1. I had NEVER heard the term “german smear” until like 2 weeks ago.
2. I don’t scare easily.
I’m the small, scrappy type. Napoleon complex, small-woman-syndrome, call it what you will, but I don’t like things to get the better of me. Especially when it comes to a novel DIY project. Afterall, that’s what we do, right?! Right. But my Mama didn’t raise no liar, so I gotta tell you, I was NERVOUS to try this “german smear” or “mortar wash” whitewash brick project. Lemme tell you show you first, then tell you about it. *This post contains affiliate links. Please read our full disclosure policy HERE.*
Supplies need for “German smear”:
German Smear technique in 1 minute:
The brick (source HERE) we used (seen in the shot below), is real brick, but cut into thin slices. The slices are mounted on a tile webbing, similar to mosaic glass tile you’d use for a backsplash project or something. We had never used this kind of product before, and I gotta say, it’s great stuff. It’s REAL brick, so no phony looking brick wallpaper, or tile product that looks like brick but doesn’t feel like it. This is the real deal, only 20x lighter weight, and 20x easier to install than having to mount them brick by brick by %^$* brick.
This is a project we are doing in our master bedroom. We framed out this fireplace wall, and then mounted the brick. There was a whole wall of NOTHINGNESS there before. Dave and our brother Troy (of Nashville Flipped fame, framed this thing up…that’s Troy in the shot below.
Once the framing was done, Dave and I installed the brick. He cuts, I mortar those puppies in place. When it was done being installed and grouted (we used THIS sanded grout), this is what we had. That big hole in the front is where our little electric fireplace will go.
I kinda loved it as is, to be honest. We hemmed and hawed about leaving it as is or moving forward with this german smear technique (also called a “mortar wash” technique). Truth is, I was SCARED to move forward. Having just spent $$ on brand new, totally fine as-is brick, I didn’t want to screw it up. But we did (move forward, not screw up…although that is obviously completely up for debate being subjective and all ;). This DIY brick whitewash or german smear technique took me about 2 hours, maybe a little less. If you want to try it, here’s how.
Here’s how to do a “German smear” DIY whitewash brick technique:
1. Before you begin…have a CLEAR picture in your head!
There are BUNCHES of different looks for painted brick, whitewashed brick, mortar washed or german smear brick. There are other techniques like limewashing. Scour Pinterest for a while, and pin a couple of your favorite looks. The technique you will use depends ENTIRELY on the look you’re going for. For instance, in our family room, I used a basic DIY whitewash brick technique, which gave us this look…
But for this project, I wanted to be able to see more of the brick because it’s pretty brick, and I didn’t want that completely covered or lost, as it would have been with the whitewash technique used in our family room. These images were what I was aiming for:
LOOOOVELY, no? Now this one is a bit whitewashed throughout. I wanted a tad more brick showing through, and a little more choppy/uneven look.
This one is pretty picture perfect, I think. On a side note…check out that gorgeous slate roof and the patina on the downspout…makes my heart go pitter patter.
GORGEOUS, right? Yes, Kathleen is downright stunning, no question. But I feel she may be slightly upstaged in this shot by that delectable brick behind her. THAT is the look I wanted!!
With your look now completely clear, we can proceed 🙂
2. Start with clean brick with WHITE grout.
This tutorial assumes that you are starting with a slate similar to ours, which is clean brick that has WHITE grout. If not white grout, then it needs to be a color you are HAPPY with. If not, then you need to do some prep work. And to be honest, I’ve looked around for tutorials on prepping old, we’ll call it “unattractive” brick, and the prep work looks like it’s a wee bit grueling, quite honestly. I’ve linked a couple tutorials/articles/videos I’d recommend checking out before diving in:
Less than Perfect Life of Bliss (tutorial for exterior application)
Recaptured Charm (this blogger goes for a similar look using different materials)
3. Prep your workspace.
Get out the builder’s paper or tarps and cover your flooring if this is an interior project. We don’t want to mess up your floors while fixing up your walls.
4. Mix your mortar.
Following the directions on the package, mix your mortar. We started with a 7lb bag. We have approximately 48 sq ft of brick on this fireplace wall. And for that much brick, we only ended up using approximately 1/3 of the bag.
*If you are going to do the mixing in batches (we started by mixing 1/2 of the bag, and didn’t even need the rest), then make sure you are applying the mortar in RANDOM locations all around the wall, and NOT just in one quadrant or location of your brick wall. This will prevent a splotchy/uneven look if your later batch(es) of grout is not mixed to the exact same consistency as previous batches.
Once your mortar is mixed, WATER IT DOWN just a tad. I’d describe the desired consistency to be that of honey. NOT as thick as peanut butter.
5. Apply mortar.
With your bucket or mortar ready, gloves on, and another bucket of water close by, take your sponge and wet it with water. Not dripping wet, but wet enough that if you wanted to squeeze water out, you could easily. Now dip your sponge in the mortar and put enough mortar on the sponge that one corner is covered.
OK, take a deep breath…THIS IS THE SCARIEST MOMENT:
Pick a spot, ANY spot, and smear. There’s no turning back now! Be random. Smear horizontally at times, vertically in others. Put it on heavy in places, and light in others. Frequently step back from your wall and check it out. Too heavy in spots? Then get some clean water on your sponge and wipe some off. Too light in others? Apply more.
The look I was going for is a bit choppy. Not too even or refined. I wanted the brick color to come through here and there, and I wanted the brick in other areas to be white.
*Depending on the size of the wall or area you are covering, you will have time to adjust the application before it totally sets. The whole process for me took about 2 hours, and that WHOLE time, I could have easily wet my sponge with water and scrubbed off most, if not all of the mortar. So don’t freak out too much…you should be able to fix any “mistakes”.
**KEY MOVE: After I was fairly happy with the coverage I had on the wall, it still looked a bit contrived. I found what REALLY helped to unify the look was using my stiff bristle brush at the end of the process. I simply took the brush, and went over the whole wall in huge “X” patterns.**
6. Knock down any clumps with brush.
I’d highly recommend looking over your whole wall/area before you start cleaning up and before the mortar dries and make sure you’re 100% satisfied with the look, so that you don’t have to do ANYTHING to the wall once the mortar dries. Once it’s dry, if you start fussing with it, you’re going to have a LOT of nasty dust to deal with. YUCK.
Before the mortar dries, OR, if it’s too late, then AFTER the mortar is already dried, go back over the area with your bristle brush and knock down any areas where there are clumps or places where you don’t like how the mortar is setting.
And bottom line? I was sh$%ing bricks before I started this process. DEFINITELY apprehensive that I wouldn’t like the after as much as the before. THIS LOOK IS NOT for everyone, but personally, I LOVE the charm and personality and depth/texture/what-have-you it added to this space. So if you dig it too, don’t be too nervous to try it. It was SUPER inexpensive to do…less than $20 (given you already have a brick wall to try it on). And being a little scared is good for us once in a while. Helps us grow, right?
If you try this project, we’d LOVE to see your results! Post them on our Facebook page so we can brag on you!!
Not quite ready to jump in? Pin this project for later: