There are very few things in the remodeling world I am afraid of, but I will say the thought of tackling this project did intimidate me. I looked at pictures, read the articles done by the fabulous Bob Vila and then finally said, "Oh whatever, I will try it and if I fail miserably, I will just paint the brick white and be done with it."
A true German Smear is a mortar wash on an unpainted/coated brick surface. Like the picture below: Photo Courtesy of Zillow Digs home in Concord, NC.
If you live/lived back east, you probably saw this technique quite a bit on homes. But out here in the wild, wild west it isn't nearly as common. So, it was one of those things I hadn't seen in a while and had sort of left my mind. Until we moved into our new house and I saw the circa 1985 brown brick fireplace in the living room.
^^^^This photo is from the original owners. See the fireplace? With it's afterthought hearth?
I knew I wanted to redo it, but didn't want to resort to painting it solid white. That's when I remembered the mortar wash technique!! The German Smear! I had to attempt it!
Okay, down to business...I cheated on my materials. A true German Smear uses mortar. Apply it on, and take parts of it back off. Premixed in 80lb bags is wayyy easier. If you use Portland cement, lime, sand, and water and mix your own mortar---bless you, I am not willing to do that. If the consistency is not right on the first 3 ingredients, it will crumble and fall apart. So premixed is the way to go, using the ratio of 70/30 mix/water.
I didn't even do this. I did not need 80lb of this to put on my fireplace. I am also one of those "I decided to do it, so I must do it right now with whatever I can find."
...and I had grout. GROUT! Pre-mixed grout in Bright White. Both are Portland cement based products...but this one I had sitting in a bucket in my garage!
Click on the pic to go to homedepot.com, it is $26 for a gallon, I used maybe 1/4 of a gallon, however I did thin it to the consistency of Peanut Butter when I applied it.
Materials I used:
-Premixed Grout, 1 gallon Bright White, thinned slightly to the consistency of peanut butter with water.
-a drop cloth or towel below work surface because it is messy
-bucket of water and sponge or towel
($30 to $35 for everything)
I started applying it thin with the putty knife and wiping it off immediately out of fear I'd mess up. Then I dunked the wet towel in my thinned mixture and scrubbed it on the bricks. Yes that is a converse shoe on my mantel. I saved it from the jaws of our puppy and that was the closest high spot I could find in that moment. Don't judge me.
Then I found the best technique...
Oh yes. Ladies take your rings off and just go for it! This worked way better. I know from installing tile that grout dries hands out, but I live in the desert and own several bottles of lotion so I felt I could deal with that should it occur. You can wear gloves. I applied it heavy with my hands and then scrubbed/wiped it off with the wet towel what I didn't want, and scraped areas with the putty knife to blend and achieve the look I wanted.
Close-up, and then look at the drips on my mantel! (and the puppy/shoe thief) This is why my husband is the contractor and I just design and unleash my DIY desires on my own home. (Actually, I am really good in people's houses with tiling, painting, etc. I was just super impulsive on this project)
I didn't have a lot of brick to cover, so this all only took me about 2 hours.
Then I painted the hearth, because it was really ugly. (yes the shoe is still there) The grout dries super fast. It was dry to the touch in no time, so work fast! (or thin it even more with water)
SO EASY!! Don't be afraid!!
What do you think? Will you try this out in your home?
...and as always, feel free to reach out to me with any questions!