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The 3 Types of Decorative Washes: White Wash, German Smear and Slurry

There are three main styles or techniques of decorative masonry and brick washes, each with their own distinct characteristics and looks.

What’s the difference from a White Wash, German Smear and a Slurry?

In this guide, you’ll learn about the 3 main types of masonry decorative wash or ‘mortar wash’ as it’s sometimes referred to. We’ll talk about the differences of each type of wash and give some tips to help you pick one you’ll love.

These types of decorative washes are seen as ‘chic’ or ‘French country’ and when done well, can transform a red brick home into an elegant and timeless property. In fact, the GBA ( Greater Builders Association) says that more and more higher-end luxury new construction home buyers are demanding the white washed or slurried look.

This unique change looks great on exterior brick and stone or on the interior in places like the kitchen, fireplace, or accent wall. Another reason property owners opt for a decorative wash is because it’s a cost effective way to change the look of your property without having to alter the structural integrity.

So what are the mortar wash options?

Let’s get one thing straight first; you’re going to find a lot of conflicting information when looking online or even when meeting with local masonry companies.

The reality is that the decorative wash terms are really only defined by what material is used for each method and the final look that the wash will give.

With that being said, it can sometimes be tough to get on the same page as your masonry contractor who is just trying to help you achieve the washed look that you’re going for.

This article should give you a primer on the different types of white washing and allow you to accurately communicate exactly what you want from your mason.

The classic white washed brick

Brick white washes are a great way to transform a home inside or out. It is a translucent to semi-opaque coating made of paint, water and sometimes white mortar. The mix is easily absorbed by the brick and creates a strong coating while still allowing the beauty of the brick to shine through. 

The white wash itself is essentially just a mixture of water and a special type of paint used for brick, a little thinner for the paint to get just the right shade. You should note that the more paint thinner that is used will result in more of the original brick color showing through.

Also, keep in mind that you can get a big variety of different looks just by testing out different thicknesses of paints and thinners.

Whitewashing is the lightest coating of the main decorative washes and is usually done one of two ways:

  1. An overall coat of thinned paint covering all of the brick and mortar.
  2. Tactfully coating areas with thin and thick paint, and then scrubbing or washing away the wet paint in some areas. As a result giving the brick a worn look.

Note: Neither way is better or worse. Just more or less expensive.

The timeless German Smear

A type of mortar wash, German smear is achieved by tactfully smearing a mixture of mortar and portland cement onto the brick, leaving some of it exposed. Typically this process is done with white mortar. 

You can also achieve a variety of looks with the German Smear depending on how it’s applied and the thickness of the coats. With this decorative wash you can expect a more “textured” look with some thinner and thicker spots.

Most noteworthy, you’ll usually only see German Smear on high-end construction and historic properties.

The unique slurry wash

Slurry is another type of mortar wash that is done by generously coating the brick with a thick layer of mortar. Just basically slappin’ it on there.

Slurry uses the same materials as a German Smear and only differs in the way that it’s applied. With a slurry there is full coverage of the brick giving it a stucco-type look that still allows the beautiful brick texture that we all know and love to show through.

Typically, slurries are done with slightly tanner mortar colors. This is an excellent way to achieve the stucco look without the maintenance and cost of traditional stucco. If you live in humid areas like Houston, then you probably know the high costs of having to repair stucco issues.

Not with slurry on brick though. You get the strength of brick with the timeless beauty of stucco. Which is probably one of the biggest reasons that decorative washes have become so popular.

So how do I know which decorative wash is right for my house?

The ‘decorative wash my house’ checklist.

You’re having trouble deciding. We know, because everyone does.

Don’t worry, everyone takes some time to first choose the right mortar washed look and secondly, the right masonry company. It’s a big decision and a permanent one at that. However, before you really start raking you and your spouse’s brain on which mortar wash you want, you should do these few steps first.

Step 1 – Ask your HOA

The first step is to find out if your HOA will even allow you to apply a decorative wash. You already know that some HOAs have very strict restrictions on what you can do to your house or property.

So, before spending the time and energy in researching, have a talk with your HOA to see if it’s allowed.

Note: If you’re just whitewashing an interior wall or fireplace, you’re in luck because you can skip this step and don’t have to talk to your HOA. Yay!

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