How to Choose the Right Mortar Mix Type: N, O, S, or M

Understanding the Differences for Your Next Project

How to Choose the Right Mortar Mix Type

The Spruce

Mortar is the element that bonds bricks or other masonry units together and provides structural capacity to the wall or other structure. There are four main types of mortar mix: N, O, S, and M. Each type is mixed with a different ratio of cement, lime, and sand to produce specific performance characteristics such as flexibility, bonding properties, and compressive strength. The best type of mortar and its use depends on the application and the various design specifications for the masonry construction project.


Mortar material is made with Portland cement, hydrated lime, and sand combined in specific proportions to meet required specifications.

Thinset mortar is a moisture-resistant adhesive made of Portland cement, water, and fine sand, which is used with projects involving cement board, shower tile, backsplashes, and shower pans.

Type N Mortar Mix

Type N mortar is usually recommended on exterior and above-grade walls (including stone veneer) that are exposed to severe weather and high heat. Type N mortar mix has a medium compressive strength and it is composed of 1 part Portland cement, 1 part lime, and 6 parts sand. It is considered to be a general-purpose mix, useful for above grade, exterior, and interior load-bearing installations. It is also the preferred mortar mix for soft stone masonry (such as limestone). Type N is the mortar most often used by homeowners and is the best choice for general application. It typically achieves 28-day strength in the range of 750 pounds per square inch (psi).


It's good practice to apply a roll-on waterproofing membrane to seal masonry work once completed.

Type O Mortar Mix

Type O mortar mix has relatively low compressive strength, at only about 350 psi. It is used primarily for interior, above-grade, non-load–bearing walls. Type O can be used as an alternative to Type N for some interior applications, but its exterior use is limited due to its low structural capacity. It is not recommended in areas subjected to high winds. However, type O mortar mix is ideal for repointing and similar repair work on existing structures, due to its consistency and ease of application. 

Type S Mortar Mix

Offering a high compressive strength of over 1,800 psi and high-tensile bond strength, type S mortar is suitable for many projects at or below grade. It performs extremely well to withstand soil pressure and wind and seismic loads. Type S is the common choice for many below-grade applications, such as masonry foundations, manholes, retaining walls, and sewers, as well as at-grade projects like brick patios and walkways. Although type S mortar must have a minimum compressive strength of 1,800 psi, it is often mixed for strengths between 2,300 and 3,000 psi.


If you are working with glass block, you will need a special white glass block mortar. Though technically it is considered a type S mortar, it is specially formulated to exceed the strength requirements of type S mortar for this type of project.

Type M Mortar Mix

Type M mortar mix has the highest amount of Portland cement and is recommended for heavy loads and below-grade applications, including foundations, retaining walls, and driveways. While type M mortar provides at least 2,500 psi of compressive strength, it offers relatively poor adhesion and sealing properties, making it unsuitable for many exposed applications. Type M is preferred for use with natural stone because it offers similar strength to that of stone.


If you're working on a project such as a fire pit, fireplace, or chimney, you will need to use a special high heat mortar, also known as refractory mortar, which is formulated to handle high temperatures.

Type K Mortar Mix

Type K mortar is rarely used for new construction but may be specified for restoration or other specialty applications. It offers a very low compressive strength of only about 75 psi. Because of its softness, type K is primarily used for restoring the masonry on historic or ancient buildings that require a special mix that is not significantly stronger than the existing masonry.

Article Sources
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  1. Water Repellants for Concrete Masonry Walls. National Concrete Masonry Association.