A layer of hazy, neutral paint has never been trendier. At first glance, it looks as if limewash has been created to resemble an ancient technique fit for modern homes, but limewash truly is old. Found in ancient buildings in Rome and making appearances in other parts of the world for different reasons (from protective house finishes to tree coatings), limewash still, in some ways, has the limelight—and for good reason. It does more than provide a pretty aesthetic for spaces and its roots stem far back through design history.
Often older homes, heritage buildings, and structures made of brick (including cottages) used and still use this technique to preserve building materials. This comes from a longstanding knowledge that tew chalky concoction is antiseptic, antifungal, and antibacterial. As the National Park Service explains, painting limewash onto buildings increases their ability to withstand exposure to moisture and strengthens their defenses against rotting.
Aside from these remarkable qualities, the water-based paint is also beloved for its non-toxic properties (no VOCs to be found here). Nowadays, its texture and look are often imitated through faux limewash paints and even wallpapers with similar appearances. It's understandably often confused with whitewashing, another technique that's close in looks but isn't identical. Limewash has to include lime as an ingredient to qualify as a true form of the paint. Limewashing also involves something that most people wouldn't associate with paint: aging.
Meet the Expert
Michele Harnish is the co-owner of JH Wall Paints, a company that specializes in lime-based finishes.
What Is Limewash Paint?
"Limewash paint is primarily made from lime and colorants," says Michele Harnish of JH Wall Paints, a company that specializes in lime-based finishes. Its particular blend is aged for over three years. She notes that the "creamy and thick" texture is malleable and can create a variety of unique finishes on walls, and can be "used over any unsealed and unpainted porous surface, such as brick, stone, plaster, and concrete without the use of a primer."
Part of the reason limewash has remained popular even among more modern-day paint options is its characteristics—especially seeing that it's more natural and not packed with a laundry list of chemicals or additives that give it special properties—it thrives on its simple mixture alone. It's a breathable finish and while it may need to be reapplied over the years, it refrains from absorbing and holding moisture and some versions of it deflect UV damage and chipping.
How to Apply Limewash Paint
Each type of paint has its quirks and benefits, and limewash is no different. It's unique in its composition and is rather forgiving when it comes to application and the final product. "We instruct our customers to apply the first coat undiluted (no water added) and apply a nice creamy lime base coat," begins Harnish. "Then apply a thinner coat by diluting the lime paint to make a traditional limewash consistency, which will absorb into the base coat and add dimension and mottling."
She also shares a helpful tip: "Water is a friend. If you don’t like a brushstroke, you can mist the area and feather it out. This can be done for 24-48 hours after application." On top of working through any unsatisfactory brushmarks or textures, water can harden the coating, too. Harnish says painters can mist walls down after they're finished as "this adds a more durable cure."
Limewash Paint Patterns
There are several ways that limewash can be applied, and much of it has to do with the creativity of the person painting—no two patinas will look the same, As Harnish explains, limewash can be done in a strié pattern or it can obtain a plaster sheen through the use of a buffing sander. There is also a "tone on tone application," thought up by JH Wall Paints, that uses two separate shades of limewash for additional depth, dimension, and color.
What Limewash Paint Is Best For
Home exteriors are a popular place for applying limewash, but there are other common areas of a house that do well with a chalky finish. Not only is it fairly easy to apply, but it's a simple way to produce texture on walls or a fixture without excessive effort or expensive products.
Living room and bedroom walls in particular look extra special with limewash paint. And rather than a typical brick fireplace, limewash painted onto this feature can instantly infuse Scandinavian charm into a room or a more cottagey feel—it all depends on the surrounding decor and colors around it.
"Applying lime paint to your walls is essentially making limestone on them so once finished you will feel the freshness in the space as well as the unique beauty that cannot be duplicated with any other paint," says Harnish. "Fresh, beautiful, and textured is the result."