How to Stain Brick

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Photo: Ulza (Shutterstock)

The beauty of brick being a building material with a rich color is that if you like that color, there’s no need to deal with paint, wallpaper, or other wall coverings. But if the color of the brick on the inside or outside of your home isn’t exactly what you would have picked out yourself, there’s a relatively simple—and permanent—way to change that. Here’s what to know about staining brick.

The difference between staining, whitewashing, and painting brick

Before you start staining your brick, make sure that’s what you actually want to do with it—as opposed to whitewashing or painting it. While all three can be used both indoors and outdoors, the similarities end there. Here are the main differences between staining, whitewashing, and painting brick:

Staining brick

  • Stain is absorbed into the brick (and all the nooks and crannies), effectively dyeing it a different color
  • Rather than looking like it was painted over, staining brick makes it looks like the wall was originally built using bricks of this color (or at least that’s the goal)
  • Works best on brick that is all or mostly intact, without a lot of patching

Whitewashing brick

  • The end product is muting or whitening brick’s natural color, which you can control based on the thickness of the whitewash
  • A mixture of hydrated lime, salt, and water
  • Preserves the brick’s original surface and texture

Painting brick

  • The goal is changing the color of the surface of the brick (or at least the part that’s visible)
  • 100% latex paint is typically used
  • Paint doesn’t settle into the texture of the brick, so you end up with a smooth, thick coating over it
  • Because it doesn’t adhere as well to brick as stain or whitewash, it requires more frequent maintenance

If you do, in fact, want to stain your brick, we’ll walk you through that process below.

How to stain brick

The amount of time and effort that you’ll put into this project largely depends on the condition of your brick, and how dark you want the stain to be. Here’s what to do:

Clean the brick

In order for the stain to be able to fully penetrate the brick, the brick has to be clean.

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If you’re painting indoor brick, fill a bucket with warm water and a small amount of TSP or a mild detergent, and use a nylon-bristle brush to scrub the area, starting at the top and working your way down.

Then—using as little water as possible—do your best to rinse the brick. Before you get started, cover any furniture and the floor with plastic to minimize the mess. Let the brick dry for 24 hours before moving on.

Clean outdoor brick using a pressure washer set to 1,000 PSI. Be careful not to damage the brick as you go.

Fix any damaged bricks

While cleaning the brick, you may have come across some spots that need minor repair work, like mortar that has deteriorated over time. If so, make any necessary repairs, then let the mortar dry for a few days.

Protect the surrounding area

Once you’re ready to stain, take the time to cover any nearby surfaces—the floor, your driveway, furniture, plants and bushes, etc.—that you want to protect. If the brick wall you’re staining has a window, fireplace, or something else that can’t be removed, cover them using plastic sheeting and tape.

Mix and apply the stain

First, mix your stain, per the manufacturer’s instructions—which will probably involve mixing the pigment and solvent in the can (they can separate over time), and then (possibly) diluting the stain with some water (depending on the type you’re using).

Now, it’s time to stain. Use a paintbrush for indoor projects, dipping it into the stain, and applying it to the brick in smooth, overlapping, even coats. Depending on the temperature and humidity—and the thickness of the coat(s) of stain—it should be dry and cured within about a day.

For smaller outdoor areas, you can use the method above (adding in a roller, if it makes sense). But for larger exterior walls, you’ll save a lot of time using a paint sprayer.

If you go that route, load the sprayer with the stain mixture, and apply it to the brick from about 12″ away, at a slight angle. Spray it over the brick from left to right in smooth, even passes. Touch up any uneven areas with a paintbrush, and let the wall dry.

Ideally, you’ll want to do another pass—this time, spraying from top to bottom—so you have it covered in both directions. But if that’s not possible, or, if you don’t want the color to get any darker, you can stop there. Otherwise, continue the process of applying the stain in one direction, letting it dry, and then applying another coat in the opposite direction until you’ve gotten to the color you want.

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