts will show through the whitewash, though they will be reduced. Rinse with water. Let the fireplace fully dry.

  3. Mix Paint

    Mix cool, clean water to white paint at either a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio. So, three or four quarts of water would be mixed with one quart of paint. The ratio depends on how solid you would like the whitewash color to look.

  4. Test Paint and Create Key Area

    Find the least conspicuous area of the fireplace brick, such as brick along the side of the mantel. Use the chip brush to brush some of the whitewash on the brick. Brush it in fully and give it a few minutes to soak in.

    If you like the look, move to the front. Create a key on a section of four or six bricks. You'll always use this key as a reference point for your ideal look, since variations may occur during the rest of the process.

  5. Whitewash Brick

    Whitewash the rest of the brick with the chip brush. Immediately after brushing an area, follow up by dabbing and wiping with the rag. This helps you blend in the whitewash. Frequently step back and make sure that the fireplace matches the key area.

Whitewashing Painted Brick

  1. Tape, Tarp, and Clean

    Use painter's tape to tape off areas that will not be faux-whitewashed. Tarp the flooring. Use TSP and warm water to clean the brick. Pay close attention to blackened areas. Do not clean the inside of the fireplace.

  2. Cut Sponge

    With the scissor, cut the sponge to the size of the front of the brick, mortar not included.

  3. Mix Paint

    Pour some of the gray paint into the lined paint tray. Wet the sponge. Press the sponge into the paint but keep it fairly dry. Press the sponge onto a piece of white cardboard or paper to test the color. If you want a lighter color, add some white paint.

  4. Whitewash Brick With Sponge

    When you are satisfied with the color, faux-whitewash the fireplace by pressing the sponge onto the brick. You must stay within the lines of the brick. If you have a hard time seeing the mortar, point a light source at a low angle to create depth.

    Whitewash the rest of the fireplace. Frequently step back and turn the light source toward the fireplace to evaluate your progress.

Fireplace Maintenance

Whichever method you choose to whitewash your fireplace, remember that this process is to be used on the outside of the fireplace only. Never paint the inside of the firebox.

Now that you have many of the items necessary for fireplace maintenance readily available, now may be a good time to clean your fireplace or clean your chimney, too.