Painting Interior and Exterior Brick: How to Know When Brick Should be Painted

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There are few building materials that garner more extreme opinions than brick. Many folks love it when it’s artfully exposed in a cool, vintage loft, but hate it on an old fireplace. Whether you love it or hate it or simply think you’d like a new look with brick, don’t be fooled by DIY articles that claim it’s easy and quick. Slapping a coat of paint on your fireplace isn’t as simple as you’d think.

painting interior and exterior brick

Painting Interior and Exterior Brick

Before you consider painting brick, there are a few things to keep in mind about brick:

1. Brick is designed to be a color already

Brick is engineered to be a certain color. While the color range of brick today is far more vast that the standard red clay of the past, it’s not necessarily a building material that is intended to be painted. Materials like exterior hardie plank are different: this material was designed for homeowners to choose a color to go over top of it.

Brick, however, was designed to be a building material with the color already added. So, unlike other materials, brick is designed for both function and aesthetics right from the start.

2. Brick is porous

If you’re thinking about painting brick because it’s damaged, old or chipping, it can be a bad idea to paint. Brick that is not structurally secure can damage the new paint job, especially if you trap water beneath the brick’s surface. The water will eventually cause the paint to bubble, crack or flake.

3. Removing paint from brick is a messy (and sometimes impossible) job

Unlike some wood or other materials, you can’t simply sand paint off of brick. You’ll need to use some heavy duty chemicals, and even then, the paint may not come all the way off. In other words, there are no “take-backsies” when you paint brick.

Painting brick is basically permanent, so you must be sure of your colors and finish. Painting the interior or exterior brick means there is no going back to the natural brick.

4. Brick mortar can affect the life of your paint

When thinking about painting interior or exterior brick, you have to consider the mortar, as well. Mortar has a basic alkalinity and will affect any paint that doesn’t have alkaline-resistant properties. Using the wrong paint on brick can be a very bad and costly mistake.

residential exterior brick painting before and after photos

How to Know When Brick Should be Painted

Knowing these facts about brick doesn’t mean you absolutely shouldn’t paint brick. Some of the loveliest and most breathtaking transformations we’ve seen have been due to flawlessly painted brick. But it’s by no means the easiest or simplest paint project, and you should always hire a professional painter if you’re thinking about painting interior or exterior brick.

So how do you know if painting brick is right for you? How do you know when you should paint brick? Finally, what is the best way to go about painting brick? Here are our best tips:

1. Paint your interior or exterior brick if it is damaged

If the brick you want to paint is experiencing weather damage (cracked or chipped), you can opt to paint your brick. Some brick paints are elastomeric and will actually bridge the cracks, joints and chipped areas to fill them in and protect the brick. Again, this is not an overnight, DIY project. Hire a painting professional who will first repair what they can with your brick, and will make sure they’re using the right materials and paint to preserve what’s left of the brick.

2. Paint your interior or exterior brick if it is already painted

If the brick you want to paint already has paint on it, you can most likely paint the brick. However, certain top coat paints should be used and caulking and repairs will still need to be considered. A full primer coat is sometimes necessary. It is extremely critical to get all the prep work exactly right before putting new paint up, especially if the last paint job has issues.

3. Paint your brick if it’s inside

There are fewer issues painting interior brick than there are painting exterior brick. If you have a hideous 70’s brick fireplace surround, this might be a perfect brick surface to paint.

Painting interior brick is very cost effective and can transform an entire room. You can paint the brick with any color you want with a solid paint. Or you can do a white wash or lime wash to let some of the natural brick color show through after you paint over it.

4. Paint your interior or exterior brick if it was designed to be painted

In very rare cases, your brick might have been manufactured with the intent to paint it. This is typically the case with very old or historic brick. Manufacturers made the brick assuming that it would be painted, so this type of brick doesn’t have the same baked in, protective coating of more modern brick. This type of brick must be prepared in order to seal and preserve the life of the brick.

Again, this meant-to-be-painted brick is rare (see the start of this article) but occasionally we’ll discover that our clients have brick that was:

  • Made before 1870
  • Handmade and not machine made

This type of brick must use natural paint, like lime wash, and you’ll want to hire a professional painter who knows how to use this specific product.


What type of paint should you use on brick?

There are several great options for homeowners who want to paint their brick, including lime wash, white wash and solid color choices for brick. That means you can go with anything from a subtle aged look all the way to a creative pop of color when painting interior or exterior brick.

Use lime wash or white wash to paint brick

Lime wash and white wash will both deliver a similarly beautiful, toned-down look on brick. Often, “white wash” is used to describe both the painting technique and a type of paint. So if you hear your contractor or another homeowner you know talking about lime wash and white wash interchangeably, they’re likely talking about the look delivered by the paint rather than the actual paint itself.

In essence these washes are basically a watered down paint that lets the original brick color bleed through. You can even skip some random bricks to achieve a nice step stone or highlight effect. You and your painting professional should try on 3 by 3 foot sections of white/lime wash to determine how thick you want the paint to cover the brick and how much of the brick color you want to show through the final paint coat. You can thicken the paint/wash to block more of the brick color, you can thin out the paint to have more brick color bleed through. But the only way to find out how the brick will look is to keep trying on the paint until the consistency is the way you want it.

Use solid paint color choices to paint brick

Painting brick with a solid paint color is also an option. Using a solid paint color to paint brick will give you a wider range of options for the aesthetic you want for your home. If you want the brick to blend in with its surroundings, paint it the same color or within the same color family as your walls.

But if you want to highlight the brick, this is a great time to make a solid paint color work for you. Even a solid bright white or a moody charcoal can make a previously boring fireplace the new focal point of your room. So feel free to use your imagination if you go with a solid paint color. As long as you use the proper techniques, primers and paints, you can create the brick wall or fireplace of your dreams.

white exterior brick painting to sell a house

How Long Will Painted Brick Last?

Painted brick can last up to 20 years when you follow the right steps and use the right products. It all starts with painstaking preparation. You’ll need to use aggressive power and/or pressure wash cleaning to outdoor brick, and some good old elbow grease and a scrub brush for interior brick.

Caulking the brick and any repairs come next. Depending on the current state of your brick, you may need a masonry expert to help you restore parts of your brick to “good health” before it can be painted. This is especially true of exterior brick, since unaddressed damage can lead to flaking paint (or worse!) later on.

After cleaning and prepping the brick, you will want to use the proper primers and top coat paint products on your brick. A professional will always make sure to use the proper products, but in general, you’ll want an exterior paint that’s formulated for masonry. This type of product will help seal the brick and even block against things like mold or mildew. For interior paint, an elastodynamic paint will help to fill in cracks and give you good coverage for this uneven surface. But some pros also like to use a regular acrylic-latex blend; the right application and tools will make all the difference here.

Finally, the way you apply paint onto the brick will contribute to its longevity. We like using a combination of a sprayer for smooth, even coats and hand painting to fill in tricky areas. If you follow these steps to the letter, your paint should last for two decades. There will be some fading, and on rougher areas, there might be some minor flaking. But the majority of the painted brick will not need to be repainted in that time unless you want to change the color.

Get Expert Help Painting Interior and Exterior Brick

Our professional interior paint experts are ready to help you paint your interior and exterior brick. We offer free consultations and work quickly so you can enjoy your home as quickly as possible. Contact us today for a free quote.