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How to German Schmear Brick (Mortar Wash Fireplace Makeover)

Learn how to German schmear brick, in no time! Makeover a brick fireplace with mortar wash, a beginner-friendly DIY project.

As much as I love the cozy features in our cottage-style home, some of it is a bit dark for my liking. For example, our east-facing living room only gets morning light, making it dim in the afternoons. Though I like the chunky wood trim, I’m not tied to the brick fireplace or mid-tone walls. Therefore, a German schmear brick fireplace makeover was a solution to brighten the living room.

how to german schmear brick

German schmear, like a whitewash, doesn’t fully cover the brick. While I like painted brick, I felt retaining some amount of exposed brick would be true to the modern cottage design concept we’ve chosen. So, if you are a brick lover, a German schmear is a great compromise — lighter and brighter, while still preserving character. 

What is a mortar wash?

A mortar wash is a decorative effect which involves strategically spreading a mixture of mortar and cement across brick.

The term German schmear (or German smear)  has origins in Germany from the word “schmear” meaning “to spread, grease, smear.

Fireplace Christmas Decorations with Feather Wreath, Brass Candles, and Garland. Christmas Mantel Ideas on a German Schmear Brick Fireplace.

Unlike a whitewash, which is typically thin paint or paints thinned with water, the German schmear technique uses a thick medium. Mortar is the traditional medium, or use paint for a faux treatment. Completing German schmear with paint is simpler, and achieves a similar look.

You might also like: What are the differences? German Schmear vs. Mortar Wash vs. Limewash 

How to German Schmear Brick

Note: This tutorial utilizes paint. If you want to try mortar, I suggest this mortar wash tutorial from Dimples and Tangles.

Supplies Needed

Instructions

  1. First, vacuum the brick to remove dust, debris, and cobwebs.
  2. Once clean, cover the mantel, firebox opening, floor, trim, etc. with plastic dropcloths and painters tape.
  3. Now, dip the paint brush into the paint. There is no need to cover the brush in paint, only the tip of the brush.
  4. Next, run the brush tip over the mortar surrounding a brick, generously applying paint.
  5. Once the mortar is covered with paint, take the brush (without adding paint) and from the mortar and across the brick. This smears the paint over the face of the brick… hence, the name “German schmear.
  6. Finally, repeat steps 3-5 until all of the mortar on the fireplace is covered. If you aren’t satisfied with the coverage, apply a second coat.

Note: For reference, my fireplace has two coats of German schmear. It took less than 4 hours to complete, including dry time and cleanup. I used less than 1 gallon of paint. 

DIY German Schmear Projects

German schmear can be used on interior or exterior brick – even on faux bricks! If you’re considering giving german schmear a try, you’ll want to check out the following posts, too:

We couldn’t be more pleased with our german schmear fireplace, and plan to use the technique on the exterior of our modern cottage home and on the basement fireplace.

German Schmear Brick Fireplace with Christmas Decorations - Feather Wreath, Brass Candles, and Garland. Christmas Mantel Ideas on a German Schmear Brick Fireplace.
FAQs

Q: What is the difference between mortar wash and whitewash?

A: A mortar wash uses a mortar/cement mix or with undiluted paint. A whitewash requires thin paint or paints diluted with water.

Q: Do I need to use a primer to paint brick?

A: No. However, using paint and primer in one may reduce the total number of coats required.

Q: What type of brush should I use to paint brick?

A: Skip expensive brushes since the brick will be tough on the brush bristles. Ideally, choose a brush that is thick enough to cover the mortar lines, and approximately 2 inches wide. This will make painting the mortar quick and easy.

Q: Do you add water to the paint?

A: No. German schmear is a dry brush technique.

Fireplace Christmas Decorations with Feather Wreath, Brass Candles, and Garland. Christmas Mantel Ideas on a German Schmear Brick Fireplace.

How to German Schmear Brick (Mortar Wash)

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Active Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Difficulty: Easy

Learn how to German schmear brick, in no time! Makeover a brick fireplace with mortar wash, a beginner-friendly DIY project. 

Materials

Tools

Instructions

  1. First, vacuum the brick to remove dust, debris, and cobwebs. 
  2. Once clean, cover the mantel, firebox opening, floor, trim, etc. with plastic dropcloths and painters tape.
  3. Now, dip the paint brush into the paint. There is no need to cover the brush in paint, only the tip of the brush. 
  4. Next, run the brush tip over the mortar surrounding a brick, generously applying paint.
  5. Once the mortar is covered with paint, take the brush (without adding paint) and from the mortar and across the brick. This smears the paint over the face of the brick... hence, the name "German schmear."
  6. Repeat steps 3-5 until all of the mortar on the fireplace is covered. If you aren't satisfied with the coverage, apply a second coat.

Notes

For reference, my fireplace has two coats of German schmear. It took less than 4 hours to complete, including dry time and cleanup. I used less than 1 gallon of paint.

If you liked this DIY project, you might also like:

 

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How to German Schmear (Mortar Wash) a Brick Fireplace

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