When it comes to paint, do the Belgians know best? Mineral-based, natural limewash is a Belgian basic with a chalky, nuanced texture that only gets better with age. Environmentally friendly and used for centuries, limewash is one of the original house paints. Should it be on your short list?
Above: A limewashed wall in a room by Axel Vervoordt. See more of the Belgian design impresario’s work in our post about the Penthouse Suite at New York’s Greenwich Hotel that he designed for Robert De Niro.
What is limewash?
An ancient house staple dating back to Roman times, limewash is made from limestone that’s been crushed, burned, and mixed with water to make a lime putty. The putty is aged and then thinned with water and colored with natural pigments. Limewash creates surfaces that are mottled and matte with a chalky texture something like suede. It lends a depth and luminosity to flat walls.
Above: Limewash creates a textured, shadowy effect. Photograph from Kalklitir, a lime-paint company.
Is limewash environmentally friendly?
Free of solvents that have pushed paints to the top of the household environmental hazards list, traditional limewash is made from natural lime and natural pigments. Even some modern varieties that contain additional binding agents use mineral additives that keep the environmentally-friendly attributes intact.
Lime’s high pH level means microorganisms can’t survive, which adds a hypoallergenic quality. Proponents also argue that limewash has a chemical makeup that removes odors (and harmful CO2), improving interior air quality.
Above: Light-colored limewash walls at the Moka & Vanille Bed & Breakfast in Heusden-Zolder, Belgium.
Where can I use limewash?
Limewash can be used indoors and out. Unlike most house paints that sit atop surfaces, limewash sinks in, so it’s best applied to porous surfaces, such as plaster, stone, and brick. That said, limewash (especially premade, modern varieties that may already have mineral-binding additives) can be applied to drywall as long as an appropriate primer is used. The key is to go with a mineral-based primer–such as an acrylic primer (used often under latex paints)–that creates a surface the limewash can bond to.
Above: Limewashed walls and concrete floors pair well in this Daytrip Studio-designed sitting room. Photograph courtesy of The Modern House, from A Tale of Two Styles: Proper Victorian on the Outside, Modern Zen on the Inside.
What colors does limewash come in?
In its base form, limewash is off-white. Color is achieved by adding natural, alkali-resistant pigments, which are available in shades dictated by what the earth has to offer. Browns, grays, and taupes are the norm.
Keep in mind that limewash becomes much lighter as it dries. It’s up to 10 times darker when it’s wet; so it’s important to test colors. The opacity depends on the number of coats that are applied; typically up to three coats are recommended. This is a paint that requires an openness to chance. Colors vary depending on the pigments used, the composition and porosity of the surface being painted, and the application of the paint.
Where can I get limewash?
Though much more common in Europe than the US, limewash (with and without colorants added) is available from several manufacturers. Sydney Harbour Paint Company, the North American arm of Australia’s Porter Paints, offers Exterior Lime Wash, as well as an interior lime-based, natural paint line called Interno Lime Wash in a wide range of shades. BioLime has a variety of lime paint that can be used indoors and out. New to the US, Kalklitir Natural Lime Wash from Sweden is offered in a small but gorgeous collection of colors from Antica Collection, in Houston, Texas. RomaBio comes without color additives. They are specifically designed to be tinted with Natural Oxide Earth Pigments.
Above: Limewash paint company Bauwerk Colour offers rich tones such as this, Tobacco, in limewash paints.
Can I make my own limewash?
Mixing your own limewash is the budget-friendly way to go. It’s a simple process that involves making a lime putty from hydrated lime (available at hardware stores) mixed with water, and then gradually diluting the concoction with water until it has the consistency of thick cream. Natural pigments are added for color. See DIY Project: Limewashed Walls for Modern Times for our tutorial.
How is limewash applied?
Limewash should be applied in several thin coats using a long-haired or masonry paintbrush that creates feathered strokes. Never use a roller. Kalklitir of Sweden’s “How to Apply Lime Color to a Wall” video details the application process and shows how the paint soaks in and dries.
Above: Kalklitir’s 10-by-3 Brush is right for the job; it’s what Justine uses in DIY Project: Limewashed Walls for Modern Times. Or, consider a [product id=”613127″]Raffia Limewash Brush[/product] (which could perhaps do double-duty as a cleaning brush); £15 at Saudade, in London, or the [product id=”613126″]Liquitex Freestyle Giant Block Brush[/product], $26.99 on Amazon.
How do I clean my limewashed walls?
Cleaning limewashed walls is not recommended, nor is it often required: Limewash’s mottled, shadowy effect shows much less dirt than standard painted surfaces do. But should walls need a touch-up, simply apply a diluted re-coat of limewash.
Above: A finished limewashed wall from DIY Project: Limewashed Walls for Modern Times.
- Breathable (no condensation in damp conditions).
- Natural, solvent-free, and hypoallergenic.
- Absorbs odors.
- Naturally bacteria-resistant.
- Limited color palette.
- Mottled appearance hard to control and not to everyone’s liking.
- May require several coats to get the desired effect.
- Not easily cleaned; may require a re-coat.
Above: Our latest favorite iteration of limewash? The vaulted ceilings of this 17th-century house on Mallorca, rehabbed by Isla Architects. Take the full tour at Before & After: A Bright 17th-Century House Overlooking the Sea on Mallorca, for Two Young Architects.
Our resident paint expert, Meredith, presents All You Need to Know about VOCs in Paint. Considering wallpaper instead? Alexa found a Handmade Wallpaper Inspired by Nature. And, see all our Palette & Paints Features.
For more paint advice:
- Expert Advice: 12 Questions to Ask a Painter Before You Hire ‘the One’
- Expert Advice: How to Hire a Truly Great Painter for Your Home
- 10 Paint Colors with Cult Followings: Architects’ All-Time Favorite Paint Picks
- Architects’ 8 Favorite Cool-Toned Neutral Paints
- Architects’ 8 Favorite Pure White Paints
N.B.: This post is an update; the original story ran on October 2, 2014.