How to Paint Brick (It's Not Like Painting Any Old Surface)
Pondering how to paint brick, or even if you can paint brick? Well, for the most part it's entirely doable—and can give your old fireplace or brick house an easy face-lift. But you'll want to plan carefully and do your research first. Painting brick isn't like painting any old surface.
First up, you should know that not all brick should be painted.
Rick Watson, director of product development at Sherwin-Williams, recommends against painting brand-new, porous brick. Instead he advises opting for at least a year to pass so the brick can weather. This will also allow for leaching, a process in which alkali (mortar) and efflorescence (the white powder you sometimes spot on brick) have time to leach out of the brick before painting.
And while you can paint the outside of a fireplace, it is typically not recommended that you paint the brick inside a masonry fireplace, he says, as there is no guarantee the finish will withstand contact with open flames from a fire.
As for brick that's been damaged or previously painted, you'll need to do some work before a new paint job.
Old paint needs to be removed first, according to Matt Michaels, a home improvement expert with Lowe's Home Improvement, while any damaged masonry needs to be repointed, a term that refers to removing any crumbling white stuff between the bricks and replacing it with fresh, new mortar. This will help prevent leaks, making your brick more watertight.
What you'll need to paint brick
Much of the supplies you need to paint a brick surface are the same ones you'd use to paint anything else in your house, so you may have a few of these in the shed or garage, while others are available at your local home improvement store.
Trisodium phosphate (TSP) cleaner or grease-dissolving detergent
A scrub brush
Masonry conditioner or alkali-resistant primer
A small, angled nylon/polyester brush
A synthetic roller with a nap ranging from 3/4 inch to 1 inch
Masonry paint (flat will help hide imperfections in the brick; semigloss will create a polished finish that's easy to clean)
How to paint brick
Step 1: Prepare your surface by cleaning it. You'll want to vacuum or use a damp cloth to remove any dirt, cobwebs, mildew, and efflorescence, Michaels says. Next, use the cleanser, water, and a stiff scrub brush to scrub the brick.
If you're working with a large area such as the exterior of a house, Michaels recommends using a pressure washer to clean away all the dirt and debris. Then you'll want to wait at least 24 hours for the brick to completely dry before moving to the next step.
Step 2: Once the surface is dry, give your brick a once-over to ensure that there are no holes, gaps, or crumbles. Sometimes a good scrubbing or power-washing can loosen the mortar, but minor issues can be filled in with the acrylic caulk. For larger gaps, Michaels suggests calling a mason to repair them before painting.
Step 3: If you're painting interior brick, put down dropcloths and tape around the edges you don't want painted. For exteriors, cover doors and windows with newspaper.
Since brick and cement are porous and absorb water, before you paint you'll want to apply a layer or two or masonry sealer. This liquid coating ensures moisture won't seep beneath your paint, which can present problems down the road.
"A clear sealer can help keep water from penetrating the brick," Watson explains. "Water behind the brick wall can do damage not only to the brick but the wall cavity itself. Keeping the water out is important—Water that freezes may cause the brick to spall, meaning peel or pop off."
Using your roller, roll the sealer onto the surface until all of your brick is covered. Drying time depends on the manufacturer, so check the sealant's label before you move on to the next step, but it will typically be anywhere from four to 12 hours.
Some companies sell a concrete or masonry sealant and primer in one bucket, which will allow you to skip step four.
Step 4: Once the sealer is dry, grab your roller and get ready to prime the surface! Using a masonry primer, cover the entire area, readying the surface for the coat of paint. If you had efflorescence on the brick, be ready to apply a number of coats of the primer, Michaels warns, as it may take more than just one to truly cover the brick.
"Additional coats on this area will ensure that the area looks fresh, with no dirt or marks showing through," he says. Allow your primer to dry. Again, this typically takes about four hours or more, but will depend on the manufacturer's recommendations.
Step 5: It's painting time! You'll need to use a special paint—not just any old gallon will do.
"Masonry paint is recommended, since it's designed to provide extra protection from cracking, peeling, and blistering," Michaels explains. "And mildew-resistant formulas provide a coating to prevent mold and surface stains."
Using a clean roller, spread masonry paint across the surface.
Using a thick-nap roller, apply masonry paint to the surface of your brick. Missed spots and areas around doors and windows can be filled in with your angled brush. You may need several coats for complete coverage.
Jeanne Sager has strung words together for the New York Times, Vice, and more. She writes and photographs people from her home in upstate New York.